Many homeowners are considering putting panels on their homes, and for good reasons: when you generate your own solar electricity you can drastically reduce your monthly bills, increase your property value, and help the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Solar is more accessible than ever, especially as the cost of solar has decreased and solar technology has become more efficient.
One question you may hear from installers (or builders if you’re considering solar for new construction) is whether your property is “solar ready.” But what does “solar ready” actually mean, and what might need updating in your home prior to going solar?
Start by looking at the efficiency of your home
If you want to maximize your solar savings, it’s not a bad idea to consider an energy audit prior to the start of the project (or, if this is a new construction project, working with the building to make your home as energy efficient as possible.)
While a home energy audit isn’t necessary before going solar, it can identify opportunities to reduce your energy use, which can reduce the size of the solar panel system you need to cover 100% of your electricity use. As a result, you’ll save on the up front cost of installing a solar panel system. Some steps auditors may suggest include installing LEDs for your lighting needs, insulating your attic, and sealing ducts.
Another option that will save you money in the long term is to “electrify” your home by switching to electric heat and appliances. You’ll cut down on other types of home fuel costs (like oil or natural gas for your furnace), and then you can install a larger solar panel system that will generate electricity for all your home energy needs. This is especially worth considering for property owners that have the space on their roof or their property to install an oversized system.
Consider the age, material, and structure of your roof
If you’re considering a rooftop installation, there are a few roof factors that will impact the solar readiness of your home.
If your roof will need to be replaced in the next five to 10 years, it’s a good idea to re-roof prior to installation so that you can avoid the cost of uninstalling and reinstalling the panels down the line. The panels will also help extend the life of the roof by protecting them from the elements.
Some roofing materials are harder to install on than others, and for that reason it may be harder to find an installer willing to do the job if your roof is one of these types of roofing material.
Two of the most common roofing materials that solar installers will shy away from installing on are slate and cedar shingles. Both of these are more fragile and are considered “complicated,” to install on. As a result, even if you do find an installer who will work on them, the cost of installation will be higher.
If you’re constructing a new home and looking to build it “solar ready,” it’s a good idea to avoid those types of roofing material. If you want to go solar at your home but have a house with slate or cedar roof shingles, you have options even if you can’t find a solar panel installer willing to do the job. You can choose to re-roof with a different material, or build a ground-mounted system or solar carport.
Structure and space
The structure of your roof is also important when it comes to installing solar. If your system will be installed on your roof, it’s better to have a good amount of uninterrupted space, especially if you utilize a lot of electricity and are going to need a large solar panel system to meet your needs.
If you’re planning a solar project for new construction and looking to make it solar ready, you may want to talk to your builder about avoiding things like skylights, dormers, and vents on the parts of the roof where you plan to place panels. While it’s certainly possible to install on a roof with these, solar systems on one uninterrupted plane of your roof are easier to install.
Azimuth of your house
The direction that your roof faces (known as the “azimuth”) is important when you’re designing a solar panel system. In the Northern Hemisphere, solar panels facing south are going to produce the most electricity. East- and west-facing panels are also suitable for installation, but will result in less electricity production throughout the day. If you’re building a new home and looking to make it solar ready, talk to the architect or builder about building the home in such a way that the portion of your roof allocated for your system is facing south, if possible.
Does your roof have access to uninterrupted sunlight?
If the sun is shining brightly on your roof throughout the day, it’s probably a good candidate for solar panels. Shade on your roof, or your land where you’re planning to place a ground mount, is going to negatively impact your system’s electricity production.
A little bit of shade may not be bad, depending on the direction the panels are facing and whether the shade is going to be present during peak production hours. Using technology like microinverters or power optimizers can also help in maximizing production if there is some shading.
If your roof gets more than a little bit of shade, you may want to consider other options. You can talk to your solar installation company about trimming back trees to make solar viable. In the event that the shading is due to another structure or building that cannot be removed, or neighbor’s trees that they’re reluctant to remove, you may want to consider other options to saving on electricity costs than installing a solar panel system on your property.
For a rooftop system, the pitch of your roof can also impact sun access, although it doesn’t play as dramatic of a role in access to sun as large trees or the azimuth of the house. Most solar panel systems are tilted between 30 to 45 degrees to get the optimal amount of sunlight – the ideal angle for you depends on where you live.
Check the current electric setup in your home
If you have an older electrical system, a solar installer might recommend (or require) an electric panel upgrade prior to installation. The inverter of your system will be connected to your electrical breaker, and depending on the size of the inverter as well as your solar panel system, you may need a larger one for safety reasons. In some cases, you may be required by state and county codes to upgrade.
Because a lot of this is specific to the electrical set up of your property, as well as the type and size of the solar panel system being installed in your home, there’s no “one size fits all” solution. For the majority of residential solar panel installations, a 200 amp service is going to be sufficient. The cost of an electric panel varies – on average, you can expect to pay about $1,100. If code requires this to be done to your home prior to putting a solar panel system on your property, your installation company can assist with getting this completed.
What if your home is unsuitable for solar due to factors you can’t change?
When it comes down to it, there may be factors that make your property unsuitable for solar that cannot be changed, such as nearby buildings shading your roof or HOA guidelines that prohibit installation.
If that’s the case and you’re still looking to benefit from solar electricity, community solar is a smart option. Community solar is becoming a popular option for homes that can’t install solar, renters, or people who frankly just don’t want panels on their property. Although not available in every state, community solar is growing quickly – most recently, North Carolina and New Jersey have introduced legislation to make community solar an option. (You can find community solar projects near you in the Community Solar Marketplace.)
If you’re in an area without community solar options, there are still actions you can take to save on electricity costs, such as scheduling an energy audit or swapping to more energy efficient appliances.
You have a solar ready home, so what are the next steps?
If you’re interested in shopping for solar for your property, solar ready or not, we recommend signing up on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to get quotes from pre-screened and vetted solar companies. Comparing offers from solar installers is the best way to find the right solution for your particular property.
If this a new construction project and there isn’t available satellite imagery for your home, you can add design plans as well as details to your account about your building so installers can quote the most accurate system possible (and perhaps give advice on how to make your new building more ideal for solar!).