Sidney Richardson8-minute read
UPDATED: March 09, 2023
Thinking about going solar? Installing solar panels can help you reduce or even eliminate energy costs, along with many other benefits to you and your home. If you’re still on the fence or unsure whether your home is a good candidate for solar energy, let’s break down the case for switching to this green energy option as well as all the pros, cons and costs you can expect.
Solar panels are panels containing solar cells which collect light from the sun and convert it to electrical energy that powers your home. Installing solar panels can be a great way to lower your electricity bill and help reduce your carbon footprint to achieve a more energy-efficient household.
During the day, your solar panels will absorb energy from the sunlight that hits them. This energy creates an electrical charge which is then converted by an inverter into a form of energy your home can utilize. Excess energy is typically stored in photovoltaic batteries so you can still use power generated by your solar panel system even when it’s dark or cloudy. With enough solar panels and appropriate sunlight, you can potentially power everything in your home.
Depending on where you live and your current electricity rates, solar panels have the potential to save you a lot of money. If you live in a particularly sunny state, like California, Hawaii, Florida or Arizona, this is especially true. Solar energy saves you money that would otherwise be spent on your electricity bill – so if your monthly bill is through the roof, you stand to benefit greatly from a switch to solar.
According to Consumer Affairs, the average cost to install solar panels in the U.S. is $12,000 (after tax incentives). While this may seem like a steep cost, it’s important to be aware that most solar panels will pay for themselves after 8 years, though this time may be as short as 3 years in sunnier states.
So yes, solar panels do save homeowners a significant amount of money, though savings can vary based on where you live, how many panels you can fit on your roof and the average cost of your monthly electricity bill.
So, what would it cost you to get solar panels? We’ve already established that the average cost tends to be around $12,000 for a full solar setup, but that number can vary significantly depending on where you live, how many hours of sunlight your home receives in a day, etc.
To help you get a better idea of how much you might expect to spend, let’s go over the steps you should take to calculate your potential solar panel power needs and costs.
The first step you should take if you’re interested in getting solar panels is to look at your current electric bill. In 2019, the average U.S. resident paid $115 a month for electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By using solar power, you can greatly reduce that monthly cost – or potentially eliminate it altogether. If you were paying the average cost every month, you would stand to save roughly $1,380 per year by switching completely to solar energy. Of course, this number doesn’t even account for higher bills in the summer months or states with higher energy consumption due to weather.
The savings that come with solar panels don’t come for free, however. It can be pretty costly (upfront at least) to install solar panels on the roof of your home. While each individual solar panel likely only costs $150-$300, depending on the wattage, the total costs can add up once there are multiple panels and installation costs involved. The average solar panel system costs around $15,000-$25,000 prior to tax incentives (which we’ll talk about in a bit), according to the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE).
Keep in mind that there may be other additional charges coming your way in the future as well. If your solar panels break down over time or become damaged, you’ll likely have to pay for maintenance and upkeep of your solar energy system as well.
Your home’s daily sunlight exposure (or lack thereof) can also be a big factor in what you can expect to spend and save when investing in solar panels. If you live in a very sunny state, your panels will produce more energy, which means you stand to save significantly more on electricity costs. If you live in a less sunny state – like either of the Dakotas, which are consistently rated some of the “worst” states for solar power – you might not be saving as much, thanks to cloudy weather and few solar companies throughout the state.
Another important thing to consider is how you’ll be paying for your solar energy system. While some homeowners may have $12,000-$20,000 on hand to pay for solar panel installation, most of us likely have to find another way to finance this investment.
One option to consider is paying for your solar panels with a personal loan. Unsecured personal loans are a popular choice for solar panel financing, but you can also finance a solar system by doing a cash-out refinance, using a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit (HELOC). It’s also possible to lease solar panels, though leasing may not necessarily make financial sense for all homeowners.
While they do generally pay for themselves and help you save thousands in the long run, solar panel systems can be very costly to install. Luckily, there are lots of incentives created by the federal, state and even local governments that aim to make adopting solar power more affordable via tax benefits and rebates.
To see what policies and incentives might be in place in your state, you can check the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE).
Still on the fence or unsure whether solar panels would be a good investment for you? Let’s break down some of the pros and cons of installing a solar system.
Still have questions about installing solar panels? Here are a few frequently asked questions about switching to solar power.
Once you’ve determined solar panels would be a good option for you, both cost- and energy-wise, you may be wondering, “Can I even get solar panels for my house?”
The answer depends on a few things – including where you live and what type of roof you have. Your location matters because you want to be sure you are getting enough sun for the investment to make sense and also because your region may have rules in place preventing you from getting solar panels – so be sure to do research into local rules and restrictions, first.
The type of roof you have will also be important because solar panels work best when placed on strong, durable materials. That means if your roof is made of something like wood shake or slate tile, you may have to work with a professional that specializes in working with that type of roof. The condition of your roof may also be an issue if it needs to be repaired or replaced before solar installation.
Yes, a house can run on solar panels alone and without any additional electricity. Going fully off the grid can be difficult, since it would potentially require a great deal of panels to accommodate all of your energy needs, but it is very possible.
The size of your home and how much energy you typically consume will determine how many solar panels will be required to run everything. On your utility, you should be able to find your monthly energy usage in kilowatt-hours (KWH). Finding out how much energy you use vs. how much energy a solar system could provide will help you determine the right number of panels to power your home.
According to EFS Energy, the average home in the U.S. (approximately 1,500 square feet) requires 15 – 18 solar panels to power everything.
You can install solar panels yourself, though most panels that are sold with the intention of being installed DIY are meant only to power smaller sources, like RV trailers or pool pumps. Installing a full solar system that’s meant to replace traditional electricity in your home will likely require professional installation.
Yes. In many states, having solar panels that supplement some of the energy bill can increase home value significantly. Data gathered by Zillow suggests that homes with solar systems sold for 4.1% more on average than homes without.
So, are solar panels worth it? If you live in an area that gets enough sunlight and could stand to pay a little less on your utility bill – yes, generally, solar panels are a great investment and a good way to reduce your carbon footprint. Before getting any quotes on your own system, however, be sure to double check the rules and restrictions for solar panels in your area and do your research into available incentives and potential rebates.
For more tips on making your home more sustainable, check out our list of eco-friendly changes you can make in your house today.
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