5 On Your Side

Going solar? Several things to consider before making big investment

Posted December 8, 2015
Updated December 9, 2015

Solar panels being installed

Want to make the sun work for you? There are several important things to consider when deciding whether or not solar panels are right for a home.

First and foremost, think of the investment required. You'll spend between $15,000 and $20,000 to install solar panels.

Federal rebates run through the end of 2016, but before deciding to look to the sun, Consumer Reports says there are other pros and cons to think about.

"Solar panels can be a big commitment," Consumer Reports' Mandy Walker said. "You want to be sure that they'll work on your roof. Not every house is a good candidate."

A roof needs to get enough direct sun to be worth it. Panels are normally installed on the south side of roofs, and they shouldn't be shaded by chimneys, trees or anything else above the roofline.

The age of a roof is also something to consider.

"Solar panels can last about 25 years, so if you think you might need a new roof during that time, make sure the cost of removing and reinstalling the panels is specified in the contract," Walker said.

“If you can afford to pay for the panels outright, it will likely cost about $15,000 to $20,000 or more. But they’ll pay for themselves in five to 10 years, and then you’ll get free electricity for as long as they last," Walker said.

Some solar installations may void the warranty on a roof, and in some places, it can increase property tax costs. Prospective buyers should also check their homeowners insurance policy to see if the panels would be covered in the event they are damaged by a storm.

Panel installation should always be completed by a licensed installer.

"It's a very big decision. It's a big investment," Consumer Reports' Christopher Hale said.

EnergySage.com offers tips on leasing versus buying and lets consumers compare quotes from licensed installers in their area.


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  • Rodney Hill Dec 12, 2015
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    Yep. I'd love to do solar at our crib, but I calculated about a 30 year payback, which kills it for us. We average about $90/mo (annualized) in electricity.

    People also (conveniently?) forget that the sun doesn't shine 24hrs a day...

  • Ryan Turner Dec 10, 2015
    user avatar

    Oh yeah, one other thing.... Unless I am mistaken, state law prohibits tax increases for increased appraisal value from solar.

  • Ryan Turner Dec 10, 2015
    user avatar

    This article has a few problems. To answer a question below, 15-20k should get you a total install, sans batteries (because adding batteries to the system adds a mega expense) for a system rated from 3.5kW-6kW depending on the installer. The total cost for a system that runs 15-20k THIS YEAR (with the state tax credits that are about to expire) are around $5,250 -> $7k. Next year, that number jumps to $10,500 -> $14,000. At that price range, with current energy prices, it will take at least 10 years to break even. This year, with all the tax credits, the 6 year figure is about right. But you can forget getting an install under the gun before the tax credits expire. Everyone is booked up. In short, I had my solar system installed a few months ago, a 5.7kW system. Under the tax system for next year, I wouldn't have invested. A lot of solar jobs are going to go bye-bye, unfortunately. Just as our state was leading the country in new generation...

  • John Lobenstein Dec 9, 2015
    user avatar

    It would have been instructive and more informative if the $15,000 -$20,000 guesstimates are for complete systems that include the battery arrays, battery charge controls, inverters, wiring, and/or applicable interface with the power utilities.

  • John Kramer Dec 9, 2015
    user avatar

    Consumer reports MATH FAIL:

    To pay back a $20,000 solar system in 10 years would mean to reduce your monthly electric bill by $170 per month. And that is only for the consumption when the sun is shining, so it would mean you have a $300 or so a month electric bill to start with.

    They also don't mention the reduced or eliminated favorable rate structure for solar that many utilities are adopting.

    Consumer reports is doing no one favors by spreading this sort of wrong information.