Solar Panel Home SunInstalling solar panels for your home is a big decision, on the scale of buying a new car. It takes careful planning and research. But unlike a car, your solar energy system will not depreciate in value the moment you buy it. Installing solar panels is an investment that keeps giving, for twenty years on average. The sun is shining, why not take advantage?

1) Get your numbers

It might seem a bit overwhelming at first, determining whether solar energy is right for you. There are a few things you need to consider. Location, location, location! Location is one of the key factors determining how profitable a solar energy investment will be. By understanding how solar energy varies from place to place, you can assess whether your rooftop and your system will lead to payoffs in the long run. Solar energy varies throughout the year and this is tied directly to your location through latitude (think spherical shape and tilt of the earth) and regional weather conditions (for example, is your home near the ocean or the mountains, both of which affect cloudiness and local temperature).

The Sunmetrix Discover tool allows you to make sense of your numbers. Just enter the city or postal code where you live and see for yourself how much solar energy you can expect throughout the year and what that translates into, in terms of energy production and dollar savings. And if you want to get more accurate, you can take a solar energy test drive with Sunmetrix GO, and see, hour by hour, how your electricity generation would compare to your consumption, leading to more accurate savings estimates.

2) Check the incentives

Location matters more than you think! Just like solar energy varies from place to place, so do the rebates, incentives and tax credits available to you, from the federal level right down to the municipal level. It's important to know what programs are available where you live so that you can benefit the most from your investment. Check out the financial incentives in the U.S. available to you. If you live in Canada, click here.

3) Check your roof

This might seem kind of obvious (unless of course your not putting your solar panels on the roof of your home), but what does it really mean in a practical sense? It comes down to a few important considerations: the age of your roof, the type of roof you have, and the warranty/insurance relating to your roof. As we've mentioned in another post, if your roof is old and you are considering replacing it soon, it probably pays to combine your solar installation with your new roof. It's more expensive to repair or replace a roof once the panels are already in place. Furthermore, by combining your installation with your new roof, using one company for both might be an option, thereby simplifying the issue of maintaining your roof warranty.

4) Determine what kind of system you need

Solar panels crosswordAre you going to buy a sedan or mini-van? In other words, how much capacity do you need (or want, if you're one of the lucky ones with a contract to sell your electricity back to the grid at a premium)? If you have a big home (and a big roof) you may be looking for a larger than average residential system, whereas if you have a small home and you consume a relatively small amount of electricity, you may only need a low capacity system. For reference, the average residential system has a capacity of 5 kW. It's time to head back to either Discover or GO and get some more numbers. From step 1, you know how much solar energy to expect. Now, you can enter a few details about the type of system you are considering, and find out how much electricity you can expect to generate.

On another note, if you are considering a new roof, then you might also want to consider solar shingles. These thin-film solar cells are designed to mimic traditional asphalt shingles, protecting your roof while producing electricity. In this case, you would want to consider the slope and orientation of your roof to make sure that your shingles will be facing the sun for the better part of the day. Obviously, if you have a flat tar and gravel roof, then solar panels are the logical choice for you. It's important to note that solar panels on a flat roof have the advantage of being positioned and oriented to collect as much solar energy as possible.

5) Get your quotes

Now it's time to get some quotes. For both Discover and GO, we provide a list of highly-rated installers in your area, where you can read their reviews and sort by rating or distance. Better still, you can let us help you find the best quotes, using a combination of criteria that will match your needs.

6) Stay calm and make your decision

Solar panel decisionPlease don't freak out at this stage. Yes, the quote you received probably includes a lot of zeros, but if you did your homework at the beginning, this shouldn't come as a great surprise (the average 5kW system costs about $20,000). Remember that what is quoted is not what you will pay if you you're lucky enough to benefit from some of the significant incentives out there, like the 30% federal tax credit in the United States. Furthermore, this is an investment that will pay out over 20 years, so there are various financing options that will make it more affordable. Now that you know how much solar energy to expect and how much electricity you can generate, you can check out our Buy or Lease Calculator to learn about the profitability of your investment. This will help you determine the best way to move forward, by showing you your return on your investment, whether you buy or lease.

With all that you have learned and with your quotes in hand, you are ready to make the decision that is right for you!

7) Protect your investment

Now that the installation is complete, you are the proud new owner of a solar energy system. The hardest part of the job is done, and now you just have to make sure that your system works at its optimal performance for many years to come. With proven components and no moving parts, solar energy systems are reliable and easy to maintain. Cleaning the panels frequently is a good idea as it helps to minimize production losses due to residue buildup. At a minimum, spring cleaning is always a good idea to take full advantage of increased solar radiation during the spring and summer months. Closely monitoring the changes in solar radiation and your electricity production is also recommended to make sure that all systems are working properly.

8) Reap the rewards (and bask in the glow of your home solar panels!)

Solar Panel SkyCongratulations! It's time to benefit from your solar investment. Whether your initial motivation was financial or environmental (or a bit of both), you can feel better knowing that you are generating your own electricity, thereby reducing your electricity bill and your carbon footprint. Better still, if you are generating extra capacity, you can enjoy the added benefits of selling your electricity back to the grid, electricity that is making you money and is clean to produce. At Sunmetrix, we strongly believe that everyone has the right to prosper from their energy!