Would you like a granite countertop or solar panels with that?

newhomesolarDid you know that installing solar panels during home construction can save up to 20% of the installation cost? Incorporating solar panels to the roof as part of the original build saves time and money in multiple ways. Roof design, load calculations and material selection are all done taking full account of the solar panel installation. As solar energy is becoming more mainstream, construction companies are starting to offer pre-designed solar packages, compatible with most standard homes. Since the solar packages are pre-engineered, the time and cost savings of a solar installation project are passed directly to the consumers.

Not surprisingly, homebuilders are increasingly embracing solar panels as a premium feature of new constructions. According to Bloomberg, at least six of the ten largest U.S. homebuilders offer solar panels as an optional feature in newly built homes today. Although the solar panels are not a standard item yet, the economics of solar and increasing consumer awareness may make them a standard part of home construction in the near future.

Roofing companies embracing solar

In the last few years, some roofing companies identified solar energy as a strategic area and they started to acquire solar energy know-how. Their know-how in the structural aspects of roofing, long-term warranties and the permitting process are particularly useful in solar energy installations. Case in point is PetersenDean, the largest privately held roofing and solar contractor in the United States. Founded in 1984, the company followed the path of many other roofing companies and offered its standard roofing services to commercial and residential customers. In 2009, PetersenDean acquired a solar specialist, OCR Solar & Roofing. As part of the acquisition, PetersenDean created a new subsidiary company, PD Solar Inc., in order to develop turn-key solar solutions and make solar an integral part of roof construction projects. This strategy seemed to have paid off well: PetersenDean installed photovoltaic systems on about 7.5 percent of the 100,000 roofs it constructed last year. The company is projecting this ratio to double this year.

Mortgage as a solar financing alternative

Another advantage of incorporating solar panels into homebuilding is the financing aspect. Since most newly built homes are financed using a mortgage, rolling the cost of the solar panels into the mortgage is emerging as a standard way to finance your solar purchase. After all, solar panels are a significant investment, and just like a new home or auto purchase, affordable financing makes a big difference for the consumers. An important consideration of your solar investment decision is the impact of solar panels on the resale value of your home. As we discussed in a previous article, two separate studies have shown that installing solar panels tend to increase the resale value of homes. However, before you jump in and sign the dotted line, it’s always a good idea to run the numbers for your home using Sunmetrix Discover.

California leading the pack, again

Not surprisingly, the solar friendly state of California is at the top of the list when it comes to new solar homes. San Jose-based SunPower, a solar installer, expects as many as one in five homes built in California this year to incorporate solar energy. Given that only a tiny fraction of homes in North America have solar panels installed, this is an astonishing statistic. Moreover, as the demand for energy-efficient homes increases, it’s only natural for other states to follow the same path. KB Home, one of the largest homebuilders in the US, is now offering the solar option in Nevada, Texas, Colorado and planning to introduce it very soon in Arizona.

Making solar energy a standard feature in new homes seems to be a win-win situation for all parties involved. Consumers can enjoy solar energy as an integral part of their homes, solar homebuilders can differentiate themselves from the competition and policy makers can take pride in increasing installation numbers. What will it be with your new home purchase? A granite countertop for the kitchen or solar panels for the roof?

Image credit: energy.gov

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