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Solar energy has long been seen as an unsustainable, idealistic gimmick, and many still think that way, but recent advancements have proven how viable solar energy can be — not just for saving money but drastically lowering your carbon footprint.
And maybe you’re now convinced and ready to invest in some solar panels yourself.
That’s great! But before you dive in, there are a number of pitfalls that you’ll want to avoid. Home solar panels are more complex than emergency residential solar kits, for example, and even a small mishap can end up being quite costly.
Here are several mistakes you’ll want to avoid.
1. Not Asking the Right Questions
Proper preparation is the single most important thing when it comes to buying and installing solar panels. Never before has the phrase “Measure twice, cut once” been so crucial. These things are expensive and you do NOT want to end up with an inefficient or non-working system.
Important preliminary questions include:
- How old is your house? Can it support solar panels?
- How much energy do you actually need to produce?
- Are you willing to further reduce your energy usage?
- Is your roof facing towards the equator?
- Is your roof pitched at an efficient angle?
- How much shade/sunlight does your roof actually get?
- Will you need to upgrade your energy meter?
- Will you need any building permits?
- Should you lease or own your solar panels?
- How much are you willing to spend?
- How long before your solar panels pay for themselves?
Your answers will give you a much better idea of how feasible solar energy can be for your situation. If you find out that it won’t do you much good, don’t feel bad about giving up (until you move somewhere where the feasibility is better, of course).
2. Declining to Be Informed
On the one hand, just as you can flip a switch and get light without understanding light at a quantum level, you don’t need to know how solar panels actually work to benefit from them. On the other hand, being completely ignorant is just going to come back and bite you in the future.
There are two main things you should understand, even if only at a cursory level: solar PV systems and solar panel specifications.
Regarding solar PV systems, you’ll want to look up the difference between grid-tied and off-grid systems (grid-tied are simpler) and all of the different components that are necessary for a working system (panels, inverters, batteries, etc). Check out our quick start guide to all of this.
Regarding solar panel specifications, there are several different terms and numbers that you’ll want to understand, including but not limited to: cell type, rated power at STC, rated power tolerance, module efficiency, power warranty, etc.
3. Buying Cheap, Buying Fast
To supply the energy needs of a modern single-family home, you’ll likely need a 2 kW system if you’re extremely energy efficient (about $15,000 to $20,000 to install) or a 5 kW system if your energy usage is more conventional (about $30,000 to $45,000 to install).
These prices are face value, meaning with no incentives or rebates included, so the final cost won’t be so high — but that’s still a lot of money and you’ll probably want to cut that cost down as much as you can. That’s fine, but be extremely careful about HOW you cut those costs.
Cheap is bad. In the current solar market, “You get what you pay for” is 100% true. Yes, there are companies working to bring those costs down, but you should still expect to spend a lot for a quality, efficient system. Do not skimp! Short-term savings will be more expensive in the long run.
Shop around and get multiple quotes. Going to several different solar providers lets you get a clearer sense of how much you can expect to spend. If you see a must-grab offer for $5,000 but everyone else is charging closer to $15,000, it should give you pause.
It also gives you leverage for negotiating down. Not only that, but part of shopping around should include researching the credibility and expertise of various providers. And don’t forget about financing options! It isn’t necessary to drop $15,000 up front for a brand new solar PV system.
4. Mixing Various Brands
This one isn’t much of a problem for most people, but there are some who think they’re so clever that they can mix-and-match different components from different manufacturers to cut down on costs — which is totally possible, but may end up as a regret.
You won’t actually save much up front because, as mentioned earlier, you often get what you pay for in the realm of solar panels. On top of that, solar PV systems are designed to interface with certain parts, sometimes even specific brands.
At best, your savings will be marginal but your system won’t be as robust and may require lots of maintenance in a few years. At worst, it won’t work at all or may break down far quicker than you might expect.
5. Ignoring Incentives and Rebates
At face value, a solar PV system for a modern home is probably going to cost you somewhere between $15,000 and $30,000 — but depending on the state in which you live, you won’t have to pay nearly as much.
There are several tricks and tips you can use to lower the price of a solar PV system, like taking advantage of government and corporate incentives.
The truth is, the U.S. government wants people to invest in solar energy — that’s why the Department of Energy offers all kinds of ways for you to shave costs in the form of tax credits and rebates, sometimes as much as 30% across federal, state, and local.
Not only that but your local utility company may offer rebates for installing solar power, and these rebates can go as high as 30% as well.
6. Neglecting the Warranty Terms
The general rule of thumb — in and beyond the solar panel industry — is that the length of a warranty indicates how much confidence the manufacturer has in its product. In other words, a shorter warranty often translates as a cheaper and lower quality product.
When you buy solar panels, make sure you know what your warranty entails. Ask about what exactly it covers and for how long. Don’t be tricked by the deceptive “performance warranty” (which is usually 25 years) when you really want to know about the “panel warranty” (which is closer to 10 years).
7. Thinking You Can Do It Yourself
If you’re a DIY guru who has made all kinds of successful improvements to your home and you know your way around wood, wires, roofing, and electronics, then this obviously doesn’t apply to you.
On the other hand, if your hands-on experience goes no further than LEGO, then you probably don’t have the necessary expertise. You do NOT want to make a mistake during the installation process!
Leave it to the professionals. If your solar provider doesn’t do installations for some reason, hire a reputable third-party company who will. Don’t skimp here — using inexperienced or otherwise cheap installers is almost as bad as doing it yourself.
Are Solar Panels Right for You?
If this article has scared you away from the idea of installing solar panels, rest assured: thousands of people who have no applicable experience have successfully outfitted their homes with working solar energy. As long as you do your research, aren’t too stingy, and can find an expert provider, you’ll be fine too.
Have you decided that solar panels aren’t for you? You can still reduce your carbon footprint in little ways here and there, such as with a solar generator, solar lights around your house, or these amazing solar gadgets for the outdoors.
How do you feel about solar tech? Have you installed solar panels to your own home? Share your thoughts and experiences with us below in a comment!
Image Credits: Jan Krcmar via Shutterstock, Visual Generation via Shutterstock, gmstockstudio via Shutterstock, smspsy via Shutterstock, Federico Rostagno via Shutterstock