Going Solar? How to Prep Your Property and Things to Consider
Going solar is a rewarding investment with a long payback period in terms of dollars saved, however there are some considerations to be made ahead of time. It’s not often that a homeowner can call the contractor up, have the panels installed, and be good to go without any special considerations, the most important of which are detailed below.
1. Siting. You want your panels to get as much southern sun exposure as possible. Although your roof is the least expensive location to install solar panels, if your home’s roof runs east to west or has no south-facing surfaces, you may need to consider alternative siting. This might mean ground-mounted panels, or even a solar carport, shed, or a solar awning (which also provides useful shade). In rare cases you may find that your property is just not suitable for solar.
2. Roof type. Is your home’s (or garage’s) roof solar-ready? Solar panels can be placed on most roof types. However, if you have a slate, Spanish tile or wood roof, it will be hard for the installers to work without causing damage and they will need specialized equipment – significantly increasing cost. If your house has a slate roof and you don’t want to replace it (or can’t because it’s a historic building) then, again, you might have to consider alternative siting. Your local contractor will conduct a site visit to determine your best location for solar.
3. Trees, trees, trees. Shade trees are great, but if you have a tree blocking your best view of the sun, then you might need to call a tree surgeon, or even remove the offending tree altogether. You should also avoid planting large trees where they will eventually block the sun, especially fast-growing ones.
4. Do you need a new roof? If you need a new roof, then you will want to do that before putting in solar panels, so they do not have to be removed and reinstalled. High quality solar panels can last 40 years or more, so reducing the risk of them outlasting your roof is desirable. Also, you should get your roof inspected to ensure it can take the additional weight of the panels, which can be a problem for some older homes. Do not climb onto the roof to inspect it for problems yourself unless you have appropriate training and safety gear.
5. What is your roof pitch? Solar panels in this area work best at an angle of between 30 and 40 degrees. If you have a flat roof, then the panels will be mounted on a tilted structure to maximize performance. You want the panels to be at least 15 degrees of slope so that water and debris can run off and they’re angled towards the sun’s path through the sky.
7. Do you have other equipment already on your roof? If so, it may have to be relocated before installing the panels. This includes things such as antennas, vents, satellite dishes, etc. If you have a radon mitigation system you may need a specialist to move the vent to ensure the system still works properly. While a vent pipe or skylight on your southern roof won’t prevent you from going solar, it may result in one or two fewer panels that can fit.
8. Your solar energy system will include an inverter and other electrical equipment, and may include a battery. The inverter is best installed on the exterior so that the integrated switches are accessible to emergency personnel, while a battery is best installed inside. Consider where you are going to put this equipment before calling your contractor. The larger battery backup systems must be installed completely indoors and require special space considerations.
9. Clean your roof. Your roof should be free of debris such as broken tree branches. The roof surface should be clear of mold and mildew and should be professionally cleaned if needed. To provide a proper warranty, your installer will want a structurally sound and clean roof to work on.
10. Reduce your energy needs. The more energy you use, the more panels you need to offset it. So it makes sense to do a proper energy audit before installing the panels. Fix any leaks, upgrade your insulation, replace ancient appliances with newer ones, replace incandescent bulbs with LEDs, etc. An experienced solar contractor can also help you with energy efficiency and make recommendations.
11. Look at your long-term needs. Buying a system for your current power use may be ideal, but if you are starting a family then your needs may increase. If you are considering getting an electric car, then you should definitely tell your contractor so that they can advise on appropriate power levels to offset the extra energy needs.
12. Hire an experienced, credentialed installer. Get reviews and recommendations and choose a local installer that knows the region and how to deal with specific local weather conditions (storm conditions, for example, can easily damage panels that are not installed with local climate in mind). You also want to make sure your installer is stable as a company and not likely to go out of business – solar systems are expected to last decades, which is of limited use if the contractor isn’t around to honor it. The best contractors employ fully licensed electricians, and have NABCEP certified professionals on staff.
13. Are you concerned about being prepared for a utility outage? Solar installations come in three major varieties: grid-tied, hybrid, and off-grid. An experienced contractor can help you determine the right system for you, and install optional battery storage to keep critical appliances operational during a power outage.
14. Of course, as with any large investment, there are financial considerations. Do you have a tax appetite to utilize the 30% Federal tax credit? Do you need financing? Your local contractor can guide you on these questions as well.
Going solar is a big step – and a multi-year commitment with great rewards. You want to make sure that you do the right thing and do the prep work needed to ensure that your house is solar ready. Do remember that solar is an electrical installation and is best installed by professionals.
If you have questions or would like a quote – contact Mountain View Solar for a fast, free, zero-pressure consultation now!