How many solar panels are needed to run a 2,000 square foot house?

If you have a small-to-medium size house, this article will tell you how many solar panels you need to power it, and what the cost might be.

Aerial photo of some average size houses.

Homeowners who are interested in going solar often want to know how many solar panels it will take to power their house, and what the cost will be.

The best way to find that out is to reach out to professional solar installers in your area. Be sure to get multiple quotes to get a range of prices and equipment choices.

If that’s more involved than what you want to do right now and you’re just “window shopping”, you can instead read your monthly electric bill and use our solar calculator to determine what your power generation and estimated system price would be after incentives. This is very quick, but obviously less accurate than getting real quotes.

Another thing you can do is look at rough averages, with the caveat that the numbers will vary widely due to variables such as electricity usage, local installer pricing, and the complexity of your installation (which is affected by such things as your type of roof and whether you have shade trees).

That’s what we’ll do in this article. We’ll look at solar installation pricing for a 2,000 square foot house in an average climate and average energy usage. We’ll then look at some of the factors that will affect the final price you’ll likely pay.

Average electricity use for a 2,000 square foot home

If you want to find out how much a home solar system will cost, the first thing you need to know is how much electricity you use.

According to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA), a house in the United States between 2,000 and 2,499 square feet in size uses an average of 11,606 kWh annually, or 967 kWh per month.

Let’s say you want to generate 100% of that electricity with solar panels. How many panels will you need?

The best case scenario is that your house has a south facing roof with a moderate pitch and no shading during the day. A home like that would need anywhere between 14 and 22 premium solar panels to generate 100% of its electricity with solar.

In this case, “premium” refers to solar panels with an output rating of 400 watts or more and efficiency around 21% and higher. Some examples of panels in this category include the SunPower M Series and A Series, the QCells Q.PEAK G10 series, and the REC Alpha series.

At the moment, the highest output panel for home use is the SunPower M-Series, which tops out at 440 watts. (You can read more about 400 watt panels in our article on the topic.)

If you choose a panel with lower efficiency, you will generally pay less per watt. This can be a good way to save money if you have enough roof space. The lowest efficiency panels you’ll find on the market have a rating around 300 watts. Your average 2,000 sqft home that uses 967 kWh per month would then need between 21 and 33 budget solar panels to supply all of its electricity needs.

How your local climate affects your solar production

With both the budget and premium examples, there’s a big range in the number of solar panels needed. Why is that?

The main reason is that the amount of electricity that solar panels can generate depends heavily on the amount of sunshine you get in your city. It helps to be further south, but local climate is just as important. There are many dry climates in the northern United States that have higher solar radiation than cloudier cities further south.

Map of solar radiation in the United States (NREL)
Map of solar radiation in the United States (NREL)

The range in the number of solar panels needed were calculated based on houses located in the cloudy northwest (such as Seattle, Washington) and the very sunny southwest (like Mesa, Arizona). These two cities are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to incoming solar radiation, measured as Direct Normal Irradiance.

Most cities in the continental United States lie between these two extremes and receive an average amount of sunlight, making them perfectly viable for home solar. Check out the map above.

Remember how we said that climate matters just as much as latitude? If instead of Seattle, let’s say our average 2,000 sqft house was located just 140 miles away in Yakima, Washington. A house there would need only 18 premium solar panels instead of 22. This is because Yakima is in the rain shadow of the Cascade mountain range, and is much drier and sunnier than nearby Seattle. So don’t assume that just because you live in a northern city you can’t go solar.

How much will solar panels for a 2,000 sqft home cost?

In the same way that solar production varies depending on your location and the specifics of your home, your actual price for solar panels will depend on many variables.

I’ll break some of these down later, but let’s start again by looking at median prices. (As a reminder, the median refers to the middle number in a set, which means that half will be higher and half will be lower.) The best source of pricing data on home solar in the US is an annual report called Tracking the Sun by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The report has details on over 3 million solar installations in the country, including the actual prices paid. This data is used by The Solar Nerd map, which you can browse for your area.

According to Tracking the Sun, the median price for a home solar system is $3.80 per watt. (This is based on data from 2021, the latest year available.) The price per watt is calculated on the total power rating of the solar panels in the system. This means that if your system has 7 kilowatts (ie. 7,000 watts) of solar panels, the median price based on $3.80 per watt would be $26,600.

7 kW happens to be the median system size in the US, so let’s return to our 2,000 sqft home, which needs between 14 and 22 premium solar panels, depending on where it’s located. The table below summarizes the prices you might expect to pay.

Median prices for a home solar system
System SizePrice (based on $3.80/watt)Price after tax credit
5.6 kW (14 panels)$21,280$14,896
7 kW (national median)$26,600$18,620
8.8 kW (22 panels)$33,440$23,408

In the last column, I’ve included the 30% federal tax credit, which has a big impact on the final price. If you live in a place with local incentives, you can save even more. For example, Hawaii, Idaho, New York, Massachusetts, and Utah have state tax credits for solar.

Solar system prices vary significantly by installer

One of the biggest pricing factors is the installer you hire. According to the Tracking the Sun report “median prices across the top-100 residential installers in 2021 ranged from $2.5/W to $5.0/W, with more than half registering median prices above $4.0/W”.

That’s a huge swing: the cheapest installer is half the price of the most expensive (after discarding the very highest and lowest values in the data).

Here’s a graph of their data:

Median price per watt of top 100 installers (Credit: Tracking the Sun/Berkeley Lab)
Credit: Tracking the Sun/Berkeley Lab

There’a few things you can take away from this. The first is that you should always get multiple quotes on your solar installation - 3 or 4 is a good number. Getting a good price isn’t the only reason. Interviewing different installers will give you equipment options and the opportunity to ask lots of questions. You wnt to be comfortable with the company that you eventually hire.

Another thing is that this set of data includes the entire nation. Prices vary quite a bit from state to state (which we’ll discuss next), so the difference between the high and low values can partially be explained by geographic differences. In other words, you probably can’t expect to find two installers in your area where one offers a quote that’s half the price of another.

One last thing not mentioned in Tracking the Sun but is something that I’ve noticed from other data sources is that large installers tend to have higher prices that small companies. This is counterintuitive because you would think that large companies would have economies of scale that let them operate at lower cost. In fact, the largest solar installers in the nation spend a significant amount of money on sales and marketing in an effort to capture market share because they are growth-oriented. Small local installers, in contrast, often have very little marketing budget. Many of the installers I’ve worked with rely heavily on customer referrals.

Bottom line: if you want to save money, hire a local company. (Note: I offer quotes from SunPower, which is a national brand that uses a dealer model. When you use SunPower, you’re hiring a local company for the installation.)

Solar prices vary from state to state

Another big factor in home solar pricing is the state in which you live. While you would think that states with large markets would tend to have better pricing, this isn’t always the case. In fact California, which by far has the largest home solar market in the US, has a median price of $3.80/watt - right in line with the nation.

Here’s a table of the median price per watt for the states with data available:

Median home solar prices by state
StateMedian price per watt
New Hampshire$2.90
New York$4.00
New Jersey$4.00
New Mexico$4.30
North Carolina$4.50
Rhode Island$4.80

Small solar systems are more expensive per watt than bigger ones

The price per watt of a home solar system decreases as the size of the system goes up. Small systems (4 kW and under) are relatively expensive, so it’s best to avoid installing a system that size if you can avoid it. If you have the means to do so, it’s often a good idea to oversize your system. Electric vehicles, heat pumps, and induction stoves are all increasingly popular. In the future, you might add some of these to your household and find that your electricity needs have increased.

Here’s a table of median prices by system size (with credit again to Berkeley Lab):

Median home solar prices by system size
System size (kW)Median price per watt
< 2$4.30
> 12$3.20

Loan fees can have a big impact on the price you pay

All of the prices above are based on a cash purchase and do not include any financing related costs. However, a majority of customers use some type of financing to pay for their systems.

The costs associated with a loan can vary significantly. It’s a big enough topic that I wrote an article about it, but one particularly important issue to mention is dealer fees.

A dealer fees is an additional cost that your installer pays when you obtain financing from them. While the fee is charged to the installer, the installer will pass it onto you by increasing your invoice price. Because of the way this works, the fee is typically hidden from the consumer. Unfortunately, it’s a way of skirting truth-in-lending disclosure laws.

How much are dealer fees? They can be very large: up to 30% or even more. This means that dealer fees can eat up all of your federal tax credit, and you won’t even know it.

Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid dealer fees and potentially save a lot of money. Simply shop around and obtain your own financing. Often the best option for a homeowner is a HELOC or home equity loan because the interest can be tax deductible. Again, read my article on solar financing to learn more.

Your type of roof can have a big impact on your price estimate

In California (the largest home solar market in the US), tile roofs are common. Compared to asphalt shingles, installing solar panels on any type of tile roof is more expensive. Clay and lightweight concrete tile are particularly problematic.

This is because clay and lightweight tile are brittle, making it much more difficult for solar installers to work with. Workers on a roof need to be more cautious when working around these types of tile to avoid causing damage. This slows down the installation process and increases labor costs.

The installation methods are also more complex, and often involve installing a layer of shingles underneath the existing tiles.

I don’t have numbers on how much having a clay tile roof will increase the cost of an installation, but it’s a big enough issue that some installers will decline to take on these projects.

Microinverters and power optimizers are more expensive

The inverter is the most complex component in a solar installation and has a big impact on the system price.

Microinverters and power optimizer-based inverters are more sophisticated - and more expensive - types of inverters. They can deal better with shade, give you panel-level monitoring, and fulfill rapid shutdown requirements.

You’ll pay a premium for these features. According to Tracking the Sun, the median price for systems with microinverters is $3.90/watt, and power optimizer-based systems are $3.80/watt.

In comparison, systems with string inverters are notably cheaper, costing a median of $3.40/watt.

It should be noted that most states in the US have rapid shutdown requirements, which requires the use of electronics attached to every panel. While there are devices that provide only rapid shutdown features, it would be a relatively small additional cost to instead use a full microinverter or power optimizer solution. This is one reason why most homeowners end up with an Enphase or SolarEdge system.

Batteries are a pricey upgrade (but sometimes worth it)

A small but increasing number of homeowners purchase a battery with their solar system, which lets them keep the lights on during a blackout.

The median price for a battery is about $1,000 per kilowatt-hour of storage capacity. A single Tesla Powerwall has 13.5 kWh of capacity, for which you can expect to pay roughly $13,500. Many homeowners will want two batteries of that capacity, so the costs get high very quickly.

Thankfully, the federal tax credit covers batteries, so you can at least knock 30% off the final price.

Your electricity usage might not be typical

At the beginning of this article, we estimated the number of solar panels a typical 2,000 sqft home would need. Of course, every home has different electricity loads and energy efficiency characteristics (such as levels of insulation and air tightness).

Unless you have a heated swimming pool or hot tub, your biggest electricity consumer is probably for heating, cooling, or both. Because this is climate-dependant, your household electricity usage depends in large part on what part of the country you live in.

Electricity usage for home heating

How do you heat your home? Depending on your heating system, you might use a lot of electricity during the winter.

In some parts of the United States, you might need heating only a couple weeks a year. In these regions, electric resistance heating (which includes electric baseboard heaters and small space heaters) tends to be popular. Electric resistance heating is inefficient, but handy in regions with low heating requirements because of its low upfront cost.

In cold weather states with long winters, natural gas is the most popular heating fuel. While a gas furnace does use some electricity to power the blower motor, it’s a fraction of the power that would be needed for a fully electric furnace. The motor for a forced air furnace might use a couple hundred watts or so.

Highly efficient electric heat pumps, which use compressors to pull heat from the air or ground, are growing in popularity, even in very cold climates. Utility companies, state governments, and the federal government (with the Inflation Reduction Act) offer rebates on air source and ground source heat pumps. If you have a heat pump and long winters, heating might be a big part of your annual electricity usage.

The bottom line is that heating might be the largest part of your electricity usage, depending on the type of heating system you have. For more on this topic, you can read our article on heating your house with solar power.

Electricity usage for air conditioning

In some places of the country, such as the Pacific Northwest, central air conditioning is rare. In others, air conditioning is nearly a necessity, such as the Southeast where summers are both hot and humid.

A central air conditioner is a big energy hog, drawing a couple thousand watts of power or more while operating. For many Californians (the biggest solar market in the US), central A/C is often the biggest reason for high electricity bills.

Average monthly electricity usage by climate

Here’s a table from the EIA that shows the average electricity usage by climate in the United States. No solar panel estimates are included this time, because these climates can be found in many different states. These averages are for all households, not just 2,000 sqft houses.

ClimateKilowatt-hours per month
Very cold/cold742

Other household electricity consumers

Heating and cooling aren’t the only electricity requirements in a home, but they tend to be the largest. Many appliances, such as televisions, dishwashers, and lighting, contribute a relatively small amount to the average electricity bill.

This is a table of average monthly electricity use by appliance for all homes in the United States.

ApplianceKilowatt-hours per month
Clothes dryer65
Clothes washer5

Bottom line: powering a 2,000 sqft house will require a system with about a couple dozen solar panels, and cost $15k or more before incentives

If you’ve made it to this point, thanks for reading! In this article, I tried to answer the questions of how many solar panels a 2,000 sqft house needs and how much a system like that would cost.

In the end, I wrote a lot of words to basically say It depends. It depends on where you live, how complicated your roof is, and whether there are local or state incentives available to you. It also depends on whether you finance your system or pay cash. It depends a lot on how much electricity you use, which is often primarily determined by how you heat and cool your home. And of course, it depends on the technical specs of the system you choose.

You can also decide to generate less than 100% of your electricity with solar panels. There’s no rule that says you need to be 100% solar. That’s true for my home, because I don’t have enough roof space for more panels. And that’s perfectly fine.

The bottom line is that you’ll want to get multiple estimates from local solar installers. If you click on this link, you can get request a quote from a local SunPower dealer, which will give you access to extremely high efficiency panels. When you do, I’ll also send you an email with my initial impressions about whether your roof is viable for a solar installation.


#System Design #Panel Efficiency

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