Homeowners interested in going solar often want to know how many solar panels it will take to power their house.
The most accurate way to find that out is to get a professional solar installer to perform an analysis on your home. A quick but somewhat less accurate way is to read your monthly electric bill and use our solar calculator to determine what your power generation and estimated system price would be.
Using the calculator takes only a minute, but if you simply want to know how many solar panels it takes to power a 3,000 sqft house based on the average electricity usage across the nation, here it is. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average house in the United States that is 3,000 sqft or larger in size uses 14,214 kWh annually, or 1,185 kWh per month.
If that house has a south facing roof without any shading during the day, it would need anywhere between 19 and 30 premium solar panels to generate that much electricity. In this case, “premium” refers to solar panels with an output rating of about 400 watts, which are the highest efficiency panels currently available. These include, for example, the SunPower A Series and LG NeON 2 series.
Budget solar panels can save you money, but will generate less electricity per panel. The lowest efficiency panels you’ll find on the market have a rating around 250 watts. That average 3,000 sqft home using 1,185 kWh per month would need between 30 and 46 budget solar panels to supply all of its electricity needs.
With both these budget and premium examples, we give a pretty big range in the number of solar panels needed. Why is that?
The main reason is that the amount of electricity that solar panels will 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 that are further south.
The ranges we give - between 19 and 30 premium solar panels to generate enough electricity for an average 3,000 square foot house - 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 southern latitude? If instead of Seattle, your average house was located just 140 miles away in Yakima, Washington, you would need only 24 premium solar panels instead of 30. 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 you can’t go solar just because you live in a northern city.
Unless you have a swimming pool, your biggest electricity usage is probably for heating, cooling, or both. Because this is climate-dependant, what the average household electricity usage is depends largely on what part of the country you live in.
In some places in the United States, you might need home heating only a couple weeks a year. This includes the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions, and southern California. For those situations, electric resistance heating tends to be used much more than in states that have several months of heating days.
Electric resistance heating uses electricity to heat a coil, like in a toaster or hair dryer. You’re probably familiar with electric baseboard heaters or small space heaters. Electric resistance heating is inefficient, but it’s handy in regions with low heating requirements, because it’s cheap to install and doesn’t require ductwork.
In cold-weather US states with multiple heating months, natural gas is the most popular heating fuel. While a gas furnace does use some electricity to power the fan, it’s a fraction of the power that would be needed for a fully electric furnace.
Note that electric resistance heating is different from highly efficient electric heat pumps, which use electrically-driven compressors to pull heat from the air or ground, much like the way that a refrigerator or air conditioner works. Heat pumps are becoming more popular, even in very cold climates. Many utility companies and local agencies offer rebates on both air source and ground source heat pumps.
There are many places in the country where air conditioning is nearly a necessity, such as the Southeast where it gets both hot and very humid in the summer. Meanwhile, few homes in the Northwest have central air conditioning, and at most might have a window unit or two for the few weeks where its uncomfortably hot.
A central air conditioner is a big energy hog, drawing a few thousand watts of power while operating.
Because of the regional differences in climate, average household electricity consumption varies a lot from one part of the country to another. The table below describes the average household electricity usage by region. (Note that this is the overall household average, and not just 3,000 square foot homes.)
|Region||Kilowatt-hours||Premium solar panels needed|
|Northeast||684||14 - 15|
|Midwest||797||14 - 17|
|South (South Atlantic and Gulf Coast)||1,158||19 - 24|
|West (Mountain/Pacific)||710||13 - 18|
This table shows you how much electricity the average household uses in each region, and how many solar panels in that climate are needed to generate that much electricity. Note that some regions, especially the West coast that spans the cloudy Northwest to sunny Southern California, have a lot of variability in solar radiation.
Another way of looking at electricity consumption data is by climate instead of geographic region. Here’s a table 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. Again, these averages are for all households, not just 3,000 sqft houses.
|Climate||Kilowatt-hours per month|
Heating and cooling aren’t the only electricity requirements in a home, but they tend to be largest. Still, things like televisions, dishwashers, and lighting contribute a significant chunk to the average electricity bill.
This is a table of average monthly electricity use by appliance for all homes in the United States.
|Appliance||Kilowatt-hours per month|
Depending on where you live, the average 3,000 sqft house will need between 17 and 26 premium solar panels to supply 100% of its electricity needs. But as you can see from the data above, how much electricity your house uses depends on everything from your local climate to how many televisions you have.
Averages are useful, but if you’re thinking of adding solar panels to your house, start with our solar calculator. Plug in your zip code, and it will automatically tell you what the average household electricity usage is in your state, or you can enter your actual electricity usage.
The calculator will also let you specify the direction of your roof and any shading you have, which will have a major impact on how much electricity your solar panels will generate.
If you’re new to electricity, you can read our article that explains basic concepts such as the difference between kilowatts and kilowatt-hours. Our guide to saving money with solar panels will show you how to read your electricity bill, which can certainly be a complicated document.
Finally, the best way to get an accurate estimate of how many solar panels your house will need is to contact a professional solar installer, who will provide you a technical proposal that outlines how many solar panels you will need and how much power they will generate. If you use our solar quote service, we’ll be sure to connect you with qualified contractors that are licensed to do solar installation in your area.