7 Advantages and 7 disadvantages of home solar panels

Solar energy is great, but it's not a good choice for every homeowner. Here's a list of pros and cons to weigh when thinking of going solar.

Photo illustration of a pro con checklist.

In case it isn’t obvious, this website is a big proponent of solar energy, and home solar panels in particular.

In spite of that, there are pros and cons of solar that you should know about before spending several thousand dollars to hire a solar company to crawl around on your roof. For most homeowners, there are two big reasons why they go solar: to save money and help the environment. This article will list 7 pros and cons for why you may or may not want to add solar to your house.

Long term savingsAdded cost if your roof needs work
Lock-in your electricity priceFinding a good installer is tricky
Low maintenanceNeed to keep trees trimmed
Environmental benefitsFailures are rare but can be costly
Increase the value of your homeDoesn't always pay for itself
Support your local economyCan complicate a house sale
Option to go off-grid with a batteryRequires a suitable roof or yard

Advantages of home solar panels

Here’s a list of seven “pros” for why you might want to go solar:

Pro 1: The potential for significant long term savings

If your home is a good candidate for home solar, your system might pay for itself in as few as 5 or 6 years, and then generate free electricity for another 20 years after that. Do you like the idea of two decades of free electricity? Of course you do! This is perhaps the main reason why homeowners choose to go solar.

Your actual payback period will depend on a few important factors: net metering rules, state and local incentives (in addition to the federal tax credit), how much sun your solar panels will receive, and your utility cost of electricity.

The 26% federal tax credit was recently extended, so it’ll be around until at least 2023. But some states and local agencies offer rebates on top of that, slashing the total cost to half or more when combined with the federal tax credit. For example, Rhode Island and New York have local incentives that can knock the cost of a home solar system in half, or even more.

Even if the only incentive available to you is the federal tax credit, that’s a significant savings. If you have a sunny roof, your payback period will probably be around 8 years, give or take a couple years.

Pro 2: Lock in the price that you pay for electricity

By spending money on a home solar system, you are essentially pre-paying for your electricity for the life of your solar panel system, which is typically around 25 years.

So while the upfront cost of a system (usually a few thousand dollars after incentives) is certainly a large financial hit, it means that you are pre-paying for your electricity for the next couple of decades. This protects you from utility rate increases, which nationally averages out to around a 2% increase every year.

While your electricity bill usually won’t be zero due to minimum service charges, your average monthly bill might be as little as $20 or so. This can make your family budgeting easier going forward.

Pro 3: Solar panels are low maintenance

Compared to other equipment that you might have in your home, like a furnace or generator, solar panels require little or no maintenance.

Unless you live in a particularly dusty area (such as a desert climate), your home solar panels could easily work for 25 years or more with no work from you or cost of maintenance. Solar panels just sit on top of your roof and silently generate electricity for years.

The only exception is if you live in a dusty area with little rain, in which case you may want to periodically wash your solar panels, which is something you can do yourself with inexpensive equipment.

Pro 4: Solar energy is good for the environment

While it takes energy and raw materials to make a solar panel, after an average of 3 or 4 years the solar panel will have generated more electricity than was needed to manufacture it. After that, a solar panel is a net environmental positive, generating clean electricity and offsetting air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the electric grid.

Climate change currently is one of the most pressing global issues, and scientists agree that switching to renewable electricity is imperative if we’re going to have a shot at averting its worst effects.

Pro 5: Solar panels increase the value of your home

It’s pretty well known that a smartly done renovation, such as a kitchen or bathroom upgrade, can more than pay for itself. If you spend, say, $30,000 on upgrading your kitchen, the increase to your home value could be a lot more than $30,000.

The same goes for solar panels. According to one study, solar panels add $4 to the value of your house for every watt. This means that if you install a 6 kW solar array, you could be adding $24,000 of value to your home. This means that, right away, your solar may have paid for themselves, even before considering the value of the electricity they will generate.

Important note: this doesn’t apply if you obtain your solar panels with a lease or power purchase agreement, which can actually make it harder to sell your home. This is one reason why we advise people to avoid these financial products.

Pro 6: Installing solar panels supports your local economy

There are some things that can’t be outsourced, and one of those is solar installation. When you have solar panels installed, somebody has to crawl around on your roof to bolt them into place and wire everything up.

These are good paying jobs, and rooftop solar has helped to create a quarter million solar jobs across the country.

Pro 7: If you add a battery system, you can go off-the-grid

With wildfires becoming an annual occurance in California, many homeowners are adding solar batteries to keep their solar homes powered when the grid goes dark.

Even if blackouts aren’t a concern to you, a solar storage battery can help you avoid time-of-use charges, adding to the savings that your solar system earns you.

Disadvantages of home solar panels

Solar panels are great, but they aren’t for everyone. Here are some cons that might come with solar panels:

Con 1: Increased costs if your roof needs work

If you install solar panels on your roof, and your roof needs repairs, there will be an added cost of removing the panels, storing them while your roof is repaired, and then reinstalling them after the work is done.

What the cost of all this? If you’re doing a full roof replacement and all of the racking has to be removed, the cost of the solar work might run a couple thousand dollars. This is why it’s crucial to install solar only on a roof that is in very good condition. If you think you might need repairs in the next few years, put your solar project on hold.

Con 2: Finding a good installer is tricky

There are thousands of solar installers around the country. Thankfully, many of them are excellent, but as is the case in any profession, there are some bad eggs. Hiring a bad contractor is a real pain, whether it’s for a small plumbing job, home renovation, or a solar installation.

The best way to avoid this pain? Use The Solar Nerd to get quotes. We use a selective process to screen out low quality companies and recommend only the best ones.

Con 3: You’ll need to make sure that trees stay out of the way

Shade will absolutely wreck your solar electricity production. If you don’t have any trees shading your roof today, that’s great. But what if you have a little sapling in your yard? Will it grow up to be a big oak tree in a couple decades and ruin your solar production?

Before going ahead with a solar installation, take a careful look around your property, and make sure that landscaping won’t be a problem after a decade or two of growth.

Con 4: Solar array failures are rare but can be costly

Solar panels are very reliable but they do fail from time-to-time. So do inverters, especially central inverters which might be warrantied for 10 or 12 years.

Many installers in The Solar Nerd network provide 25 year warranties, and several solar manufacturers do as well, including labor. However, if you experience an out-of-warranty system failure, you might have to foot an expensive repair yourself, which will eat into the money you saved by going solar.

Con 5: Solar doesn’t always pay for itself

If you live somewhere with cheap electricity, a cloudy or rainy climate (such as the Pacific Northwest), or live in a state where net metering isn’t mandated, there’s a good chance that solar panels won’t be a smart financial choice for you. Some people in this situation will still go ahead with solar because they’re also motivated by the environmental benefits, but be aware that not everyone will save money.

Con 6: Solar panels can complicate a house sale

If you didn’t purchase your solar panels but instead leased them, selling a house with solar panels will be complicated because you’ll need the new homeowner to accept the lease contract.

Or perhaps you have a home buyer who simply don’t like the look of solar panels. While, on average, adding solar panels does improve the value of a house, once in awhile you will encounter a prospective home buyer who doesn’t see it that way.

Con 7: Solar requires a suitable roof or yard

Even if you live in a very sunny climate, if your roof isn’t ideal, solar won’t work for you. Maybe your roof isn’t oriented the best direction, or you have a big tree shading your roof and it can’t be removed. Or, you might be a renter.

For these situations, community solar can be a good choice. With community solar, you receive a credit for your share of the electricity generated by the farm. While you won’t get the tax credits you would if you bought the system, community solar lets anyone join the solar revolution, even if they don’t own property.

Bottom line: many pros and cons for solar, but the future is definitely solar

For some people, home solar panels just aren’t going to work out. For others, solar is a great financial decision, and one that makes a great contribution to a better environment as well. If you’re on the fence, check out the other resources on this site, or click the link below to get connected with a professional local installer who will give you a quote on system.

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