What you need to know before you go solar

Tuesday, September 29, 2015
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What's the Deal with solar panels and what you need to know before installing them.

The price of solar panels has dropped almost 50 percent but before you sign up to go solar, there are many things to consider.

Federal rebates to go solar expire at the end of 2016 and rooftop solar panel installation nearly doubled last year.

Solar energy companies say customers can drastically reduce their monthly electric bills.

"They're really excited when the first bill comes and their electrical bill is much lower than it was before," said Christopher Hale, solar panel company owner.

But before you sign up for solar, here's a reality check.

"Solar panels can be a big commitment. You want to be sure that they'll work on your roof. Not every house is a good candidate," said Mandy Walker from Consumer Reports.

Make sure your roof will get enough direct sun. Panels are usually installed on the south side of your roof and shouldn't be shaded by chimneys, trees, or anything else above the roofline.

Next, know your roof's age.

"Solar panels can last about 25 years, so if you think you might need a new roof during that time, make sure the cost of removing and reinstalling them is specified in the contract," said Walker.

Then, decide if you want to buy or lease your solar panels. While it may initially be cheaper to lease, you'll likely pay more over the life of the typical 20-year contract.

"If you can afford to pay for the panels outright, it will likely cost about 15 to 21 thousand dollars or more. But they'll pay for themselves in five to 10 years and then you'll get free electricity for as long as they last," said Walker.

She also offers some other things to consider.

"Some solar installations may void the warranty on your roof, and in some towns it may increase your property taxes," said Walker.

Also, check your homeowners insurance policy to see if you'll be covered in the event the panels are damaged by a storm. And always have your panels installed by licensed installer.

"It's a very big decision. It's a big investment. It's going to be on your house for a very long time," said Hale.

You can compare leasing versus buying at EnergySage.com.

The website also lets you compare quotes from local licensed solar panels installers.