“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”William Morris
As a solar consultant, it might sound surprising for me to say, but not everyone should make a jump into a residential solar system.
Not All Homes Qualify for Solar Energy, But Your’s Might
Sometimes a residential solar system just makes little sense either financially, logistically or both. This chapter will discuss some reasons solar might not be the best investment and help you decide if you are one of the unfortunate few.
Does Your Area Receive Enough Sunlight?
The first and most important reason solar panels might not work at your home is based on the amount of sunlight you receive during the day. One common misconception is that solar panels need heat, which is wrong. In fact, heat can often make the panels less efficient. Temperature is not a big concern one way or the other, however the amount of direct sunlight is. All panels need sunlight to function optimally, but when looking at a roof’s efficiency, it’s best to consider an entire year versus day by day or month by month efficiency. For instance, during the winter months up north, the days are traditionally shorter with less sun, but in the summer sun more than make up for that.
Google has made the process easier for certain homeowners across North America with their innovative “Project Sunroof”. Google uses satellite imaging to predict factors like hours of usable sunlight per year and square footage on your roof that would work for panels. In fact, they even tell you how many trees would need to be planted to equal the savings your solar roof is generating annually. While much of the data is based on estimates, it is helpful to review the information if you live in a region that “Project Sunroof” has reached.
Cloud cover also plays a significant role in the solar efficiency of your roof. While a solar panel still works and produces electricity on a cloudy day, the total amount is diminished. Cloudy days can reduce production anywhere from 50%-90%. When your systems designed, your solar rep will help you understand the pros and cons of the area and what to expect seasonally. They will then work to ensure that your system performs as it needs to for your needs.
Often people have some concern about rain or fog interfering with the stability of the panels, but that won’t be a problem. Solar panels are well-sealed and will not have any mechanical issues from rain. In fact, rain is helpful in keeping dirt and dust off the panels, so they perform their best. Rain only ever becomes an issue in the rare event a panel has cracked or broken. If you notice a broken panel, it’s best to notify your solar installer as soon as possible to get it repaired or replaced.
Another big issue with solar panel efficiency is snow. If you live in a place that receives for months on end like Buffalo or Minneapolis don’t worry while you won’t have the same energy generating ability as someone living in San Antonio, there’s still an excellent case for you to make the solar switch. For one, while snow cover prevents the panels from generating power, it’s not impossible to remove the snow and clear the panels without the help of a professional. Here is a list of tools that homeowners can use to remove snow from the panels:
• Roof Rake - These are specially designed to remove snow, ice and debris from a home’s roof. In fact, even if you don’t own solar panels, these can help take some weight off the roof and allow the snow to melt faster. Use common sense with the proper roof rake. If you wouldn’t use it on your car, it’s best not to use it on the panels.
• Soft-Bristle Outdoor Broom - While perhaps not as effective as a roof rake, soft-bristled outdoor brooms will be safer on the glass face of the panels. Be sure to look for one with a telescoping handle to allow you to have a distance between you and the falling snow and ice.
• Leaf Blower - A normal, everyday leaf blower does a great job of removing fresh and fluffy snow from the panels. This method will most likely require you to use a ladder and for that you will want someone helping to steady it, especially with the force of wind pushing you from the blower. Another point of caution should be to ensure any electrical cords stay away from any wet snow or puddles.
• Spray with a Hose - If the weather is warm enough, it’s worth trying to spray with lukewarm water from a hose. A few minutes should be enough to clear the snow from the roof and get you back to generating big time power in no time.
• Tennis Balls - Sometimes all that’s needed to send the snow floating down the panels and into the yard is a well-placed throw of a tennis ball. If you have decent aim, a few gentle tosses might be enough to clear your panels. This trick won’t work as well with heavier snow and you may end up getting the balls stuck up there instead.
• Heating System - Heating systems are specially designed for solar panels and are very common in areas that receive higher than average snowfall each year. They typically contain a series of small pipes or hoses that are filled with warm water. Sometimes they’re manufactured with electrical wires or coils that attach to the panels themselves. Either way, while costing more than a typical garden hose, these will make the job of rooftop snow removal that much easier.
At the end of the day, snow is not a make or break for potential solar production, it just might mean taking proactive steps to ensure you remove the snow quickly to keep your system generating. Each week, more and more homes across the north are making the move to solar and that’s a trend that will continue. Heating and cooling a home using power generated with solar is a great option if paired with a failsafe system like a fireplace or electric heaters that can warm a larger space in a pinch. By utilizing battery backup systems, you can ensure that even during a storm, you have power to spare if your goal is to avoid drawing from the grid. If you live off the grid, a fireplace for warmth is a necessity in times of prolonged snow storm and snow cover.
Does Your Particular Roof Receive Enough Sunlight?
With sunlight, there are more factors to consider than just the natural sunlight of your region. Factors like tree cover in your yard or a neighbor’s yard can affect the sunlight that reaches your roof. Chimneys, vents or other obstacles can also cast shade and make the solar panels less effective. If you go to the trouble and expensive of adding solar, it might be worth considering if removing a tree or two to generate more annual production is the right move. Perhaps only portions of your roof wouldn’t work for solar, but you could offset a portion of your energy use with a smaller system. With so many different options, there are plenty of ways to make solar work.
The orientation of the roof is also a factor for solar effectiveness. In North America, houses with southern exposure will collect the most sunlight, however eastern or western exposure can also produce results. If you have northern exposure, your ability to collect sunlight is reduced and you will have to consider if the benefits outweigh the cost. Ask your solar rep to review your homes orientation to establish if and where solar panels would be most effective.
In the solar world, size matters. The size of your roof will determine the amount of panels it can support and if you have a large enough area to completely offset your annual electricity needs. A smart rule of thumb is to fill up all usable space with solar panels and if you generate additional electricity, you can often receive credits from the utility company for them. Most solar installers suggest a design accounting for 115% of your current electricity usage and if you plan to get an electric vehicle in the future, you may want even more. The last thing you want is to install an expensive solar panel system and still have to worry about running the AC on a hot day. Always overestimate what you will need in the future so you can feel comfortable no matter the season or temperature. That goes double if your home has central air and you had kept the temperature in the house uncomfortable to save money in the past.
What Condition Is Your Roof In?
Believe it or not, the type of roof you have also plays a key factor in determining the potential efficiency of residential solar. Depending on where you live, certain roof types may be more popular than others. Here in the North East, most people have asphalt shingle roofs which work great for solar installation. Metal roofing also is amazing for solar panels because they already have seams to connect and drill into. In regions like the South and South-West, tile roofing is more common and that can be trickier. This is because of natural tile brittleness and the potential for damage to the waterproofing barrier beneath them. However, solar installers are highly motivated to make it work and as they say, “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. As long as the contractors say it can be done and will back up that claim with a written warranty, it shouldn’t be an issue no matter what type of roof you have. The exception to that, is a wooden roof because of the possibility of serious fire hazard. If you have a wooden roof, but still want solar, your best bet would be to consider a ground-mounted system in your yard.
Do you know the specific angle of your roof? Chances are you don’t, but with solar 30-degrees is the optimal tilt. However, no matter if you have a flat roof or live in an A-frame solar can still take advantage of a solar roofing system if your installer feels comfortable adding brackets to tilt them (which is a common solution). You can also sacrifice a bit of efficiency and mount them flush if aesthetics are your largest concern. As long as you can work the angles and get a reasonable tilt towards the sun, your system can begin generating energy on day one.
How New Is Your Roof?
Unless you have recently put a roof on your house, chances are high that your solar panels may outlive the roof they’re placed upon. At present, solar panels can last up to 40 years and we may find out that they can last even longer because of advances in technology, improved components and fierce competition forcing increased quality. While a quality roofing company will usually offer a 30 year product warranty, a quality solar company will usually offer the same. Is your roof fairly new? Then now is definitely the time to investigate if solar makes sense for your family. If you need a new roof, reach out and see if you can have both installed at the same time. This might sound like a headache, but has the potential to save you a bit of money and time in the long run.
Depending on your current electric bill, most residential solar systems can be fully financed. Once financed, return on investment can happen in as little as 5-10 years, meaning that after you finished paying for it, you own the system outright. My rule of thumb is if you expect your roof to last as long as it takes to finish paying off the system, you’re good to go. Roofing is a competitive business and companies are often willing to negotiate with you to get the job done. If you need a new roof, your first call should be to the company that installed the system in the first place to see if they warranty removal and replacement of a system. Most will not, but it’s always worth asking. Another option would be to negotiate with the roofing company for removal and reinstallation of the system upon completion of the job, assuming that they have experience with that type of work. Otherwise, you might need to pay a small amount out of pocket to have it removed and reinstalled, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to your savings over the years from a reduced energy bill. That is especially true once the system is paid off and generating power without a monthly payment.
Let's discuss your energy goals and find out if solar makes sense for you with a short virtual meeting.
- Solar for $0 down
- Save up to 50% on your energy bills
- Increase your home value
- Get clean renewable energy
- Get a 30-year warranty
- Customized proposal and best value
Let's talk about going solar!
Jon Nelsen | Solar Consultant