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The Nine Most Important Things to Consider When Buying Solar Panels

by Mark Hopkins

  1. Solar Efficiency rating: This is how much electricity a panel will generate per surface area. Ie if the panel has a higher efficiency rating it will take up less space on your roof to generate the same electricity as a panel with a lower efficiency rating. More detailed article about efficiency
  2. Dollar Efficiency rating: This is how much electricity a panel will generate per dollar spent. A panel that is less solar efficient will take up more space on your roof, but will likely cost less than a panel that is more solar efficient. Ie if you have lots of roof space you may want to consider cheaper panels to save money as long as everything else (warranties, quality, rating of the company) are equal. If you have less roof space you might want to go with more solar efficient panels but they will probably cost more.
  3. Available space on roof: Fire codes require two three foot wide access pathways from the eave to the ridge on each roof top where modules are located.
  4. Installation Company: There are three components for a successful installation: Roofing, Electrical and Solar Engineer. Here is an article on picking a solar company
  5. Restrictive Covenants: Check to make sure that you do not have any restrictive covenants in your neighborhood that would require approval prior to starting an installation. Some states have made it easier for homeowners by enacting legislation in favor of solar panel installation even in the most affluent neighborhoods. In California we have the California Solar Rights Act, Section 714 of the Civil Code. A copy can be found on this site. More details on restrictive covenants
  6. Cover all your electric needs or part: Decide if you want the panels to cover your entire electric bill or part of it. The installer companies will ask you. My recommendation is to cover the entire bill if you can afford it. Why pay the electric company when the sun can give it to you for free?
  7. Lease, finance or buy: Decide if you want to lease, have the solar company finance you, pay cash if you have it or finance yourself. For most individuals that may not have 20-45K in a box in their attic financing is a good option. My recommendation would be to use a home equity loan to have the amount you pay monthly equal your former electric bill and then prepay it as quickly as possible. An average rate of return on solar panels is about 10-11% per year, not bad in this economy plus the capital gains you get on your house is immediate.
  8. Wattage generated by your system: You need to know what DC STC, DC PTC and AC CEC mean. Read on in this web site for a consumer friendly explanation. Here is an article with more detailed information
  9. Roof Orientation and shape: The direction your roof faces is of utmost importance. The ideal roof points due south and has a large flat surface area for panel mounting. If you have fancy arches and other things on your roof you will have very little space for panels. If your roof faces west and east you will likely end up having to place panels on the front to catch the morning sun and the back to catch the afternoon sun. It is something you should think about when buying a house if you are thinking of installing panels in the future. More detailed article on roof orientation

About the author: I am a solar panel owner, aka consumer who interviewed five different solar panel installation companies before selecting one to install them on my home in Valencia, California. After that the process took ten months to complete, from the time I signed the contract until I was generating my own electricity. My electric bill dropped from $183.92 last month to $55.40 and that was in November when there are less sunny hours per day. Go solar!!! I created this web site to help other consumers learn from my experiences, mistakes and to help the process go smoother for them, to help them be knowledgeable in their decisions and not to get scammed. The other reason for this web site is that I am very much in favor of energy and water conservation, reducing emission in cars and in favor of anything which will make our world a healthier place to live and sustain our planet for future generations.