5 Things to Know Before You Take the Solar Energy Plunge

I believe solar energy is a huge part of what we need to be about as a nation. My wife and I have a vacation place at the beach in New Jersey that is a near-net-zero-energy home. We’ve put in the compact fluorescent light bulbs, the efficient HVAC, and a solar system.

Over the course of a year, we sell power to the utility company in New Jersey. So we really have no utility bills. And that’s saying something, because even though we’re not there all the time, we have to run the AC all summer; otherwise we’ll have mold growing in the high-humidity climate.

To give you an example, a few months ago our power bill at the beach was $4.15. The bill after that was negative $26; the power company owed me instead of the other way around, because of what I generated and sold through net metering.

If you’re considering solar energy at home, here are some pointers to keep in mind as you prepare for the project:

  1. Get ready.

The process starts by going online to a solar company’s website, contacting them and including your street address. This will allow the company to use a satellite map to pinpoint your home and assess your solar potential.

Have your past year’s electric bills handy, because you’ll be asked about your energy usage. If you don’t have them, no worries just call the utility company and ask for a 12 month summary.

Panels will need to go on the southerly side of your roof and need a fairly clear shot of the southern sky. If your roof is too shaded, you can still have ground-mount panels installed in a sunny spot on your property.

Try to figure out how old your roof is and how many years life expectance you may have. If it’s five years or less, it pays to have the roof replaced before the system goes on. Your solar installer may have connections to get that done for you.

  1. Consider a Purchase.

Many people put solar on their home through a lease agreement. However, consider this; if solar wasn’t profitable, why would a company put a solar system on your roof for free? You don’t own the system, you are required to sign a 20 year lease, you have to find someone to assume the lease if you decide to sell and you leave huge profits on the table.

If you purchase the system, it can still be done for no money up front. You get to keep the Federal Tax Credit and the Solar Credit income instead of some investor. If the financing is set up correctly, the system will give you free electric and generate extra cash for you from day one!

The solar company typically handles necessary permits and will be able to show you how to negotiate the Solar Credit market and Federal Tax Credit. It’s all very simple and can be done on line in a few minutes each month.

  1. Explore your alternatives.

You might want to consider a ground mount solar system if you live in a shady community. Ground mount solar can be the most efficient solar installation because the panels can be orientated at the ideal angle and direction.

Solar shingles are not as efficient as traditional solar panels, but The New York Timesreports that they can offset your bill by 40 to 80 percent.

You might also want to consider a solar thermal system to make free hot water for your home. Domestic hot water amounts for 20% or more of a home’s energy expense and a solar thermal system also qualifies for a 30% Investment Tax Credit.

Know who you are dealing with. Get references.

People too often go with the solar installer you promises the world or is a “nice guy”. However, there can be a world of difference between one company and another. Check them out! Ask for references and call them. Don’t assume because they give you names that the people are happy. A job done wrong can be hard to correct and frustrating heartbreak  you.

It certainly pays to shop but keep in mind that every company pays about the same for their materials and labor so if the price is too good to be true, it probably is.

 Go green to get more green at resale.

The longstanding assumption in the real estate market is that buyers don’t really value energy-saving stuff like putting in solar panels. But that turns out to be wrong.

In 2011, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released the results of a nearly decade-long study of home resale values in California. The study found the typical home with whole-house solar sold for $17,000 more than a home that didn’t have it in the state. That can recoup virtually all, if not all, of any installation costs.

In a similar vein, green-certified homes can command 9-percent more in offers when it’s time to resell. That’s according to a 2012 study out of UCLA that looked at sales of more than 1 million California homes between 2007 and early 2012.

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