Google launched an ambitious initiative in 2015 to map the solar capabilities of buildings throughout the United States. Project Sunroof takes imagery from Google Maps and Google Earth to determine how much sunlight hits individual structures. The results so far have been startling: 79 percent of all rooftops evaluated so far are technically viable—meaning they get enough sunlight—to support solar and provide a return on investment.
Unfortunately, the Project Sunroof data is incomplete for much of Maryland, so we can’t offer too many percentages on what most areas of the DMV come in at (Washington proper is at 47 percent, but with D.C.’s unique architecture and history, that’s not a surprise). But with Google discovering that even northern states were drawing solar viability numbers of 60 percent or higher, the chances are good that your home may be able to support residential solar panels.
That said, many homeowners are in the dark (yes, the pun is fully intended!) on what solar entails. It’s not some futuristic technology that is only available via a massive capital expense but an achievable, affordable upgrade to most homes. Here are six things homeowners should know about residential solar panels:
1. Solar is the ultimate green upgrade to your home
For homeowners committed to environmentally friendly living, solar surpasses other green options in terms of using renewable energy, reducing your carbon footprint, and improving the air we breathe. By switching to solar panels, homeowners reduce their use of fossil fuels to power their homes. Sunlight is the ultimate renewable resource and doesn’t require enormous amounts of water for cooling the way coal and nuclear plants do. Moreover, investing in solar panels means investing in clean energy jobs, which are booming in the United States.
2. Traditional solar has some drawbacks
A typical homeowner who wants to add residential solar panels might have a rack-mounted system installed atop the roof. Although this is an upgrade from not harnessing solar power at all, there are some drawbacks to consider. First, your roof might not be ideally designed for a rack-mounted system, and the potential for leaks and other problems increases. Second, many installers are not roofing experts and could unintentionally damage your roof as they affix the brackets. Third, rack-mounted systems, set above the roof, are havens for critters to nest, thus increasing the possibility of damage to the system and your roof. Finally, roof repairs and maintenance become trickier if a contractor must work around the solar panels (and vice versa). Luckily, a better option has emerged…
3. New solar panel systems provide seamless integration into your architecture
Integrated residential solar panel systems build solar right into a new roof. The panels offer a sleek profile that isn’t painfully (and unaesthetically) obvious like a rack-mounted system is. A protected perimeter keeps water out of the system, and no wires are exposed to the elements. Moreover, integrated systems are installed by professional roofers who realize the importance of maintaining the integrity of the whole top of the house.
4. Solar saves money
No discussion about solar would be complete without highlighting the cost savings that residential panels offer. On average, homeowners who switch to solar can save 50 percent to 75 percent on their electricity bills every month. Although you likely won’t go off the grid—even some of the true green believers still purchase some electricity from the power company—slicing off half of your electricity costs is significant.
5. Solar works on cloudy days
A common argument against solar panels is that homeowners won’t enjoy a benefit on cloudy days. This is actually false: Panels will draw power even when the skies are gray. It won’t be as much, of course, but your system does capture energy every day of the year, rain or shine.
6. Solar isn’t as expensive as you think
The roadblock that many homeowners fear is that residential solar panels are simply too expensive. Fortunately, with federal, state, and even some local rebates available, solar is more affordable than you might think. Moreover, with integrated systems, you are purchasing a new roof at the same time you are adding solar. Factor in the aforementioned energy savings and solar panels become more cost-effective than you might have originally imagined. Quality installers and roofing contractors can walk you through the process to see what solar options are best for your home, how much they will cost, and what benefits you can realize in the long term.
What questions do you have about residential solar panels that we can answer?