Solar Power Your Home For Dummies
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Going solar requires an upfront expense. When you go solar, you get a good payback on your investment, but you do have to put out cash upfront. Banks have become very selective about loaning; in general, you need equity in your home to qualify for a second mortgage, and many people have seen their equity disappear during economic downturns.

Another issue to contend with is that the cost of solar varies quite a bit from year to year, so timing is an important concern. Government subsidies play an important role in the net cost of solar equipment, and so politics plays a role in the equation. In the fall of 2008, for example, when the markets were plunging, the federal government increased the Investment Tax Credit from a cap of $2,000 to a straightforward 30 percent of the out-of-pocket price you pay after state rebates and other credits. This made a huge difference in the net cost of solar photovoltaics (PVs), and people who bought their systems prior to the change regretted not having waited for a few more months.

Going solar takes work. Making good decisions about solar power can be difficult unless you've done your homework. And not only do you have to do some research, but you also have to work with the equipment itself. Here are some issues to consider:

  • You face some dangers: Active electrical systems can shock you if you don't know what you're doing. Water heating systems can scald you. You're much safer sitting in front of your TV than climbing around installing solar equipment on your roof.

  • You face equipment challenges in freezing weather: Solar water heating panels can freeze up in the winter. You have to pay attention to how they're working. Many new solar thermal heating systems get around the freezing problem by using some form of anti-freeze, but there are still a good number of existing and new systems that still use water exclusively.

    The anti-freeze systems are more expensive, but not everyone needs one. Be wary of contractors who are more interested in selling you the most expensive system possible than selling you the right system for your needs. It's ultimately up to you to do your homework and decide which system is the best for your application.

  • You're on your own for upkeep and repairs: If you have a big array of solar panels on your roof, it's your problem. If they break, you pay. When they get old, you update. Warranties run for 25 years for solar PV panels, but you may have to pay some labor costs to have warranty work done. At the very least, you have to understand your system so that you'll know when it's not working properly. If a single panel goes out in a solar PV system, for example, the production may suffer to the tune of 25 percent or more. You're the one responsible for determining how your system is working and taking the necessary measures when it's not working properly.

  • Solar panels affect other roof maintenance tasks: If you need a new roof, for example, you have to either pay a contractor to remove and then reinstall the panels once the new roof is in place, or you have to do the work yourself. In general, you can expect to pay a contractor around $1,500 to remove and reinstall panels when you put on a new roof. This estimated price fluctuates quite a bit, depending on the type of roof you have, and how large a solar system you're working with. In addition, while your panels are removed and the roof is being changed, you're not going to be generating any solar power.

    Consider the condition of your roof before you install solar panels. If you're going to need a new roof in a few years, you may be better off waiting until the new roof is in place before you purchase your solar system.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Rik DeGunther is the founder of Efficient Homes, an energy auditing and consulting firm. He holds a BS in Engineering Physics and dual Masters degrees in Applied Physics and Engineering Economic Systems. Rik is also the author of Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies and Alternative Energy For Dummies.

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