Don't buy solar panels: 7 reasons why you should hold off

Updated

Three images, L to R: shaded roof, contractor replacing a roof, family packing a moving truck.
Do you have a shaded roof? Is your roof due to be replaced? Or are you planning on moving home soon? If your answer to any of these questions is "yes", you may not want to buy solar panels right now.

The science is clear: the world needs to switch to clean energy sources to prevent further climate change. Renewable energy sources like solar are at the forefront of the global energy transition currently taking place. 

Be that as it may, the fact remains: rooftop solar isn't a good fit for every American household. 

That’s because while home solar works well for some consumers, for many others it simply isn't the right choice. 

Here are seven reasons why you shouldn’t go solar. If one or more of them applies to you, you might be better off without purchasing panels.

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    #7 Your roof isn’t suitable for solar panels

    When solar panels are installed on homes, they are nearly always on the roof. This is because the roof has the two necessary ingredients to host solar panels: surface space (to place the panels on), and sun exposure (to power the solar panels).  

    But what if you don’t have a roof to call your own, or you have a roof but it just isn’t up to the job? Here are all the factors that could either prevent a successful solar installation or make it uneconomic: 

    • You don’t own a house: It could be that you live in an apartment, you’re renting, or you’re living with family. Whichever it is, it means that you don’t have to roof to install panels on. [Learn more: Your solar options as a renter or apartment-dweller]
    • Your roof is too old: A solar installation can be performed on pretty much any roof type, but it’s not recommended on a roof that is weak or damaged; that would just make things worse. Furthermore, if a roof is due to be replaced, you’re much better off waiting till that’s done; if not, you’ll have to take off the solar panels first and reinstall them when the new roof is up. 
    • Your roof is too small: Solar panels need sunlight to generate electricity. The more sunlight they absorb, the more power they generate. If you have a small roof, you may find that solar panels simply won’t generate enough kilowatt—hours to make a real impact on your bills. [Learn more: How many solar panels do I need?]
    • There’s too much shade on your roof: Shade cast on your roof by neighboring buildings or surrounding trees can significantly impact your roof’s solar generation potential. 
    • The roof’s layout is unfavorable: If your roof doesn’t face the right direction (i.e. away from the sun) or isn’t at an optimal angle (relative to your latitude), then solar panels will make less electricity than they ideally could. 
    • Electric rates are low where you live. If you pay very little for electricity then it can be difficult to make the economics of installing a solar system add up. 

    #6 There’s nowhere else to put solar panels

    The roof is the most common place to put solar panels — but it’s not the only place they can go. 

    You will find homeowners placing solar panels in other places, such as in their backyard or on secondary structure on their property. 

    If both of the circumstances below apply to you, then you’re out of luck.   

    • Ground-mounting isn’t possible for you: ‘Ground-mounted solar’ refers to solar panels installed on the ground using special mounts to angle them towards the sun. While this may be an option for farms and ranches, it is rarely feasible in cities and suburbs where there is less open space to work with. [Learn more: Ground-mounted solar panels]
    • No other structure available: The last option to consider are buildings like carports or sheds, or backyard structures like gazebos, pergolas and patio covers. If you don’t have any of these, or they lack suitable surface areas, it means that you’re going to hold off on solar panels for the time being. 

    #5 You plan to move or sell your home

    If you plan to leave your current residence in the next few years, you should pause and reconsider whether solar panels are the best option for you right now. 

    That’s because it can be difficult, if not downright impossible, to remove solar panels from your roof and reinstall them on a new one. Your new home may lack the appropriate space (see points #7 and #6 above), or the local building codes in your destination could be more restrictive, preventing the relocation of your existing solar power system. 

    Even if moving the panels is possible, you’ll still have to pay a significant sum to a solar installer to remove the panels and reinstall them on a new roof. 

    Learn more: Buying vs. leasing solar panels

    All that said, I should point out that research by Zillow says that solar panels increase your home’s value by 4.1%. This means that given the right circumstances, installing solar before moving home could actually prove profitable for you.   

    #4 Your electricity costs are already low

    According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 96% of homeowners have installed solar, or are considering doing so, to save money on utility bills. 

    This makes perfect sense. Many American households spend hundreds of dollars every month on their power bills — and solar panels are often the most effective way to slash that amount. Financial modeling by SolarReviews shows 25-year bill savings in the amount of $62,803 for solar panels installed in San Francisco in 2021, for instance. 

    However, some homeowners don’t spend very much on electricity. This could be because of one or more of the following factors: 

    • You have a small home
    • You have a small household size
    • Your home and appliances are energy efficient
    • You enjoy low electric rates from your local utility

    If that’s you, and you pay $50 or less a month for electricity, then installing solar probably isn’t worth the time and effort.  

    See if solar panels will save you enough to make the effort worthwhile:

     

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    #3 You’re not eligible for incentives and rebates

    When it comes to solar power, government incentives and rebates are extremely important. 

    The most important of these is the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which is offered by the federal government and has helped grow the solar industry by 10,000% since its enactment in 2006. The ITC is currently worth 26%; you can use it to save over a quarter of the price of your solar system. This incentive can play a huge role in improving the payback period of a solar system purchase.

    Additional incentives are usually available at the state level, and sometimes at the local level, as well. Right now, 38 states offer net metering, a valuable incentive that allows you to sell your electricity to the utility company at retail rates, while other states, such as New York, offer state tax credits worth thousands of dollars. 

    But if you’re in a situation where you don’t qualify for incentives — the federal tax credit, for instance, only applies if you pay federal taxes to begin with — then solar energy may not be right for you. 

    Learn more: Find out which solar incentives and rebates you qualify for

    #2 Your quote appears too good to be true

    You’ve heard the old saying: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. And unfortunately, it applies to the solar industry.

    The massive growth in the solar industry means that the rise of highly-rated local solar companies has also been accompanied by fly-by-night operations. 

    The latter category of companies offer solar panel installations at bargain-basement prices, either because they offer low-quality equipment or because they have an unsustainable pricing model that will see it out of business within a few years. 

    Given that solar panels are designed to last at least 25 years, we recommend you steer far away from such solar cowboys.

    Learn more: 10 tips for getting the best solar quote

    #1 The economics aren’t right for you

    There are several factors, some of them discussed above, that can negatively affect the economics of solar. If these factors apply to you, you could find that you stand to save little to no money by going solar. 

    Here are the factors that adversely affect your financial return from installing solar panels: 

    • High upfront costs for your solar energy system. This is usually because solar equipment and/or installation costs are expensive where you live.
    • Space restrictions mean that you can’t install a solar panel system large enough to deliver adequate electric bill savings.
    • Roof issues such as shading or non-ideal direction or angle negatively affect your home’s solar potential. 
    • Low energy costs - you don’t spend much on electricity to begin with.
    • Unfavorable financing: Your solar loan comes with a high interest rate (i.e. because of poor credit) or onerous conditions (i.e. a first-priority lien). 
    • Lack of incentives: You’re not eligible for solar incentives that can substantially reduce system costs, such as the solar tax credit or SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits).

    The combination of one or more of the above will reduce your monthly savings as well as the overall payback period of a solar investment. 

    Now, it’s entirely possible that despite these factors, you can save thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your solar panels — just make sure that this is the case before you take the plunge.  

    Calculate your solar savings:

     

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    Key takeaways

    • Without adequate space - be it a roof, backyard, or structure like a carport - it’s impossible to install solar panels.
    • Incentives play a key role in making solar affordable, so make sure you qualify.
    • Avoid taking out a solar loan that has a high interest rate or places a first-priority lien on your home.
    • Calculate your solar panel payback period before making a decision to purchase.
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Zeeshan Hyder

    SolarReviews Blog Author

    Zeeshan is passionate about promoting renewable energy and tackling climate change. He developed these interests while studying at beautiful Middlebury College, Vermont, which has a strong focus on sustainability. He has previously worked in the humanitarian sector — for Doctors Without Borders — and in communications and journalism.

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