Updated 2 days ago

Are Solar Panels Worth It? (And 7 Reasons Not to Buy Them)

Written by Catherine Lane , Fact-checked by Ben Zientara

Find out if solar panels are worth it for your home

Key takeaways

  • Solar panels are worth it for most homeowners, as long-term savings and increases in property value make up for the high initial installation costs. 

  • Whether solar panels are worth it depends on where you live, your budget, your roof’s characteristics, incentives, and how much energy you use. 

  • Solar panels are not worth it for everyone, including those who don’t spend a lot on electricity, don’t have the space for them, or plan on moving in the near future.


When are solar panels worth it?

Installing solar panels is a worthwhile investment for most homeowners because of the various benefits of solar energy. Solar panels can save you money on your electricity bills, and they typically pay for themselves in 10 years or less. Solar panels can even increase home value by an average of 6.8%!

Solar panels are best for people who live in good solar states with solar-friendly policies, like net metering and solar incentive programs. Homes with south-facing roofs and lots of unshaded space are also ideal for solar.

Homeowners with high electricity bills are among those who can benefit the most from going solar. The more money you spend on electricity, the more you can save by powering your home with solar energy. 

Solar panels are also a great source of clean energy. According to Columbia University, solar panels lower carbon emissions per acre than trees! Solar panels also reduce reliance on fossil fuels and help you live more sustainably.

With solar, you can go green and keep the green in your wallet — sounds worth it to us!


Factors to consider when deciding if solar is worth it

You need to consider a few key factors when figuring out if a solar panel installation is worth it for you, including:

  • Electricity rates: People who live in areas with high electricity prices can save more money than those who live in places with cheap utility rates. 

  • Electricity usage: Homes with high energy consumption can see substantial financial benefits from installing solar panels.

  • Solar panel costs and budget: The average cost to install a solar power system is about $19,000, and it may be even more if your home uses a lot of electricity! Even with financing options like solar loans, solar leases, and power purchase agreements (PPAs) to help with upfront costs, you need to consider your budget and see if a solar payment is something you can take on. 

  • Solar incentives and rebates: Some states and utility providers offer incentives and rebates that reduce the upfront solar system cost or provide extra savings as the solar panels generate power. The solar tax credit is the largest solar incentive and can lower solar energy system costs by 30% through a credit on your income taxes. You may even qualify for property tax exemptions. 

  • Local net metering policy: Solar panels save the most money in places where utilities offer net metering. Net metering policies provide homeowners with electricity bill credits equal to the retail rate of electricity and can completely eliminate monthly utility energy costs!

  • Location and environment: Solar panels work best in places with lots of sun exposure and cool temperatures. Cloud cover reduces the amount of solar energy a system produces but can still significantly reduce electricity costs. 

  • Roof design: Home solar panel systems should ideally be installed on south-facing roofs that don’t get shaded by trees or other buildings and have few obstructions like chimneys and skylights. 

Use this calculator to find out of if solar panels are worth it for your home

Why solar panels are not worth it for all homeowners

Of course, there are some scenarios when solar panels are not worth it. Here are seven reasons to hold off on getting solar panels.

1. Your roof isn’t suitable for solar panels

Home solar panel systems are nearly always placed on the roof. Most roofs possess the two necessary ingredients for solar panels: lots of sunlight and a surface to mount them on.

But not all roofs are good for solar.  Here are all the roof-related factors that could prevent a successful solar:

  • Your roof is too old: If your asphalt shingle roof is over 15 years old, you should get a roof replacement before installing solar. If you need to re-roof after installing solar, you’ll be forced to have the solar company remove the panels in the middle of their life, adding unnecessary cost and complexity.

  • You get too much shade: Consistent shade on your roof, whether from nearby trees or neighboring buildings, is bad news for even the best solar panels. Solar energy systems don’t perform well without direct sunlight.

  • Your roof isn’t ideally oriented: In North America, south-facing roofs are best, although east- or west-facing roofs can be just fine, as long as they don’t have too steep of a slope

  • Your roof is too small: The average home requires between 15 and 20 solar panels, which can take up 250 to 350 square feet of roof space. If the sunny portion of your roof is too small to fit enough panels, your solar savings will be much lower than you want them to be.

2. There’s nowhere else to put solar panels

The roof of your home is the most common site for solar panels — but it’s not the only place they can go. Homeowners who can’t get rooftop solar panels can get creative and find another site. 

Solar panels can be installed on a carport, gazebo, or pergola. If you have a significant amount of space, you can do a ground-mount solar installation, but beware of the added costs of concrete footings and trenching to bury wires between the installation and your home.

If you don't have a suitable roof or an alternative location, you’ll have nowhere to put the solar panels.

3. Your electricity costs are already low

Solar panels produce energy that homes can use instead of the electricity from the grid, reducing electricity bills. If you pay less than $75 per month for electricity, installing solar panels probably isn’t worth it for you.

There are many reasons you might have a small electric bill:

  • You have a small house.

  • You have a small household size.

  • Your home and appliances are energy efficient.

  • You enjoy low electric rates from your local utility.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, people who live in Massachusetts, California, or Rhode Island have some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Solar panels can save homeowners more money in these places than somewhere like North Dakota, where electricity rates are below average. 

Instead, consider alternate ways of supporting solar power, like subscribing to a community solar program, which offsets your usage with energy produced by a large solar farm and can still save you a small amount on your bills and support renewable energy.

4. You plan to move or sell your home

If you plan on leaving your current residence within the next few years, consider whether solar panels are a good investment now or if you should wait to buy solar until you move.

While it’s true that solar panels add value to your home, that’s only true if the solar is fully paid for. Signing up for a solar lease or PPA can make it more challenging to sell your home, and a solar loan will likely need to be paid off in escrow as a condition of the home sale. People love the idea of a solar home that keeps their energy bills low, but nobody is out there looking to buy a house with an additional solar payment tacked on.

Also, moving a solar panel system from one house to another is extremely difficult and expensive, so you should not consider that a viable option. Once solar panels have been installed on a roof, they should stay there for the entire usable lifespan (25 years or more).

5. You’re not eligible for incentives and rebates

Solar incentives and rebates can help reduce your initial investment in solar panels and make them even more attractive. 

The federal government offers a 30% federal tax credit to people who install solar panels on their property. BUT (yes, there’s a big BUT), the benefits of the federal tax incentive are limited for homeowners who don’t pay income taxes or who have a very low tax liability.

You’ll also want to know if your local utility company offers net metering. Net metering allows homeowners to receive full credit for all of the excess energy their solar panels produce and fully eliminates their monthly electric bill. 

Without net metering, solar panels are not nearly as worth it. 

6. 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. These words definitely ring true when it comes to solar offers. 

Have you ever seen ads that promise “free solar panels?” They sound great until you realize that the only thing that’s free is the space on your roof that you give over to the solar company, which then sells you the energy produced by the solar panels on your roof. 

Explosive growth in the solar industry over recent years has attracted plenty of fly-by-night operations. While you're gathering solar quotes, you can spot these solar scammers if they have extremely low prices or promise that “you’ll get a huge check from the government.”

If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t! Going solar with the lowest bidder who uses shady sales tactics is never worth it! You want a solar company that can answer all of your solar questions that you can trust will be there to support you for over 25 years. 

7. The economics aren’t right for you

You might come to the final step in your solar journey and find that solar panels just don’t make financial sense for you right now. It might be hard to hear (and it’s hard for us to say), but solar panels aren’t the right solution for every home every time. 

Again, reputable installers who plan to support their customers for decades don’t sell solar panels for the cheapest price. But that’s how it’s supposed to be. You wouldn’t hire someone to remodel your kitchen or build a giant beautiful deck on your home based solely on the fact they gave you the lowest price, right?

In good solar states, lawmakers have done their job to provide an environment in which any homeowner who wants solar energy can save money by doing so through net metering and solar incentives.

In other places, solar just isn't a good investment. Here, utility companies have chipped away at protections for people who want to go solar, and incentives are non-existent. Interest rates for solar financing can also be high and may not fit your budget. If you live in one of these places, you might find that going solar doesn’t pencil out for you.

Calculate how much money you can save with solar panels and see if it's worth it for you

How to determine if solar panels are worth it for you

You can look at a solar panel system’s payback period to understand if it is worth it. The solar payback period gives you an idea of how long it takes for solar panels to break even.

If a solar panel system's payback period is 12.5 years or less, going solar is worth it and will likely provide a good return on investment. In states with high electricity rates, solar panels can have an internal rate of return of over 20% — double the average return of a long-term index fund!

To find the payback period of a solar photovoltaic installation, you simply divide the total cost of solar panels after incentives and rebates by the annual solar utility bill savings. 

Let’s look at an example of a cost breakdown and payback period for solar panels installed in states with different electric rates:

Massachusetts

North Dakota

Solar system cost

$18,000

$18,000

Solar tax credit value

$5,400

$5,400

Annual solar energy production

7,804 kWh

8,292 kWh

Avg. cost of electricity

$0.29 per kWh

$0.10 per kWh

Avg. annual maintenance costs*

$186

$186

25-year solar savings**

$59,900

$12,260

Payback period

5.5 years

12.5 years

*Average annual maintenance costs estimated using data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System and Energy Storage Cost Benchmarks, With Minimum Sustainable Price Analysis: Q1 2022

**Average solar savings, less installation costs, assumes 3% annual electric rate increase, and 0.5% panel degradation

The solar panel system installed in Massachusetts, where electricity is about $0.29 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), can break even after just five years. Even though North Dakota gets more sunlight than Massachusetts on average, electricity rates are so much lower that the solar panels won’t pay for themselves until after 12.5 years. 

Don’t get us wrong, a 12.5 year payback period is still decent and the homeowner will see electricity bill savings, but solar panels pay for themselves much faster in places with high electric rates. 

Actual solar payback periods depend on the net metering policy in place, the amount of energy the solar panels produce, and local electricity rates. 


Find the right installer to make going solar worth it

Like any home improvement project, the quality depends largely on who completes it. Solar is an expensive investment, and you want to make sure you’re working with the best company possible. 

We know how important your solar investment is, and you don’t want to risk working with a company that won’t get the job done right. You also don’t want to work with a company that isn’t honest with you about whether or not solar is worth it for your home. 

That's where SolarReviews comes in. We connect homeowners with top local solar companies so they can start saving money on their electricity bills and reduce their carbon footprint by powering their homes with a clean energy source. 

Find trust solar installers near you and find out if solar panels are worth it
Written by Catherine Lane Solar Industry Expert

Catherine is the Written Content Manager at SolarReviews, where she has been at the forefront of researching and reporting on the solar industry for five years. She leads a dynamic team in producing informative and engaging content on residential solar to help homeowners make informed decisions about investing in solar panels. Catherine’s expertise has garnered attention from leading industry publications, with her work being featured in Sola...

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