Updated 2 days ago

Beginner’s Guide to Home Solar Panels: What to Know Before Going Solar

Find out what home solar panels cost in your area

Despite being a leading clean energy technology, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding installing home solar panels. There are several benefits to getting solar panels for your home, like electricity bill savings and powering your home with clean energy

That being said, residential solar is an investment that costs around $18,000 and comes with plenty of do’s and don'ts. That’s why our team of solar experts put together this comprehensive solar panels for home guide to help homeowners like you figure out what you need to know before getting home solar.

You can also watch this video from SolarReviews president and founder Andy Sendy to learn more about home solar.


Key takeaways

  • Homeowners can run their homes using solar power instead of taking energy from the grid, which lowers energy bills and carbon footprints.

  • A home solar energy system costs about $13,400 after the 30% federal tax credit and typically saves around $1,500 annually.

  • The installation cost of solar panels and electricity bill savings depend on local electricity rates, the solar company you choose, how much sunlight your roof gets, and the rebates and tax incentives available near you.

  • On average, solar panels pay for themselves after 10 years, making them a worthwhile investment for many homeowners.



How do home solar panels work?

Solar panels produce electricity through a process called the photovoltaic effect. Most home solar panels are made of silicon, a semiconductor material. When sunlight hits the silicon in solar panels, the electrons get excited, generating an electric current that goes to a solar inverter and is then used to power appliances and devices. 

If your solar panels produce more energy than your home needs, the extra solar energy can be sent to the utility grid or stored in an energy storage system.

Exactly how the solar panel system works with your home and the electric grid will depend on the type of solar panel system you have. There are three main types of home solar systems: grid-tied, hybrid (or solar-plus-storage), and off-grid. The following videos outline how different solar system types work:

Find out how much solar costs based on recent installations in your area

Things to consider before getting solar panels for your home

Listen, we’re solar people, so we’d love to tell you that you should just go out and get panels on your roof. But we’re also honest: solar panels aren’t for everyone. Solar panels have several pros and cons that can impact your decision to go solar. 

Pros
  • Reduces your electric bill

  • Insurance against rising power costs

  • Renewable energy source

  • Low maintenance costs

Cons
  • High upfront costs

  • Intermittent energy source

  • Panel manufacturing has environmental impacts

  • Potential difficulty selling your home

Even if home solar panels are the right choice for you, there are some things you need to consider before installing them. Here are the top things our solar experts think you should understand before getting home solar panels.

Home solar cost and savings

A fully installed 6 kilowatt (kW) solar panel system costs about $18,000 before any incentives or rebates are considered and saves an estimated $1,500 annually on average. 

Solar panel prices are usually measured in “cost per watt of solar installed,” with a normal price for home solar sitting between $2.60 per watt and $3.35 per watt when paying with cash. The following table outlines estimated solar costs and savings for different-sized solar systems:

System size

Estimated solar cost before incentives

Estimated lifetime solar savings

4 kW

$13,000

$31,100

6 kW

$17,700

$46,650

8 kW

$22,800

$62,200

10 kW

$27,500

$77,750

12 kW

$33,000

$93,300

Remember, the total cost of your rooftop solar installation and your electricity bill savings will vary depending on your specific home, your utility company, your location, and the solar installer you choose. 

Find out what a solar installation would cost based on recent installations in your zip code

How to pay for home solar panels

Solar installations aren’t cheap, but solar financing options are available to help pay for home solar. Cash purchases generally provide the best long-term solar savings, but it’s not a feasible option for many homeowners. 

Solar loans are the next most popular financing choice, as they allow you to retain ownership of your system. Interest and dealer fees cut into long-term savings, but solar loans still provide a good return on investment.

Third-party-owned systems like solar leases and power purchase agreements require no upfront payments, but since you are not the system owner, you can’t take advantage of certain incentives. These systems often provide the lowest long-term savings. 

 Can you get solar panels for free? No, you cannot get solar panels for free! When a company advertises free solar panels, they’re usually referring to leases and PPAs. While there are no upfront costs, you do have to make monthly payments. Don’t be fooled by tricky advertising!

Is your roof suitable for solar? 

Not all roofs are ideal for solar panels. For the best results, solar panels should be installed on a south-facing roof with minimal to no shading.

Solar panels can be installed facing other directions, but they won’t generate as much electricity, so you’d have to install more, which would jack up the price. 

You also want to install solar panels on a roof that is in good condition. If your roof is getting old, you might want to get a roof replacement squared away before you get panels installed. If you have an older home, it’s also a good idea to get your roof inspected to make sure that it can handle the additional weight of solar panels

What is your energy usage?

Understanding your home’s energy consumption is key when considering a solar switch. If you pay less than $75 for electricity each month, you probably don’t use enough energy for solar panels to be worth it. 

Energy usage dictates how many solar panels you’ll need, and it can even determine if it’s worth it to go solar at all. The more energy you use, the bigger the solar system you’ll need to cover your consumption. 

Most home solar systems use between 15 and 19 solar panels, but the exact number needed is unique for each home. Having a baseline understanding of the system size your home needs can help you get a better price and prevent unsavory salespeople from pulling a fast one on you. 

Oversize your system if you can. System oversizing is a top recommendation among homeowners who have already installed solar. Solar systems are designed to cover your historical energy usage, but we all tend to use more energy year over year (maybe you got an electric vehicle or switched to a convection stove). You can spend a little bit more upfront and install a few more panels than you need right away to ensure you cover future energy needs. However, many utilities limit system oversizing, so be sure to discuss that with your installer.

Does your utility offer net metering?

Net metering is the billing structure that allows solar panels to cover all of your electricity costs. If your utility has net metering, it will buy excess solar energy you send to the grid at the full retail rate of electricity, allowing you to fully eliminate energy charges from your electric bill. 

If your utility doesn’t offer net metering or credits excess solar energy at the full retail rate, it will impact the return on your solar investment. Take a look at how your utility bills solar customers to see if solar is worthwhile in your area. 

What solar incentives and rebates are available near me?

Solar incentives and rebates can significantly impact the cost of solar panel installation and the time it takes for them to pay for themselves. 

The most significant solar incentive that’s available nationwide is the federal solar tax credit, which directly reduces what you owe in taxes by 30% of your solar installation costs. Keep in mind that this isn’t a rebate; you will still be paying the full price for your solar system, but you’ll see the savings later when you file your taxes for the year. 

There are home solar incentives offered by state governments and programs offered by utility companies. Check what is available in your area to see if incentives make going solar more financially viable for you. 

Calculate how much you can save on a solar installation with local incentives and rebates

What to expect with a home solar installation

The actual solar panel installation can take just a few hours - but the entire process of going solar can take between two and six months to complete

A graphic showing the typical timeline for a home solar panel installation.

Typically, permitting and inspections are the longest parts of the solar installation timeline. This probably comes as no surprise if you’ve ever done any home improvement projects that require permits - it’s a slow-moving process. Some jurisdictions use a streamlined permitting system called SolarAPP that cuts down on time, but it’s not available everywhere. 

But the wait is worth it for 25 years of clean energy! 


Can I install a home solar power system myself?

While DIY solar is an option, we don’t recommend it for home solar systems. For one thing, it’s a dangerous task that requires electrical work and working at heights. This type of job is best suited for professionals. 

However, there are some more logistical things to consider regarding DIY solar as well. You’d be responsible for sorting out equipment delivery, local permitting rules and regulations, organizing inspections, and interconnecting with the local utility. Some utilities won’t let systems connect unless a certified professional installs them. 

You can also encounter issues voiding your panel, inverter, or other solar equipment warranties. 

Overall, DIY isn’t something we recommend for solar systems for homes, but it may be a project for powering a detached shed or garage or an off-grid setup.


Are solar panels worth it?

Solar panels are a worthwhile investment for most homeowners and are definitely worth considering. With an average payback period of just 10 years, you can enjoy over a decade of free electricity. In fact, solar panels can offer a better internal rate of return than traditional investment options.  

Again, whether solar panels are right for your home really depends on your unique situation. Contact local solar companies to find out if a solar investment is your best choice.


How to find the right solar company to install solar panels for your home

Finding the right solar installer is the most important part of getting solar panels for your home. Not only is your installer the one who actually gets the panels on your roof, but they’re also the ones you need to call for support down the line. 

Our solar experts recommend getting at least three quotes from local solar companies that have been in business for at least five years, have recent positive customer reviews, and hire NABCEP-certified professionals. You’ll also want an installer that offers high-quality solar panel brands like Qcells, Silfab Solar, and JA Solar

Finding a company that meets all of your needs can be intimidating - that’s where SolarReviews comes in. We can connect you with qualified, pre-vetted solar professionals in your area who can get you the best solar installation possible. You choose how many solar installers you want to hear from, and you’ll never be contacted by more companies than you select. 

Get quotes from trusted solar companies in your area

Solar panels for home FAQ

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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