Solar panels for home use: Cost, batteries, savings


solar panels for home in 2021
Making the decision to install solar panels is a big one - make sure you do your research.

When you’re starting to research solar panels for your home, it can be overwhelming. There’s a lot of information out there - and it’s hard to know where to begin! 

We’re here to help you. We’ve drawn on nearly a decade’s worth of experience guiding homeowners through the solar process to develop this guide. 

Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about solar panels for homes, to help you figure out if solar is right for you.

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    What are solar panels and how do they work?

    To sum it up, sunlight hits the solar panels and shakes up the electrons within the cells, which creates a flow of electricity that is then sent to the system’s solar inverter. The inverter converts the electricity into usable electricity that can power everything in your home, from your lights to your fridge. 

    Some solar panel systems also include a solar battery, which will store extra solar energy the panels produce for use later. Keep in mind, not all solar panels are installed with solar batteries. In fact, most solar panel systems are not paired with batteries, but they are becoming increasingly popular. 

    The good news is that you can install and benefit from solar with no technical understanding of how solar works. Once the solar company installs the system, it runs itself and requires no involvement from the homeowner. If you are interested in the more technical aspects of solar, you can take a look at our in-depth breakdown of how solar panels work

    Do solar panels really save money? Do they pay for themselves?

    Yes, solar panels really do save you money. In many cases, panels can save well over $15,000 throughout their lifetime. With those kinds of savings, you can expect your solar panels to pay for themselves after 5 to 10 years. After that, your panels will be making you completely free electricity! 

    While this may sound too good to be true, worry not - solar is not a scam. Part of the reason why solar panels provide such great savings is because of a utility program called net metering, which most states have, that lets you sell the solar electricity your solar panels produce back to your utility company. 

    It’s important to note that not all net metering policies are created equal, and many utilities are fighting to cut back on net metering programs if they haven’t done so already. By installing solar now, you’re guaranteed to receive net metering for at least 10 years, which protects your investment against any future changes in net metering

    How much do home solar panels cost?

    The average residential solar panel system in the U.S. will cost between $12,000 and $14,600 after claiming the federal solar tax credit (more about that below). 

    Most of the time, you’ll see solar panel cost expressed in dollars-per-watt or cost-per-watt. This just tells you how much money you’ll spend per one watt of power that the system produces. As of June 2021, the cost of solar works out to about $3.00 per watt installed, which is nearly 80% cheaper than the cost of solar just 10 years ago! Plus, solar panels have next to no long-term maintenance costs, so solar is mostly a one-time investment. 

    We get it - $12,000 isn’t pocket change. Luckily, there are many zero-down solar financing options available, like solar loans, that allow you to go solar and start saving the minute the panels are turned on without having to worry about any large upfront costs. 

    But beware! Some solar financing options sound a lot more enticing than they really are. Don’t be the one who’s burned by the promise of “free solar panels” by reading our breakdown of popular solar financing options

    Do solar panels work when the power goes out?

    Most people think that solar panels will keep their lights going when the power goes out. Unfortunately, they won’t. 

    Solar power systems automatically go offline in the event of a grid power outage as a safety measure for utility workers who are repairing power lines. 

    The only way solar panels will power your home during a blackout is if they are paired with battery storage.

    What are solar batteries? How much do they cost?

    Solar batteries store your excess solar energy so you can use it when you need it most, like during a power outage. 

    Most home solar batteries cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to install, so they add a substantial amount to the total cost of a solar installation. 

    Despite the high price tag, solar batteries are cheaper and more popular than ever before as more homeowners want to protect themselves from widespread power outages. Blackouts are becoming more common throughout the U.S., and what better way to keep your lights on than a solar battery?

    Check out the below video explaining how solar batteries work with a solar system:

    In the future, solar batteries will only become more popular, especially as more utilities put an end to net metering. Without net metering, you wouldn’t be paid for all of the solar electricity you produce. By storing your extra energy in a battery, you’ll still get the full value of your solar energy, even if your utility doesn’t have a great net metering program. 

    You can read more about net metering and battery savings here.

    Find out if solar-plus-battery storage is worth it where you live

    How long does it take to install home solar panels?

    A solar installation usually takes one or two days to complete, sometimes more depending on the complexity of the system. But the installation is just one step in the process of going solar.

    When all is said and done, it can take between two and three months to get solar installed from the time you sign an agreement with an installer to the time the system is turned on. The biggest holdups are due to solar permitting and utility approval, which, depending where you live, can add months to the installation process. 

    The good news is that many solar companies are pushing for quicker permitting processes so homeowners can start saving with the sun as soon as possible. 

    Are there solar incentives or tax credits available?

    The most well-known solar incentive is the federal solar tax credit, also referred to as the Investment Tax Credit or ITC, which provides homeowners with a tax credit equal to 26% of the total cost of a solar panel installation. Battery installation costs are covered, as well. 

    However, the solar tax credit drops down to 22% at the start of 2023 and expires completely at the start of 2024. So if you want to secure the highest tax credit possible, you need to go solar before the end of 2022. If you wait, your solar savings won’t be nearly as impressive as they could be. 

    The solar tax credit isn’t the only incentive for going solar. There are tons of solar incentives throughout the U.S., even ones just for battery storage! You can get a better idea of the savings you can get through rebates and incentives in your area with our detailed state solar incentive guides.

    How many solar panels do you need to power a home?

    On average, you will need anywhere between 21 and 34 solar panels to power your entire home

    But, we’re going to be honest with you, the question ‘How many solar panels do I need?’ isn’t that helpful, and frankly, it makes things more complicated than they need to be. The exact number of panels on your roof varies depending on the specific brand and model of the solar panels chosen. The answer to this question won’t really mean anything unless you know the exact panels you want to be installed. 

    The question you should be asking yourself is, “What size solar panel system do I need?”. This gives you better insights into how you can power your whole home and how much it might cost, without adding the complicated factor of module power rating. 

    If you really want to know the number of solar panels you need to power your home and you have an idea of the exact type of solar panels you want on your roof, check out our step-by-step guide. Or, you can take the easier route, and read our article that helps you figure out what size system you need.

    Is a DIY solar installation a good idea?

    While you can install solar panels yourself, it may not be the best idea simply because of the potential danger involved. DIY solar installations let you save money on labor costs and you can even find DIY solar kits online, which range from $8,000 to $10,000. 

    However, the potential savings may not be worth the risk: you’re working on a roof, plus you’re completing electrical work. Not to mention, you’ll need to work out all of the permitting and planning yourself, which can be hard to navigate. You also run the risk of voiding out warranties and not qualifying for certain incentives.

    So, while you can install solar yourself, we don’t advise it. DIY may save you a buck, but going with a professional installer will save you a headache. 

    How do you find the right solar installer?

    The best way to find the right solar installer for your specific needs is by getting multiple solar quotes. Not only does this let you get a feel for each of the installation companies, but it also helps you find the best possible price

    Sure, you could go with a large company like Tesla and save a few dollars, but you get what you pay for. Those large installers won’t give you the kind of personalized customer service you need over the 25-year lifespan of your solar panels. 

    At SolarReviews, we recommend going with a reliable local solar installer. You should look for a company that employs its own installation crew and has been in business for five or more years. You can look through our database of trusted solar installers in your area, and read through hundreds of customer reviews to find the perfect installer for you. 

    Are solar panels worth it for your home?

    Solar panels are almost always a worthwhile investment, especially in places with solid net metering policies and local solar incentives. 

    Of course, there are certain scenarios in which rooftop solar panels aren’t a good fit, like if you have nowhere to put the system, you plan to move soon, or your energy costs are already low. 

    Learn more: 7 reasons why you should hold off on installing solar panels

    To guarantee that you have access to net metering and the 26% tax credit, the best time to go solar is now. Plus you’ll get to see solar savings sooner, which puts more money in your pocket to use on things you actually care about - instead of your electric bill. 

    Installing solar panels not only allows you to save big on your electric bills, but it also helps you lower your carbon footprint while giving you more independence, especially when you pair solar with battery storage. 

    Although battery storage doesn’t make sense financially everywhere just yet, as we see more states eliminating net metering and blackouts becoming more common, more homeowners will start adopting storage along with solar panels. 

    The best way to know if solar is right for you is to use our solar calculator. Our state-of-the-art calculator provides accurate cost and savings estimates for your specific home, so you can get a better idea of whether or not solar is a worthwhile investment for you.

    See how much solar panels will save you over their 25-year lifespan
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Catherine Lane

    SolarReviews Blog Author

    Catherine is a researcher and content specialist at SolarReviews. She has strong interests in issues related to climate and sustainability which led her to pursue a degree in environmental science at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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