Solar homes: what to know in 2022

Updated

Digital rendering of a house with three monocrystalline solar panels on its roof
There are many ways to make your house a solar home, but the most common is to install a grid-tied solar system on your roof.

If you are considering upgrading your house to a solar home, it is important to determine which type is the best option for you. A grid-tied photovoltaic solar system is the most popular option, but there are other ways you can use solar energy to power your home.

The amount of panels you’ll need depends on your average electricity usage and where you live. But no matter what climate you live in, there are many benefits of upgrading to a solar home and there are options that will make sense for most homeowners.

A home can “go solar” or be defined as a solar home in a few ways, which we will break down below. In this blog, we will cover the different types of solar homes, their benefits, and how much a typical solar home will cost you.

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    How many solar panels do you need to eliminate your electric bill?

    What is a solar home?

    In short, a solar home gets most or all of its electricity from solar power. 

    With incentives like net metering, the federal tax credit, and local and state solar rebates, the cost of installing solar is now more affordable than ever. Solar panels are also a great choice to help reduce your carbon footprint by generating cheap, clean electricity for your energy needs.

    Historically, a solar home didn’t make sense if you were renting a house. However, community solar options are becoming more popular in cities across the U.S. and can transform your house into a solar home, even if you don't own it.

    What are the solar options for homeowners?

    There are four main types of solar installations that can turn your house into a solar home:

    1. Grid-tied solar system: Panels are either on your roof or ground-mounted
    2. Hybrid solar system: Connected to the grid and paired with battery storage
    3. Off-grid solar system: Relying completely on your own energy generation
    4. Passive solar homes: Homes that are built to work with the surrounding climate patterns to create completely renewable, fossil fuel-free energy 

    Generally, a grid-tied energy system is the most practical option in terms of cost and long-term return on investment. But, each option has its own benefit, as detailed below. 

    Solar home option 1: Grid-tied solar system

    When you install a grid-tied solar system, it means that you still have access to the power grid for use when your solar panels are not producing electricity. 

    You can also benefit from net metering in many states, which means when your solar system generates excess electricity during the day, your utility company will pay you for it.

    Learn more: Grid-tied solar systems explained

    Check out this video for a step-by-step process on how a grid-tied system works for a typical home: 

    Solar home option 2: Hybrid solar system

    Similar to a grid-tied system, a hybrid solar panel system is connected to the grid - however, it also has a storage battery for backup power in the event of a power outage or for use during off-peak hours, when the panels aren’t producing solar power (at night or in cloudy, rainy weather). 

    This battery backup will store excess energy that was produced from your solar panels throughout the day so your home can pull electricity from it, before pulling electricity from the grid. 

    A hybrid system can be out of reach for some customers because of the expensive cost of solar batteries, in addition to the upfront cost of solar panels. But it is a great choice if your key reason for going solar is for energy resilience or if you live in an area that experiences frequent power outages. 

    Learn more: What is a hybrid solar system?

    Solar home option 3: Off-grid system

    An off-grid system is completely independent of the utility grid. As such, it needs to generate and store enough electricity for a home’s needs day in and day out. 

    An off-grid system is usually impractical for most homes because the system needs to be very large in order to offset all electricity usage. With an off-grid system, adding a ground-mounted solar panel array can help provide the additional necessary energy.

    Off-grid solar is a major commitment, and significant lifestyle changes will be needed in order to make the most out of the energy your system produces.

    Learn more: Off-grid solar systems: An introductory guide

    Solar home option 4: Passive solar home

    Passive solar homes work with nature by using certain building materials, strategically placed windows, and airflow to keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. 

    In retrospect, all homes should have been built like this to maintain home energy efficiency. That’s why passive solar homes make the most sense when built from scratch. It is much easier to build a house from the ground up to create the proper airflow, the right amount of windows, and energy-efficient electronics than it is to retrofit your already-existing home. 

    Passive homes are expensive to build and require a lot of certifications, but they are slowly catching on in the U.S. So if you are building your house from scratch, making it a passive solar home is a smart option.

    Learn more: Don’t pass on passive solar heating

    Find out how much it costs to turn your house into a solar home

    What are the benefits of a solar home?

    There are many benefits to investing in a solar home, from cost savings to reducing air pollution. With solar panels, you can lower your electric bill, avoid rising utility costs, and even earn money from the energy your panels produce through net metering. 

    Reduces your electric bill 

    Solar will reduce or completely eliminate your electricity bill, as your solar system will be designed for your specific roof with the proper amount of panels to offset your energy use.

    Provides “insurance” against rising utility costs 

    When you pay a monthly electric bill to your utility, you are paying for your energy - but you are also paying for the cost to keep pipelines running, powerlines working, and to keep utility personnel employed. 

    These costs tend to increase, sometimes yearly, but with your own solar panels, all you need to pay for is their maintenance (which is very little). Not only that, many solar panel companies offer generous warranties that typically last as long as the solar panels will, which is about 25 years.

    Solar is cheaper than ever 

    Solar panel costs continue to decline due to the reduced cost of manufacturing. Now is the perfect time to take advantage of the reduced costs of materials, in addition to the 30% federal tax credit that is slated to be eliminated at the end of 2032.

    You can earn extra money 

    If you choose to keep your solar panels attached to the traditional electric grid, many states offer net metering. With net metering benefits, your utility company will pay you for any excess solar energy that your solar panels produce and you don’t use. 

    In certain states, you can also benefit from SREC benefits, which is basically getting paid to do nothing but enjoy your solar energy.

    Solar is a great form of clean energy 

    Solar is an excellent step in reducing your carbon footprint, as panels last on your roof for 25+ years and provide clean energy that entire time. Solar power allows you to reap the benefits of the modern electric world without sacrificing your environmental consciousness.

    Energy independence 

    If you have a backup battery, your home will still be powered up when the electricity from the grid fails. Energy independence is a great reason to install a solar and battery system. 

    How much does installing a solar home cost?

    The installation cost of solar depends on various factors. For example, local installer costs will be different, local state incentives will vary, and the number of solar panels your home needs will be unique to your home. Your total savings will also depend on the cost of electricity in your area. 

    Currently, the average cost for solar across the U.S. is $3.00 per watt and the typical solar system size is 7kW. That means an average homeowner can expect to spend $21,000 on a solar system before any incentives. But with the Federal Tax Credit, that same system would be $15,540.

    For the most accurate estimate on your home, you can use our calculator for yourself. The SolarReviews calculator is the leading home solar calculator because it uses accurate solar panel production data and electricity costs based on utility companies' costs across the US.

    Example: 1,475 square foot home in southern California

    solar panel cost calculator image

    screenshot of solar panel cost calculator

    screenshot of solar panel cost calculator

    screenshot of solar panel cost calculator

    screenshot of solar panel cost calculator

    With a 6.7kW solar system size on a 1,475 square foot home in southern California, you can expect an average monthly power bill of $2.

    If you opt for a solar loan, you can anticipate a monthly payment of around $80, bringing your total monthly savings to $148. 

    And if purchased outright, that equates to $73,156 in savings over 25 years.

    Is a solar home right for you?

    Here at SolarReviews, we believe everyone who owns a home should get solar panels installed, but the decision is yours! 

    Solar is an especially great option if you own your home and live in a state with full retail net metering, progressive solar and renewable energy incentives, and high electricity costs. In addition to these, you also will be able to take advantage of the 30% federal tax credit.

    If the cost for installing solar and what you can save year over year on energy bills makes sense for your home, you have the option to take the next step and get in touch with local solar companies. Your solar installer will turn your house into the perfect solar home.

    Key takeaways

    • A solar home is a house that generates most or all of its electricity from solar panels.
    • The four main types of solar homes are grid-tied, off-grid, hybrid, and passive.
    • Grid-tied is the most common, using the grid as backup power. Off-grid is challenging because the system sizes will need to be large enough to maintain power 24/7. A hybrid system relies on a solar battery and the grid for backup power, while a passive solar home is built to work with the sun and surrounding environment.
    • The average cost of a solar home varies by state, but the most economical is a grid-tied system.
    • The most expensive is a passive solar home because it would require a complete rebuild of your house.
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Ana Almerini

    Content Specialist

    Ana is a content specialist at SolarReviews. She uses her experience in marketing and knowledge from her master's in climate communications to research and review the solar industry.

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