The idea of owning your own energy production is enticing to many homeowners. We speak to many people about the value and benefit of owning solar homes.
Blake Guinn of the Mike McNamara Group has been working in the solar industry for 6 years with residential solar and working with utility-scale solar. Blake consults for The Western Way, a national organization, to protect the consumers of Nevada’s choice to choose their energy needs. He also helps other real estate professionals during contract negotiations that involve solar systems.
Many homeowners and real estate agents aren’t sure where to start and what type of information they need to get started or know before dealing with solar homes. Here are the first considerations you need to make before going solar.
Solar Home Consideration #1
Do you own your own home?
This is the first thing you need to consider when looking at adding a solar panel system to your current or future home. Everything must be approved through your local utility company, county, and city before the panels are installed on your home. Only the owner of the home can claim the federal tax credit, submit for net metering, and claim the rebate from NV Energy. If you are not the owner or your name does not appear on the Title, you’ll need to get their permission because their name will be required on the contract.
Solar Home Consideration #2
Do you own your roof?
If you live in a condo or townhome, you may not own the roof. The HOA most likely does. Many times you own the inside, but they own the outside and are responsible for all exterior maintenance, including your roof.
To figure out who owns the roof if you don’t know, call your HOA and ask who would pay if your unit’s roof leaked. If they say they would, they own the roof. If they say your Homeowner’s insurance, then you own the roof.
Speaking of HOAs … Do you need to get permission from your HOA to go solar? … And can your HOA say “no” to solar?
Yes, even if you own your roof you need to get permission from your HOA, however, most states, including Nevada, have a Solar Access Law. This law prevents an HOA from denying the homeowner the right to install solar on their home. It also prevents them from saying where you can install panels if those restrictions will negatively impact your production.
Solar Home Consideration #3
How much shading is around your home?
Solar panels need sunlight to produce energy. If you have a lot of tall trees around your house or shade from surrounding buildings, your home may not be a good fit for solar. Trees can be trimmed or removed to make the system cost-effective, but buildings cannot.
Also, remember that trees grow. If they are not kept trimmed a few years from now your solar production could go down from the added shade. Check all your surrounding neighbor’s yards, too. You can’t force them to trim or remove trees.
Solar Home Consideration #4
Do you have a current copy of your power bill?
The solar company will need this in order to figure out how much power you use now and how many panels you need to replace that use with solar.
They will also look at your rate plan and take into account how your state’s power companies deal with residential solar production. If you just moved in or you’re buying a newly constructed home the system will be sized based on square footage of the home.
Giving them a copy of the bill will ensure that your system is sized on actual data, not averages or guesses. Installing a system that is too small will mean you will still have a large power bill. Installing a system that is too large will over produce energy with nowhere to go.
Most utilities will not write you a check for the full value of that extra power you made but didn’t use. Even with battery storage, sizing a system properly is required.
Solar Home Consideration #4
Do you know what you pay per kilowatt hour right now?
We all get our power bill each month, say some not very nice words and write the check, but do we actually LOOK at it? Pull out your bill and look for the line item that shows your current per kilowatt hour price. It’s usually labeled something like “Energy Consumption” or has a equation like “2,387 kwh x .109874.” How can you know if solar is a good deal for you if you don’t know what you pay right now?
Solar Home Consideration #5
Are you planning on making any big changes in the home that will affect how much power you need?
As we just discussed, your solar system size is determined by how much power you have been using (or are expected to need). If you are going to put in a swimming pool or spa, buy an electric car, have people move in or out of the house or replace an old air conditioner, these all have a HUGE impact on your power usage. The solar company needs to know about these changes so they can size your system correctly.
Solar Home Consideration #6
How quickly do you want to get your investment back?
The ROI (return on investment) for solar varies wildly from state to state and from utility company to utility company. Places, where power is very expensive like Hawaii or California, have really short payback times (5-7 years). Places, where power is really cheap like most of the Midwest, can see paybacks as long as 20 years. Nevada falls in the middle 8-12 years, Check the interactive map at solarpowerrocks.com to find out what the average payback time is in your state.
Solar Home Consideration #7
Should you buy the panels or lease them ($0 down solar)?
In the world of solar, there are different types of flavors when it comes to structuring solar payments. It is important to interview a couple of solar companies to see which one has a program for your household. Maybe leasing is a good fit for you.
Most of the larger nationwide companies have what are called “third party owned” programs, such as a Solar Lease or Solar Power Purchase Agreement. The homeowner does not own the system, but rather pays a less expensive rate of electricity to the solar company.
These two programs are zero cost to the homeowner for installation, warranty, and monitoring. If you go with these programs you would have two electric bills, one with the solar company and one with your current utility. Those two bills combined should be less than what your annual bill is today.
Since you do not own the solar system you will NOT get the federal tax credit or any state/local rebates. Those go to the solar company and it reduces your cost per kilowatt hour.
Most of these leases/PPAs come in two varieties. A fixed price per kilowatt hour for the term of the contract or a lower starting price that goes up every year by 1-3% on average. If the agreement has an escalator your monthly payments will go up every year. If you live in a place where power rates are truly rising this can stabilize your future power expense while providing immediate savings. If you live in a place where power rates are stable or falling (like Nevada), a fixed rate lease/PPA is a better fit. If you sell your home the new owner will have to assume your lease/PPA or you’ll have to buy it out.
If you work, pay taxes, and have good credit or cash to pay for the system outright, purchasing your solar panels is almost always a better fit. You’ll get the tax credit and any state/local rebates. You won’t have two power bills and there is nothing to transfer when you sell your home. Owned solar systems also add instant resale value to your home.
Solar Home Consideration #8
Who should I call to go solar?
Locally owned solar companies are normally the best option if you are looking to purchase your solar system. They usually are more familiar with your state’s rules and they often have lower prices than the big national chains because they have much lower overhead costs. Whether you are paying cash or financing, shop around for the best price, workmanship, and warranty.
If you want to look at leasing or a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) try the big national chains. They have all built a business on leasing and have the financial strength to make leases affordable for most customers.
No matter which route you take, always check that the actual company installing your solar system is properly licensed by your State’s Contractor’s Board and read their online reviews BEFORE you call or fill out a form.
Blake Guinn is a native Las Vegan with deep Nevada family roots. Blake has been in the Real Estate industry for over a decade dealing with Title and Escrow and Real Estate Agent training. Blake has been involved with Realtor New Home, Open House, and Marketing training and is the leading expert on solar homes.