Residential solar panels have taken off in popularity in the last decade. In fact, home solar generation increased in all 50 states between 2019 and 2020. Installation accounts for a portion of the cost of solar panels, so it’s important to find the right solar installation company that fits into your budget.
Curious about solar panel installation? This SaveOnEnergy guide will walk you through the cost of solar installation, how to plan for installing solar for your home, and a step-by-step walkthrough of the solar panel installation process.
How to install solar panels step-by-step
While the actual installation can take less than a week to complete, the process of signing a solar contract, completing installation, connecting your solar panels to the grid, and generating electricity can take up to three months. Here is an explanation of the steps to install solar panels.
1. Set up an onsite visit before signing a contract
Before you sign your solar contract, the solar installer will set up a time to visit your home and evaluate your roof’s size, condition, angle, and amount of shade. From there, the installer will be able to recommend the right system size and generating capacity for your home. This is the right time to ask the solar installer all of your questions and discuss your energy goals.
2. Sign your solar contract
The next step is to sign your contract. If you feel the solar installation company is the right fit for you, you can sign the contract – whether it is a contract to buy, lease, or a PPA – and continue forward with the process.
3. Set up an engineering site appointment
Once you have found a solar installation company and have signed your contract, you will need to schedule an onsite engineering consultation with your solar technician. This technician will come to your home, assess the structural integrity of your roof, and evaluate whether your roofing or electrical panel needs any maintenance before installation can begin.
4. Agree on your solar system
Following this engineering appointment, you and your solar installation company will discuss the best panel options, placement, and system size. Once you have reached an agreement, the solar panel company will provide a final estimate for the solar system, including all installation costs. If you agree to this estimate, you can schedule a time for installation.
5. Solar panel installation
This is when the physical installation of your solar system occurs. This step normally takes less than a week. The solar installer will begin by preparing your home’s roof for the panels and connecting the wiring that runs between your electrical panel and the larger power system. After this, the installer will put in the racking (a piece that supports the panels), connect the solar panels, and install the inverter, which converts direct current energy into alternating current energy (the kind that powers your home).
6. Get approval and begin generating solar power
Once solar installation has finished, a representative from your local government will need to inspect the system to make sure the wiring and installation was done correctly. After they give their approval, your solar system will be ready to connect to the grid. A representative from your energy company will schedule a time to inspect your system and, if approved, connect it to the grid for you. From there, your solar panels will generate electricity and power your home.
7. Take advantage of tax credits
The last step is to make sure you submit documentation of your system so you can fully benefit from tax credits or incentives available in your area. Read our guide to the Federal Solar Tax Credit for a detailed look into how you can apply. And visit any of our state solar pages to learn more about state solar incentives.
Solar panel installation cost
Solar panel installation costs normally account for about 10 percent of the cost of a solar system. The average cost for home solar panels is between $15,000 and $25,000, based on the average price per watt of between $3 – $5. After tax credits, that cost is normally between $11,700 and $19,500.
If you hire a solar company to install panels for your home, you will have to budget for more than just the cost of the panels themselves. Following is a breakdown of all the factors that go into the total cost of a solar system, according to the Solar Alliance:
Keep in mind that this breakdown does not account for the cost of solar batteries, which can greatly improve the reliability of your solar system.
So, how much does solar installation cost? Based on the average cost of a residential solar system, the cost of solar installation falls between $1,500 and $2,500 before tax incentives (10% of $15,000 to $25,000). If you factor in the solar federal tax credit available for residential systems, solar installation costs fall to between $1,170 and $1,950.
Planning a solar panel installation
Before hiring a solar panel installation company, there are a few important factors to consider about your home.
- Your energy consumption habits. Depending on how much electricity your home consumes each day, solar panels can completely power your home. However, you should take the time to figure out your home’s energy usage before installing solar panels. This will help you determine how many panels you will need and the total generating capacity that will work best for you. The SaveOnEnergy usage calculator can help you with this.
- Solar financing options. Solar installation costs account for about 10 percent of the total cost of a solar system. Because buying solar panels requires a hefty upfront cost, you should consider the financing options before hiring an installation company. Aside from purchasing your panels upfront, other financing options include solar loans (which are often offered by installation companies), solar leasing, and solar PPAs. Our guide to solar costs can also provide more information.
- Roof condition and angle. Your roof will need to be in prime condition before you install solar panels. Have an expert evaluate whether your roof needs any maintenance before signing a contract. Also, solar panels tend to work most efficiently when on a south-facing roof with a slope of 15 to 40 degrees.
- Solar panel tax credits. If you are investing in solar panels, you will want to apply for the federal tax credit and any state or local solar incentives that are available in your area. The solar federal tax credit alone will take off up to 26 percent of the total cost of your solar system in 2021.
DIY home solar panels
Do-it-yourselfers may be curious as to whether they can cut down on the total cost of solar panels by installing them on their own. The answer is both yes and no and largely depends on how much time and effort you are willing to put into installing solar panels.
If you decide to go the route of DIY home solar panels, you can certainly lower the cost of installation. Without having to pay a solar installer, you can save almost $2,000 after factoring in the tax credits.
That being said, solar installation companies buy materials in bulk, which means they normally pay less for a solar panel than the average consumer. Often, the savings on solar panels transfers to the customer. So, while you would have to pay for installation, you would pay less for the cost of the panels.
But if you are sold on DIY solar for your home, you can save on the overall cost of the solar system as long as you are prepared for the extra work. Before you begin your DIY solar panel project, thoroughly research the installation steps and be sure to carefully install your panels according to their specifications.