So, you’ve decided you would like to go “Green” and harness the energy of the sun – kudos!
Getting what is best for you and your home or business can be a tiresome and demanding endeavor when it comes to any solar energy project as there are quite a few steps to the process, and lots to consider before ordering panels and all the other odds and ends that you’re going to need.
Installing solar panels is an investment that should not be taken lightly, and you should be thinking in the long term – if your house is made with aesthetics in mind, a gleaming new set of solar panels can have either a positive or negative impact on the value of your home, depending on many factors, such as the age of the building, and the area in which you live.
It’s not a good idea to install a solar panel system and sell the property; most companies will tell you that installing one of their systems will increase the value of your home, but this is not always the case, as many real estate agents will tell you.
To help you get the best deal and the most effective installation, we’ve put together some helpful tips, highlighting the areas we feel will be indispensable to your plans – location; education; structural integrity; products; installers; and upkeep.
With that said, let’s get started with the 10 solar panel installation tips that are quick and easy for anyone to do.
1. The Cardinal Rule – Know the lay of the land
It should be no surprise that South to South-West is where most of your useful sunlight is going to come from – if you live in the Northern Hemisphere – but you should also bear in mind that hills, trees, and other large objects, like buildings, could hamper your attempts to utilize that all-important sunlight.
Interestingly, you can check out the Google Earth Mapping Application to view your “solar day”; enter your address and click on the sun icon to see the sunlight, and how it shines on your home at any hour of any given day of the year.
Think orientation, inclination, and disposition.
2. Lateral Thinking
Latitude is going to be an important factor in the decision-making process, as your geographical placement will affect the feasibility of a solar panel installation; the size of your array; available daylight; and ultimately the money you will have to invest.
A home in Texas will reap more benefit from such an investment than a home in northern Alaska, where summer takes forever to arrive and is gone before you know it, and despite the 23 hours of sunlight.
Regional legislation will play a role in how your project pans out, so always check with your local and state authorities before taking the leap.
There are sure be building and planning applications to be completed and approved; regulations that must be adhered to; limits to how and where you place your solar panels – if at all.
Some historical and heritage conservation areas might have restrictions that determine whether you have can have panels on the front facing or rear roof; perhaps a ground-based installation will be the only option.
In summary, location can and will determine how much money you need to spend to meet your solar energy requirements; the available space and thus size of your system; the how, where and why your system is placed; and how to begin the process.
Which leads us to the next bit of advice; that knowledge is the key to solar power.
4. Educate Yourself
Renewable energy is a great alternative to conventional means of powering your home, but what’s sauce for the goose isn’t always sauce for the gander.
Solar power can seem like a God-Save to the ecologically minded individual; you can reduce your carbon footprint and reduce the money you spend powering your home, but it can be an expensive investment to begin – research everything.
You could be earning from your investment if you decide to go with a “grid-tie” system; giving you control over your incomings and outgoings when the rising cost of electricity is still trending, but you need the space to be able to make it work for you.
Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SREC’s) are another way in which you could benefit, through State lead initiatives to encourage and support those who want to go green by incentivizing solar panel installations for homeowners and businesses alike.
You let the sun do its thing and any surplus energy can be sold to the energy companies for a profit.
Also, bear in mind that not every state offers SREC incentives and an “Off-grid” system may be just what you need.
Find out what your energy requirements are, what your average electricity bill is, and get an estimate using a Solar Calculator to size the system you’re going to need.
5. “With Integrity, You Have Nothing to Fear” – Zig Ziglar
Truer words are seldom spoken, but of course, we’re talking structural integrity.
Before your panels and racking are ordered (never mind installed), to avoid damage to your home or business, and potential loss on your investment, it is of the utmost importance to check that your roof is structurally sound and will endure the weight through the lifespan of your panels.
Roofing material is worth paying attention to, as the type of roof you have may need special attention or to be removed entirely for an installation to be successful.
Old rooves covered in asbestos, slate tiles, or cedar shingles can cause issues both structurally, aesthetically, and to health and safety; similarly, with old rafters, a solid foundation will ultimately conclude in a solid solar installation.
Consult with an engineer or building consultant to assess your roof for structural integrity before buying; their experience may save you from making wallet-crushing mistakes.
6. Choosing the Right Panels and Inverters for You
The internet is a marvelous place full of wonder and… comparison websites.
For expert reviews and comparative value and efficiency reports, Solar Reviews and numerous other sites are there to provide the technical rundown and reviews on almost every product on the solar energy market – use them!
Don’t ever take one result at its word – again, it’s always good to talk to someone in the know and compare the results from a different website.
If you’re intending to go completely “off-grid”, maybe considering a life on the road, and you want to soak up that free energy, have a look at 10 Best Solar Products For Van Life and 13 Best Portable Solar Power Generators.
7. Junction Boxes
The sun is shining; the photovoltaic panels are absorbing that green, free, beautiful energy; the wind picks up; rain begins to fall, and before you know it the mother of all tempests is knocking on your door.
Can you rest assured that you have the right junction box installed?
The PV (photovoltaic) junction box serves a vital function for the whole system, protecting against the elements, preventing corrosive action, and saving money.
Look out for junction boxes with a moisture-proof IP rating (International Protection Marking); IP65, IP66, and IP67; they’re watertight.
If you live in an area of intense sunlight, it would be prudent to look for a product offering UV protection.
Diodes in the junction box also maintain a unidirectional flow of electricity, preventing feedback into the solar panels; important for when the clouds move in, or when the sun sets.
Have a look at the 20 Best Solar Junction Boxes for product specifications and reviews, at Solar Power Nerd.
A key component to your solar system is the battery.
There are three different types to choose from: Lead-acid; Lithium-ion and the heavy metal free Saltwater batteries.
Among these three types of batteries, there are another three qualities to account for – cost, lifespan, and Depth of Discharge (DoD).
Cost and lifespan speak for themselves but DoD – defined as how much energy or charge can be used before the battery needs to be recharged – to explain: the higher the DoD percentage, the more electricity you have at your disposal from a fully charged battery.
When it comes to cost, Lead-acid batteries are by far the cheapest, but that doesn’t guarantee value for money because they have a short lifespan and a poor DoD.
Conversely, Lithium-Ion batteries are rather pricy, yet they have the best lifespan of any energy storage option on the market; and the DoD is much better than in Lead acid products.
Both Lead and Lithium batteries might contain heavy metals which can leach into the earth and water, or contaminate the air at incinerators or landfill sites, meaning that you should dispose of them correctly, safely and at approved facilities – depending on the laws in your state.
Saltwater batteries, on the other hand, contain no heavy metals like nickel-cadmium electrodes, and so are generally safe to dispose of with your recycling.
The Saltwater battery is somewhere in between Lead and Lithium options, having an excellent DoD score, medium pricing and a decent lifespan – for the eco-conscious however, this could be the cream of the crop, ticking many boxes.
The choice is yours.
9. Installation Companies
The solar power industry, and indeed the whole renewable energy industry is rapidly growing and there are many companies that have lots of experience and superb portfolios, and these are what you should be looking for in an installation firm.
However, there are two option-routes: either large national companies or smaller local installation teams – each with their own pros and cons.
The benefits of choosing a local company are that you are in all likelihood, going to make some significant savings, as their bills are generally smaller than some of the larger firms (average between $2K – $5K); smaller local companies may be more committed to seeing your project completed with pride and diligence; and they are more likely to tailor your project to meet your needs.
Bigger companies, however, have much larger client bases; larger portfolios; more resources at their disposal; lots of experience and their brands, which are becoming household names, DO give you that sense of security and trust.
There is also a DIY option if you have a smaller budget and you don’t mind monkeying around on rooftops.
Some companies prepare solar kits for the handymen and women out there, or you can always make your own; but please keep safety in the front of your mind and talk to a consultant first and hire a professional to do the wiring.
When it gets down to the nuts and bolts, each installation is different, and each will present their own hurdles.
At Ecotality you can shop around for whatever and whoever is right for you.
10. Keeping Up Appearances
Regular maintenance is vital to the success and longevity of every solar panel installation.
You won’t exactly have to go out on your roof with your toolbox because solar panels and solar energy products are built to endure for decades – it must; it’s a big investment!
Birds, squirrels, and leaves, however, can cause damage to, or hinder the effectiveness of your solar panels’ ability to convert that light to electricity; keep your rooftop free of debris, keep trees at a distance, and think about installing an electrical deterrent, bird spikes or gargoyles.
To get the best out of your installation, perform or hire someone to perform an annual or biannual health check on your system.
You’ve got lots to think about now.
We have covered the most crucial aspects of planning a solar panel installation, from decision-making to follow-through, and thereafter – keep these ten points in mind; they will hopefully help you on your way to fulfilling, and sustaining your green dreams.
The best advice you will take with you is that the possibilities are endless and that with solid research, comparing products and talking to an expert, you will find the solar panels and accouterments that best suit your home, your family and your peace of mind.