Topics:Solar Savings Solar Technologies DIY solar
Before you can lower your carbon footprint through solar power, before the panels go on your roof, even before the system is designed, the site for the potential solar project needs to be properly surveyed.
So what is a site survey?
A solar site survey is a comprehensive evaluation of a home’s potential to produce solar energy and one of the primary services a solar company provides in its initial consultation.
Although solar site surveys are generally conducted by solar professionals, homeowners can partially assess the home themselves. If you’re considering solar panels for your home, and would like to educate yourself on your home’s capacity for solar energy, read through our site survey checklist below:
Unless you are or know a professional roofer, we don’t recommend anyone climbing up on their roof to perform a physical inspection. That said, the roof inspection is the first and most important step in any solar site survey.
Even without physically getting on your roof, answering a few questions can help you quickly determine if solar is right for you:
Because the solar installation team will be affixing the mounting equipment that supports the solar panels directly onto the roof — literally drilling into it — it’s important that your roof be in good condition. Per Citadel Roofing & Solar, a roof’s “age” has more to do with the weather it’s sustained than the number of years, i.e., severe wind, rain, and snow can age a roof faster than time sometimes can.
Even so, a roof that is several decades old may not reveal any structural instabilities until after someone starts drilling into it.
Not sure how old your roof is? Janney Roofing identified a few strategies to help you determine the age of your roof. If you’re unable to ask the previous owner (you can also have your buyer’s agent contact their seller’s agent), you can contact your local county permitting office. Several US counties require a permit to replace the roof.
In solar, bigger is not always better, but size does matter. Your roof’s surface area, pitch, and slope direction all affect its potential solar output.
But if you’re thinking that completely covering your roof with solar panels will negate any size issues, you might remember another trite phrase: sometimes, less is more. More solar panels doesn’t guarantee more solar output (we’ll discuss this more in the next section about shade), but it does guarantee more cost.
Measuring your roof properly ahead of time will help you identify the optimal number and placement of solar panels later.
For reference, the average solar panel is about 65 x 39 inches, or roughly 17 square feet in area, and carries a wattage ranging anywhere from 200 to 400 watts. Assuming you want a 5 kilowatt solar system (suitable for most homes), you would need anywhere between 12 and 25 solar panels, or 204 to 425 square feet of panels.
You can get a rough estimate of your roof’s surface area and pitch without ever stepping foot outside:
Not surprisingly, solar panels work the best when they’re exposed to lots of sunlight and are less effective in the shade. If trees, buildings, or other outdoor structures are casting a consistent shadow over significant portions of your rooftop, solar panels may not be a viable option for you.
One way to quickly assess the hours of usable sunlight available to your roof is through Google’s Project Sunroof app. Project Sunroof is a free tool that uses satellite imagery and 3D modeling to determine factors like available sunlight, roof size, and potential solar savings through various financing options like direct purchase, solar loans, solar leases, and power purchase agreements (PPA).
Note: Project Sunroof is not available for all US addresses. If this is the case for you, you can conduct a simple eyeball test and answer the following questions:
Every Energy Consultant in the industry will mention the importance of reviewing your home’s historic energy usage, with 12 months representing the average sample size.
Simply put, you won’t know how much solar energy your home needs if you don’t first know how much energy your home is consuming.
Even if your energy consumption has not significantly changed in the last 12 months, chances are you’re paying more for electricity now than you were a year ago. Most utility companies will raise their rates anywhere between 1 and 3 percent each year partly to keep up with inflation, partly to keep up with demand. You can find the retail rate of electricity (expressed in dollars per kilowatt-hour, or $/kWh) directly on your power bill and see how that rate has fluctuated over the last year.
Coupled with the steadily rising cost of electricity is the steadily decreasing price of residential solar. A previous piece discussing the various types of solar companies available to homeowners identified the time we’re living in as the “golden age of solar.”
The bottom line? Offsetting your energy usage with a solar energy system has never made more financial sense than it does now.
You don’t need to be a mathematician to calculate your solar offset, but you will need to do some important preliminary research if you want to do it right. To determine how much solar power can reduce your power bill, you’ll need the following inputs:
Then, enter those values into the calculator below:
Projecting your total solar savings each year raises some important questions:
The answers to these questions will greatly inform not only your decision to go solar, but also to consider possible system upgrades that could increase your solar energy system’s efficiency:
The availability and cost of the above mentioned system upgrades depends on where you live and what solar company you choose to work with.
Depending on where you live, solar users have several federal, state, and local incentives available to them to help ease the large upfront investment a solar panel system requires. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, many of the incentives that were set to expire have been extended and fortified, making solar power all the more viable and affordable for Americans.
Below are some of the main solar incentives and tax credits worth researching as you make your solar plan:
As alluded to before, when it comes to solar energy, not all states are created equal. To view the incentives and tax credits available in your state, visit our solar states page for a full breakdown.
In summary, conducting your own site survey requires you to examine the following:
If, after researching these three factors, you feel like solar power makes sense for your home, we invite you to read our verified customer reviews on the top providers in your area, and reach out to the solar company you think is the best fit.
April 28th, 2023
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