Solar Power Installation Requirements: What You Need to Know

Solar power is booming, and it’s not just for upscale homeowners in big mansions anymore. Due to the steady reduction in panel prices, improvement of technology, and streamlining of installation processes, solar is now an option for nearly all homeowners. There are still general factors that homeowners who want to install solar should think about before shopping. To help shine a light on these solar panel installation requirements, we have compiled a short list of them here so homeowners can decide if solar is right for them.  In order to get solar installed, homeowners should have:

1.  Energy Information to Size the Solar

The first requirement of the entire solar power installation process is that the homeowner should have some information about their energy usage to give to the solar company that will be supplying them with a quote. This typically comes in the form of an electric bill summarizing the usage of last year’s electicity which is expressed in kilowatts. Also, if there are any energy additions expected in the future such as a pool, more A/C use or electric car, these should be considered in the ultimate estimation of electric usage.

The reason this energy information is needed is so the solar system proposal will be sized correctly, based on the energy usage. Typically, when a solar installer creates an installation quote, they design it so it will offset the home’s full yearly usage. So, the amount of solar recommended will be based on how much power the home uses in a year: a full offset.

2. A Place to Put the Solar Panels

The second requirement a home must meet for installing solar is that it must have ample space to install the solar — either on the roof or on land surrounding the home — in order to efficiently harvest the solar energy. If there isn’t sufficient space to fit all of your solar panel installations on the roof, patio covers or trellises can be used as well. In some rare cases, a combination of both roof and ground installations can be used to meet full energy requirements.

When solar is to be placed on the roof, most installers can work with nearly any type of roofing material. Some roof materials are more challenging than others, of course, and may require more labor so there is a difference in cost. Also, if the roof does not have sufficient southerly exposure (the optimal direction for solar), other orientations (east, west) may also be used but will take slightly more panels, since these directions are less productive year-round.

When the roof of the home itself cannot be used, sometimes adjoining structures such as a detached garage, patio cover or even a free-standing pergola may be used (depending on what is allowed under local building codes).

Similarly, for ground-mounted solar, good installers can also work on a large variety of terrain. If the homeowner has a hill on their property, or any type of side yard with sufficient space, the solar installer can likely make it happen. We have completed installations on all types unexpected terrain, even with boulders present! While there are many benefits of installing solar panels on the roof, our experienced team can adapt the location of your panels and find an area that works best for your property.  

3. An Electric Panel with Sufficient Capacity

One item that many homeowners don’t consider when beginning the solar installation process is the rated size (capacity) of their electric service panel (containing the home’s circuit breakers). Up through the 1960s and 1970s, standard-sized homes were usually built with electric panels rated at 100A (amps). But for newer (and larger homes), the larger 200-amp panels were standard.

Electrical code rules limit the size of a solar energy system that can be connected to a home, depending on the rating of its service panel, so that’s another item that the installer will want to know. If a home needs a larger solar energy system than the service panel will support, there are several ways to accommodate this and may include upgrading the size of the panel from 100A to 200A; (this is also a good idea for older panels that are no longer working well or if replacement parts are difficult to get). Our licensed electricians can easily perform this task either before or along with the solar panel installation. However, as with all work, this will add more time and cost to the project and should be kept in mind during the budgeting stage.

4.  A Way to Connect the Solar

All solar arrays have to be electrically connected to the electric service panel to deliver their power. Whether it’s a roof-mount or ground-mounted system, some path to the panel must be provided and this should also be considered when homeowners are pricing and deciding on the panel’s location; i.e., where will the electrical conduit (the pipe containing the electrical wiring) be located, running between the solar panels and the main electric panel.

With roof-mounted solar panels, the most aesthetically pleasing arrangement for running the conduit to the electric panel is to go through the attic (so it’s hidden) and then, down the side of the home. This does require more work but the best installers will take the time to do this because it delivers a more attractive finished project that maintains the home’s curb appeal at resale time.

With ground-mounted solar panel installation, the conduit has to be buried underground and run back to the electric panel. This means that there needs to be a clear path between these two locations. A soil surface can be easily dug, of course, but cement or paved areas may need to be cut with a saw and re-cemented later, in order to bury the conduit properly. As before, this can be easily accommodated but is an important part of the design and budgeting process.

5. A Roof in Good Condition

If the solar panels will be mounted on the roof, it’s important for the roof to be in good condition so the system will be safely supported. Solar equipment does not weigh much (only about 3 lbs. per sq ft) so downward pressure is not the main concern. Surprisingly, it’s just the opposite: because solar panels are thin and flat, like wings, the pressure from high wind tends to pull upward on the roof. Because the panels are fragile, it’s important for the structure to be properly anchored into the roof truss beams (not plywood). If there are concerns about the condition of an older roof – or if an asphalt is showing signs of wear and may need to be replaced – it would be good to get a roofing company to inspect the roof and coordinate any needed repairs with the solar installation. At Stellar Solar, we have lots of experience working with roofing contractors so we know what they need and when they need it, making your overall project much easier to accomplish.

6. A Way to Pay for the Solar

Like any major home investment, solar also requires some way to finance or pay for it. In general, this can be a cash payment, securing a loan (or financing it) or by leasing the system over some contract period, such as 15-20 years. Depending on the homeowner’s financial needs, our company offers all three of these alternatives and can discuss the overall impact on initial solar panel installation cost – and overall savings compared to the utility – so folks can feel confident they will be making the best possible financial investment.

Paying Cash

Paying for the solar system all at once with cash generally provides the best return on investment, because the homeowner avoids paying any interest charges as they do with a loan. While many homeowners have the financial resources to pay cash for the solar in one large sum, many others opt for some form of financing so they can make monthly payments instead.

Solar Loans

Solar panel loans, like most other home improvement loans, just require that the homeowner have good credit from successful financing in the past. There are many types of solar loans available on the market today; some are secured loans (with collateral) and some are unsecured. Either way, a good credit history and solid finances are always helpful.

With solar loans, the homeowner pays a monthly payment to the finance company that is less than their (pre-solar) power bill. So even though they are still making a payment towards their solar, their net power purchased from the utility is much less and this difference represents the overall savings to the homeowner. Once the loan is paid, all the power being generated is basically free. Additionally, the solar energy system is an asset that adds value to the home so dollars previously given to the power company stay invested in your home!

Home Equity Loans or Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) Loans

Home equity solar loans allow homeowners to borrow against the equity in their home to pay for the home’s solar. Home equity loans normally have 7 to 20-year terms and interest rates of around 5%-7.5%. A positive aspect of home equity loans is that any interest paid by homeowners may be tax-deductible.

Similarly, a home equity line of credit or HELOC loan allows homeowners to borrow and repay loans within a range or credit line (rather than a fixed loan amount) for more flexibility. This form of financing is also secured by the equity in the home. The draw period for a HELOC is typically 10-15 years but can be re-negotiated as needed.

Solar Leases

The good thing about solar panel leases is that there is no equity required. So, homeowners who don’t have sufficient home equity may choose to lease. With a solar lease, the homeowner doesn’t own the system, but still gets the benefit of the power produced by the system so power bills are still reduced (and carbon footprints are still reduced).

So, these are the main solar panel installation requirements you should consider before shopping for solar. The good news is that our solar specialists are trained in gathering this type of information easily and conveniently in order to help you go solar and save! So, if you’ve been researching about installing solar panels, and didn’t think it could work for you, talk to our professionals at Stellar Solar and we will help you find the best solution for you. Contact us today and one of our energy consultants will reach out to help you get starte