7 steps to going solar

Go green with ease

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    After decades of industry advancement, it’s never been easier for American homeowners to go solar. In nearly every part of the country, hopeful solar adopters can choose from multiple companies for equipment, financing options and incentives.

    Getting everything in order for a home solar system can be a process, but we’ve got you covered with our step-by-step guide.

    Key insights

    • The federal solar investment tax credit gives you a 30% tax credit on your installation costs, and some states offer other solar incentives.
    • You can finance your solar system with a solar loan, a solar lease or a solar power purchase agreement (PPA).
    • Your solar energy company should be able to work with you on permitting and incentive eligibility.

    How to go solar

    The switch to solar can be a relatively painless process if you break it down into clear steps. If you’re planning to switch to green energy at home, follow this guide to ensure you go solar without a hitch.

    1. Determine your energy needs

    The first step of going solar involves determining your eligibility. If you don’t use an excessive amount of electricity at home — or if your energy bills are already low — there’s a chance going solar won’t benefit you financially.

    However, rising energy costs in the U.S. mean most homeowners are eligible for electricity savings with a photovoltaic (PV) system. Solar companies ask for your annual electricity usage when you’re considering signing up to determine the size of your system and the number of panels necessary to cover your energy demand.

    You’ll want to think about your electricity usage both now and in the future. If you’re planning to purchase an electric vehicle or electrify your home’s heating, for instance, you may want to talk to your installer about getting a system that would cover 100% or more of your current electricity usage.

    » READ MORE: How many solar panels do I need?

    2. Learn about solar incentives

    The cost of your solar energy system will drop significantly if you’re eligible for any federal or state solar incentives. In the U.S., the most popular residential renewable energy incentive is the solar investment tax credit, which was expanded in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

    With the solar ITC, homeowners can get a tax credit of up to 30% of their total installation costs on a solar energy or electricity storage system. This can reduce the total investment costs of a solar energy system dramatically.

    3. Consider your financing options

    How do you plan to pay for your solar panels? While paying in cash is the best way to minimize the total cost of going solar — you avoid paying interest this way — seeking out a solar financing agreement or leasing with favorable terms is typically more accessible for most homeowners.

    There may be solar leasing or power purchase agreement options available in your area, but solar ownership is generally the best financial option for homeowners hoping to reduce their electricity costs. If your installer ultimately has ownership of the system in a lease or PPA, you may be disqualified from most solar incentives.

    » READ MORE: Solar financing guide

    4. Get quotes from at least three companies

    It’s crucial to shop around at multiple companies, including local, regional and national providers. As with any major home improvement project, one bid isn’t enough to get a full perspective on the expected costs and benefits of a solar energy system.

    Note that going with the lowest bidder just to get a low price isn’t recommended. It’s smart to weigh your options by considering things like warranty periods, after-installation service and interest rates for financing.

    5. Pick out your panels and other equipment

    Once you’ve picked the solar company you want to work with, you can evaluate the details of your installation. Most installers prefer to supply their own equipment, which typically consists of name-brand solar panels, inverters and other system components.

    When you’re designing your system, there are a few major things to consider based on your energy needs. If you live in an area that experiences frequent grid blackouts or high-cost time-of-use utility billing, you might consider adding a battery backup to your system. Then you can pivot off-grid and consume more of your own solar electricity when grid power is unavailable or more expensive because of local demand.

    6. Apply for permits and fill out utility paperwork

    After your solar energy system has been designed, you’ll need permission to install it from local authorities. Permits are usually handled by the solar contractor and come from the local government. The city, county or state will evaluate your plans to make sure they adhere to local building and electrical codes.

    In addition to building permits, you also have to submit paperwork to the local utility when connecting a new solar energy system to the electrical grid. Once these permits have been issued by the local government and utility, the installation process can begin.

    7. Get your panels installed

    Finally, your solar panels and other system components can be installed, typically over just one or two construction days. Once the system is ready to operate, the utility and local governments require a second round of approvals to ensure the installation was performed correctly and the panels can safely produce electricity.

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      Bottom line

      Switching to solar energy can come with significant environmental and financial benefits — according to our recent study, 70% of American homeowners with solar panels saw an increase in home value following their renewable energy upgrade. It’s not for everyone, though, so make sure to consider your eligibility and your potential savings before getting deep into the process.

      If you decide to go solar, get quotes from a few different companies, and weigh all your financing options. If your house isn’t a good fit for solar, all isn’t lost — there are still ways to save on the energy you use at home.

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