Spring Cleaning for Going Solar: Top Five To-Dos

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Clear sky behind clean window

You’ve spent many cold winter nights learning about the benefits of going solar, exploring solar panel options, estimating installation expenses and researching local companies. Now that daylight savings time is here and the weather is getting warmer, you are finally ready to spring into action and start soaking up your solar savings.

However, before you set up that installation date with your chosen company, you should first make sure that you and your home are fully prepared. By including these key steps into your spring cleaning, you will make the process of getting your solar system installed much easier.

Here are the top five to-dos to prepare for going solar:

  1. Look back to move forward 

To determine how big or small of a solar panel system you will need, you should analyze your past energy bills to get a good sense of your energy usage. It’s ideal to look back a full year so you can see you can include any variances between summer and winter. Add up the total number of kilowatt hours (kWh) you consumed over the course of 12 months and compare it to the amount your chosen system is estimated to produce.

Remember, the size of your roof will limit how many solar panels you can install, so you may or may not be able to produce as much energy as you’d like. Or, you may realize that your average energy use is lower than you thought, allowing you to downsize your system and the related panel and installation costs.

  1. Don’t be shady

The more direct sunlight that hits your roof, the more energy your solar panels can produce. Thus, it’s important to make sure that you have as little shade on your roof as possible, particularly during the peak energy production times of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To minimize shade, you can trim overgrown and overhanging trees, and relocate rooftop satellite dishes to the side of your house.

Typically, between 300 and 400 square feet of unobstructed roof space — preferably without skylights, pipes, or chimneys in the way — will be enough for an average residential solar panel system. To get that much space, you may need to find a new place or position for roof vents or antennas. Before making any structural adjustments, though, you’ll want to confirm any specific roofing rules according to your city’s current building codes.

  1. Raise the roof?

The type of roof you have can impact installation time, materials, and costs. Spanish tiles and shakes, for instance, are more delicate, making for a trickier install than traditional asphalt shingles. Additionally, while most solar companies can install panels on nearly any roof, it may help speed up the installation process by cleaning and sweeping your roof first. Ask your solar representative for more details on any preparation that may be required or preferred.

While preparing your roof, review the current condition of your shingles. If you, or a professional, suspects your roof will need replacing in the near future, it may make more sense to replace your roof before installing your solar panel system. Solar panels typically last 25-30 years, and it can be expensive to remove and reinstall the panels if you need to replace your roof during that lifespan.

  1. Know the state of your city

Many cities and states require specific permits to install a home solar system, including a building permit, an electrical permit, or both. You’ll need to obtain these permits before the installation, and because the application and approval process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, it’s important to research ahead of time.

Many solar installation companies will handle both the permit application and costs, so confirm with the company when finalizing the contract. If your community has a homeowner’s association (HOA), you may also need to submit your plans and get approval from them before installing a system. Check your state’s laws and HOA rules for more specific details.

  1. Cross your “utili-t’s”

You should notify your utility company before installing and using your solar panels since your billing could change drastically. Different companies have different payment policies and net metering rules for homes using solar energy. Some utility companies install a net meter to measure the net energy — the difference between the energy your panels produced and the amount of electricity your home used. Currently, 42 states offer net metering, including New Mexico.

Electric companies that use net metering often switch traditional monthly billing to an annual True-Up bill, which allow energy consumption and production to be reconciled. At the end of the year, you will either owe money if you used more than you produced or be reimbursed if you produced more than you used.

Final tips as you prepare to go solar: