3 Things To Consider Before You Get Solar Panels

Solar panels have made it possible for many homeowners to save money on their energy bills, and that, f course, is music to the ears of money expert Clark Howard.

If you’re thinking about installing solar panels on your home, there are some things you need to know first. I have some tips from Clark on what to do before you go solar, and I’ll share an energy-saving development for which Clark has high praise.

Clark Is Excited About Solar Shingles

As solar technology continues to advance, one thing Clark is excited about is a product from GAF Energy, one of the largest players in roofing.

The company has developed a solar shingle that is really smart, Clark says.

According to

, “Timberline Solar

is made up of shingles, not panels or heavy tiles. These shingles are water-shedding, strong and


“It becomes a viable, cost-effective way in most everywhere in the country to go with the GAF shingles, in theory, than to replace a roof with traditional shingles,” Clark says.

Solar Panels: What To Know Before You Buy

If you’re considering going with solar panels, Clark has three steps he wants you to consider before you buy.

1. Check To See if Solar Is Cost-Effective for Your Home

As good as going solar sounds to you and your wallet, it may not be a feasible option for you.

“Spend time on the EPA website and any other nonprofit website sites figuring out first,” Clark says, “Where you live, does it actually work for you to do solar?”

In addition to checking EPA.gov, Clark says try Energy.gov as well. "As far as effective tools, more than one federal agency has their fingers in this."

Some of the U.S. Department of Energy’s articles on solar energy include:

Questions that Clark says you should ask yourself include: “Do the economics work? Is there enough sun? Is there enough payback that you’re in an area that’s good for you to have solar?”

2. Calculate What You Need

Add up the costs based on the size of the system you’ll need. This will tell you what your potential energy savings are.

You don’t have to contact a solar power company to make these calculations. There are a number of sites that will do the math for you.

“Rather than listening to some salesperson, these third-party websites will help you calculate how large a system you would need for the square footage of your home,” Clark says.

Some sites that allow you to make solar calculations include:

  • PVWatts: This online tool from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates the energy production and cost of electricity for grid-connected photovoltaic solar power systems.
  • Project Sunroof: This Google-powered project uses Google Earth imagery to estimate your solar savings.
  • EnergySage: This calculator helps you estimate your energy savings from solar and connects you with installers.

3. Get Estimates

Once you begin to get quotes for a solar system and its installation, be sure that you’re comparing apples to apples: owning as opposed to leasing. And Clark’s recommendation is crystal clear in that area:

“Stay away from anyone who wants to lease you a system,” Clark says. “You want to own that system.”

Also consider the financing terms for your solar system if you can’t pay upfront. If you have to sell the home, you don’t want to saddle the new homeowner with a solar system that’s not paid off.

“Be careful with the financing because you may kill any potential of you selling your home as long as a solar loan is outstanding,” Clark says. “With a lease, you could make your home unsellable because you’ve created an obligation for a future buyer rather than an asset.”

Final Thoughts

Solar energy is an affordable option for millions of homeowners, but you’ll never know if it’s right for your home unless you take the time to do some research.

“A salesperson is going to try to sell you the largest system they possibly can at the highest possible price,” Clark says. “But that may not be appropriate for payback where you live.”

That's why he says it's imperative that you educate yourself before you spend your hard-earned money on a solar system.

More Resources From Clark.com:

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