Considering that Florida is called the “Sunshine State," it's surprising that every rooftop doesn't have some type of photovoltaic solar installation. This is especially true when you compare the rising cost of electricity with the rapidly falling cost and increasing efficiency of solar panels.
In 1977, solar energy cost $76 a watt; today, that same watt would cost you around $0.74. Solar has finally become a very viable consideration for any homeowner who wants to cut energy costs. Over time, those savings can be quite substantial.
Solar Power Is an Investment
First of all, one should consider solar power as an investment rather than a way to save money right away. Unlike traditional electricity, large costs can be involved up front. Over time, however, the solar investor will reach a tipping point where the installation has paid for itself and the solar energy it continues to produces is, for all intents and purposes, free. One should also take into account that a good quality solar installation adds value to a home. If the home sells before that tipping point, the cost of the solar installation can often be recouped in the increased selling price of the home.
The Key to Saving with Solar Energy: Efficiency
Keep in mind that the size and cost of your solar installation is determined by the amount of sunlight it can receive and the amount of energy you require. Before you pull the trigger on those solar panels, take time to explore more inexpensive alternatives to making your home more efficient, such as LED lighting, better insulation, and more energy-efficient appliances. Being conscious of your family's energy use can make a big impact on your needs as well. Simple things such as turning off the lights when you leave a room can have a considerable impact on your power bill. Think of it this way: If your home and lifestyle are energy-efficient, then you either won't need a large solar power system, or the system you do choose with will be able to cover more, if not all, of your energy needs.
Evaluating Your Home for Solar
Once you have a solid handle on your electricity needs (and remember that those needs change with the seasons), it's time to look at the areas where your home receives sunlight and evaluate if these are sensible areas for solar panels. Do this assessment before you call in a solar professional; if he or she recommends you cut back some trees or make other changes on your property, you will be better prepared to discuss the pros and cons of these decisions.
Homes that receive no shade from trees are ideal candidates for solar, and those panels are a great way to take advantage of the sun beating down on your roof and giving your A/C a daily workout. If you don't have a lot of direct sunlight on your roof, you can also mount panels on poles. Once you have a good idea about any limitations you may face in terms of your property, it's time to call a professional in to review your energy needs, discuss installation options, learn about any building permits you will need, identify government subsidies that might be available to you, and, finally, get an estimate.
If you've done your homework, you will have a fairly accurate idea of how long it will take for your solar installation to pay for itself and how much money you could potentially save in the long run. And it doesn't hurt to factor in the tremendous positive impact your decision to go solar will have on the environment.
Buying a Home with a Preexisting Solar System
Evaluating an existing solar energy installation for its usefulness and life expectancy can be a bit tricky -- it's best left to professionals. The good news is that even solar panels made from older technologies can still produce electricity; because there are no moving parts, they can easily last 25 years or even much longer.
If at all possible, see if you can get some copies of the previous owner's electric bills. Even though this won't give you concrete information on how well the solar panels are functioning, you can at least establish a baseline of energy costs to work with in the event you do purchase the home.
A quick way to tell if a solar installation might have some potential problems or has outlived its usefulness is if the panels are very dirty. Solar panels require very little maintenance other than keeping them clean, so dirty panels are a good indicator of a neglected system. Secondly, look to the trees: Another indication that solar panels aren't living up to peak potential is if tree limbs have overgrown to block the sun. After the system is checked by a professional, you may find that a little cleaning and tree trimming is all it takes to have an energy-efficient home that will save you money for years to come.
Now Is Always the Time to Go Solar
Because solar power is more of a long-term investment, waiting around for the technology to advance will only delay savings on your electric bill. You may find that merely taking time out to evaluate whether solar is right for you will prove to be very eye-opening to your current energy use, and can show you how to make some significant and positive changes in your lifestyle, the environment, and your finances.
Sarasota Area Real Estate Specialist