Updated for 2016: This post is as timely as ever, the basics have not changed: Solar installations can reduce your monthly electric bill, provide you with clean power, protect you from the rising costs of energy over time, and present a strong, reliable investment. But don't just jump right in--make sure you've got your bases covered:
(1) Reduce your energy consumption. Renewable energy is awesome, but it still costs money. Reducing your consumption means any solar energy you produce on-site will offset more of your total usage. Use less, save more. Small changes to your habits can make big differences.
(2) Make your house more energy efficient. This is the other side of the reduction coin. A poorly insulated home is just leaking away your energy dollars. A responsible solar installer will almost always recommend energy efficiency improvements be made before continuing on with solar. Some states codify this best practice in legislation; for instance, New Jersey used to offer a slightly higher solar rebate for applicants who have a professional home energy audit performed before solar is installed.
(3) Read your electric bill--no, no, seriously READ IT. Not many people know how much they pay per kilowatt-hour for electricity, let alone the chunk of the bill that's made up of supply and delivery charges. Find out what rate structure you're on with your utility--it might affect your energy use habits. For instance, if you're on a time of use (TOU) rate with your utility, you may start doing your laundry and dishes at night when energy is cheaper, and keeping the AC down during the middle of the day when energy is at its most expensive. Becoming familiar with your own energy use patterns makes you a more conscious, informed, and effective solar homeowner. For more help understanding the mysterious hieroglyphics on your bill, refer to our guide to understanding your electric bill.
(4) Assess your site and roof. This is where some professional assistance can come in handy, but you can and should get your facts in order first. Most important: does your roof receive full sun between the hours of 9am and 3pm? This is the recommended window for full sun exposure to get the most out of your solar panels. Only slightly less important: does your roof offer a southern exposure for installation? Some states require this as a prerequisite for solar rebates, but in any event it's preferable. A south-facing roof ensures maximum average sun exposure throughout the year.
(5) Assess your finances. Okay, you've jumped through the other hoops. Now jump through this one. Careful, it's on FIRE! Making sure you're financially well-positioned for solar is key. If you live in a competitive state like New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, New York or Arizona, you'll see excellent returns on an investment that will pay for itself in under 8 years (in some cases, as few as two or three). Still, solar requires the ability to either pay for or finance a large out of pocket sum; many excellent programs exist to make this as easy, approachable, and painless as possible, but if your credit boat would be sunk by an additional $10,000 to $15,000 of obligation--well, rethink your strategy, work on your credit score and come back to solar later. It'll be here.
If after reading the five points above you think you're ready to take the solar plunge and get competitive quotes -- or if you've just got questions -- give us a call! 1 (800) 265-3646.