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10 Things You Might Have Wrong About Solar

More and more homeowners are finding that owning solar panels saves them money, increases the value of their home, and offers a sense of satisfaction from the use of renewable energy.

But solar is moving so fast that yesterday’s facts are today’s myths. To weed out the misconceptions for you, we talked to Aaron James, one of the experts at EnergySage, a “solar matchmaker” whose online marketplace makes it easy to find financing and reputable solar installers. His top 10 solar-energy myths are below.

And by the way, if adding solar panels to your home isn’t sensible or possible, that doesn't have to stop you from pursuing renewable energy. Community solar programs let you buy into or subscribe to a solar farm near you. Solar (or photovoltaics, “PV” for short) really is for everyone.

Myth #1. Solar is only for environmentalists

There’s a purely economic case for solar, says James: it can save you money, because going solar often costs less than paying the electric company. In states that encourage solar with subsidies, it’s an even easier decision. And in the 36 states that don’t have subsidies, PV systems still make sense in dollars—environmentalist or not.

Myth #2. You need a perfectly sunny south-facing roof

Believe it or not, even a somewhat north-facing roof can be worth it in some cases. “With prices coming down so much, other roof planes are often cost-effective,” says James. Partial shading can be okay too, thanks to those lower prices and new electronics that manage shade. A ground-mounted system can be an option, too.

Myth #3. You’ll have power when the grid goes down

Most systems are grid-tied, not “off the grid.” Meaning your system is feeding the grid and not your own house. The power you generate offsets your electric bill. This is great because batteries are still pricey. “You’re basically using the grid as a free battery 24/7,” says James. “But if the grid goes down, your system goes down too, partly for safety reasons.”

Myth #4. You need a lot of cash up front

In 2016, the average 6-kilowatt residential system cost about $14,000 after federal tax credits, says James. Costs have come down dramatically in the last five years, but a PV system is still a big investment. Cash purchases and solar leases are no longer your only options. Solar loan financing options, including $0-down loans that allow you to finance the total amount of your solar panel system and mortgage products like HomeStyle® Energy, eliminate the need for large amounts of cash.

Myth #5. Solar panels need a lot of maintenance

Exactly the opposite is true. Solar panels are extremely durable and require little or no maintenance during their lifespan, which can be 25 years or more. That’s why the typical warranty can guarantee 80 percent production 25 years in. James says, “They’re so durable that they even extend the life of the roof underneath.”

Myth #6. The sun is all that matters in your decision to go solar

How much you’re paying for electricity is also key. The higher the rate, the more economic sense PV makes. And while sun is good, heat is not. “In hot weather, the efficiency of solar panels goes down,” says James. Homeowners in the Northeast often get more energy out of their PV in summer than those in states like Florida.

Myth #7. Solar panels hurt resale value

If you decide to sell your home, will the next owner want a PV-covered roof? Most likely, yes! Multiple studies have shown that homes with solar panels sell for more, and sell faster (you need to own the panels, not lease them).

Myth #8. I should wait until PV gets even cheaper

EnergySage estimates that over two years, the cost of a typical home system could drop by $2,700 or so. But in the meantime you’re missing out on PV’s financial benefits, which could outweigh the benefit of waiting.

Myth #9. Trimming trees for solar is bad for the environment

Yes, trees take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But meeting your energy needs with solar does much more to benefit the environment than the trees you might need to trim or cut down.

Myth #10. My house is too old for solar

Lots of old buildings have PV. Sometimes you need to reinforce the roof so it can support the extra weight, but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. What is true is that you don’t want to put PV over shingles that need replacement. A PV system lasts 25 years or more and so your underlying roof should be in good condition as well to minimize the need to reshingle down the road.

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