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5 things to consider before you buy solar panels

Here's what you need to know.

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Powering your home with a renewable energy source like solar panels offers plenty of benefits. You will be able to reduce your carbon footprint, shrink your utility bill and feel comfortable knowing you are contributing in some small way to the overall health of the planet. To make matters even better, there are incentives to encourage you to install solar panels.

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Of course, switching over to solar also requires a fair amount of planning and consideration. If you're brand-new to renewable energy for your home, this can be intimidating and it can be difficult to know exactly where to begin. What type of solar panels do you need? How do you install them? How can you be sure you're getting the most out of them? These are all questions that may come up along the way as you make the switch over to renewable energy.

Luckily, you don't have to figure these things out the hard way. These are the five things that you should think about before Are solar panels right for you?solar panels.

Read more: What does carbon neutral mean?

Location, location, location

Before purchasing solar panels, you're going to want to make sure that you actually have a place to put them. Many solar panels are mounted on the roof of the home, and older houses may require repairs, modifications, or even a complete replacement before they can support solar panels.

Solar panels can also be installed in yards in some places. If you have the space available, this is a potential alternative if roof installation is too costly or unfeasible.

No matter where you install the panels, you'll want to make sure that you can get the optimal positioning for them. In the northern hemisphere, it is best to face the solar panels south, because that is where they will receive the most direct light throughout the day. In the southern hemisphere, the reverse is true: the panels should face north.

There's more than one type of solar panel

Not all solar panels are the same. First, you'll want to consider your choice between photovoltaics solar panels — otherwise known as solar electric — and solar thermal panels. Photovoltaics are far more common, and use solar cells to directly convert sunlight into electricity. Solar thermal panels, on the other hand, uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight and is typically used for water heating. Solar thermal is more efficient but only is maximized when the sun is out. PV panels are more versatile and longer-lasting.

In addition to the type of solar panel that you want, you'll also have to take into consideration the same things that you would for any major purchase: things like performance, durability, and warranty. These will all vary, and some panels will be better suited for your particular needs. Make sure to do your research and seek out reliable sources and other user experiences to get the best information before making your decision.

Check to see if you need a permit

Every city, county, and state has different rules when it comes to installing solar panels on residential properties. Before going forward with any installation, it's important to look into city codes and making sure that you comply with all local zoning laws and ordinances. The Solar Energy Industries Association has put together great resources for navigating any red tape that may stand in your way.

Keep in mind that applying for your necessary permits may take some time, both to submit and to receive approval. Installing solar panels isn't necessarily an impulse purchase to begin with, but patience is necessary.

Consider all of the costs

Solar panels will almost certainly save you money in the long run, and the longer you stick with the renewable energy source, the more you will end up saving as you watch your utility bill shrink. However, there are costs that need to be considered.

There is the initial up-front cost of the panels, which can be quite expensive. You will want to consider if it is possible to pay for this expense outright or if you will need to finance the purchase. Make sure you account for the interest rate and how it will accrue over time. You can also rent solar panels.

The installation process itself will likely require hiring a contractor, and you'll have to account for the costs associated with that — including any modifications needed around your home to accommodate the solar panels. Permits may also come with a one-time fee. Finally, consider the potential maintenance that will be required over the lifespan of the panels.

Look into rebates and tax incentives

While solar panels can seem expensive, especially as you are facing the sizable up-front costs, you'll want to keep in mind the fact that some places have incentives to encourage you to go green.

The federal government offers tax credits to home owners who install solar panels. Some states similarly offer tax breaks and rebates when you embrace solar power. Make sure to capitalize on these opportunities to shrink the cost of switching to solar.

Are solar panels right for you?

Solar panels are becoming increasingly popular, but they are not right for every home or for every budget. Your property may not be able to make the most of solar panels, or the installation process may reveal other problems around your home that need to be addressed. You may also find yourself in a situation where solar panels simply cost too much to make sense for your situation.

But for many, solar panels will provide relief in the form of cheaper utility bills, a smaller carbon footprint, and less reliance on the traditional grid. Read more about solar panels: