This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
Now might be the time to get solar panels on your roof. After the Inflation Reduction Act boosted the solar investment tax credit to 30 percent, going solar may be easier for some. On the other hand, recent inflation might make it harder. Either way, you'll want to make sure you do your homework before buying solar panels for your rooftop.
Each house is different in latitude, pitch and the direction it faces. Each might also have different barriers blocking the sun like trees or buildings. They also may need repair, an important box to check before adding solar panels for 25 years or longer. It's pretty easy to find lists of things to consider before buying solar panels.
In this article, we'll take a look at the house-specific things you need to consider before deciding on solar panels. It should give you a clearer idea of whether your house is a good fit. If you're looking for more home energy advice, take a look at how to save money and energy in a few smaller ways by adjusting your thermostat, turning off your lights, and using your ceiling fan this winter.
Read more: Solar Panel Buying Guide: Everything You Need to Know
Talk to a solar installer
To get the full story of how your roof may or may not work with solar, you might want to check into getting an assessment with a solar installer in your area. These professionals can look at certain features of your home to tell you how solar will work with your roof. You can do independent research to find them, but an easy way to access them is through home goods stores, like Home Depot's solar panel installation page.
The solar installer might look at the angle of your roof to see if it's facing a direction that will get enough sunlight. If you're open to trimming trees to increase the light, the solar installer may be able to help you figure out how to trim them to best help solar panels work. They might determine other factors like the material your roof is made out of, the size of your roof or the age of your roof. The installer may tell you about any changes you have to make to your roof first, for instance if your roof is on the older side and might not bear the weight of the paneling. In that case, you'd likely need a new roof.
Read more: Best Solar Companies of 2022
Call a roofer
To cover all of your bases, you might also want to consult with a local roofer who is knowledgeable about solar equipment. These professionals might be able to tell you more about how the structure of your roof itself is doing, and you might need them to update your roof before you put on the panels themselves. Sunshine Contracting recommends getting a roofing assessment if your roof is more than five years old. Since solar panels last about 25 to 30 years, you want a roof that will have a similar lifespan.
Remember to check with these professionals about whether the assessments cost anything. Many assessments or quotes for projects are free, but be sure to ask.
Use online solar compatibility checkers
You can also check how compatible your roof is with solar panels using free online tools. One example is Google Project Sunroof. This tool is particularly useful because it uses Google Earth to analyze the size and shape of your roof, and it looks at shaded spots. The tool even analyzes local weather patterns to assess how much solar energy you would get. Its analysis shows how much you could save on your electric bill and the recommended number of solar panels you should get. The tool even helps with comparing loans, leases and other financing options.
You simply need to enter your address and Google Earth pulls up an image of your roof. You get an estimate of how many hours of usable sunlight you have per year, how many square feet are available for panels and the estimated savings of energy over the next 20 years based on local energy costs, solar costs and incentives.
Another option is the PVWatts Calculator from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Again, with just your address, you can get an estimate of the electricity output you could expect from a system on your roof. PVWatts gives you a more detailed estimate, breaking it down by month. It is still just an estimate and shouldn't be taken as entirely accurate.
Tips for assessing your own solar compatibility
It can also pay to know the basics of solar panel requirements to see if putting solar panels on your roof even makes sense right now. A few scenarios where you might not want to consider solar include:
- Do you plan on moving any time in the near future? While solar panels can increase the value of your home, if you don't have the lease paid off, you might have to get the new buyer to agree to take on the lease.
- If you have a wooded lot and a shaded roof, you'd have to decide if you're OK with cutting down or trimming any trees.
- Solar installers and online solar compatibility tools can help with cost estimates. Make sure your budget can absorb the additional cost now and into the future if you lease.
- Consider the material of your roof. Solar panels are compatible with most materials, but Sunshine Contracting states that wood and slate roofs do not pair well with solar. These materials tend to be more brittle, making installation trickier and possibly more expensive. Wood roofs can even pose a fire hazard. In this case, you might consider getting a new roofing material that works better with solar, like asphalt shingling.
- Also keep in mind how the seasons in your area will affect your solar panels. They have to be prepped for winter, as well as kept free of snow and debris. You'd have to make sure this is a task you or a handyman could physically handle.
Remember, calling for a professional assessment or using an online solar compatibility tool can help you address some of the potential problems mentioned above.
Some final thoughts
If you decide solar isn't right for your budget or home at this time, that doesn't mean you have to forgo solar entirely. For instance, you can still find smaller solar arrays for camping, RVs and travel. Here are some links to get you started on small-scale solar:
- Solar Panel Buying Guide for RVs, Campervans and Travel Trailers
- Charge Your Phone With Solar Power
- 4 Cheaper Ways to Get Solar Power at Home Now
- Community Solar Explained: Buy Solar Energy Without the Panels
If you can't absorb solar paneling into your life right now, you might also look into finding other ways to save on your heating or electric costs:
- One option is seeing if a heat pump is right for your home
- Tips to save on utilities
- Try these energy-saving smart home devices