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Solar Cheat Sheet: Your Complete Guide to Getting Solar Panels at Home

Questions about residential solar companies, prices and maintenance? You'll find the answer here.

Solar panels on a red roof reflecting the sun and a cloudless blue sky.
Solar panels can generate cheap, clean energy. Here's what you need to know.
Smileus/Getty Images

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

If you're thinking of going solar, you're likely encountering equipment and policies you haven't had to think about before. It's pretty easy to take your electricity for granted, except for the few times it goes out. Luckily, with a trustworthy solar installer, going solar is pretty easy even for a nonexpert.

Still, knowing the ins and outs of the technology and installation process can make you a more confident and capable shopper ready to find the best product for your needs. Below we've collected CNET's expert advice to get you through the solar purchasing process, from education to solar electricity generation.

Where should I shop for solar panels?

The best way to make sure you're getting the best deal on your solar panels is to get multiple quotes and ask as many questions of your potential installers as you need. CNET has reviewed many of the national solar companies, but it's a good idea to check into local installers, too, who sometimes can offer lower prices.

Solar panels on a terrace with palm trees in the distance

Solar panels work in many different climates, not just the sunniest.

Raimund Koch/Getty Images

Is there a solar option that works for me?

While rooftop solar panels are the most common among residential customers, buying panels and getting them installed on your house isn't the only option. We've got mounting options and solar panel alternatives explained below.

How much money will solar panels save me? And how much do they cost?

In general, buying solar panels outright will save you the most money, but there are a few ways to save. And, your circumstances -- especially your energy use -- will determine your savings.

A house with solar panels in a desert setting.

Regular cleaning can improve solar panel production, especially in dry dusty climates.

SunPower

How do I maintain solar panels?

Solar panel maintenance is generally minimal and fairly easy. Even so, we've got the info you need to keep your panels in the best possible shape.

Does solar work where I live?

Sure, solar panels will generate more electricity in sunnier climates with longer days, but how much money you'll save depends heavily on the incentives available to you and the cost of electricity -- not just the climate. Check out overviews of cities, states and regions below.

Solar panels mounted beside a house in a rural setting.

Ground mounted solar panels might be a better option for some homes.

King Lawrence/Getty Images

How do solar panels work, anyway?

Buying a solar panel system means buying a lot of equipment the average person doesn't have reason to know about. Read up on what you'll actually be buying with the stories linked below.

Do I need a backup battery?

Backup battery adoption is increasing, but still isn't the norm. These links will help you decide if it makes sense for you.

Are solar panels a scam?

No. Solar panels are a proven technology that can help you shift some of your energy use to cheaper greener electricity. But that doesn't mean that scammy companies (while apparently rare) don't exist. The company discussed in the story linked below recently went out of business, but a bit of caution is a good thing.

We'll add more of CNET's solar coverage here as it happens.