7 things to know before buying solar panels

A house with solar panels on the roof
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

As energy becomes all the more expensive, solar panels continue to grow in popularity. Thinking about it: why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of free renewable energy from the Sun? However, installing solar panels is never as easy or straightforward as one might think. There’s the initial expense to consider as well as selecting the best type of solar panel for your home. Then there’s the whole process of getting them installed and hooking them up. 

But, this shouldn’t stop you from investing in solar panels. After all, once you’ve got them installed, they’ll save you money on your bills, not to mention add value to your house. That’s why we’ve pulled together this guide on essential things you should know before buying solar panels. 

Also check out the pros and cons of buying a home generator, and if you want to maintain a warm house this winter, here's how to save money on your heating bills.

What are solar panels? 

Solar panels essentially convert sunlight into energy. Most can be found on rooftops, but they can be installed almost anywhere where there’s a steady source of sunlight. That’s why the panels on the best solar lights can sometimes be found directly on top of the light. 

The generated energy can either be stored in a dedicated battery and then used directly in your home, or fed back to the main electrical grid, which in turn provides credit to your account. In either case, you save on your bills.

7 things to know before buying solar panels 

1. Is your roof ready for solar panels?

Broken tiles on a roof

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If your roof is old or damaged, it might not be prepared to take the weight of solar panels. You should get it inspected by a professional to confirm if it’s structurally sound. It’s also best to get any necessary repairs fixed before you order your panels. At the very least, your shingles should be relatively new; otherwise, the whole grid will need to be removed to access the repairs in the future.

If your roof can’t take the weight, and you’re not prepared to pay for a replacement, you can alternatively place solar panels in your backyard. Just be sure to aim them in the best direction for sunlight. 

2. What types of solar panel are there?

Solar panels on roof

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

There are three main types of solar panel to choose from; monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. Monocrystalline is the most common option you will see on residential homes. This is considered to be the most efficient of all the solar panels, but it comes with a steep price as a consequence. 

Polycrystalline panels are a little less efficient by comparison, but they don't cost as much. Thin-film panels, on the other hand, have a much finer design, which makes them more flexible and portable. These aren’t as efficient as monocrystalline though. The best option for you will depend on your home and your budget. 

And then there's the question of solar panels vs. solar shingles. Solar panels are  more traditional, and are lower in cost by comparison. Solar shingles are newer, and rather than sitting on top of your roof, are designed to look like your shingles, so they're more aesthetically pleasing. However, solar shingles are significantly more expensive than solar panels. 

3. How much do solar panels cost?

A family looking at a solar panel

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Make sure you’re fully aware of the expense of installing solar panels before buying. On average, expect to spend at least $15,000 to $20,000 to buy and install solar panels. You will likely need to hire a professional to install them, and you also need to account for any repairs your roof may require beforehand. 

Be prepared that while you will save money on your bills, it will take a long time to make back the initial expense. Many solar panel installers will provide a calculator to see how much you'll save per month if you have solar panels. 

4. Is it better to buy or lease solar panels?

A sign with buy or lease

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

One of the biggest questions you'll face is if you should buy or lease your solar panels. If you lease your panels, you don't have to pay a large upfront cost, which is typically around $10,000 or more. However, you do not officially own the panels if you choose this option — the equipment is owned by a third party. Plus, it won’t add value to your property as it’s not a permanent asset, and you won't be able to claim tax deductions. 

However, leasing isn’t a total loss. It will still provide savings on your utility bills over time, and you won’t have the initial upfront cost. 

5. Do you need a permit to install solar panels?

An official form being stamped

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Each state and municipality will have its own set of rules in terms of solar panels, and you might need a permit to install them. Check in with your local authority to see what’s required. 

Depending on what’s needed, this may take some time to approve, so get this sorted first before browsing and selecting your solar panels. A good installation company will be able to take care of the permitting process, but be sure to ask them. 

6. Are there tax rebates to owning solar panels?

Two men installing solar panels on a roof

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Another bonus is that some states offer incentives to encourage you to install solar panels. The particulars will depend on your location, but you can get tax rebates and breaks to reward you for your sustainability. 

Plus, the federal government provides tax credits to residents as well, so make sure you check what you’re entitled to and take advantage. Again, though, if you're leasing solar panels, you won't be able to claim this rebate.

7. Should I get a battery backup for my solar panels?

A battery for containing solar cells

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Solar panels are great for providing electricity when the Sun is out, but what about at night? Many solar panel installers also provide the option of adding a battery backup, so that when the Sun goes down, you can still draw the benefits of your solar panels — and not use power from the grid. A battery backup will add at least $5,000 to the overall cost of your system, but will provide you a source of power in case there's a power outage in your area, without requiring a noisy generator.

Be sure to also check out our 7 tips to improve the performance of your solar panels.

Katie Mortram
Homes Editor

Katie looks after everything homes-related, from kitchen appliances to gardening tools. She also covers smart home products too, so is the best point of contact for any household advice! She has tested and reviewed appliances for over 6 years, so she knows what to look for when finding the best. Her favorite thing to test has to be air purifiers, as the information provided and the difference between performances is extensive.