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Tips for going solar

Published: Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 12:49 p.m. CDT

By Bob Vila

For decades, harnessing the sun’s energy to generate electricity for houses was a bright idea that simply wasn’t practical for the average homeowner. Only recently have solar roof panels emerged as a viable option for individuals seeking an eco-friendly and cost-effective alternative source of electric power. To decide if a solar solution is right for you, consider a handful of factors:

Amount of sun

A photovoltaic (PV) system is only worth installing in areas that receive adequate sunlight. How much electricity would an array of panels generate on your roof? Reliable online tools exist to help you arrive at an estimate, and solar installation professionals can offer advice based on previous experience in your area.

Local utility rates

While residents of the Sun Belt are perhaps the likeliest solar converts, you don’t need to live in the brightest states to benefit. In comparatively less sunny regions where electric bills run high, folks can still obtain significant savings by going solar. The more you currently pay, the more you stand to gain.

Incentive programs

The upfront cost of a PV system is high, but numerous financial incentive programs are in place to help make the technology more affordable. Find out if you qualify for federal, state or local tax credits and rebates.

Assuming financial incentives, plentiful sunshine and high local utility rates, a PV system could pay for itself within about five years. Like other “green” upgrades, solar panels deliver payback, not immediately, but over the long term.

A growing number of homeowners are choosing to side-step the upfront expense by contracting with a solar leasing company. Such a provider will install a solar panel array at no cost to the homeowner. In turn, the homeowner pays for the solar-generated power that his household consumes, typically at a lower rate than is charged by regular utilities companies. That means solar energy is no longer a future fantasy. In some parts of the country, it’s actually one of the most affordable options out there.

Related:

Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at BobVila.com. His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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