Tax credits make it a good time to install solar panels at home

Interest in residential solar power in the Delaware Valley continues to grow, spurred by a generous federal tax credit, state and utility rebates in Delaware and New Jersey, panels and systems more efficient and environmentally conscious owners.

Although recent supply chain issues have driven up the prices of panels and other equipment and created waiting lists, solar panels sold today still cost less than those available five or more years ago. six years and produce more electricity. This means that most homeowners can install projects small enough to cover their needs.

But the biggest hurdle for most families is still price: A typical-size solar project in the Philadelphia area costs around $16,500.

But you will get what you pay for. A 26% federal tax credit and various state and utility incentives will help pay some of the upfront costs, and over time you’ll cover the rest by avoiding costly electric bills.

How quickly you’ll recoup your upfront costs depends on where you live, as the governments and utilities of Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania offer vastly different incentive levels.

New Jersey residents who leverage the state’s robust solar incentive program — which would pay our hypothetical homeowners nearly $10,000 over 15 years for the renewable energy their system generates — will see the most payback. short: they’ll break even in seven years, according to our nonprofit group, Consumers’ Checkbook.

Delaware residents who receive generous incentives from Delmarva Power over the system’s 20-year lifespan will achieve a fairly quick payback time: within eight years.

And in Pennsylvania, where local incentives aren’t as great, the payback won’t come for another 10 years.

After that, with systems providing free electricity for years, most area residents will enjoy their energy bills by $13,000 to $22,000 over 20 years, depending on their location.

You can finance the purchase of a solar project and avoid large upfront expenses. Installers offer loans or you can get a home equity line of credit. But that adds thousands of dollars in interest charges.

Alternatively, landlords can sign up with a company that provides equipment through a lease in exchange for paying them a flat monthly fee – typically $70 to $120 per month in this area – and letting them collect tax credit and incentives.

AT checkbook.org in general, we don’t think these arrangements represent good business.

Seeking readers can access Checkbook’s full solar power report and all of Checkbook’s unbiased local service provider reviews through April 5 at Checkbook.org/Inquirer/Solar.

Of course, many homeowners want to minimize their home’s impact on the environment, regardless of any cost-benefit calculations. If you belong to this group, solar is definitely for you.

Start by making sure your home and its roof are solar-ready. Roofs that have an unobstructed southern exposure are best.

Because solar panels last 25 years or more and your shingles will need equal longevity, ask a roofer if you need to replace shingles where you plan to install panels. If your roof is newer and still covered by a manufacturer’s warranty, ask your roofing contractor for a written acknowledgment that installing solar panels will not invalidate the warranty.

Checkbook’s undercover shoppers have found that some installers recommend systems that are too large – and more expensive – than necessary, so get your own estimate of the size of system you need. Gather your electricity bills for the last 12 months and count how much energy you used and what you paid for. Then use a variety of calculators offered by three handy websites to estimate what you need: The U.S. Department of Energy’s PVWatts Calculator (pvwatts.nrel.gov); Google Project Sunroof (sunroof.withgoogle.com); and the Solar Energy Industries Association Solar Estimate (solar-estimate.org).

If you plan to buy an electric vehicle in the next few years, add about 2.5 kW of capacity per car to your system size.

Next, collect proposals from solar companies. Checkbook’s undercover buyers collected prices for two homes with typical projects and found large price differences from business to business for each. For a house, prices ranged from $13,395 to $27,246 for a 5.7 kW system; for the other, prices ranged from $11,750 to $23,900 for a 5.0 kW system.

Lesson? Collecting multiple prizes could mean saving $10,000.

Carefully consider the solar contractors you are considering. Examine all marketing materials with skepticism – some companies promise overly optimistic scenarios. Read the contract carefully and ask the company to clarify anything you don’t understand.

Ask how long the company has been installing solar power systems. Has he completed at least 100 projects? Do they have experience obtaining approved permits in your jurisdiction and approvals to connect systems to your electric utility? You don’t want your home to be a guinea pig for an inexperienced installer.

Make sure any installer you consider has an electrical contractor’s license; then check it with the licensing authority. Also ask for proof that the companies and any subcontractors are covered by civil liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

Find out how long it will take to get things done and when you’ll have to pay. As with most home improvement jobs these days, solar projects are often delayed due to supply chain delays.

Look for a long-term manufacturer’s warranty that will protect you if your system breaks down or doesn’t perform as efficiently as promised. Installer warranties can range from one to 10 years; the longer, the better.

If you can, avoid making a large deposit before the work begins. Usually $1,000 or more is due when you sign the contract, then another payment is due when installation begins, with the balance at the end. By holding back as much money as possible until the job is done, you maintain maximum leverage to ensure the job is done correctly and quickly.

Consider other measures to reduce your home’s energy consumption. Most of our homes waste a lot of energy unnecessarily. Often, the combined effects of inexpensive upgrades, adopting better habits and buying better products will result in significant savings. AT checkbook.org we detail 32 changes you can make to your home to save energy.

the Delaware Valley Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and checkbook.org is a non-profit organization that helps consumers get the best service and the lowest prices. It is consumer backed and does not charge any money from the reviewed service providers.

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