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To Solar, or Not to Solar?

by J. Money on Monday, March 5, 2012

Solar Panel House

Oh man, I just got off the phone with a rep from Solar City, and I am sooooooo tempted right now to grab some solar panels for the roof!!!  I can’t believe how easy and SIMPLE it all seems, and they even have a $0 down deal too! (No, this is not an ad, haha…) There are of course some catches to the plan, but as you’ll see in a bit they’re not nearly as bad as one might think :)

But first, let’s track back a little.  Where the heck did solar panels even come up in my work-from-home life? Haha… well, I got snagged while roaming the aisles of Home Depot one cold month ;)  You know how every now and then they try and get you to do a free estimate for flooring or windows or anything else homeowners go gaga over?  Well, I declined all those when they were presented to me, but as soon as I thought I was done w/ the interrogation, I got hit up with one last question to finally grab my attention:

“How would you like to never pay for electricity again?”

“Ummmmmm” I started to say, as I got half intrigued/half thinking I was about to get scammed. “How the heck is that possible?”

“With solar panels!  Why not grab the free energy from the sun instead of paying the electric company every single month? Just jot down your info here and we’ll have a rep give you a call later on.”

I’ll admit he had me at solar panels. While I’m certainly no environmental rock star (see proof here, here, and here), the idea of being a lot more self-contained is HUGE right now in my “perfect world” dreams. I would totally build my own house, grow my own food, and have natural water and everything else that came along with being “organic” in case the world were to end one day (aka the economy implodes). And solar energy is one key aspect in making that plan nice and possible!

So I quickly told him to sign me up, and four weeks later I get the call and all 101 of my “what if” questions were answered ;)  I give her mad credit for her patience that’s for sure, haha… and it only took about 20 mins to pretty much have me convinced (pending final approval from the Mrs., of course, as well as you guys). The only thing I forgot to ask about was the tax benefits, d’oh…

But in a nutshell, here is a smattering of all the info I gleaned (SAT word!) on this stuff:

  1. You put $0 down, and have a system installed 100% within a few short months.
  2. For the next 20 years (yup, that’s what the contract would be), they’d maintain everything absolutely free, and your “payment” for the whole thing would be included in your monthly bill – which would still be lower than your normal electric bill as it is now without the panels.
  3. Every month you’d save roughly 5%-15% of your entire bill, all depending on your personal use and how much sun typically hits your house on average. (We’d get more accurate numbers here if we decided to proceed to stage #2 where they look over our actual situation)
  4. At the end of the 20 years, you have the option of upgrading equipment or ending the deal.

Of course, if you sell the house, or decide to take it down for whatever reason, you’re then held responsible for the remaining amount owed on the equipment.  BUT, and this is a big but here, the odds that any new homeowner WOULDN’T want to save money via solar energy would be incredibly small you’d have to figure, right?  If all they have to do is xfer everything into their own name?  If it did ever come down to that though, you could always have them give you back all the equipment that you would now become the new owner of (along w/ a possible $7,000+ bill), which you could then bring along to your NEXT home to have it installed there as well.  And in theory you’d be back to the good ol’ days of saving energy again ;)  But I don’t want to be the one to test it out…

solar panels in the sunSo that’s the main option they pitch to people, and probably the one I’d select too if we decide to move forward with it all. The OTHER route you could take, would be to buy everything from them right from the beginning and then take FULL VALUE of the savings you’d get starting on day #1.  Which could mean bills of anywhere from 80% off (!!!) to even 100% or more!!  Where you’d produce a lot more energy than you actually consume, and the electric company would start giving you “credits” for it cuz now you have a surplus :)  Again, probably not a likely situation, but it IS indeed possible. The only problem with going this route is it would cost you I believe anywhere from $10,000-$20,000, depending on the size of your roof, AND you’d be responsible for maintaining it all the way too.  Meaning if it breaks or something nasty happens, you have to keep shelling out more money for it to stay on track and keep bringing you those hefty discounts.

Pros and cons to either solution here, but in the long run either route would more than make up for the initial investments.  And you’d be helping out the environment to boot :)  I believe they also have a  “pre-pay $X amount” middle ground scenario as well, where you can tweak the numbers even more depending on how much you actually want to get in savings every month.  But you’d have to play around with it for a bit, and find out how to maximize your efficiency there. It is a nice, though, that you don’t necessarily have to go w/ one of the other extreme routes we just talked about though, so at least you have options.

And that’s my solar panel story!  Lots of exciting stuff brewing in the air over here, and super excited to run it by Mrs. BudgetsAreSexy and YOU GUYS to see what your thoughts on the whole thing are too.  I couldn’t find any major cons other than the worst-case scenario of us signing and then selling the house a few months/years later, only to have the new owners hate the entire thing (that would REALLY suck), but again even w/ that the odds are still pretty low.  And if we were to rent out the house instead, we could always lower the rent or be even more convincing of how awesome our house is compared to our neighbors w/out it ;)  Hell – having the panels installed could even help us SELL the house a lot faster too! I’d TOTALLY be swayed towards solar energy than without.

So, dear friends, what ARE your thoughts on this whole thing?  Have you ever looked into solar energy yourself?  Do you happen to HAVE solar panels right now on your house, as we speak??  I wanna hear thoughts!  Right now I’m 75% into signing up, but I’m not gonna do it if I’m missing something totally out of left field.  So all of your opinions count massively today! Here’s your chance to alter the future of my finances for ever and ever and ever ;) Use your powers wisely.

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PS: You can read more about the company here if you’re interested. They do business across the entire country, so hopefully one of you have ALREADY used them and can give us the inside scoop! :)

(Photos by jhritz (top) and Living Off Grid (bottom))


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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 KC @ PsychoMoney March 5, 2012 at 7:46 am

You had me until the whole being stuck in the contract for 20 years. Who knows what will happen, but I dont see myself being tied to a single house for 20 years.

Didn’t you talk a bit about wanting to travel?

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2 Vanessa Pagé March 5, 2012 at 7:52 am

Is stage #2 free? If so, I would have the evaluation done and then run the numbers. It’s possible that you might not receive enough sunlight to make solar panels worth the expense.

In terms of resale value, I do think that solar panels would increase the value of your house if you did decide to move. I know that I’d prefer a house with solar panels to one without ;)

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3 Money Infant March 5, 2012 at 8:29 am

Yeah the whole 20 years thing would have me as well, but then I’ve never stayed in the same place for more than 5 years. If you could end up selling electric back to the electric company that would be cool and I too am a fan of the whole off the grid idea. And if the end of the world did come maybe you wouldn’t have to pay for the whole 20 years because the company would be gone, but you would still have electric…though that might make you a target hehe.

And Vanessa does make a good point re: how much sunlight do you get?

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4 c March 2, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I am not certain but I did read something the other day when researching solar power in S. Calif that you would not have power when the power goes out unless you had added equipment not typically provided with a solar panel install. So if that is important to you, that would be a question to make sure to ask.

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5 J. Money March 4, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Something to consider!! Hadn’t ever thought of that before actually…

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6 Stephanie March 5, 2012 at 8:44 am

I’m stuck on the whole 20 year contract or you have to maintain everything yourself issue.

Also, I doubt it would work with our house. I don’t think we’d be allowed to install solar panels on the side of our roof that faces the street, and the other side of the roof faces north, so not as much sun there. :-P

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7 tea March 5, 2012 at 8:47 am

No twenty-year contract here. But I have been looking at buying solar panels outright for several years. My neighbor invested in them several years ago and has been quite pleased with the results. Other than cleaning, he has had no maintance issues. I like that I have real data usage from my neighborhood. Eighteen months ago, I got as estimate, and looking at the numbers, I wasn’t sure at my age (senior citizen) the numbers would really pay off. For the first six months after the quote, I kept getting letters saying commit now before the price goes up. Then the interesting thing happened, they sent me a new quote with a lower price. They have for past years they have been sending new quotes, each with a lower price. The current quote I have is just below 50% of the original quote. At twenty thousand dollars for my small house, the numbers are starting to make sense. There are 30% tax credits available to me for installing the panels. So out of pocket will only be $14,000 after tax credits. I am spending about $2000 a year on electricity, so we are looking at 7 years before I break even. But my neighbor is generating more electricity than he uses, and receives a $2000 check each year from the electric company. So If I am able to keep my usage as low as my neighbor and receive a similar credit, I could apply that credit and break even within four years.
Couple things to keep in mind, if the panels become dusty or covered with leaves, you will get less efficiency out of them, so they need to be cleaned monthly. If you’re not going to climb on your roof and clean them yourself, then add in the cost of having someone clean them for you. Also, some tax credits require the panels be American made, so check to see if they are American or Chinese. And while solar panels may had to your property value, aging solar panels are likely to be a deterrent in selling your property. Personally, if you don’t have energy efficient windows and a well insulated home, tankless hot water heating, and energy efficient appliances, I would first invest in those energy saving methods before investing solar panels.

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8 Michelle March 5, 2012 at 9:16 am

I’ve definitely thought about this, but 20 years is a LONG time.

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9 m1nts March 5, 2012 at 9:32 am

Supposedly I will finish paying my mortgage in 25 years, so …. I’m in! I’ll be here for a while anyway…

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10 Bridget March 5, 2012 at 9:47 am

eh. I’m not sure about it. As every other commenter has said, 20 years is a long time.

Also, I think I’ve been told that solar panels are poor source of alternative energy because the produce more pollutants to produce than they will save over their lifetime.. I’m not sure if that’s true (I guess it depends if your normal source of electricity is coal or wind energy, etc). I never fact-checked because I live in an apartment so I don’t worry about solar panels haha

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11 Matthew Doyle March 5, 2012 at 10:17 am

I would say go for it. With the possibility of energy costs increasing substantially this is as good of time as any. I know there is a 20 year contract, but you could probably recover the cost to pay off the contract if you have to sell your home. Although, if you can afford them, I would buy them out right and maintain them yourself. They are fairly easy to maintain. Payback is much quicker and you aren’t tied into a contract. Also you can take advantage of the 30% tax credit, which will expire in 2016. If you want to save even more money look at solar hot water heaters.

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12 J. Money March 5, 2012 at 10:38 am

I know – that 20 year part is the main killer here. But I mean it makes sense on the company’s end since they’re putting in all the time, and money, to then maintain it all, etc.

The next step here is for the Mrs and I to have a call w/ their estimations department to see *how* beneficial, if at all, this would be. I think it’s worth the 1 hour phone call, yeah?

@KC @ PsychoMoney – Oh yeah, well I’ll still travel as much as I want with or without the home ;) I think my true vagabonding days are over now that I’m married w/ a kid though, so either way I’ll need a home to live in. Not that it will be THIS home, but we’d either rent it out or sell it and pray to the high heavens that the new owners WANT the solar! Haha… bit “if” huh?
@Vanessa Pagé – Yup! The estimation phase is 100% free too – I’m thinking we’ll do that and then make a better decision… I’m hoping it just becomes a no brainer after we hear the results – one way or the other!
@Money Infant – Haha, true! They actually DID say it’s possible to get TOO MUCH energy and then you could store it as credits on your account (for only 1 year though – you can’t actually *make money* with it, just save a lot), but it’s a small % of people who can make that happen. Mainly because of the amount of sunlight as you all mention, but also the average family uses more electricity than what would be needed for the perfect situation. As far as OUR house though, they did say it looked like it got a decent amount from google maps (hah!), but we’d probably get more details during stage #2 w/ the estimations and what not… There’s no trees or anything above our house which is nice.
@Stephanie – I was wondering the same thing actually, cuz we have a homeowner’s association, but turns out some states have laws in place that forbid them from forbidding them! :) And I think they only put them on the back facing roofs too, or at least in our case. They said the back would be perfect for it and usually don’t do the fronts – maybe that’s how they get away w/ that law?
@tea – Hey! Thanks so much for sharing all this info – that’s great!!! Esp on American-made vs. foreign, and the outdated solar panels – all good to know! The maintenance part would be a little bit better if it just meant cleaning off leaves/etc, but I’m more afraid of a storm coming and doing some major damage. Plus I know I’d be too lazy to go out and clean it or hire someone too, but I guess that’s more of a personal trait ;) I will say that we haven’t looked into energy efficient windows or having the entire home well insulated, so that’s a good reminder too. I tend to get excited about things in phases and then move onto the next one, so maybe after we decide once and for all w/ this solar stuff we’ll head into those other areas… Thanks again, my friend! If you end up diving in later, will you let me know how it all goes? Maybe you could write a guest post for us on the process and thoughts from start to finish :) Either way though, this is super helpful stuff.
@Michelle – I know, it sucks :(
@m1nts – Haha, maybe it can be your mortgage-burning present ;)
@Bridget – Haha, I’m pretty sure everything these days is bad for our environment in some form or another :) I def. miss apt. living though, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to go back again!
@Matthew Doyle – Oh cool, okay – I will. Thanks man :) And I’m wondering if you only get the tax credit if you BUY them yourself over leasing them like this 20 year contract deal? I guess that would make more sense if I think about it… thanks for the note, my man.

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13 tea March 5, 2012 at 10:44 am

J. Money–Normal damage to panels is covered under my standard home insurance poilicy, this includes baseballs, tree limbs and wind damage. Also, I doubt when this company says they provide maintance, that includes monthly cleaning, so I would check .

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14 jefferson March 5, 2012 at 10:45 am

i am definitely interested in solar energy..
and would consider jumping all over this.

However,
it looks like the price on the 20 year lease is $110/month. Which seems a bit high.
My electric bill is actually well below $100 in the winter (we heat our home with gas),
so that kind of kills the whole thing right there.

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15 spiffi March 5, 2012 at 10:48 am

A couple of points -

if your roof is new, go for it – but if your roof needs to be replaced in the next 5 year or so you might be better off waiting till you’ve replaced your roof and have a 20 year roof under those panels

Also, my understanding is that if you go the 20 year plan, SolarCIty collects all the free government money and tax writeoffs.

The numbers I have heard are $119 or so per month to “lease” the panels on a 3000 sq foot house from solar city. Given that my house lives in the shade and my electricity bills are $30 a month in the winter, right now there’s no cost savings to me :D

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16 Corinne March 5, 2012 at 10:59 am

I think this option would only be viable if you:

a) had a metal roof that you never have to replace; regular shingle roofs have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years.. so that could cause extra expense having to remove the panels to replace your roof.

b) lived in a place with less cloud cover days than cloudy days – its typically pretty cloudy here..

c) dont mind the look of having huge solar panels on your roof.

Also, as some have mentioned – they are produced using not exactly environmentally friendly methods..

The better alternative would be Wind. Small wind turbines added to roof tops (about the size of the common roof “whirly-bird” venting system) are becoming popular in a few countries and some US cities have started creating new codes/laws to allow their usage. This of course does depend on where you live, but in many places this is a good energy source. It is something I have just started to look into for my house.

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17 Mr. Money Mustache March 5, 2012 at 11:12 am

Hey J.Money – glad to see you are interested in one of my favorite technologies!

I think it’s great fun to get a solar system and support the solar industry – even with money considerations aside.

As an engineer who looks at the numbers on this stuff regularly, I find that the best plan is usually just to cut your power consumption down. Mine is under $25/month when you average it through the year, and this is for a big house with a lady and small child in the mix.

Then if you really want solar power, you can just buy a smaller system, in cash, and not worry about financing or leases. In areas with lots of sunshine and high power prices, and good tax incentives (california, hawaii, etc), the numbers work out great.

In my area, I already get 100% wind-generated power from the Colorado plains for only a bit more than what most people pay for coal power. Also, my local electric company does not offer any incentives. So I can’t justify the solar panels, other than for the fact that I think it is really cool.

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18 Christopher March 5, 2012 at 11:13 am

I like the idea, but don’t know if it would be feasible up here in NY with all the snow we usually get. This year is obviously the exception.

With everyone going green now a days they could def help you sell the house in the future if you wanted to.

I say go for it.

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19 Nords March 5, 2012 at 11:53 am

We’ve been solar (both photovoltaic and hot water) for just over seven years. Our average electric bill is ~$30/month, on Oahu where the utility rate is a minimum connection fee of $16/month and the power is over 30 cents/KWHr.

We bought 3000 watts of used and “factory blemish” panels from eBay and Craigslist. We worked with a solar electrician who let us do the mechanical work (drilling holes in the roof, mounting racks & panels). He did the electrical connection. Our total price was $15K in 2005, we took a total of 65% federal & state tax credits, and the system paid for itself in just over five years.

A couple suggestions:
- If you’re heating water with electricity then solar hot water has a faster payback than photovoltaic.
- As MMM says, reducing your power consumption always pays off quicker than generating more power. Add insulation to the attic & walls, buy energy-efficient windows, maybe upgrade heating & A/C systems, get rid of incandescent bulbs, and use passive solar heating techniques. (Our power consumption dropped dramatically when our daughter left for college.)
- Many states have tax credits, and the federal rules are changing. Consult your local incentives at DsireUSA.org.
- Do your own math. Find your own insolation data, southern exposure, panel tilt, and hours of daylight. The solar installer is going to overstate power production by at least 25%. They may also exaggerate utility rates and energy inflation. Even in Hawaii our production drops 25% during the winter from the summer peak. But panel prices have crashed over the last year, so installation is cheaper than ever.
- I’m not aware of any homebuyers who will fork over extra cash for your PV system. Homebuyers worry about down payments and mortgages. They don’t do the present value of a discounted cash flow of a series of monthly payments.

“Maintenance”?!? Ha! We never clean our panels. We never pay any attention to the wiring or the inverter, although it’s fun to monitor power consumption. We keep tree branches trimmed away from the roof. The panel mounting/clamping system will survive a hurricane or a tornado better than the rest of the roof. The glass is shatterproof, but you might want to ask about hail damage. I’m afraid that I also have no experience with snow, so I can’t offer any help there.

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20 John | Married (with Debt) March 5, 2012 at 11:54 am

I am very interested in solar panels and hope they can be a part of my self-sustainable early retirement.

I like the picture of the roof and will also be utilizing metal roofs that can last forever.

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21 Modest Money March 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm

This sounds like a tough decision. There are plenty of pros, but yeah 20 years is a long time to commit to it. I thought they were starting to make more advancements with solar panels. If that keeps up, the price may drop a lot in the coming years. You may want to look into that side of things. Also, you might as well shop around a bit and see if there are other competitors offering better deals.

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22 bobbi March 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Let me make sure I understand this… for a 20 year contract you will save anywhere from 5-15% of your entire electric bill? Questions….

1. how many appliances are gas in your house?
2. what is 5-15% of your bill? to me that seems like a $15 – $45 dollar a month savings based on an average of a $300/month electric bill. If your average bill is lower then that savings goes way down.
3. I think you could get a 5% savings by turning off lights and electronics when not in use or by getting a newer energy efficient dryer or water heater. Or turn down your water heater temp or install a tankless heater.

Unless I am misunderstanding something that does not seem like a good deal at all. I’d talk to others in this situation and see what they say. Honestly… I’d prefer to just buy the contract outright. Some states have great rebates (LA is one of the best) on this.

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23 Jen @ Master the Art of Saving March 5, 2012 at 12:55 pm

20 years is a long time, but it could possibly make it easier to sell your house with solar panels. Electric bills get crazy sometimes and saving money every month would rock. If the next step, where they evaluate your actual situation is free, I’d jump on it. At least then you’ll have some actual numbers to work with and make an informed decision. :-)

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24 Mrs. Money Mustache March 5, 2012 at 1:06 pm

@ Jen — I think it might make it harder to sell your house, in fact… the new buyers may not be willing to take on the lease (or the terms of the lease may not allow it), in which case you’d have to pay off the balance in full before selling. As a Realtor, I’ve heard of people not being able to sell their homes because they were unable (or unwilling) to pay off the outstanding cost of the solar panels. Just something to consider…

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25 Ashley @ Money Talks March 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I was interested in Solar City until the 20 year contract part came up. No thanks! Who knows what types of improvements they will come up with in the next 20 years when it comes to solar panels. It’s reasonable to think they will be improved a great deal since it’s still such a new industry. Plus, it’s impossible to know what the next owners of your house will want. If the solar panels are outdated they aren’t going to want to take that contract over.

I don’t know… that 20 year contract is just too long for me.

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26 maria@moneyprinciple March 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I’ll go for it; in fact I almost went for it couple of years back. What stopped us is that there were no deals like the one you describe in the UK (we would have had to cough up close to $20,000 which we prefered to deploy elsewhere) and solat panel a bit tricky in Manchester – it is dark a lot of the time and even in the summer there isn’t much sun. However, when the negative wealth is all paid off we are covering our roof with solar panels. It is not only about finances – it is about independence, and sustainability (better than nuclear any time).

As to moving, well in the UK having solar panels puts value on the house. So…no brainer I think.

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27 Cori March 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm

A 20 year contract? When panel prices are coming down as fast as they are? I don’t think I’d want to lock myself into old equipment with no upgrade for that long. The technology is moving far too quickly for that. It’d be much better to research it yourself, find the parts and put your own installation together. You get the tax credits and can upgrade as it improves.

Plus, there are a lot of ways you can save 5% – 15% off your monthly power bill without installing solar, some as simple as installing better, more efficient light bulbs! If you decide to really cut your costs there back, you can do a lot (including solar, high-efficiency insulation and windows) but SolarCity? Probably not the best choice, though they sound like they have a great marketing team.

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28 George March 5, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Weird timing on this, me and my dad were just talking about a friend of his that was considering buying a system, and then found out there was a way to make them yourself on the cheap. I’m not entirely sure of the details on this, but if there’s a way you could possibly DIY or get two or more companies into a low bidder war, it would be worth it.

I for one LOVE the idea, Other than death and taxes, the one thing you can depend on paying is an energy bill. And I think this idea has a lot of merit on a site that caters to getting out of debt and making your money work for you. What better way than to take one of the largest, previously insurmountable bills, and not only be able to break even, but to make money in the process? I’m just happy to hear that prices are going down for this, because when I’m a homeowner in the next five years, this is going to be home makeover project numero uno. But as with any other investment, do your research, run the numbers, and strike when the iron’s hot.

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29 Brent Pittman March 5, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Solar City is basically trying to become their own power company, that is why they are willing to loose money upfront (don’t worrry, they’ll win in the end). If you really want to do solar panels, buy the panels (pay cash) yourself and get solar installers to install on weeekend + 1 electrician to do final connection. Then you are your own power company (depending on state and local laws) you can sell back to the grid (passive income).

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30 StackingCash March 5, 2012 at 11:04 pm

I have a friend who lives off the grid. He has a storage shed full of batteries to supply him electricity at night. He added a few more solar panels to his 4 year old ones. The new ones were half the price and generate twice as much energy. This leads me to believe that there is still some room for improvement in regards to costs and efficiencies regarding solar power. I would probably wait a few more years before I make the leap. Living in Las Vegas with tons of sun does make me want to take that leap sooner than later. By the way, what is your average utility costs each month? Mine is $200 to 250 for gas+electric. I have a 1500 sq ft single story and it’s just my wife and I.

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31 Joe @ Retire By 40 March 6, 2012 at 12:13 am

I think it’s a great idea. Yeah, the 20 years contract is long, but if you need to sell the house, you can mark it up right? It’s a great pitch to buyers – no electricity bill.

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32 Money Infant March 6, 2012 at 5:57 am
33 J. Money March 6, 2012 at 10:48 am

Thanks so much for all this info everyone — this is great!!! Helps stop me in my tracks a bit, and really consider things more. I tend to get super excited about things and if I don’t stand back for a few days I’ll just jump on things ;) Kinda like my house which was a bad move… all a learning experience!

@tea – Good to know! Thx.
@jefferson – Ahh see that! These are the details I’ll need to look over better on our “estimation” call. Def. not gonna do anything if it just means a few dollars saved.
@spiffi – Haha, yes – not a good idea in that case :) Our roof is, luckily, pretty new – but still something to consider for sure… why can’t this just be nice and easy?? Haha…
@Corinne – Woahhhh really? Wind on the roof?? I like it!! Though I think I get tons more sun than wind, but I can surely look into. Good tip!
@Mr. Money Mustache – Hey bro! Thanks for stopping by and dropping some knowledge, always appreciate it :) We can def. do better about energy consumption for sure – I have no idea yet what we waste, and what we don’t.
@Christopher – Yeah, what was up with the snow this year?? We got jacked here in DC area to – I wanted some!
@Nords – Yo! Thanks so much for stopping by my man – this is all SUCH GOOD stuff!! I love hearing other systems that people have – gets me motivated!! Appreaciate the “25% over-estimation” too – I’m pretty naive and just believe it all, haha… good lookin’ out :)
@John | Married (with Debt) – Oh man, I never even heard of metal roofs till these comments, haha… that’ll have to wait until I build my own home one day :)
@Modest Money – For sure – I tend to get over-excited sometimes and not do as well searching around (aka like buying our house on a whim). These comments like yours are def. helping me to pause more and consider, so thanks!
@bobbi – I don’t even know the answers to most those questions off-hand, haha… I def. need to look into it more for sure :) I just wanted to gauge thoughts from others first to see what I’m missing here, and it seems like a lot!
@Jen @ Master the Art of Saving – Yeah, that’s what we’re gonna do here. Although I’m slowly feeling like it’s not as good of an idea anymore :(
@Mrs. Money Mustache – That’s the #1 thing I’m afraid of. In this case the lease *IS* transferable, but if they say “no thanks” then you’re F’d.
@Ashley @ Money Talks – I know, that part sucks :(
@maria@moneyprinciple – Yeah, it’s always gloomy over in the UK when I’m there! Haha… but man is it beautiful too the rest of the times :)
@Cori – Haha yeah they do! They almost had me sold within the first 5 mins!! Good thing I have you all to jump in there ;) Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thougts on it all, means a lot.
@George – Def. good timing :) If I weren’t so lame w/ DIY projects I’d totally go that route in its place! I think what I really need to do is learn how to build a house from ground up and the tackle all these projects afterwards ;) That’s a dream I have actually – hire a crew who knows what they’re doing, but they have to train me to help from start to finish too, hehe… would be fun!
@Brent Pittman – How come you can’t live here to help me w/ this?? :)
@StackingCash – I think you def. have a point there – I can’t imagine how much better this stuff will be in a few more years? And then another few after that and that, etc etc. Though you do have to jump on it sometime or else it’ll never happen. We pay about $160/mo on average – less in winter and more in summer.
@Joe @ Retire By 40 – That’s what I’m thinking? But no energy bill ONLY if you buy the system outright – not if you lease it :(
@Money Infant – Oooooh nice! I had not seen that yet, I’ll take a gander once I post this up – thanks :)

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34 Georgie March 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm

The 20 year thing concerns me not because of the odds that you’ll leave that house, but the odds that the company will still be around then. That’s a long time for a company to be around, especially if we are talking about an industry in its infancy.

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35 Edward Antrobus March 6, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Pretty much everything I was going to saw has already been said, but I’ll say it anyway. Because I like hearing myself talk (or watching myself type?).

My first thought would be to find out financing costs for just the panels/install without the maintenance plan. Unless you are getting a sun tracker, then “maintenance” costs are really just cleaning the dirt off the panels.
The panels WILL increase the value of the home, and make it more desirable to buyers. The number of buyers who would be turned off by solar panels will be far exceeded by those who would be turned on by them.

Things to think about when considering how cost-effective solar would be for you:
Does your roof face south? This will give you the most sun-hours per day.
Does anything (tree, another building, etc) cast a shadow over the roof? Shadow=no sun!
How many cloud free days does your area have? More clouds=less sun!
Probably the biggest determining factor (other than size) on the effectiveness of a solar installation is the average number of solar-hours you receive per year. DC is relatively south, so that’s a plus.

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36 Renee March 6, 2012 at 9:02 pm

I want them. I didn’t know you could get them installed for free though. Wowwee.

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37 J. Money March 7, 2012 at 11:41 am

@Georgie – Maybe in that case I’d get to keep them for free then? ;)
@Edward Antrobus – Yeah, all valid concerns my man. I’m pretty sure our house is a-okay w/ those questions, but I’d def. bring it up on phase #2 of the more detailed convo with them if we get to that point. Thanks for bringing them up!
@Renee – I know! That’s what totally caught my eye to begin with ;) Just sucks hearing all the negatives cuz now I’m pretty skewed to not doing it, haha…

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38 Nate H. March 8, 2012 at 8:28 am

I have solar panels from Solar City. Entered into the agreement last fall and have been chugging along since. I chose the “hybrid” plan with some upfront money and a 20 year lease. VERY HAPPY! I too was hesitant about the 20 year deal, wondered if they would produce enough, etc. I have not paid a dime to Southern California Edison since last September! The process is a little convoluted, but you do actually “bank” electricity if you produce more than you use, which I have done for the last several months. They look kinda cool on the house too. J.Money, if you have any questions about Solar City, the process, or anything in regards to this send me an email and I will answer any questions you have, show you the lease agreement, etc. Hope this helps.

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39 J. Money March 8, 2012 at 11:05 am

Oh cool!! I’m so glad you’re happy with them so far, that’s great! Exactly what I wanted to hear too – from someone who’s actually using them as we speak :) If I continue forward with the process (which is 50/50 at this point), I just may take you up on your offer. Really appreciate it man, keep stashing that energy!!

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40 Paul April 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm

So if I understand this lease situation correctly, Solar City has nothing to do with the relationship with the local energy provider—in may case, SoCal Edison—who will pay me for producing more energy than I consume, i.e. “banking.” And this will, in turn, help offset the monthly Solar City bill, correct? And btw, SC surely is not the only company providing this sort of 0% down long term lease option, yes?

Also, anyone know of a website that provides info on what the energy buyback rates are, company by company?

Thanks for all the info!! Paul

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41 J. Money April 9, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Hey Paul, those are all great questions – which I have no idea about ;) I do know there are other companies out there that offer solar panel leasing and buying though for sure, I just haven’t researched them. I bet some Google searching will get you some good answers. Sorry I can’t help more!

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42 Jon December 28, 2012 at 2:44 am

I live in Northern Michigan. Very sad I cannot find a solution like this for me I know it snows and the panels will get covered however the solution to this is easy add a clear heated layer this would melt any snow.

Guess I’m out… sadly

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43 J. Money February 15, 2013 at 9:38 am

Oh man, I didn’t even think of snow and all that stuff, haha… lots to this solar stuff!

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44 Brice Esch February 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm

I agree, but we all need to realise that adding Solar in their home is an asset that will raise the future valuation of their residence if / when they come to a decision to sell. With the environment the way it is going we cannot disregard any product or service that presents no cost power at no cost to both the consumer and more importantly the environment!

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45 J. Money February 15, 2013 at 9:39 am

We def. gotta work on the environment stuff, yes. I’m hoping my next home will be a great one to start implementing this type of stuff – I’m fascinated by it all!

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46 freddy July 12, 2014 at 5:15 pm

don’t do it, dude. It’s a total rip off. On the hook for twenty years?! Are you nuts?

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47 J. Money July 12, 2014 at 9:41 pm

I actually ended up moving out of town and now the place is a rental. So even more glad I didn’t pull the trigger, even though I would still like solar at some point in the future.

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