For homeowners who are looking to install solar panels, the first step is usually a solar audit. The solar audit determines if your roof is a good candidate for solar, how much your solar PV system will be capable of producing, and how much money you’ll save on your utility bill by switching to green energy. Once you’ve completed a solar audit, you’ll be able to get a custom-designed solar system that suits your home’s unique characteristics and your lifestyle.
The word “audit” might not connotate the most exciting things (um, taxes, anyone?) but a home solar audit is actually the first step in a very exciting process. When you get a home solar audit, it means you’re serious about going solar, and you’re taking the first step toward owning your own source of energy production. You’re also taking the first step toward becoming less reliant on fossil fuels, and reducing your home’s carbon footprint by 80%. You’re taking the first step toward a fixed cost for your energy needs and opting out of the ever-increasing prices of the utility company (seriously—in the last 10 years, Oregon’s utility prices have increased by a whopping 40%!). You’re also taking the first step toward increasing your home’s value by about 3%. Ultimately, you’re taking the first step toward a smart long-term investment in your finances, your home’s value, and your overall environmental impact. So, you can see why we think an audit is something to celebrate when it comes to solar energy!
What is a Home Solar Audit?
When it comes to getting a home solar audit, there are two options: you can DIY it, or you can have a professional assess your home. We recommend going with a professional, especially since you can get a professional audit for free! At Smart Solar Energy Co., our home solar audits are always complimentary. Our goal is to give you all the resources you need to become an educated consumer and make the smart choice for your own unique situation when it comes to going solar.
A home solar audit will assess several factors. Your solar professional will look at your roof and several of its characteristics, as well as other elements of your home that will affect the solar system, like your home’s framing, and they’ll also review your current utility costs with you. A full in-person site audit can take several hours, but a solar audit can also be done virtually. Below, we’ve provided a full breakdown of what you can expect when you get a home solar audit.
1. Assessing Your Electricity Bill
One of the biggest benefits to going solar is the potential for saving money and locking in your energy costs. Historically, utility prices rise by 2-4% annually – which means a $100 power bill today could cost around $250 (plus inflation) in 25 years, for the same amount of electricity! For this reason alone, solar is attractive because it allows you to lock in your electricity costs at a fixed rate. When you switch to solar, you will most likely finance your solar system, meaning you’ll have a set monthly bill that will typically be paid off in 10-15 years. Once your system is paid off, you will pay nothing (or very little) to the power company, thanks to Net Energy Metering.
In the majority of states, utility companies are mandated to keep track of the energy your solar panels produce as well as the energy you consume from the power grid. This is necessary because solar panels only produce energy when there is sun, and drawing from the grid allows homeowners with solar panels to have electricity when it’s dark out. When it’s sunny and your solar panels are producing lots of energy, that excess energy gets fed back into the power grid and you receive credits for every kilowatt hour (kWh) that your system gives back. Then, at the end of the month, the utility company subtracts every kWh you gave to the grid from any kWh you used from the grid. This reduces your power bill drastically, and essentially allows you to “bank” energy in the summer to use in the winter, because the credits roll over every month.
With this in mind, solar makes sense for most people. Think about it: would you rather “rent” your power, at an ever-increasing rate, for the rest of time? Or would you rather own your power source, with a fixed payoff date on the horizon? This is one of the reasons solar is such a great investment—the cost savings are just too good. Plus, homeowners who install solar PV systems in 2021 and 2022 will benefit from the Federal Solar Incentive Tax Credit (also known as the ITC) which reduces the overall cost of a new solar install by 26% through a dollar-for-dollar tax rebate.
Your solar professional will look at your power bill to determine how much your power bill will cost in 10 years, 25 years, and so on if you continue to rely on the utility company for your electricity. This math will help you understand the true value of solar once you get a final estimate for your own solar project. You’ll be able to see exactly how much you’ll spend if you continue without solar vs. how much you’ll spend if you make the switch.
2. Roof Examination
One of the most crucial components of a home solar audit is the roof examination. This is a detailed examination that takes into account several factors of your home’s roof. The shape, dimensions, material, and pitch of your roof are important factors in whether your home is a good candidate for solar panels, and your solar audit will assess each of these factors. Your solar professional will also evaluate the overall condition of your roof. They will take measurements of your roof as well as determine a shade rating, taking into account everything that will add shade to your roof, from nearby trees to your chimneys.
Your shade rating, your roof’s dimensions, and your roof’s pitch will also be key in determining how many solar panels can be installed on your roof as well as how much energy your panels will be capable of producing. Your solar panels’ production capacity are key to the overall amount of money you will save by going solar. This is done through some simple math. In the northern hemisphere, the ideal roof for a solar installation is a relatively flat, south-facing roof that isn’t obstructed by chimneys or antennas—but that doesn’t mean that you can’t install solar panels if you don’t have the ideal roof. What will matter most is the number of solar panels your roof can hold and how much energy they will produce. The average solar panel is around 3 by 5 feet and produces about 256 watts of energy per day – which equals about 15 watts per square foot. Your solar installer will use these numbers to determine how many panels will fit on your roof, and how much energy those panels will produce. Then, they’ll compare the estimated production wattage with your energy bill to see how much of your home’s energy usage will be offset by your potential solar panels. Qualifying for solar often comes down to this math.
Your roof’s material and pitch are also significant because they will impact the initial cost of your installation project. If you have a steep roof or a roof made of material that is more slip-prone, or a roof that requires a special type of mount for your solar panels, your solar installation might cost more as it could mean more labor-intensive work and precautions taken by your solar installers.
Your roof’s shade rating will help determine your eligibility for certain incentives. Some incentives, like the Energy Trust of Oregon’s solar rebate program, require that your roof scores 75% or greater on what’s called Total Solar Resource Fraction (or TSRF). TSRF essentially signifies how much sunlight a specified area will collect in a year. TSRF will factor in shade, roof tilt, and roof orientation. A TSRF rating of 100% would mean than your roof collects all of the sunlight possible. The ETO solar rebate allows Oregon homeowners to receive a rebate of $0.30 per watt, up to $2,400 total. This rebate shaves off a significant portion of your solar install costs, so it’s important to find out early if your home qualifies.
3. Assessments Inside the Home
Next, your solar professional will examine some of the components inside of your home that will affect your solar system. They will examine your home’s electrical service panels to assess how your PV system will eventually be connected. If you have an attic, your solar professional will inspect it to check for a few things. They will inspect the attic’s framing and insulation to make sure it’s installed correctly and to ensure your electrical lines are properly sealed (to ensure you’re not leaking any energy). Most solar installers (Smart Solar Energy Co. included) will also check your home’s internet connection to see how well your home will connect to the solar company’s monitoring system. Smart Solar Energy Co.’s monitoring system provides 24/7 real-time monitoring to ensure your solar panels are always producing correctly.
4. Discussion & Next Steps
Once your solar professional has completed a thorough audit of your home, you should expect that they will walk you through each of the elements they’ve evaluated, and how those factors will influence your solar panels’ production capacity and your installation costs. They will also discuss placement of your solar panels with you. Once they have gathered all of this information, the next step is a custom-designed solar PV system that is tailored to your home, your roof, and your energy needs. You will receive a visual mockup of how the panels will look and where they will be placed on your roof, as well as the cost of your custom system.
At Smart Solar Energy Co., we are committed to helping our customers make the smart choice about solar energy. We offer home solar audits at no cost to allow you to get all of the information that you need about going solar before you invest a single penny. We have the ability to perform our home solar audits both virtually and in-person—so no need to wait!