Everyone in Texas can benefit from turning their home into a solar home. Even people in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, places known for a lack of sunshine, can benefit from solar panels. It just takes one hour of midday summer sun to equal the amount of one year’s electricity demand in the U.S.
Solar panels can be expensive so what can you do if you can’t afford to purchase solar panels? Here are a few options to help you in your quest for creating a solar home.
Community solar is also known as “shared solar”, “roofless solar”, or “solar gardens”. According to the Department of Energy, about half of the households in the U.S. can’t put systems on their roof. This is may be due to living in a rental, not having enough space on their roof for solar panels, or because they can’t afford it. Investing in community solar can help you get around those roadblocks.
Shared solar divides the cost among all participants so multiple houses benefit from one solar array, usually off-site. This way you can fit the cost of a solar home to your budget. There are two ways to invest in community solar. Subscription-based shared solar lets you purchase a set amount of renewable energy production per month. You are charged a solar rate for that fixed “block” of renewable energy. Anything over that fixed amount will be charged at the standard rate. With ownership based shared solar, you purchase solar panels or a portion of the solar system upfront. Your bill will be the month’s usage minus your portion’s production.
A Solarize program is a group of local homeowners and businesses that get together to negotiate with an installer for reduced rates. This type of bulk purchasing makes the process easier and lowers installation costs. To find out if there is a group in your area, check out solarizetexas.org.
Another option if you aren’t able to purchase your own solar panels right away is a solar lease. Someone else owns the solar equipment but you pay to use the system. This option usually consists of lower upfront costs with fixed payments over a set amount of time.
If you are ineligible for the state or federal tax credits and don’t want the responsibility of maintaining the system yourself, this might be a good choice for you. The good thing about this option is you can still take advantage of net-metering by selling excess energy back to the utility company.
Power Purchase Agreement
Similar to a solar lease in that another party owns the solar system but you get to use the electricity generated by the solar panels. Usually, a developer pays for the system and installation at little to no cost to the homeowner. Then the developer sells the electricity to the homeowner at a fixed rate lower than the public utility’s rate.
Unfortunately, in this option, the developer, not the homeowner, gets to take advantage of the tax credits. The developer is also responsible for the upkeep of the system for the duration of the power purchase agreement, typically 10-25 years. At the end of the contract term, the homeowner has the option of removing the system, buying the system, or extending the agreement.
Before converting to a solar home there are a few things you should do first that will bring you additional savings. A home energy audit can let you know other areas of your home that are wasting energy. You can weatherize your home and switch to more energy efficient lights and appliances. By doing these things first, you may reduce the size of the solar system needed to power your home which will increase your overall savings.
HOA Restrictions on Solar Panels
Going solar requires a certain degree of planning. Consideration of HOA restrictions for solar panels is certainly a part of it. Once you’ve decided on the solar panels you’re going to use, the power output that you expect to have, your rebates, and financing options, you’re left to gain approval from your homeowner’s association.
Sometimes dealing with your HOA can be a headache. When it comes to solar panels, however, you have clear legal guidelines on what restrictions your HOA can place on your solar panel project in Texas. In fact, the law is on your side. According to House Bill 362, which was signed into law in 2011, the law forbids HOAs from prohibiting solar energy installations unless several very specific circumstances occur.
What Restrictions Are Allowed by Law?
While the law is on the side of people looking to go solar, there are a few common sense restrictions which the HOA can place on these projects. The legislation states that you cannot install a solar device if it:
- Poses a threat to public safety or health
- Violates a law
- Is located in an area common to HOA members, or on property owned or maintained by the HOA
- Voids material warranties
- Is a ground mounted system in the homeowner’s fenced yard or patio and rises above the surrounding fenceline
Additional restrictions affect roof mounted solar panels. Your solar panels must not extend beyond the roofline. They are also required to be parallel to the roofline and conform to the slope of the roof. The wiring and bracketing must be silver, bronze or black.
Before You Go Forward
So you’ve passed all of the above requirements, but there’s still one hurdle that you have to pass. The legislation states that a solar project has to have the written approval from the HOA before being installed. Approval may be denied if the HOA finds that your solar energy device will create a condition that interferes with other people’s “use and enjoyment of the land”. Getting your neighbors to give their approval in writing will help you prove this isn’t the case.
According to legislation, your HOA can designate where your system is placed. For example, your HOA may require the roof mounted solar system be placed elsewhere if it can be visible from the street. The only way to overcome this restriction is to prove that the designated area negatively impacts performance. Suggest an alternative place that would increase energy production by more than 10%. You must use modeling tools provided by The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to prove your argument. One possible tool to use is their PVWatts calculator.
Senate Bill 1626 was signed into law in 2015 to close the loophole that enabled developers to prohibit homeowners from installing solar panels while the subdivision was in the development phase. Sometimes this could take years. The bill restricts that to developments with less than 51 planned residential units. Unfortunately, developers still have the right to ban a system if the control has not yet been transferred to the HOA.
Things to Consider Before Getting Home Solar Panels
Solar energy is a becoming more and more popular as the renewable energy of choice. Solar panels are beneficial in saving us money and helping to take care of our planet. But every person’s situation is different. So how do you know if home solar panels are a good choice for you? Here are a few things to take into consideration when deciding whether to go solar.
Home Energy Efficiency
The first thing to consider before buying solar panels is whether or not your home is as energy efficient as it can be. Installing solar panels alone will not reap the most savings on your electric bill. If the rest of your house has air leaks or is not insulated well, you will still be wasting energy. Contact a professional for a home energy audit to see if there are additional ways to increase your savings.
Cost of Installation
Thanks to improvements in technology and financing, the cost of solar panels might be more affordable than you think. There are many zero down options available and government incentives and rebates to take advantage of that will decrease your costs.
What Options Are Available For Financing?
Besides saving up and paying cash, there are a few other ways to pay for your home solar panels. You can apply for a solar loan. Some loans require little or no money down. Many installers also have financing available which makes it easy. With purchasing, you are responsible for the maintenance of your panels but you can also take advantage of the tax rebates available because the system is yours.
Another way to get panels on your house is to contact your utility company to see if they offer a lease or Power Purchase Agreement. This is a bit like renting the equipment. You have the benefit of solar but none of the responsibilities because you don’t own the system. There is typically no money down to get started but you won’t be able to take advantage of any tax credits.
How Much Solar Power Can I Expect?
The amount of solar power generated depends on how much sun your panels get. There are many variables that determine this. Every home and situation are different, just like every person. The weather in your region, angle and orientation of your roof, how many panels you have, and how much shade your roof gets will all help to determine the amount of solar power you can expect. A solar expert can help you discover the answer to all of these questions.
What Type of Panels Should I Use?
There are a few different types of panels and many manufacturers to choose from. Many people think that monocrystalline panels are the best type of panels to use but are also the most expensive. Getting the best home solar panels for your situation and location will be determined by a few factors. What is your budget? How much dirt, snow, or shade will your panels get? The best thing is to contact a professional to help you decide.
Building Permits/HOA Restrictions
Make sure to check the building and electrical codes for your area. Your homeowner’s association may also have restrictions or rules that will affect where and what you install. Working with and getting permission from your HOA may take some time and affect the installation process, so this should be one of your first steps to take.
When Will I See Savings on My Electric Bill?
Some financing options will start saving you money right away. Zero down loans and leases will immediately decrease your power bill. With other options, such as paying cash for your system, you will yield greater savings in the long run. For most customers, though, the savings start on day one and increase over time. You can even further increase your savings by selling electricity back to the power company if your system is connected to the grid.
Hiring An Installation Company
Make sure to get a few bids from reputable companies. Some companies only install home solar panels on certain roofing materials. Confirm that the trained professional you hire works on your type of roof.
A good, professional solar panel installation company can help you decide what the best plan for your home is.
Proposing Your Plan
When preparing your case for the HOA, it’s best to have printed legislation and an open mind to compromise. Make sure to reinforce the positive benefits of having solar homes in the neighborhood. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, homes equipped with a typical photovoltaic system sold for about $15,000 more than those without. Increased home prices are usually beneficial for the whole neighborhood. Solar homes also help to decrease the neighborhood’s carbon footprint.
In most cases, people will not be obstructionists just for the sake of being obstructionists. Most restrictions are in place in order to maintain property value and the aesthetic appeal of the neighborhood. Being sensitive to that goal will go a long way in persuading them to approve your solar energy system. You can also enlist the help of solar power professionals when making the case to your HOA. If it does not get approved at all and you feel that you are in the right, consult an attorney before taking any legal action.
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Sunpro Solar Houston, TX 89 Reviews Write a review Get a Quote How we determine the best solar companies in Houston, TX At EnergySage, we care about connecting solar shoppers to high-quality solar companies. As such, any solar installers we list above are active on the EnergySage Marketplace in Houston, TX and pre-screened by our team.
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