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Frequently Asked Questions About Solar and the Solarize Program

Can I have solar installed if my roof is older?

Most installers recommend having at least 5-7 years left on the life of your shingles for solar installation. If the roof will need to be replaced sooner than that, it is best to do it all at the same time.  When a roof that has solar does need to be replaced, you will need to pay for the labor costs of removing and then reinstalling your solar system.  

Will solar panel installation damage my roof?

Solar panels installed properly will not damage your roof. They will add weight to the roof, which could be a factor if you have multiple layers of shingles. A roofer can evaluate your situation if this is the case. One nice benefit of solar is that, as sun exposure degrades shingles over time, the panels can actually protect the shingles that they cover from degradation, extending the life of your roof.

Can I put solar panels on my garage?

Yes!  Panels that power your house can be placed on an adjacent structure such as a detached garage if this is a more suitable roof. Another reason you may want to put solar panels on a garage is to power an electric vehicle or studio work space.

What about my flat roof?  Metal roof?  Slate roof?

Flat roofs are not a problem, nor are metal roofs, usually. Slate roofs can be more difficult. It’s best to meet with a solar installer and get recommendations based on your specific situation. 

Are there restrictions in Historic Districts?

There are often restrictions, and this varies by municipality. Frequently, an additional permit must be submitted for projects in a Historic District to gain approval. Design guidelines can be found on the city’s website, and most installers are well-versed in how to install in historic districts.

Can solar be ground-mounted?

Yes, your solar panels can be mounted on the ground in your yard!  Your installer can help determine the best set-up for you. Depending on the municipality, ground mounts may be restricted to the back and side yards.

What is the average installation size?

The average residential solar array size in Michigan is approximately 5 kilo-watts (kW), which is around 400 square feet. Rooftop solar is allowed on roofs as long as the system produces equal to or less than the amount of energy that has been used at that residence historically.

Is East or West facing solar OK?

Yes. There is generally a reduction in panel efficiency for East/West facing panels of approximately 15%, depending on the pitch of the roof. In the majority of cases, the financial impact on your return on investment (ROI) is fairly modest. Your solar installer will help you maximize the solar potential of your installation to ensure you get the best ROI possible. 

What is the average return on investment (ROI)
time for solar?

The average return on investment (ROI) is around 13 years. But this can vary greatly depending on how much electricity you use, how big a system you get and the sun exposure and facing of your roof.

What is the average cost of putting up a solar array?

Cost depends on many factors, including how much energy you use, how much sun your roof gets, how complicated the roof is, the efficiency of the panels chosen, the type of inverter chosen, and more. An average 7 kW system might cost around $17,500 before federal tax credits, and solarize discounts. This could be reduced to around $11,008 with the federal tax incentive and the discounts offered through the Solarize program.

Is financing available for solar?

Yes! All Solarize Installers participate with Michigan Saves, an organization that offers low-interest financing for solar and energy efficiency upgrades. In addition, some homeowners are taking advantage of the very low-interest home equity loans currently available.

What about batteries?  Do I need one?

Batteries are optional. Your solar array is ‘grid-tied’ most of the time, which means it feeds excess power you generate back onto the grid and you receive a credit from the utility, and then you receive the energy back from the grid when you are not generating (e.g at night). A battery enables you to store your excess solar electricity on site and use it later in the evening. In addition, a battery can act as a backup generator, helping to power your home when the power goes out. For example, your grid-tied system is automatically shut down in a power outage due to safety concerns for line workers, but if you have a battery backup, the system switches to this in a power outage. Finally, a battery can enable you to install a smaller solar system, as it helps you utilize more of the solar you produce. A battery will increase your up-front cost but the prices for batteries are decreasing. 

Can I add to my solar system over time?

Yes. If you anticipate adding to your system in the future (e.g., to accommodate an electric vehicle purchase), make sure you discuss this with your Installer so that the system can be designed to allow growth over time.

Do all installers offer around the same prices?

There is some variability in pricing, based on factors such as the type of panels and inverters used by the Installer, the complexity of the project (e.g., trenching, multiple roof areas, electric vehicle chargers, etc.), the size and scope of the company, and whether the installer uses temporary crews or pays full time employees with benefits and living wages. The size of the system is also a factor, with smaller sized systems usually having higher price per watt. If interested, talk to an Installer to find out more about what’s included in their pricing models. The average price per watt is around $3.00, but the range can be anywhere from $2.10/watt to $3.25/watt for most roof-mounted systems, depending on the factors detailed above.

Can I get multiple quotes as part of Solarize?

Yes, you can certainly choose to get additional bids outside the group.

How are the Solarize installers chosen?

Michigan Saves provides vetting of contractors, including making sure licenses, registrations and insurance are up to date. The contractors participating have all agreed to pre-negotiated tiered discounts, and have signed on as Solarize contractors. Then, the Host of a Solarize Group obtains competitive bids from multiple participating installers, and chooses one to work with based on any number of factors, just as you would choose any contractor for your home.

How much can I save?

The Solarize discount can be as much as 15%, depending on the number of households moving forward and the installer chosen, and that is in addition to the 30% federal tax credits for solar panels until 2033.

What about community solar?  Is this something I can participate in?

Unfortunately, the laws in Michigan do not permit direct ‘community solar’ where a homeowner buys or subscribes to a number of solar panels at a community solar farm and the power generated by those panels is credited to your electric bill through your utility. However, there may be options that permit community solar in the future. 

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