Want to do your part for the planet while also cutting down on electricity costs? Installing solar panels on your roof could be the solution. Solar panels have no moving parts, which makes them silent as well as low-maintenance. They’ll add value to your home, and they don’t create any emissions.
Still, putting up solar panels isn’t a project for just any DIY weekend warrior. Given the cost of the equipment, and the danger involved in a rooftop installation, it’s generally a job best left to professionals.
Unfortunately, not every home has the right set-up for a solar array. Here’s what you need to consider before harnessing the power of the sun and generating your first kilowatt.
How suitable is your roof?
If you’re serious about solar power, the first thing to do is assess the suitability of your roof. You’ll need an appropriate amount of surface area, preferably between 300 and 1000 square feet (about 30 to 100 square metres). Your roof should catch a lot of light – in other words no (or few) gables, dormers, shade trees and chimneys.
Roof angle is also important – you want the panels to catch as much sun as possible, no matter how high or low in the sky it is. In general, the optimum roof angle is around 30 degrees.
How much does direction matter?
You’ll get the most from solar panels if your roof has south exposure, but it’s by no means essential. The panels can also be positioned to catch morning and evening sun on roofs oriented to the east or west. In certain circumstances, they can even be made to work on roofs that face north-east or north-west.
Got shade? Be afraid
Needless to say, shade is the enemy of successful solar power generation. Sure, it’s great to have large, mature trees around your property – they look nice and help keep your house cool in the heat of summer. But if those trees cast sizable shadows across your roof, any solar panels you install won’t work at full capacity. If you’re set on installing a solar array, you could always trim a few branches or take down an entire tree. If that sounds too drastic, solar panels might not be your best choice.
Most Canadians live in places where winter storms are a reality. This means snow and ice will accumulate on the roofs of our homes for several months of the year. On occasion, snow will simply slide off angled solar panels. But if a crust of snow freezes on top, your system won’t produce power. Console yourself in the knowledge that winter isn’t our season for maximum sunshine hours, and remember that things will be better once the long, sunny days of summer come around again.
What shape is your roof in?
Solar arrays are built to last. Most professional installations have a lifespan of between 25 and 40 years. But if the roof underneath is in rough shape, it can be costly and complicated to take the panels off and perform a repair job. If you’re planning to install solar panels, your shingles should be no more than 5 years old. If your roof has seen better days, it’s best to get new shingles put on before having solar panels placed on top. Can’t afford to do the whole roof? Just replace the area that will be beneath the panels. The good news? Once the panels are in place, they’ll actually protect your roof from the elements.
What’s all this going to cost?
Solar arrays aren’t cheap – a typical system can cost between $20,000 and $40,000. While that might sound like a small fortune, don’t despair. Provincial and municipal governments across Canada offer varying programs to help offset the cost. Besides rebates on installations, some areas even have programs where homeowners get paid for generating green energy and selling it to the grid. Assuming your solar panels are productive, you could recoup your initial costs after a few years and end up making a tidy profit.
Have you installed solar panels on your home or cottage? Share your experience with us.