1. Is solar right for you?
Ontario’s microFIT program pays a guaranteed premium price for 20 years for all the electricity you deliver to the grid. You can expect to recoup the $15,000 cost of a 300-sq-ft roof installation in less than 10 years, says sustainable technology specialist Alex Waters. Elsewhere, provincial rebates may help with costs but it will take at least 30 years to get back your investment. If you won’t be in your home that long you could still benefit from an increased resale value.
2. Placement is key
To generate electricity, solar panel roofs must face south and can’t be obstructed by shade. “If your installation is facing north and facing trees, you’re not going to get any energy conservation,” says Chris Leeds, a sustainability professor at Royal Roads University. Certain systems, however, are designed to work if sunlight is not direct or constant throughout the day.
3. Overhead expenses
While solar panels can last for decades, the same probably can’t be said for your roof. “Always make sure your roof shingles are in good condition,” says Waters. “You don’t want to install a power system, then replace the shingles two years later.”
4. Don’t go overboard
Before deciding how big a system you need, remember that provincial programs limit incentives or rebates to systems maxed out at 10kW. Also look at your own energy usage based on hydro bills to determine what is appropriate or necessary.
5. Shop around
Hiring someone to install a solar panel roof is no different than hiring a contractor to renovate your kitchen. Get at least three quotes, check references and ask lots of questions. For example, ask whether the company subcontracts work and if they’re insured.
6. Consider cheaper alternatives
Solar water heating systems don’t generate electricity but can help reduce your utility bill. A typical system costs about $7,000 and could be recouped within 10 years if you have a large household using lots of hot water or if you have a heated swimming pool, says Leeds.