Affordable solar energy options for homeowners

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Homeowners may feel pressured to take advantage of solar panel federal rebates set to expire at the end of 2016, and experts advise various payment options that won't break the bank.

Rooftop solar panel installation nearly doubled in 2014 and solar energy companies claim you can drastically reduce your monthly electric bill.

Christopher Hale, a licensed solar panel installer, said his customers have seen the impact right away.

"They're really excited when the first bill comes and their electrical bill is much lower than it was before," he said.

However, experts say there a few things to consider before taking the investment.

"Solar panels can be a big commitment," said Mandy Walker from Consumer Reports. "You want to be sure that they'll work on your roof. Not every house is a good candidate."

It is also advised that your roof be in a place where it can get enough direct sun. Panels are usually installed on the south side of your roof and shouldn't be shaded by chimneys, trees, or anything else above the roofline.

Knowing how old and sturdy your roof is can also be important.

"Solar panels can last about 25 years, so if you think you might need a new roof during that time, make sure the cost of removing and reinstalling them is specified in the contract," said Walker.

While it may initially be cheaper to lease, homeowners will likely pay more over the life of the typical 20-year contract.

"If you can afford to pay for the panels outright, it will likely cost about 15 to 21 thousand dollars or more," Walker said. "But they'll pay for themselves in five to 10 years and then you'll get free electricity for as long as they last."

Another thing to consider is that solar installations may void the warranty on your roof, and in some places, it may increase your property taxes.

Checking the homeowner's insurance policy to see if you'll be covered in the event the panels are damaged by a storm is also crucial.

"It's a very big decision. It's a big investment," said Hale. "It's going to be on your house for a very long time."

For more information on leasing versus buying, EnergySage can help compare quotes from local licensed solar installers in any area.

Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization that does not accept advertising and does not have any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.
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