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Charlie Glahe WIN Broomfield

Getting started with solar power at home

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The world is increasingly moving toward a more environmentally friendly norm, and it's becoming even easier for the average person to make this a reality. There is perhaps nothing more ideal in the mind of an environmentalist than living "off the grid" and deriving every watt of energy from non-polluting sources. While this goal remains a distant dream for most of us, it is now possible to get one's feet wet in the world of solar power.

The best part about solar energy is that it can shave a good amount off not only the monthly electric payment, but your tax returns as well. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. government is currently offering a tax incentive for households that add solar power capabilities to their property by the end of 2016. This has made many scramble to get a solar system set up on their roof - but don't be too quick to get in on the action.

Although it's getting cheaper, solar power systems are still rather expensive, especially once labor is factored in. According to Forbes, the national average for a residential solar panel installation was $17,000 in 2014. Even if money is no object, there are still several considerations that must be made before going forward with a solar project.

Hire the best
Any major electrical overhaul should never be performed by anyone other than a certified professional, and solar energy systems are no exception. Forbes recommended looking for a contractor that offers a good warranty on their products and services, ideally for 10 years on the power inverter and up to 25 years on the panels. It's also important to ensure the contractor is fully insured and vetted - check with the Better Business Bureau for any recent complaints. Even better, ask around for references before pulling the trigger, and don't settle for the least expensive option based on price alone.

Know what to expect
Solar power is great for the future of the planet, but there are still several kinks that have yet to be worked out in residential applications. The National Association of Home Inspectors wrote that by far, the most common complaint regarding solar systems is the lack of consistent function. 

Solar power depends on regular exposure to strong sunlight, which can vary due to a large number of variables. Cloud cover, trees and the location relative to the equator all have an impact on energy yield. These factors can combine to significantly reduce the amount of power that one system can deliver to a home in a day, which could make living off the grid impractical.

Then there is the cost of a solar energy system. There is not just the upfront cost to consider. Solar panels tend to deteriorate over time, thanks to the powerful effects of the sun. They can prove especially fragile in heavy storms or wind. Even partial damage of a panel can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to repair. Batteries to store the power also aren't cheap, nor do they last forever. The NACHI wrote that just one battery may cost more than $100 to replace.

None of these factors should deter you from looking into a solar power solution for your home. If you do decide to get one installed, be sure to schedule a home inspection before and after the process is done. This should help verify that your home will get the greatest benefit out of a solar system.