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The best solar panels 2019: Go green using the power of the sun

Solar panels on the roof of a house
(Image credit: iStock)

If you’ve decided to make the move to solar, kudos to you! While the initial cash outlays can be high, solar energy can drastically reduce your electric bills, providing substantial savings over time. Solar panels can also increase the value of your home. A 2011 Berkeley National Laboratory study of 72,000 California houses sold between 2000 and 2009 showed that homes with solar power generally increased in value by about $17,000 more than homes without solar power. And finally, going solar will reduce your carbon footprint, giving you the satisfaction of knowing that with one home improvement, you’ve done a great deal to protect the environment. Solar panels need not detract from the aesthetic appearance of your home, either. If you choose wisely, they can blend in nicely.

Solar Panels for Homes: What to Look For

Electing to install rooftop solar panels presents some complex decisions for any homeowner because there are so many variables to evaluate – the angle of the roof, the sun’s trajectory over your home, local laws and HOA restrictions on home renovations, whether rebates or other financial incentives are available in a particular community, and much more. There are city, county and state rebates in a variety of places in the United States. Not every community offers such incentives, of course. However, a number of places will provide a tax rebate or other type of financial incentive to people who install solar panels.

When choosing among rooftop solar panels, there are a number of factors to consider. First, you’ll want to weigh the cost of purchase and installation against the potential energy savings. This will help you to determine how many years it will take to recoup your investment. Other considerations include panel dimensions and warranty coverage. Among the solar panels in our review, our top choices are from Kyocera, CanadianSolar and Grape Solar.

Here are some characteristics we evaluated:

Solar Efficiency
Represented as a percentage, this indicates how much electricity a single panel produces per surface area (a higher number is better). The more efficient the panel, the smaller the surface you will need. This could help you narrow your choices among brands, since you are limited by the surface area of your roof.

Your home is likely your single biggest investment, and since solar panels will alter that investment, it’s important to look for a brand that’s backed by a solid warranty. If any panels are defective or end up malfunctioning through no fault of yours, it’s good to know the manufacturer will perform the necessary repair or replacement. The physical durability is also important, especially if you live in a climate that’s subject to hail or snow.

Another climate-based consideration is the temperature range a solar panel can handle. This shouldn’t be an issue with any of the panels in our review, however; all have ranges of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit all the way up to 185 and higher. You’ll also want to know the materials used to construct the panels. Cheaper, less-durable models are often made of plate glass. In top-quality solar panels you will more often find tempered glass that has been substantially strengthened using special chemicals or heating treatments. An intangible in all this is the very subjective area of aesthetics. Some DIY homeowners create wooden frames for their solar panels, while others prefer the lightweight anodized aluminum ones. Some solar panels are constructed without frames and mounted on special rails so the roof has a sleek, all-of-a-kind appearance.

The measurements of a particular panel will determine how many you’ll be able to install. At some point, you’ll probably want to consult with a professional installer to determine whether your roof can handle the weight of a particular solar-panel system, whether it meets local building and fire codes, and whether it will work effectively.

Help & Support
Since this a big investment and a relatively new and sophisticated technology, you’re likely to have a lot of questions both before and after your purchase. Look for a company that offers customer support you can rely on for pre-purchase information, troubleshooting and any other assistance you might need after installation.

While a lot of expense and planning goes into the purchase and installation of solar panels, if you choose carefully, you’re likely to be pleased with the results once your solar panels are in place and your utility bill is a mere pittance. You can also be proud you’re doing your part to reduce air pollution and harness natural and renewable energy sources.