Debunking Common Solar Panel Myths and Scams
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Residential solar panels are a great way to reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and save you money on energy bills. Unfortunately, there are numerous myths and misconceptions about solar panels to sift through. There are also scams from unscrupulous dealers to be aware of.
We at the This Old House Reviews Team want to empower consumers, so we’ve provided tips to avoid scammers and make an informed choice about using solar power in your home. We also surveyed 1,000 homeowners to identify common misconceptions and myths about solar panel systems.
Common Myths About Solar Panels
As residential solar panels gain popularity throughout the United States, some myths about solar panel systems have also spread. Don’t let these misconceptions prevent you from looking into going solar or you could miss out on monthly energy bill savings (and playing a role in protecting the planet). Solar panels may not be right for every home, but it’s important to get the truth before deciding what’s right for you.
Solar Panels Cause Roof Damage
Most solar panels are installed on the roof, where they can collect the most direct sunlight. Panels are typically heavy and require special racking, leading many homeowners to fear expensive damage to their roofs. Fortunately, this shouldn’t be a problem as long as you hire a qualified, experienced installer.
A reputable solar panel company will let you know up-front if your roof isn’t in good enough condition to support solar panels. Their installers are experienced professionals who will safeguard against leaks, gouges, and other forms of damage. They will need to drill holes in your roof to install the lag bolts that support the racking, but these bolts will be surrounded by flashing and sealed. A system that uses solar tiles or shingles may not require roof drilling at all.
In most cases, installing solar panels won’t cancel out your roof’s warranty, nor will it void a manufacturer’s warranty because those only cover material defects. If it does void a labor warranty provided by your local roofing company, it will only void the section of the roof where the panels are. Most solar panel companies provide a new warranty on the paneled area, so you won’t lose warranty coverage.
Solar Panels Don’t Reduce Energy Costs
Solar energy will replace some or all of the electricity you pay for monthly from your power company. The exact amount varies by system and location, but utility bill savings are a primary reason most homeowners go solar.
Your savings will vary by factors such as system size, the amount of sunlight your home receives, and the local electricity rate.
Our survey showed that the average homeowner saved 26%–50% on their monthly utilities bill after switching to solar. Almost a quarter of respondents saw a reduction of 50% or more.
How much have your monthly utilities decreased since your solar panel installation?
|Reduction of Utility Bills Since Installing Solar Panels
|% of Respondents
Solar Panels Don’t Last Long
Many homeowners worry that a solar panel system won’t have a significant life span, or that the panels will need replacing every few years. However, most photovoltaic (PV) panels are designed to last at least 25 years with proper solar panel maintenance. Additionally, the Solar Energy Industries Association has created a national PV recycling program for when these panels are no longer usable.
Solar Panels Only Work on Sunny Days
Many homeowners’ (35% of those who responded to our survey) primary concern is that a solar panel system will only work in sunny weather. Fortunately, sunlight still reaches the Earth’s surface on cloudy, rainy, and snowy days. A solar panel system absorbs this light and turns it into usable electricity in nearly any weather condition. Yes, you’ll get more power on sunny days, but you’ll still get some power no matter what the weather.
Additionally, nearly all homes with solar panel systems are connected to the local power grid. That means that if your panels aren’t providing enough power, the public grid can supplement it. You can also add solar batteries to your system for days when you need more power than the panels can provide.
Solar Panels Are Too Expensive
According to our survey, about 62% of homeowners are concerned about the up-front cost of installing solar panels. It’s true that solar panel systems are expensive, averaging $15,000–$35,000. The larger and more powerful the system, the larger the price tag. Fortunately, many solar companies offer financing options to spread the cost out over months or years.
There are also tax incentives that offset the cost. The federal solar tax credit allows you to claim 30% of your total solar installation cost as a deduction on your federal taxes. Many states also offer additional rebates or solar incentive programs to reduce the total installation cost. Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) for policies and incentives specific to your state.
Of course, you should consider more than just the up-front costs of going solar. The system must be maintained and the panels may require annual cleaning if you live in a dusty environment. While the panels should be covered under your homeowner’s insurance, your premium may increase because your home’s worth has increased. You may also pay a small monthly fee for monitoring the panels’ output, depending on your system provider.
Panels Require a Lot of Maintenance
All home systems require some upkeep, but solar panels are actually fairly low-maintenance. You’ll occasionally need to clean off debris or heavy snow, though this can typically be accomplished with a leaf blower.
You should consider having the panels professionally cleaned once a year. You’ll need to occasionally check to ensure that all wiring and connections are secure and damage-free.
Finally, you may want to monitor the system output to ensure it’s working properly. This will either be included in the installation or you’ll pay the installer a monthly fee for ongoing monitoring.
Solar Panels Aren’t Eco-Friendly
Although producing energy via solar panels is environmentally conscious, there’s some concern that manufacturing the panels isn’t. However, solar panel systems typically create enough energy after one to four years of use to make up for the energy needed to manufacture them. It’s true that some materials inside the solar panels, such as heavy metals, are environmentally hazardous if released, but they’re carefully contained within the system.
After the solar panels reach the end of their life span, most of their components can be recovered or recycled. Most of a solar panel’s weight is glass, which is easily recycled, as are its aluminum frames and copper wiring. Recycling other solar panel components isn’t yet widespread in the United States, but efforts are expected to expand as the solar industry grows. Additionally, many companies are dedicated to refurbishing and reusing old solar panels.
Solar Panels Aren’t Efficient
If you don’t know much about solar panels, you may see a standard efficiency rating of 15%–22% and wonder why it’s so low. In fact, the most efficient solar panels in the world— which are too expensive for residential use—have an efficiency of 39%. Despite how those numbers sound, the sun produces enough energy that 22% is still more than enough to power a home.
Based on the laws of physics, no solar panel can absorb all wavelengths of sunlight. For example, infrared or heat radiation can’t be converted into electricity. Also, some light is inevitably reflected off the panels instead of absorbed. The theoretical maximum efficiency for unconcentrated solar panels is around 55%, and the practical maximum is likely a bit below that. Despite this, common commercially available solar panels are still plenty efficient for residential use.
Solar Panels Decrease Your Property Value
The relationship between solar panels and property value is complex, but in most cases, installing a solar panel system will increase your home’s resale value. One study showed that you’ll add an average of $20 to your home value for every $1 of savings on your annual utility bill. However, the actual amount of the increase will vary by location, housing market, and climate. As solar panels become more common, their effect on home values will become more predictable.
It’s worth noting that this increase applies to homeowners who own their solar panel systems. If the solar panels are still being leased when the property goes on the market, the home will have a lien on it. This may make it less appealing to prospective buyers, but this will depend on the individual buyers and how much they value renewable energy.
Before going solar, consider your roof’s age and condition. You can’t replace a home’s roof without removing the solar panels. Thus, it’s best to either install solar panels on a relatively new roof (less than 5 years old) or install them at the same time you replace your roof. It may not be wise to install solar panels on a “middle-aged” roof, because the panels will be uninstalled and reinstalled when it’s time for roof replacement.
Common Solar Scams To Avoid
While there are many reputable solar panel vendors, there are also some unscrupulous companies that take advantage of homeowners looking to invest in eco-friendly technology. Even if they aren’t outright scammers, they may over-promise on rebates and savings to make a sale. Here are some common tactics that deceitful companies use to make money from well-intentioned—but uninformed—consumers.
Free Panel Deals
Simply put, no one is offering free solar panels. Some companies offer leasing agreements with little to no up-front investment, but always read the terms before signing. If you lease solar panels, you can’t claim the tax incentives that come with them. A sales representative who offers free or low-cost installation “for a limited time” and pressures you to make a decision quickly is likely a scammer.
This is especially true if they request your banking details and promise government reimbursement for up-front costs. That’s not how federal or state tax incentives work. Installing solar panels is a big decision that requires a large financial investment. Always take the time you need to make up your mind, and talk to multiple providers before choosing one.
Dishonest Lease Agreements
Beware of lease and other agreements that seem too good to be true. If you agree to a lease, the company should pay the installation cost and you’ll pay the company a monthly fee to use 100% of the panels’ power. Other companies offer power purchase agreements (PPAs), where you lease the panels and pay the company based on your power usage rather than a flat monthly cost.
Both of these can be legitimate options for homeowners who can’t afford the up-front solar panel system costs. However, under a lease or PPA, the solar panel company owns the system and the homeowner can’t claim any tax incentives on it. All of this is legitimate as long as you, the homeowner, understand this when signing the contract.
Don’t be taken in by scammers who claim you can have free installation and a tax rebate. If you want the financial incentives that come with solar panel ownership, consider a solar loan instead. You’ll still make monthly payments, but you’ll own both the system and the power it produces.
Fake Utility Representatives
About 63.5% of survey respondents said they’d been approached by a door-to-door solar panel salesperson. While some solar salespeople are legitimate, many scammers will take a similar approach and knock on doors pretending to represent the state or a utility company. They tend to make exaggerated claims about tax rebates and how much you can save on your energy bills. They’ll pressure you by saying the rebate programs are ending soon and to “sign up now.”
These claims are half-truths. You can save on your utility bill by installing solar panels, but you’re unlikely to eliminate your power bill altogether. There are government tax incentives that change from time to time, but the federal incentive has been extended through 2033. In reality, state workers and utility company representatives never go door-to-door. Do your research before signing up, especially if the deal sounds too good to be true.
High-Pressure Sales Tactics
Because solar panel systems are expensive and becoming more popular, even legitimate companies sometimes resort to high-pressure or manipulative sales tactics to try to get your business. In addition to the 63.5% of survey respondents who were approached door-to-door, 30% said they’d been contacted by a telemarketer. Some of these salespeople are out-and-out scammers that will take an up-front payment and disappear.
Many others work for legitimate companies but don’t have basic knowledge of the products they’re selling; they’re simply repeating company sales patterns. They may work for a middleman that resells a more popular company’s panels. They’re trying to make a sale before you can compare them to the competition, not answer your questions about the technology and installation. Always take the time to speak to knowledgeable representatives from multiple companies before signing a contract.
False Promises on Available Tax Credits
The state and federal programs that support solar power are complex and change as laws and policies change. Most homeowners don’t know these policies’ specifics. Unscrupulous companies take advantage of this, promising huge rebates or programs for which homeowners may not qualify. Their salespeople may claim that the government will reimburse all or most of their installation cost.
If you’re considering going solar, familiarize yourself with the incentive programs that are actually offered. Make sure you understand the federal tax credit and any state credits. Most importantly, make sure you know whether you qualify for these programs before committing to solar. Be aware that the government does not “pay you back” for installing solar panels—that’s not how any of these programs work.
How To Avoid Solar Scams
The amount of misconceptions and scammers in the solar industry has turned many homeowners away from installing solar panels. However, of our survey respondents who transitioned solar power, 94% said they’d recommend other people do the same. The homeowners who work with legitimate solar panel companies are overall happy with their decision.
Modern solar panels are efficient, safe, long-lasting, and will save you money on utility bills even in inclement weather. Still, most homeowners won’t be able to go completely off-grid, and solar panels have high up-front costs. About 75% of survey respondents said they would install solar panels if they had the money and resources to do so. That’s why so many solar scammers exist: Most homeowners genuinely want to invest in renewable energy like solar power. With some basic knowledge and a willingness to ask questions and shop around, you can avoid scams and determine whether going solar is right for you.
The This Old House Reviews Team is committed to providing comprehensive and unbiased content to our readers. This means earning your trust through transparent data and research-backed findings.
We included research from the following government offices and solar institutions:
- South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff–Energy Office
- Solar Energy Industries Association
- The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
- The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
- U.S. Energy Information Administration
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Our online survey of 1,000 homeowners included potential and current solar panel owners in the United States. Our goal was to identify common myths, scams, and misconceptions about solar energy and solar panel ownership.
The sample size included 55% female and 44% male respondents. The survey included residents between the ages of 18–55+, with the majority falling in the 35–44 age bracket. In addition, the largest majority of respondents reported a household income of up to $49,000.
This survey was conducted between Nov. 21–22, 2022 using Pollfish.