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Tired of high electric bills? Worried about the impact of CO2 emissions on our environment? Look no further than that big ball of energy in the sky. Did you know homeowners save an average of $1,000 per year on electricity by installing rooftop solar panels? The residential solar power industry is steaming hot these days. In 2015 alone, the number of U.S. homes harnessing solar power grew by 66% over the previous year. With ever-evolving financing options and the cost of utilizing solar energy continuing to decline, your choices for an affordable switch-over to solar are better than ever.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
First, it helps to understand how solar panels work. Solar panels contain silicon or other photovoltaic (PV) materials that absorb the sunlight’s energy. Typically when sunlight hits an object, its energy creates heat. But when sunlight hits PV materials, their atoms release electrons that bind together to create an accelerated level of energy. It’s this higher level of energy that provides electricity for your home. Learn more in our How Does a Solar Panel Work article.
What Should You Consider Before Going Solar?
- Are you a good candidate? Most likely if the expanse of your roof gets at least five hours of direct sunlight each day and you have high electricity bills. Most sun-powered companies give you a free consultation to see if you’re a good fit.
- Get estimates and consultations from several different companies to compare your options and gauge their customer service. Ask for their residential project references.
- Solar lease vs buy? Solar panel cost is a major consideration. Many companies give you the option of leasing panels rather than purchasing them outright. A solar panel lease is a good option for people who don’t want a lot of upfront costs and want to break even much sooner than you would by purchasing solar panels. Most leases require at least a 10-year commitment.
- Know the difference between leasing and power purchase agreements (PPAs). In many ways, leasing and PPAs are the same, but when you lease a sun-powered system, you pay a fixed monthly fee as you would if you’re leasing a car. With PPAs, however, you pay by kilowatt-per-hour similar to your electricity bill, but typically the solar rates are lower.
- Look into local, state and federal solar rebates and tax incentives that can help you save even more money when you’re considering solar panels for your home.
Our Top Picks for Best Residential Solar Companies
We researched dozens of companies and consumer reviews to help you narrow down the playing field. Here we present our top picks for best solar companies, including locations, financing options, features, customer service and more. But how much do solar panels cost? We don’t include actual pricing due to the wide variety of financing options and the custom-design aspect of installing solar cells for your home. All companies we review here have a simple “request-a-quote” website form to help you get started. Just click on the “Visit Website” link next to each company review.
Our number one pick, SolarCity, holds nearly a third of the U.S. market share, making them the one to beat in the residential solar industry. An all-service company, SolarCity is a one-stop shop for financing, designing, obtaining permits and installation with several financing options, including purchasing, loan financing, leasing and PPA. SolarCity gives you one team that takes care of it all, with locations in the District of Columbia and 20 states (AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, MD, MA, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, RI, TX, UT, VT and WA).
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Sungevity, the winner of our number two spot for best residential solar company, offers purchase, loan financing, leasing and PPA options. What sets them apart? For every system they install, they contribute to their Empowered by Light program, which provides solar-powered light and solar cell phone charging kits to kids who live off the grid in Zambia. And they partner with many non-profit organizations, like the Sierra Club and the American Diabetes Association, to switch their offices over to solar and help them raise funds for their causes. Talk about making an impact on our world! Sungevity services 12 states, including AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, MD, MA, NM, NJ, NY, NC, VT, and the District of Columbia.
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Vivint Solar rounds out our top three picks. Vivint Solar is an offshoot of the well-established home security company, Vivint. The parent company seems to know what they’re doing – they currently hold the number two spot in solar residential market share, just behind our top pick SolarCity after only five years in business. Vivint Solar only offers PPAs in the 12 states it serves (AZ, CA, CT, HI, MD, MA, NJ, NM, NY, PA, SC, UT, as well as the District of Columbia). Vivint Solar is a worthy and quickly expanding option for the areas they serve.
CouponThere are no VivintSolar coupons at this time.
Best Solar Panels for Your Home
Below are a couple more solar panel reviews that didn’t make our top three. We suggest reading them as well, so you are even more informed about getting your energy from the sun. One of these companies may be a good fit for you if our top three picks aren’t available in your area.
NRG Home Solar has some of the most weather resistant panels on the market, and they offer a free in-person rooftop assessment and free installation. They’re one of a few solar panel companies to provide a performance guarantee — if your system doesn’t produce the level of power they quote in your contract, they’ll refund you the difference. NRG Home Solar has a lot going for it, but they only offer purchase or lease options. And we found many customer complaints about long installation delays and non-responsive customer service, especially post-installation. NRG Home Solar is only available in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
SunPower is one of the oldest manufacturers and providers of residential solar panels in the U.S. Their claims to fame today? Their X Series solar panels deliver 44% more power per panel than most competitors, and their roof panels are more aesthetically pleasing than what other manufacturers offer. Regarding purchasing options and installation, however, SunPower doesn’t quite make the grade. They don’t offer a PPA, which is quickly becoming an industry norm these days. And they outsource most of their installations to local companies that may not meet your customer service expectations. The bottom line with SunPower? Their panels and solar technology are top-rate, but you’re not assured an easy installation process. SunPower is available in seven states (AK, AZ, CA, FL, HI, NV, NC).
Sunrun is a large player in the residential solar industry. In fact, Sunrun pioneered the business model of leasing panels, taking away the high upfront costs incurred if you purchase. Now, they offer solar panels for purchase, loans, leases and PPAs. They partner with local market installers to encourage community-wide job growth and to provide local customer support. You can find Sun Run in 14 states: AZ, CA, CO, CT, HI, MA, MD, NH, NV, NJ, NY, OR, PA and SC.
Verengo Solar is the sixth biggest solar power company in the U.S. today but currently only focuses in California. Verengo offers purchase options for its customers, as well as loan financing and PPA’s. If you live in California, it’s worth reaching out to get a quote to compare to our top picks.
How Does the Installation Process Work?
Wondering how the whole process works from the design phase to installation? Watch this helpful video by Vivint to give you a better idea of what to expect when they transition your home from standard electricity to sub-generated power.
Can You Go the DIY Route?
A number of home supply stores, like Lowe’s and Costco, sell solar panel kits that include most of what you need to install them yourself. But you need to make sure you acquire all the necessary permits — and verify that your state doesn’t require a certified company to install the panels for you (some states do).
A Bright Future for Solar Panel Consumers
The use of residential solar panels in the U.S. continues to increase, in part, because residential costs keep dropping (by a whopping 45% since 2010), according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. That’s great news for anyone considering making the switch to solar. Energy costs aside, when you install sun-powered panels for your home you’re investing in the equity of your home. In hot markets, like California, you can increase the value of your home by $10,000 or more. You’re also helping to offset tens of thousands of pounds of CO2 emissions. If you’re committed to being Earth’s friend, that’s an impact you can feel good about.
Why are you considering solar energy for your home?