Rooftop Solar Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

solar panels on a home rooftop

How do my panels connect to the grid / what is net metering?

When your system is installed, it’s typically set up at a size that matches your annual or anticipated annual energy usage (i.e. if you plan to add an addition to your home or if you think you might buy an electric car).

During the sunniest months of the year, you’ll likely generate more energy than you’ll use. This extra power goes back into the grid, and the utility “banks it” for you to use later. These are known as “net metering credits” and they are automatically applied to your bill anytime within the next 12 months, typically during months when there is less sunlight and your system generates less energy than you use.

This is why an installer will ask for your utility bill — they want to see your annual usage to size your system to maximize your savings.

Will the panels cover all of my electricity usage?

If you have an appropriately sized system, it can cover all of your electric usage for the year. Keep in mind that it may take a few months to generate enough net metering credits to cover times of the year, like winter months, when your panels generate lower quantities of energy.

How many years will my panels last?

All reputable solar panels have a 25-year warranty. They can last well beyond that time.

What is the best place to put my panels?

A south-facing roof is typically the best place to install your panels because it will get the most sun exposure. But if you don’t have a south-facing roof, do not fear! East- and west-facing installations can also be very effective. The pitch of your roof, shade from nearby trees and other factors will also inform the best location for your panels. 

On larger properties, ground-mounted solar panels are also an option. However, they can be more expensive because of the associated structural steel and trenching to connect the system to your electric panel.

What makes now a better time to go solar than later?

Three main factors make now the best time. First, you will be locked into the current 1:1 incentive structure for net metering credits. Within the next year, Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (SCC) will decide if a reduction in net metering credits and/or an increase in the cost of solar is warranted. Second, utility rates are expected to climb significantly in our region, and going solar now protects you from those increases on your electric bill. Lastly, the 30% investment tax credit available now creates significant additional savings.

I’ve heard going solar doesn’t save much considering the upfront cost of the installation. What, if any, savings can I see?

It takes, on average, six to 10 years to pay back the cost of initial installation with lower energy bills. After that, your solar system produces your energy at no cost (though you may still have base monthly charges from the utility). One way to look at it is, you’re trading your electric bill for a solar bill, which is usually cheaper. And instead of buying your power from an electric company, you’re producing your own.

If you stay in the home for around 20 years, which is the lifetime of the system, you will save, on average, between $20,000 and $95,000. The savings can be even higher if your utility company raises rates beyond 2-3% per year (this is standard). Some utilities have seen sudden and significant rate increases, which results in higher savings for solar customers.

How do I pay for my system?

Most homeowners finance their system over 10-20 years to spread out the cost, much like they would a car or a home. You can also pay for the system upfront. Either way, assuming no tax liability, you will receive your full 30% federal tax credit when you file your taxes the following year. In Virginia, solar leasing is also now explicitly allowed by law, so this is an additional way to get solar. Your savings over time will be less, but you don’t need to make the same financial investment upfront.

Where do batteries fit into all this?

Similar to the electrical sockets in your home, if the power goes out, such as in a storm, a standard rooftop solar system on your roof will automatically shut off to protect utility workers from any electricity moving through the grid.

However, with battery backup, even when the power grid is down, you can still provide energy for your home that was saved up during times with more sunshine. This can provide peace of mind and allow you to have off-the-grid capabilities. An example may be powering a small fridge with medications or an oxygen machine.

Batteries are also eligible for the 30% federal tax credit when installed with your solar system.

I’m thinking of electrifying other parts of my home — maybe adding an electric vehicle, heat pump or stove. How will that change things?

This is a great question that relates to net metering. An installer can estimate how much electricity these future changes will add to your overall energy need and build your solar system out accordingly. Most systems can be built to one-and-a-half times your current usage to accommodate additional energy use that may come with electrification or EV charging.

Where do electric vehicle (EV) chargers fit into this?

Most installers can also install an EV charger while installing your solar system. And, great news! EV chargers are also eligible for the 30% federal tax credit.

What if I’m in an HOA?

Virginia law prevents HOAs from making prohibitive restrictions on your solar system that would reduce its performance by more than 10% or increase your cost by more than 5%. For example, if an HOA wants to force a customer to place panels on their back roof and doing so would decrease performance by more than 10%, this is a prohibitive restriction and isn’t allowed by law. The only exception to this regulation is if an HOA has restrictive language on solar systems in its founding document.

Can my neighbors prevent me from getting solar panels?

If you comply with HOA and local zoning requirements, your neighbors typically have no standing to prevent you from getting or keeping solar panels. However, homeowners will always benefit from a respectful conversation with the neighbor and may consider setting up a solar easement that outlines what the system will look like and methods to address any disputes. As solar becomes more and more popular, such disputes are uncommon.

I want to maximize the net metering credits I get back by producing more energy than my home uses. How big can my system be?

Residential systems are limited to 25 kilowatts, more than enough for nearly all homes. Dominion Energy allows homeowners to build up to 1½ times the home’s annual usage. However, some co-ops, such as Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC), limit system size to the home’s annual energy usage at the time of installation. Your installer will be able to give you the latest size guidelines from your utility or co-op.

Additionally, it’s important to know that any net metering credits not applied to a bill within a year of their creation are retired, with no profit to the homeowner. This is why an accurate buildout of your system and real projected future energy use is important.

What if my property has a conservation easement on it?

Conservation easements typically allow for solar systems that provide onsite power. They do not allow for commercial generation. We encourage you to speak with an attorney to avoid any issues with your easement terms.

Will I need to replace my roof? And what if my roof needs to be replaced in a few years?

At the start of your solar journey, your installer will analyze your roof quality and structural integrity to determine if the roof can accommodate solar panels for the next 20-25 years. If a roof replacement is needed, ask your installer if they do reroofing. The financing for the reroof can sometimes be combined with the solar financing and you may be able to negotiate a better reroof price.

What are solar panels made of? Is there any risk of leaching?

The range of chemicals in solar panels varies. While some can contain lead and cadmium, the contained amounts are only considered toxic in large quantities. Solar panels are tightly sealed to prevent leaching, but, like any of the items in our homes, including cars, batteries, computers, etc. they are not without some potential risk.

Do my solar panels work when the power goes out?

When the grid goes down, your panels will only work if you have a backup battery system to hold the excess electricity your system has produced. 

Will the reflective panels impact birds?

Negative effects on birds are more likely to occur on large arrays that birds mistake for water. That said, according to the Audubon Society, “unless we slow the rise of global temperatures, two-thirds of North America’s birds could face extinction.”

Can I decide which country my solar panels are sourced from, if, for example, I want to buy American-made?

Many times, yes. Some installers provide American-made options that can qualify for additional tax credits and/or have a different cost.

How will a rooftop solar system impact my home value, mortgage or property taxes?

Solar panels will not affect your mortgage payments. Zillow studies show that solar panels increase property value by an average of 4.1% and that homes with solar panels sell more quickly. The assessed value of your solar array, which adds additional value to your home, is exempt from property taxes as per Virginia law.


Have other questions about rooftop solar? Reach out to Ashish Kapoor at akapoor@pecva.org.