If you've started to research solar power for your home, you've probably discovered that it's not as simple as slapping a few pretty blue tiles on your roof. These days, solar panels come in many different forms and configurations, and it can be difficult to figure out which is right for you and your home.
To start with, a number of solar companies offer free evaluations that take into account how much energy you need and whether a solar panel system will work for your house. Take advantage of this evaluation to narrow down your options and scope out a company. And because it pays to be a well-informed consumer going into solar power, here are the pros and cons of four major solar panel system types.
Solar Roof Tiles
Solar roof tiles are shaped to interlock seamlessly with your existing roof tiles for a barely-there shimmer of indigo that even the most persnickety homeowner probably will not object to. Solar roof tiles, which come in many different shapes and sizes, are a sleek, aesthetically pleasing alternative to traditional roof-mounted systems. However, they do tend to be more expensive, both in materials and installation. And because solar roof tiles must be integrated directly into your existing roof, it's critical to get a competent and experienced solar installer to do the job.
Roof-Mounted Solar Panels
These panels are what people usually associate with solar panels, and they remain popular for good reason. Roof-mounted solar panels are more versatile than their tiled incarnation and can come in attractive low-profile styles. Because they sit on a frame just above your roof, these solar panels offer less disruption to your roof and can actually extend its life by shielding it from the elements. However, some homeown associations do object to their appearance, especially if they face the street or are bright blue. A solar evaluation can help you determine where and how your solar panels will be mounted before you run into trouble with your association.
Solar Patio Covers
The smallest and most inconspicuous of all solar panel systems, a solar patio cover sits invisibly on top of your garden patio and provides shade and energy at the same time. They are ideal for homeowners who have (or are interested in building) a south-facing patio or whose roofs are not ideal for a solar installation. Generally, solar patio covers are best for households with relatively low energy demands or limited space, but they can also be extensions of larger solar panel systems.
Ground-Mounted Solar Panel Systems
If you are a landowner whose land is unproductive or unusable, you can use it to generate electricity with a ground-mounted solar panel system. These larger scale systems can be either stationary or motorized to track the sun for up to 39% greater efficiency. If you would like to minimize disruption to your land, look for a system that sits on ballasts and can be removed cleanly at the end of its 30-40 year lifespan. Although most people have neither the land nor the electrical needs to justify a ground-mounted solar panel system, this system does offer the greatest electrical output and efficiency.