Solar Panel Installation Cost

The average cost of installing solar panels is $18,000.

In this guide

Things to consider
How to size your home’s solar system
Classification
Parts of a solar power system
Solar thermal vs photovoltaic
Labor and installation process
Maintenance
Leasing vs buying
Enhancement and improvement costs
Additional considerations and costs
FAQ

How much does it cost to install solar panels?

In recent years, the price of solar panels has become far more affordable. Solar panels effectively make electricity by utilizing the sun’s energy. The panels are made up of many photovoltaic cells that are linked together and work in unison. Sunlight shines onto the panels and the cells within the panels convert the light into usable energy. The energy is then sent onwards to an inverter which converts it to electricity.

An average household in the United States consumes about 1 kW per hour (kWh) of electricity. Each 30-day month has 720 hours and the average price of 1 kW is $0.10. A solar panel has the capability of generating 10 kilowatts per square foot. For every kW generated, you will need 100 square feet of solar panels to power 100 square feet of home space. Solar panels typically cost $7-$9 per kilowatt. An average 6 kW solar panel system costs around $18,000 to power a 2,500 square foot home.  

Things to consider

Prior to purchasing a solar panel system to power your home, there are several things to consider.

Sunlight

The roof where the solar panels are going to be installed must receive direct sunlight. Ideally, this should be during the day between 10am and 2 pm, when the sun is at its strongest. Many things such as tall buildings, trees, or chimneys can prevent the solar panels from receiving adequate sunlight.

Region and insolation

The location you live in also has a bearing on the efficiency of solar panels. A home located in Las Vegas, Nevada will more readily generate energy than a home located in Chicago, Illinois. This phenomenon has to do with the positioning of the Earth and is known as “insolation”. The region that you live in determines how much solar radiation reaches the ground. A solar installation company can help you determine your region’s insolation.

Electricity needs

You will need to determine your home’s monthly kilowatt usage by looking at your monthly energy bill. Generally, a household uses 1 kW per hour of electricity or 24 kWh per day. Solar panels differ but in general a 250 W solar panel will produce 1 kW per day if the panel receives 4 hours of direct sun. This means that you will need 24 panels to produce 24 kWh per day.

Roof space

The roof spaced needed to install a solar panel is typically 100 square feet of roof space for every 1 kW of conventional solar panels. Ideally, the roof should have a 45-degree pitch, but solar panels will function with a pitch as low as 10 to 15 degrees and only experience a 4 percent drop in energy creation.  

Safety

Solar panels are fully automated and designed to be safe. You should never alter, work on, or repair your system because you could inadvertently expose yourself to harmful electrical currents. Plus, working on the system yourself will normally invalidate any manufacturer’s warranty. The panels should never be touched or disturbed. If your system has an inverter, it should be kept away from pets and children.

Off-the-grid vs grid-tied

Off-grid solar systems do not have the benefit of having electrical backup. They must depend on batteries to store electricity at night or during times when the panels do not receive adequate sunlight. Grid-tied solar systems do not require a battery backup system because at night or during cloudy days when the solar panels do not produce energy, you can rely on the utility company’s electricity.

TypePros Cons
Off-grid

Independence

No bill from a power company

No need to install costly power poles

No need to have a power company close by

Batteries must be installed to store up ample power for the days when there is no direct sunlight

Cannot rely on a power company as a backup power source

Grid-tied

The power company is always available as a backup power source

Power can be sold back to the power company, which is a process known as net metering

Fewer upfront costs

Requires no batteries

Fewer panels can be used to only produce a portion of the power instead of 100 percent

Additional panels can then be installed at a later date

It cannot function if the grid does not function such as during a power outage

It can be costly to install the necessary power poles to tie into the grid


How to size your home’s solar system

Sizing your home’s solar panels will help guarantee that you are able to access adequate power to meet your family’s needs. Ensuring adequate power is extremely important for stand-alone, off-grid systems. Ultimately you will have to determine your family’s exact power needs each day. Your system installer will be able to provide you with precise information after they visit your home and calculate all of the varying factors that fit your unique situation. However, the common rule of thumb states that it will take 100 square feet of roof space for every 1 kW of conventional solar panels.


Classification

Solar power systems are all classified by their rated power output. This is the peak power that the system will output when exposed to sufficient sunlight. All solar panel systems have a nameplate that states the panel’s power rating under industry standards. Residential solar panels normally rate between 250 to 300 wants. This is commonly referred to as a high efficiency rating. A high rating means that the panel will produce more power per square inch of panel space than a panel with a lower rating. A panel with a high power output rating requires less surface space to produce power and can be sized smaller than a panel with a lower rating.  Typically a panel with a higher power rating costs more to purchase. Solar panels cost around $0.75 per watt so a panel rated 250 watts would cost $187.50.

Numerous factors such as the home’s energy needs, roof space, temperature sensitivity, degree of shading, and tilt required in the region to optimize the sun’s light all must be considered when installing a system and not the simply the panel’s peak power efficiency. These key considerations are what ultimately determine the overall price of the unit and installation, as each home is unique and must undergo precise evaluations to tailor the specific solar power system to meet its individual needs.

Parts of a solar power system

Solar panels

There are four main types of solar panels. Solar panels are generally classified according to their cell type. In the following table you can find a summary of their pros and cons.

Cell Types Pros Cons

Monocrystalline silicon solar cells

($99.80 per 100 watt panel)


Made from grade silicon

Efficiency rating of 15 to 20 percent

Require very little space

Can produce four times the electricity as other panels

25 year warranty

Perform better in low light than other solar panels

If the panel is partially covered by leaves, snow, or other debris the entire circuit can break down

More efficient in warm weather

The manufacturing process wastes silicon

Polycrystalline silicon solar cells

($119.99 per 100 watt panel)

Wastes less silicon during manufacturing

Efficiency is only 10 to 13 percent

A larger surface area needs to be covered by panels in order to achieve adequate energy creation

Not aesthetically pleasing

String ribbon solar cells

($164.89 per 100 watt panel)

Uses very little silicon

Efficiency is only 13 to 14 percent

Considered to be the least efficient of all solar panels types

Thin-film solar cells (TFSC)

($184.99 per 100 watt panel)

Mass produced

Low cost

Visually appealing

Flexible

Tolerates some shading and high heat

Difficult for most residential settings because of their size

Support structures and cables are expensive

Degrade quickly

Short-term warranties


Solar mounts

There are three types of solar mounts 1 1: static, adjustable, and single/dual axle tracking. A static mount 1 1 is non-adjustable and must stay in a fixed position after installation. An adjustable mount 1 1 allows the angle and tilt of the solar panel to be manually adjusted to receive adequate sunlight. A single/dual axle tracking mount 1 automatically powers itself to move and track the sun’s light so each panel receives ample light exposure. The panels tilt and slide on a single/dual axle tracking mount 1.

TypeProsCons

Static

($150)

Cost less

Works well in regions of the country that receive ample sunlight

Less maintenance

Designed for regions of the country with little or no snow

Produces less energy than tracking or adjustable mounts 1

Adjustable mount

($1,400-$2,000)

Can be adjusted with the changing seasons

Can be lowered during wind or heavy snowfall

The mount 1 allows the panel to be laid flat to not obstruct views

Does not rotate

Requires manual adjustments

Not ideal for large panels

Tracking

($3,500-$6,300)

A wide array of sizes are available to fit numerous application

sA tracking mount 1 generates more electricity in a limited amount of space compared to other mount 1 types

Dual axles rotate and allow greater movement of the panel than a single axle tracking mount 1

Requires more maintenance

More site preparation required than with other mounting systems 1


Inverters

There are four main types of inverters commonly used with solar panels: string 2 inverters, central inverters, microinverters, and battery-based inverters with chargers. String 2 inverters and central inverters convert power from multiple panels while microinverters only convert power from one panel. A battery-based inverter features built-in 3 batteries so the unit functions successfully off-grid or on-grid. All inverters function by converting the DC output of the solar panel to usable AC.

The prices of inverters vary and depend on the region of the country, the size and number of solar panels, and the watts needed.

Inverter Type Pros Cons
String inverter

Can be paired with power optimizers

Less expensive than other inverters  

10 year warranty that can be extended to 25

Do not work well in shaded locations

If even one panel is shaded, the string inverter’s performance will be greatly reduced

Central inverters

Can support more string panels

Fewer component connections

Large size

Requires an additional pad and combiner box

Not suitable for residential homes

Microinverter

Works well in the shade

25 year limited manufacturer’s warranty

Monitors the performance of each panel

Often sold already integrated into the panel

Expensive
Battery-based inverters

Can be used on grid or off-grid

Provides continuous operation

Requires a battery to operate

Frequent maintenance


Solar thermal vs photovoltaic

Solar thermal and photovoltaic are two very different things. With solar thermal the sun’s heat is used to operate a heat engine that flows into and turns a generator’s mechanisms. The generator can then make heat and creates electricity. Solar thermal is used to power large steam engines, turbines, and other commercial applications. Photovoltaic is used to operate residential solar panels. The term photovoltaic refers to the conversion of sunlight into energy by solar panels.

Installation considerations

Prior to installing solar panels you will want to take into consideration the site. Will the panels be mounted on the roof or ground-mounted? Ideally, wherever you place the solar panels the site should be free of shading between the hours of 10 am to 2 pm. Facing the panels south is the perfect positioning. If mounting the panels on a roof, then the roof should have a 45-degree pitch, although the pitch varies depending on the region. For example, in Hawaii, the roof pitch should be a 20-degree pitch. The roof must be in optimum condition with no leaks before mounting the solar panels.

Labor and installation process

Prior to installing the solar panels a solar installation company will perform a site survey. During a site survey, they will collect the home’s historical electricity usage to determine the size of the solar panel system that needs to be installed. They will then measure the roof and determine how much sun the area receives each day. The solar technicians will access the home’s current electrical system to determine its compatibility with a solar panel system. They will also verify the roof’s structural stability. The site survey is a very important part of having solar panels installed because it normally validates the manufacturer’s warranty. The cost of the site survey is typically included in the entire price of the solar panel installation package price. The solar installation company creates a blueprint 4 of your home and the work that will be done to install the system.

Upon completion of the blueprint 4, the installation process begins. The installation crew will mount the solar panels, tie the panels into an inverter, and hook the inverter to the home’s electrical system. From start to finish, the price of installing solar panels into a 2,500 square foot home generally costs around $18,000-$20,000 for a typical residential solar system with a tracking mount system 1.

Maintenance

Solar panel systems usually require very little maintenance. Two or three times a year they should be inspected by a solar panel company. A general solar panel maintenance averages $150. Some warranties require twice-a-year inspections while others require more frequent maintenances. The panels will be inspected and cleaned. The technician will also inspect all components to make sure everything is functioning properly.

Leasing vs buying

Solar leasing has become relatively popular as more people hope to save on their energy bills without having to pay out a huge amount of money to purchase a solar panel system. However, leasing and buying both have their pros and cons.

System ProsCons
Solar leasing

Low cost

No yearly maintenance bills

Do not need to pay for possible repairs

Contracts last typically 20 to 25 years

Monthly lease payments

Won’t own the solar panel system

Unable to collect tax incentives

Solar buying

Own the systemIncreases the value of your home

Can collect tax incentives

Yearly maintenance costs

Repair costs

Enhancement and improvement costs

  • Battery back-up: the cost of a solar battery backup system ranges from $5,000-$7,000. Typically the higher priced battery packs include a built in inverter. Battery packs store electricity for times when there is not adequate sunlight or no sunlight.
  • Stand-alone system: a stand-alone system works well for an off-grid solar system by storing electricity for nighttime or whenever the sun doesn't shine sufficiently, such as during cloudy days. The price for a stand-alone system ranges from $2,000-$12,000. The prices depend on the size of the system needed. Each battery stand-alone system must be sized to meet your solar panel systems specific requirements.

Additional considerations and costs

  • The ambient air temperature and the amount of light all affect the efficiency of solar panels. When the temperature reaches 107 degrees Fahrenheit the panel’s efficiency drops by 1.1 percent of peak output. After the temperature rises to 111°F the panel’s production starts to steadily decrease. These factors should be taken into consideration when using solar panels in states like Arizona or Nevada.
  • Permits are needed to install solar panels. Some cities also have specific regulatory codes. The property owner can submit all necessary solar plans to obtain the permits or the licensed solar contractor can gather the needed permits. Permit fees vary widely by city, county, and state. Generally, the cost of the permits are included in the overall cost of the solar panel installation fees charged by the contractor.
  • Solar panels frequently have tax breaks, rebates, and tax subsidies. Normally, such programs help reduce the cost of purchasing and installing the solar panels by 30% to 50%. Some states also offer additional credits and subsidies. Cash rebates are commonly offered by state, city, and utility companies. Rebates can reduce costs by an additional 10 to 20 percent.
  • In over 40 states, utility companies will buy excess power from solar panel users. In some regions the utility company gives the solar panel owner a credit on their energy bill. The process is known as net metering.
  • When choosing a contractor you should always make sure they are licensed and insured. Solar panel contractors typically have general contracting, electrician, and home performance contracting licenses. You should also always look at their work record, expertise, and reputation in the area.
  • It is typically advised that you take several bids from licensed solar panel contractors before picking just one to do the job. When taking bids on the job make sure that the bid clearly states the maximum generating capacity of the system being installed. The information should be measured in Watts (W) or kilowatts (kW). Ideally, the bid should also state the system capacity in AC Watts (alternating current) as outlined under a standard set of test conditions. The output should be measured at the inverter. You may also want to request a general estimate of the amount of electricity the unit is forecast to produce on an annual basis. That information is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh).
  • Many solar rebate programs require that a system be covered by a two-year parts-and-labor written installation warranty. This warranty is in addition to any manufacturer's warranties on specific components of the system such as the inverter or module warranties. In some cases, the installer may offer even longer warranties.
  • Some solar panel installation companies provide system monitoring software for smartphones or computers to ensure that it continues to function at peak performance and to let the homeowner track the system’s energy production/efficiency.
  • Once a solar array is installed it makes working on a roof difficult so prior to installation you should make sure your roof is in top condition and that the roofing material does not need to be replaced or repaired.
  • When choosing a solar panel contractor you should make sure they have accreditation from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). The NABCEP guarantees that all members have adequate knowledge and experience for solar panel installation.

FAQ

  • Can solar panels work at night?  

Solar panels require the sun to be shining in order to function. The panels cannot generate electricity in darkness.

  • Do clouds affect solar panels?

Solar panels do not produce as much electricity during cloudy days.

  • Can you install your own solar panels?

Installing solar panels requires working with high voltage wiring, which can be extremely dangerous. Most states require a licensed electrician to legally wire and install solar panels.

  • How do you hook up solar panels to your home?

Hooking solar panels up to your home is a difficult task that involves high voltage wiring. Most states require a licensed electrician to perform the work. However, solar panels and all accessories can be purchased by the homeowner. The solar panels will need to be mounted in a sunny location and then all of the panels must be connected with cables. After the panels are connected, they will need to be hooked up to an inverter to create the needed electricity.

  • How much does it cost to get solar panels?

Solar panels typically cost from $25,000-$35,000 to have installed.

  • How much does SolarCity really cost?

SolarCity costs $3.18 per watt.

  • How much do batteries for solar panels cost?

Solar batteries range from $5,000-$7,000.

  • How do you install a solar panel?

Installation of a solar panel requires a licensed solar panel contractor. A solar panel must be mounted so the panels receive adequate sunlight. Ideally they should be placed facing south or west. You will need to decide if you will be installing the panel onto the roof or onto a ground mounting bracket 1.

  • How much you can save with solar panels?

Over the course of 20 years, solar panels can save from $7,000-$28,000 depending on what area of the country you live in.

  • How long does it take to set up a solar panel?

It normally takes two days for a solar panel company to install solar panels on a typical residenc

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Remodeling Terms Cheat Sheet

Definitions in laymen's terms, cost considerations, pictures and things you need to know.
See full cheat sheet.
1 Mounting systems: (Also known as Mounting bracket, Mounts) A support on which something is attached or hung
2 String: An inclined structure used to support the treads and risers in a staircase
3 Built-in: An item of furniture, such as a bookcase or set of cabinets, that is built directly into the structure of the room. Built-ins are therefore customized to the room and not detachable
4 Blueprint: A technical drawing of an architectural design. Traditionally these were made using a printing process that produced a white line on a blue background. They can also be made with CAD software and a large-scale printer

Cost to install solar panels varies greatly by region (and even by zip code). To get free estimates from local contractors, please indicate yours.

Labor cost by city and zip code

Compared to national average
Birmingham, AL
+6%
Boca Raton, FL
0%
Bolivar, MO
-58%
Brewster, NY
+6%
Brooklyn, NY
+16%
Chicago, IL
+40%
Chico, CA
-14%
Clarksville, TN
-13%
Clearwater, FL
-14%
Coleman, MI
-11%
Conyers, GA
+9%
Cypress, CA
+24%
Deltona, FL
-23%
Easton, MD
-18%
El Segundo, CA
+14%
Elk City, OK
-36%
Englewood, OH
-8%
Fallbrook, CA
+8%
Farmington, MI
+32%
Fort Worth, TX
+6%
Franklin, WI
+12%
Galveston, TX
+38%
Germantown, OH
-8%
Grand Rapids, MI
+7%
Hillman, MN
-24%
Independence, MO
+8%
Irvine, CA
+23%
Kernville, CA
-6%
Kingman, AZ
-35%
Loganville, GA
-17%
Melbourne, FL
-16%
Millport, AL
-40%
Morris, MN
-15%
Ocoee, FL
+3%
Omaha, NE
-10%
Overland Park, KS
+15%
Parker, CO
+3%
Racine, WI
-7%
Reading, PA
+4%
Richland, WA
-5%
Saint Louis, MO
+16%
San Juan, PR
-53%
Sedan, KS
-36%
Seymour, TN
-8%
Stockton, CA
+4%
Tampa, FL
-2%
Topanga, CA
+14%
Warren, MI
+13%
Wayland, IA
-30%
Whitney, TX
-2%

Labor cost in your zip code

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Methodology and sources