How to Add Solar Panels to your Home

How to Add Solar Panels to your Home

I lusted after solar panels for a few years, but I was hesitant to move forward. I was concerned about the cost (and rightly so!) and kept putting it off thinking that at some point better state and federal policies would be put in place to encourage businesses and homeowners to turn to more green energy options. At the end of 2019, I finally decided it was time to at least meet with a company to see what it might look like to actually finally maybe move forward since the state and federal policies were... uh, not changing any time soon. 

(This is my narrow experience with adding solar panels, and I'm sure it'll be different in every state, every municipality, every get the idea. But here's how it went for us.) 

Choosing a Solar Company to Help with Installation

In the fall of 2019, we met with Michael of Ecohouse Solar after a good friend worked with him to add his solar panels. Michael assured us we were great candidates for solar with so much space on our south-facing roof. Plus, our average daily usage of electricity was about 13 kWh, which is significantly lower by about half compared to the electricity that an average American household uses in a month. 

So my mind immediately went to wondering just how many solar panels we could add to our roof. Let's just cover every inch and start producing extra electricity to go back into the grid! We'll help the whole neighborhood cut down on dependence on fossil fuels, and maybe we'll end up making some passive money because the electricity company will pay us for all the power we're creating! 

Wrong. This vision was immediately crushed by Michael. He explained that in the state of Ohio, the utility companies (AEP) don't want to pay you for extra electricity. I haven't been able to find any information online to support or refute this, so it's definitely something I'll keep investigating, but he was pretty adamant that it wasn't going to happen. AEP has some pretty simple and informative guides on solar installation and PDFs explaining what to consider when going solar, though it's fairly vague when it explains paying a homeowner back for generating power. 

Here's a note from Jill of Ecohouse Solar explaining how it all works: 

"[Power companies] will trade you credits for a certain amount of excess production. So if you produce a ton of extra in the summer, you end up paying less in the winter when you're more likely to be drawing from the grid. However, if you produce more than 120% of your annual usage, AEP will kick you out of their net-metering program instead of just paying for all the extra. This varies by utility, but typically if you were to produce more than that they would designate you essentially as a utility instead of a customer-generator. It's endlessly frustrating for people who just want to get away from fossil fuels."

Michael suggested that we add enough solar panels to create about 85% of the energy that we consume. He explained that more than that would end up being a waste since I wouldn't be getting that sweet passive solar income from AEP anyway. We finalized a plan in about December 2019, and I told him I'd reach out as soon as I was confident that my business would be humming along as usual in 2020. 

Then 2020 happened. Work was not business as usual! The majority of my business' clients are small businesses, which means that work dropped by more than 50% for me in 2020. So a big investment like solar was very much on pause.


Finalizing your Solar Array Plans 

By the middle of 2021, business was humming along again, so it was time to take the leap. Apparently a lot of people in central Ohio were also leaping into solar during the pandemic, so we got put on the waitlist. 

We landed on adding 13 Jinko 375 watt solar panels, which would mean that in about 10 years we would break evenA lot of this is total gibberish to my brain, but the official terminology explains our system as a "4.875 kW solar electric system with 13 Jinko 375 watt black modules, a SolarEdge 3800 inverter, and 13 power optimizers." 

Since our initial solar conversations in 2019, my city, Upper Arlington, had changed some zoning laws which required some of our panels to move around a bit to be above the sight line. Fortunately according to Michael this adjustment would likely have a negligible effect on the amount of power our system would produce.  

By December of 2021, I got the message from Michael that we were coming up on the list. And, weather permitting, our solar system would be installed during the first week of January.

Ecohouse Solar did so much of the work in this process, and not just when it was time for the actual installation. They worked with the city, they got all the right permits, they worked with AEP...I can't imagine trying to make these decisions and set up the system without the help of a company that knew what they were doing like Ecohouse did. 

Our total bill for our system was $15,500, which seems to be on the low end when it comes to residential solar panel installation, likely because our house doesn't use a ton of electricity. The Solar Investment Tax Credit will be 26% through 2022, and then starting in 2023 the tax credit drops down to 22%... So at some point in 2023 I should hopefully be getting about $4,000 back via tax credits. 


Solar Panel Installation

The actual installation of the solar panels, the inverter in our garage, and other parts and pieces took only two days. It was quick, efficient, and we went from being totally dependent on fossil fuels to being...slightly less dependent on fossil fuels. 

The first few days of our panels were those famous Columbus gray days followed by a fair amount of snow in the following weeks. So while I enjoyed checking our SolarEdge app to see how much power we were producing, it was not shockingly a little underwhelming the first few weeks throughout January. 


Residential Solar in Ohio at a Glance, 60 Days In

Break Even/Payback Period About 10 Years
Total Number of Panels 13 Panels
Total Cost $15,500
Refunds from the Government Eventually About $4,000
Total kWh produced in first 60 Days after Installation About 495 kWh
Our Average Electricity Consumption in 60 Days About 780 kWh
Total CO2 Emission Saved So Far 1,040.6 lb
Equivalent Trees Planted So Far 8 Trees


I enjoy checking the SolarEdge app often to get an idea on what sort of power we produce on gloomy, gray days (very little) compared to what our power production is on bright, sunny days (about 20 kWh). I suspect once we get into Columbus' sunny part of the year, we'll be producing enough power to run our house (and the electric vehicle that will certainly be our next big purchase.)

Solar Production in Ohio


Solar Panels in Ohio

Are you Off the Grid? 

Nope. We could have doubled our investment (I believe it was about $15,000 more) to add a battery backup, which would ensure that when the electrical grid goes down, we're still able to be connected to our own power. Not worth it for our house and the minimal times per year our power goes out.  


So... Go Solar? 

Our entire system is under warranty for 10 years via Ecohouse Solar. Beyond that, it seems like we'll likely get around 30 years total out of the panels, but nothing is guaranteed. It is definitely satisfying to know that as electricity goes up through AEP (which it will, by a lot) we have a steady source of energy from the sun that we've already paid for in total.  

If your goal is to feel better about your carbon footprint and take whatever small steps you can to slow climate change, absolutely go solar. But if you have dreams of producing piles and piles of green energy to give back to the grid, well... we'll need to change some policies in Ohio/America first. 

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