Rosie on the House: Key issues on adding solar at home

New solar tiles may some day replace solar panels on the roofs of homes.

As utility companies keep raising their rates, homeowners wonder if they can cut their energy expenses by installing solar or making other improvements that involve new technology.

Here are some questions we have answered recently for homeowners about these issues that might help you in your own decision making:

Q: We aren’t interested in putting solar panels on our house, but we are interested in other new roofing products, like tempered glass tiles that also act as mini solar modules. When you buy them, you also get a battery that lets you use the solar power your roof tiles produce; that battery’s power could possibly keep the lights on as well if the electrical grid goes out. Are these tiles a good alternative?

A: The appeal of these new roofing products seems to be based on the fact that homeowners like their looks better than that of traditional solar panels. However, the cost will be very high initially. Consumer Reports did a study indicating that in order to compete with the cost of installing a conventional asphalt roof, the cost of a 3,000-square-foot solar tile roof should not be more than $73,500.

That estimate was based on the possibility that a homeowner could get 30 years of electricity out of the roof. Tesla, which has already started to produce these photovoltaic roofing tiles, has estimated the cost at $65,550 for covering the same size house with solar tiles. Both calculations include the cost of Tesla’s Powerwall battery. Will homeowners find that these systems work as well as the old panels? Time will tell, since these tiles have not been widely used as yet.

Q: Off and on for a long time, we’ve been considering installing solar panels for electricity. But we’re afraid that tighter regulations for solar might be coming along in future. The solar industry and the utilities always seem to be fighting with each other as well.

A: Yes, the two parties have had their issues in the past, but they seem to be getting along better now. As for changes in regulations, a lot of that has taken place already. Whenever the utility companies have tightened up the rules and cut back on solar benefits, homeowners who already have their solar systems have been “grandfathered in” under the old regulations. Obviously, of course, new buyers won’t qualify for getting the old, more generous benefits.

Before going ahead with your solar purchase, investigate possible plans your utility company might consider in future. It’s always possible that benefits for solar can gradually change.

Q: Are there still rebates and tax credits available for installing a solar system from power companies?

A: There are no longer any rebates from Arizona power companies for homeowners to install solar panels on their homes. But there is a state solar tax credit that reimburses a homeowner for 25 percent of the cost of the panels, up to $1,000. You may also quality for a tax credit from the federal government involving the cost of your system, provided that you buy your system outright. Congress has voted to extend the federal credit through 2021.

However, there are lots of rules and regulations involved in these tax credits, and the credits may change eventually. So, check the fine print carefully before you buy.

Q: I had solar panels put on my roof last year. Now, however, my insurance company says the roof is too old to insure. If the roof is that old, should they have put the solar equipment on top of my house? Is there a law that says the roof should be in good condition? I have had a roofer say my present roof will last only two more years. Then I’ll have to take the solar panels off to get the roof fixed and pay for putting the panels back.

A: Unfortunately, there is no law regarding this issue. But certainly, a reputable company should alert you about the condition of your roof before installing a solar unit. We do recommend getting your roof checked by a competent roofer before considering a solar installation.

For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for 29 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program, heard locally from 8 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson and from 9 to 11 a.m. on KGVY-AM (1080) and -FM (100.7) in Green Valley. Call 888-767-4348.

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