Up on the housetop, click, click, click …

No, it’s not good St. Nick. More likely, it’s solar panels.

There’s more than meets the eye when you begin considering the science and art of adding more than just shingles and the occasional pausing reindeer to your roof. Increasingly, budget- and environment-minded folks are giving serious consideration to adorning our roofs with sun-sipping tech.

To solar, or not to solar? It’s not unlike trying to help someone think through the ramifications of cutting cable. The basic challenge is similar. We like familiar, even when important changes might add up to big savings.

So, let’s start where all good searches start these days. Google. Prepping for this article, I did a preliminary Google search for “solar panels” and immediately, the search gods provided a handy dandy calculator to assess the seeming financial genius of going solar. According to that search, the average suburban Austinite would rake in nearly $10K of savings over 20 years using solar panels. And — with a marketing message to beat all — “at no start-up cost.”

Wait. What? No start-up cost? Got your attention? How does that work? Does it work?

And so begins the journey — a sometimes confusing, often intriguing and always evolving journey.

Let me stipulate right up front: this is an overview. It’s impossible to go deep in one short article. From the outset, I’d recommend a website like SolarPowerRocks.com to deepen your research. It’s a little bit of homework. But you have a lot of home expenses, so it’s worth it.

As with getting a car under your roof, there’s more than one way to get solar panels onto your roof. You can buy them with cash. You can buy them with a loan. Or you can lease them. Now, that’s a radically oversimplified summary, but it’s basically accurate.

How much will it set you back?

You’re likely to pay somewhere between $10 to $25K to buy the kind of setup that would get your home ray ready. The smaller-sized systems are about $10-15K and the larger about $15-25K. Do the research. There are rebates, tax breaks and incentives. If you have patience, you might turn your roof into a money maker.

But if you’d rather keep your $25K parked in your garage instead of sitting atop your roof, you’ll need to explore leasing a roof-top remedy.

Leases are interesting; it’s something akin to becoming your own personal power plant. You’re essentially allowing a company to park their panels on your roof and charge you much less for electricity than you’d have paid in the alternative universe where you didn’t own a little personal roof-top business. These leases can seem very complicated. Each company — and there are many — is different, and you’ll want to do a lot of poking and prodding before you sign a contract.

Finally, just when you thought the electricity conversation was tamed, Tesla shakes things up even more. Not only can you have a Tesla parked in your garage for two to three times as much as another vehicle, for two to three times as much as the other solar options, you can have Tesla shingles that actually double as solar panels and that feed massive “Tesla Wall” batteries that forever keep your house sun-friendly. The relative costs are more. (It’s Tesla.) But so is the cool factor. (It’s Tesla.)

Is solar for you?

Early adopters are growing. But when you sell your house, will the next buyer believe in your solar dream as much as you did? And what happens when your 5-year-old “power plant” is puttering along at just a fraction of the efficiency of the Jones’s new setup? It’s not as easy to park a new plot of panels on the roof as it is to park a new car in the garage. And it certainly isn’t as easy to tear off a six-figure Tesla roof and start fresh.

Personally, like electric cars, I think solar technology is still years away from serious consideration for most folks. We Americans are a fickle bunch. We like to change houses almost as much as we like to swap cars. But we inexplicably keep paying painful rates for the cable that entertains us in those homes. We might keep forking over too much money to electric companies, too. It’s a habit. So, the more things change, the more they stay the same, until it hurts too much to continue.


Richard Singleton, MACE, MAMFC, LPC, is the president of STARRY in Round Rock.

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