Without fail, the electric bill arrives for most people each month. And for many, it’s a significant expense in running a home.

Although few would choose to give up the comforts provided by electricity, there is something less drastic that can be done to reduce a soaring bill.

The answer is solar panels that soak up the sun’s rays, convert the energy to direct current and allow homeowners to escape more costly methods of getting electricity.

“We’ve seen nothing but growth for solar panel use in the Triangle and the Triad,” said Chelsea Nicolas, the office manager and spokeswoman for NC Solar Now. “North Carolina is number four in the nation for installed solar.

“People are looking at their power bill and thinking there’s got to be a better way,” said Nicolas. The climate for solar use has become pervasive; you see solar everywhere, even in rural areas, and multi-acre solar fields. “It’s in the back of people’s minds now.”

The degree to which you can utilize solar panels efficiently depends on your existing power bill, available space and tax liability. While you want to reduce your power bill to as close to zero as possible, you must look at the space available for the panels to be installed.

“We can almost always make it work on the roof,” said Nicolas. “Everything we do is custom. We’ll look at all available options.”

A ground-mount option is also available. A frame is mounted to a concrete pad and the panels are attached to the frame. Solar panels can also be installed on outbuildings, such as a dock, detached garage or gazebo.

Your tax liability is an important consideration. There is a federal-tax credit available to those who install solar panels. You can only get the credit to offset your liability on your income tax. There’s no credit if you don’t have any tax liability. This issue helps to determine the size of the system you need. If you have little tax liability, you might want to utilize a smaller system.

Until 2020 there is a 30 percent tax credit for unlimited purchases of solar panels and installations. “We can look at your individual situation and tell you what your return on investment will look like,” said Nicolas. “Owners not only enjoy the tax credit but also instant equity in the system with power bills getting down to net zero. On average, homeowners see a 50-percent reduction, at minimum, in their power bills.”

Solar panel customers can expect a big range in spending options — anywhere from $12,000 to $27,000. The average return on investment is about 10 years. Warranties usually run for around 25 years.

This brings up another consideration: If you want to sell your home within two or three years, it may not be worth the investment. If you sell at five years or more, you will see more return on your investment and it does improve the value of the home — on average about $11,000, Nicolas said.

Nicolas advises customers to make sure they deal with a company that offers free evaluation and financing options.

She goes further to recommend that customers seek a company that is NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) certified.

Solar panels are positioned to be struck by the sun in the most efficient way: south facing. When the sun hits a panel it creates an alternate current that is converted to direct current, same as the house uses. The current is carried by electrical wire or cable through the attic and walls to the electrical panel.

Solar panels are made up of a backsheet, individual cells laid into that, and tempered glass. “People do look at aesthetics,” said Nicolas. “We’ve overcome a lot of those challenges by integrating into different styles of roofs, making it attractive.” Many customers choose an all-black option with a mirror finish. Panels are fairly low profile and can look a bit like skylights.

The installation of solar panels is not recommended as a DIY project as long as you are tied to the utility company grid.

In general, solar panels are an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint and save energy dollars.

If you have DIY or project-story idea send an email to zeabest@aol.com.

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