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Homeowners can often feel confused about the many technical details and choices involved with installing a solar system. It can be overwhelming if your solar provider expects you to make decisions without offering much guidance.

At Blue Sky Energy, we specialize in providing solar solutions for commercial, industrial and utility projects in California and New Mexico. We also install residential solar installations in Southern California. We proudly service our home base of West Los Angeles inclusive of Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Topanga, Malibu, Westwood and Beverly Hills. Based on our years of experience – and the many questions our clients ask us, we’ve listed the top 5 tips every homeowner needs to know.

1.) Get the right size Solar System

It is helpful to have a basic understanding of your utility bill when determining the right size of solar system for your home. Electrical utility providers charge for electricity consumption measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) and fees are usually based on a tiered pricing schedule. You may see 3-5 pricing tiers on your bill with the upper tiers costing more than the lower tiers. We recommend your solar system be designed to eliminate the more expensive upper tiers charged by your utility company so you can get the best rate of return on your investment.

A good solar company will consider multiple factors to determine the size of system needed to reduce your power bills. Then, they will present you with an easy-to-understand assessment of your available roof space. For example, you don’t want to install panels in shaded areas because shade diminishes the performance of the panels. Another variable is the direction your roof faces. South-facing is preferable, although pitches facing east and west also work. Finally, the placement of PV panels on your roof should be atheistically pleasing.

2.) Know the condition of your roof

The condition of the roof is often overlooked, yet ignoring this factor can lead to costly and unexpected expenses.

How old is your roof? We don’t recommend installing solar on a roof that is past its half-life because when it comes time to replace it, the solar panels will have to be removed. If your roof shingles are showing signs of wear, it’s smart to re-shingle at the same the PV panels are installed. A good solar contractor will provide this as an add-on service if they are also licensed as a roofing contractor, or they will recommend a reliable licensed roofer.

Can your roof handle the additional weight of PV panels and the extra load?? This question is best discussed with a structural engineer. The last thing you want is to consider investing in a solar system and then find out your roof cannot support it. I also like to advise clients that have cement, tile, or clay roofs to have and or order extra tiles because a few may break during the installation.

Personally, one of the biggest concerns I have for my clients is that the roof doesn’t leak after the solar system is installed. At Blue Sky Energy, we go the extra mile to ensure a watertight PV installation. We use punched roof jacks and we seal each penetration with polyethylene sealants. In addition, we always utilize licensed roofers resealing the roof to ensure everything is in good condition after installing the structural supports.

3.) Determine the best way to pay

Paying cash gives you the best return rate. As a bonus, until December 31, 2016 you can get a 30% investment tax credit from the federal government. You will find the details on the U.S. Department of Energy website.

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a great option as well. A HELOC usually has a low interest rate that is tied to a financial index. The interest is tax deductible.

A new initiative called Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is a no-money-down financing instrument. You get a fully amortized loan with payments added to your property tax bill twice a year. Payments towards your solar system on your tax bill are tax deductible.

Another new financing instrument is a long-term financing contract that can last from 20-30 years. Read the financing package carefully since the actual savings over the first few years are nominal to the buyer. Yes, you can get the federal investment tax credit, but you’ll have to pay down your loan with the tax credit you receive. Otherwise, the initial high balance interest rate remains in place.

If you are motivated to create renewable energy from renewable resources for the sake of the planet, and are less interested in the financial benefits of going solar, you may wish to lease your solar system instead.

4.) Understand solar fire codes

Fire codes require proper setbacks on your roof for the safety of fireman in the unlikely event of a fire. What you need to know is that most municipalities in California adhere to the CAL FIRE Solar Photovoltaic Installation Guidelines, which include rules for the placement of PV panels on roofs. For example, a sloped gable roof needs 3 feet of clearance from the roof ridge to the PV panel, and 3 feet of clearance from the panel to the gable edge. On a low-slope (flat) roof, you need 3 feet of clearance from the edge on all four sides. There are different specifications for each type of roof design.

5.) Hire a licensed and certified contractor

When hiring a solar installation company in California, the contractor must hold either a B (General), C46 (Solar), or C10 (Electrical) state license. You can go to the CA Contractors State License Board website and enter the contractor’s license number to see if they are in good standing. Make sure your contractor has experience installing solar systems on roofs like yours and always check their recent references. While not required, it’s a big plus if your contractor is a certified NABCEP PV Installation Professional.

Blue Sky Energy, a local Pacific Palisades solar installation company, run by Gary Rochlin, a recognized and commended Energy Efficiency expert will guide you through finding out what type of solar system is right, and the most efficient solutions for your home. We have a passion for solar and are standing by to discuss your solar installation project with you. Remember that with the 2014 being the warmest year on record. Global Warming, and rising energy costs are not buzzwords anymore but a grim reality. Take advantage of tax credits and easy financing as long as they are available and install solar right away. Not just are you saving money but you are reducing your carbon footprint and are doing your part to save the earth.

If you want to know what the right solar solution for your home is or want to consider other renewable energy options, please contact us at Blue Sky Energy.

Gary Rochlin
President – Blue Sky Energy
Pacific Palisades, CA