If you are considering upgrading your house to a solar home, it is important to determine which type is the best option for you. A grid tied solar system is the most popular option but there are other ways you can incorporate solar into your home and lifestyle. 

The amount of panels you’ll need does depend on your average electricity usage and where you live. But no matter what climate you live in, there are many benefits to upgrading to a solar home and options that will make sense for most homeowners that plan to stay in their homes for 10+ years.  

A home can “go solar” or be defined as a solar home in a few ways, which we will break down below. 

On this page:

What is a solar home? 

In short, a solar home is one that gets most or all of its electricity from solar power. 

With incentives like net metering, the federal tax credit, and local and state solar rebates, the cost of installing solar is now more affordable than ever. Solar panels are also a great choice to help reduce your carbon footprint and will help you be more environmentally conscious.

Historically, a solar home didn’t make sense if you were renting a house. However, community solar options are becoming more popular in cities across the US and can transform your house into a solar home, even if you are a short-term occupant. 

Learn more: How much does it cost to install solar in your home in 2020?

What are the different types of solar homes? 

There are four main types of solar installations that can turn your house into a solar home:

  1. Grid-tied solar system: Either on your roof or ground-mounted
  2. Hybrid solar system: Connected to the grid, in addition to a battery backup
  3. Off-grid solar system: Relying completely on your own energy generation
  4. Passive solar homes: Homes that are built to work with the surrounding climate patterns to create completely renewable, fossil fuel-free energy 

Generally, a grid-tied energy system is the most practical option in terms of cost and long-term return on investment. But, each option has their own benefit, as detailed below. 

Solar home option 1: Grid-tied solar system 

When you install a grid-tied solar system, it means that you still have access to the power grid for use when your solar panels are not producing electricity. 

You can also benefit from net metering in many states, meaning that when your solar system generates excess electricity during the day, utility companies will pay you to send that excess energy to the grid. 

Check out this video for a step-by-step process on how a grid-tied system works for a typical home: 

Solar home option 2: Hybrid solar system 

Similar to a grid-tied system, a hybrid solar panel system is connected to the grid – however, it also has a storage battery for backup power in the event of a power outage or during off-peak hours, when the panels aren’t producing solar power (at night or during cloudy, rainy weather). 

This battery backup will store excess energy that was produced from your solar panels throughout the day and your home will pull electricity from the battery before it relies on the grid for energy. The grid acts as a backup to your backup battery. 

A hybrid system can be out of reach for some customers because of the expensive cost of solar batteries in addition to the upfront cost of solar panels. 

Solar home option 3: Off-grid system

An off-grid system is completely independent from the utility grid. As such, it needs to generate and store enough electricity for a home’s needs day in and day out. 

An off-grid system is usually impractical for most homes because the system needs to be very large in order to offset all electricity usage. This is why some homeowners choose to add ground-mounted solar panels that can help provide the additional necessary energy.

Off-grid solar is a major commitment, and significant lifestyle changes will be needed in order to make the most out of the energy your system produces.

Solar home option 4: Passive solar home 

Passive solar homes are interesting because they work with nature by using certain building materials, strategically placed windows, and air flow to keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. 

In retrospect, all homes should have been built like this to maintain home energy efficiency. That’s why passive solar homes make the most sense when built from scratch. It is much easier to build a house from the ground up that creates the proper airflow, has the right window amount and direction and has solar panels for energy efficient electronics. 

 A passive solar home with windows on every wall, wood paneling and diagonal roofs sits surrounded by trees.

When it comes to creating a passive home, building one from scratch is the more practical option. 

Passive homes are more expensive to build and require a lot of certifications, but they are slowly catching on in the US. A more practical option is the Pretty Good House, where many aspects of an energy-efficient passive home are incorporated. 

So if you are completely building a new home, passive solar homes are a unique and sensible option. 

How many solar panels do you need for a solar home? 

There are several factors that determine the amount of solar panels you need for a home solar system, with the most important being the amount of electricity your home uses, and the climate in which you live.

Your home’s average energy use 

First, your home will need a different amount of panels based on the average amount of energy your home uses. The amount of panels needed will depend on the amount of electricity each panel will produce on a typical day. 

Different panels produce varying amounts of watts, and more watts means more solar power. If you have higher wattage panels, you will need less of them to run your home.

The climate you live in 

Additionally, the climate in your region, i.e., how often the sun shines or whether you experience all four seasons, is another factor in determining the amount of solar panels your home will need. 

As you can see from the table below, various locations around the country need different solar system sizes to cover the cost of their average electricity usage. 

Table 1. Solar system sizes by region
  Average annual electric use for all homes  Solar system size needed Amount of solar panels needed
West – California 6,522 kWh 4 kW 14
Northeast – New Jersey 8,280 kWh 7 kW 25
Midwest – Illinois 8,929 kWh 7 kW 25
South – Texas 14,112 kWh 10 kW 36
      *280 watt solar panels

Less solar panels are needed in California than in New Jersey because California is sunnier for more days throughout the year. Californians also use less energy on average than their New Jersey counterparts. 

Find out how much it costs to turn your house into a solar home

What are the benefits of a solar home? 

There are plenty of great reasons to switch to solar, ranging from saving you money each month to freedom from the electricity grid. 

Reduce your electric bill 

Solar will reduce or completely eliminate your electricity bill, as your solar system will be designed for your specific roof with the proper amount of panels to offset your energy use.

Find out how much you can save with solar

Provides “insurance” against rising utility costs 

When you pay a monthly electric bill to utility companies, you are paying for your energy – but you are also paying for the cost to keep pipelines running, powerlines working, and utility personnel employed. 

These costs tend to increase, sometimes yearly, but with your own solar panels, all you need to pay for is their maintenance. Many solar panel companies also offer generous warranties which can help you spend even less. 

Solar is cheaper than ever 

The cost of solar panels keeps going down due to the reduced cost of manufacturing. Now is the perfect time to take advantage of the reduced costs of materials, in addition to the 26% federal tax credit that is slated to be eliminated at the end of 2021. 

You can earn money with solar panels 

If you choose to keep your solar panels attached to the traditional electric grid, many states offer net metering. With net metering benefits, your utility company will pay you for any excess energy that your solar panels produce and do not use that are then sent back to the grid. 

In certain states, you can also take advantage of SREC benefits, which is basically getting paid to do nothing but enjoy your solar energy.

Solar is a great form of clean energy 

Solar is an excellent step in reducing your carbon footprint, as panels last on your roof for 30+ years and provide clean energy that entire time. Solar power allows you to reap the benefits of the modern electric world without sacrificing your environmental consciousness.

You will have energy independence from your power company 

When the power goes out, your house will still be able to function normally. This is especially true if you have a battery backup to store excess solar energy for off-peak use, or when your panels aren’t producing power. 

How do solar homes create energy? 

When you look at solar panels, it doesn’t seem like much is happening since you cannot see any exhaust or electricity being created. But within each panel, there is a lot of action occurring which generates the electricity to power a solar home. 

Solar panels contain solar cells. Within those cells is a semiconductor material, meaning that this material produces electricity. In solar’s case, electricity is created when the sun hits the solar panel, initiating the semiconductor response, leading to an output of electricity. This is referred to as the photovoltaic (PV) process, which means generating electricity using energy from the sun. Solar panel systems are sometimes referred to as “PV solar”. 

Once the power is generated, it travels through an inverter that ultimately powers your home. The solar electricity that is generated is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). 

There are usually 60-72 solar cells within one panel. A solar home will have many solar panels, either attached to the rooftop or on the ground. These solar panels will produce enough solar energy to power the entire home’s energy needs. 

Learn more: How solar panels work

How much does installing a solar home cost? 

The installation cost of solar depends on various factors. For example, local installer costs will be different, local state incentives will vary, the amount of solar panels your home needs will be unique to your home. Your total savings will also depend on the cost of electricity in your area. 

As an example, we used our solar panel calculator to determine the costs of installing solar on a home in California. The SolarReviews calculator is the leading home solar calculator because it uses accurate solar panel production data and electricity costs based on utility companies’ costs across the US. 

For the most accurate estimate on your home, you can use our calculator for yourself, or take a look at the examples below to make an assumption on the potential costs and savings for your home. 

Example 1: 1,475 square foot home in southern California

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screenshot of solar panel cost calculator

screenshot of solar panel cost calculator

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screenshot of solar panel cost calculator

With a 6.7kW solar system size on a 1,475 square foot home in southern California, you can expect an average monthly power bill of $2. If you opt for a solar loan, you can anticipate a monthly payment of around $80, bringing your total monthly savings to $148. 

Over a period of 25 years, that equates to $73,156 in savings.

Is a solar home right for you? 

Here at SolarReviews, we think everyone who owns a home should have a solar home, but the decision is yours! 

Solar is an especially great option if you own your home and live in a state with full retail net metering, progressive solar and renewable energy incentives, and high electricity costs. In addition to these, you also will be able to take advantage of the 26% federal tax credit.

If the cost for installing solar and what you can save year over year on energy bills makes sense for your home, you have the option to take the next step and get in touch with local solar installers. They can help turn your house into the perfect solar home.

See how much solar panels will cost for your home