How to Power your Home with Solar: Assessing Your Solar Potential 0

Girls from a Science Camp check out my solar home

Girls from a Science Camp check out my solar home

I live in a solar home – it is powered by the sun.  When I make my morning toast, grab my drink from the fridge, sit at my computer and write this post, it is powered by the sunlight striking the panels  on my roof.

It is an exhilarating and  liberating feeling – I am independent, self sufficient and using something that is already shining on my home in clean and limitless supply.

Power your home with solar

A roof clear of obstructions is best for mounting solar panels

If you live in an area with plenty of sunshine, you can make this happen for your home.  This series of articles will explain what’s involved in deciding on solar power for your home, farm or business.

Choosing a Location for the Solar Panels

Solar panels work by converting sunlight to electricity – the more sunlight that strikes the panels, the more electricity they produce.  The best position for maximizing the amount of sunlight is facing the equator (true south in the northern hemisphere, true north in the southern hemisphere).  The more panels you have, the more sunlight they will receive and the more electricity they will produce.

House Roof

Solar panels take space.  The most convenient place to put them is on your roof if you have a large enough area facing close to true south (true north in the southern hemisphere).   The roof should be as clear as possible – no vents, antennas or other obstacles that would interfere with mounting the panels.


If you don’t have room on your roof there are other places to mount panels.  Look at a garage or shed roof – see if these have a clear south facing roof that’s large enough to accommodate the panels.

Pole Mounts and Trackers

Pole mounted solar panels

Pole mounted solar panels

Solar panels can also be mounted on a pole  – some of these can be adjusted for the seasons.  If you are really short of space and need to make the most of what you have a tracker is another, though expensive, option.  This automatically tracks the sun over the day and the seasons.

Ground Mounts

Ground mounted solar panels

Ground mounted solar panels

A simpler, less expensive option than pole mounts is to mount panels on a rack on the ground.   You will need room in your yard for these mounts – they will need to face south and have a clear area in front of them so that there is little or no shading.  Large trees or brush, other buildings or farm structures can shade the panels if they are too close.

Getting the Most from your Solar Investment

Solar panels will produce much more power if they have the right conditions.  Solar panels need a clear path for the sunlight and produce the most power if the sunshine hits them head on at a 90 degree angle.  Providing a clear path for the light is fairly easy to do.  Getting the right angle needs a compromise or an expensive mount.

Minimize Shading on the Solar Panels

If you plan to mount the panels on your roof, look to see if you have chimneys or gabled dormers that would shade the panels at some times of day.  Snow can also build up beside dormers covering any solar panels that are mounted close to them.

Other sources of shading are tall trees in yours or your neighbor’s yard and any outbuildings on your own or neighboring properties.  The key is to find the least shaded area in which to mount your solar array.

What About Snow Buildup?

If you get lots of snow in the winter, you will want to do something to avoid snow buildup on the panels or have an easy way to remove the snow.  A steeper roof angle will help because the snow will slide off more quickly when the sun comes out and warms the glass surface of the panels.  As the surface becomes slippery the snow will slide off fairly readily.

If your roof is not too high up you can use something like a squeegee on an extended pole to  remove the snow from the panels on those few occasions when it will be needed.

Some Other Things to Think About

Solar Power Systems have a long lifetime

Solar Power Systems have a long lifetime

A solar power system is a substantial investment with a long lifetime (over 25 years) so it’s a good idea to think about the roof  that those panels are mounted on and how the immediate surroundings may change during that time.

The Future of Your Roof

If you are thinking of roof mounting the panels, make sure that your roof will last for this time period.  If your shingles need replacing now is the time to do it – before mounting the solar array.  Once the panels are up, they will have to be temporarily removed and then reinstalled for any roof repairs.

Landscaping and Building Plans

Solar panels work best if they are not shaded.  Do your landscaping plans include trees that will grow and eventually shade the solar array?  Are you (or your neighbor) planning a future garage of shed that will block the sun?  Look at those possibilities when you plan the location for your solar panels.


Read the rest of this series . . .

Assessing Your Solar Potential

How to assess if your home and yard have enough sunshine and space for a solar array.

Deciding on a System Size

How to figure out how many solar panels you’ll need.

Mounting Options

More about mounting options for your solar array.

Solar Array Tilt Angles

Choosing the right angle to get the most out of your solar array



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