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Navigating the California Solar Mandate: a helpful guide to buying a new home with solar panels in C

Buying a home is one of the most significant and rewarding decisions you can make. As of January 2020, Californians will have the added exhilaration – and potential stress – of acquiring a rooftop solar panel system at the same time.

That’s because the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) approved a state-wide mandate requiring most new single-family homes, including multi-family residential buildings up to three stories, to install solar panels. The first-of-its-kind California solar mandate is designed to make new homes in California far more energy-efficient while saving homeowners tens of thousands of dollars on electricity costs.

To help people understand what it means to buy a new home with a solar energy system, EnergySage created the California Solar Mandate Guide: an educational resource for knowing what questions to ask prior to buying a solar-powered home. But before we dive into our tips and suggestions, let us first explain why paying a bit more for your new home just to have solar on it makes a ton of sense.

Key takeaways

  1. Most new homes built in California must now be equipped with solar panels

  2. Work with your realtor, home builder, and/or solar company to customize as much of the home’s solar energy system as possible

  3. Download EnergySage’s California Solar Mandate Guide for tips and advice

The numbers: why buying a home with solar panels is a no-brainer

Powering your home with the sun not only benefits the environment; it’s also good for your wallet. In fact, solar is one of the best long-term investments you can make, as the table below shows.

Using the average cost of solar in California from 2019, the table shows costs and savings of installing enough solar to cover a monthly electric bill of $200, along with the economics of adding battery storage. The financial benefits are clear – owning a solar-powered home can drastically reduce your monthly electric bill and can help you save tens of thousands of dollars on electricity costs over the 30+ year life of your system.

To see cost and savings from solar for other average monthly electricity bills, download the California Solar Mandate Guide:

Questions to consider before buying a home with solar panels

Exactly what you’ll pay and how much you’ll save depends on a number of factors. That’s why we recommend that new home buyers treat solar like it’s any other essential home appliance. Solar isn’t a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all product; what works for one home may not work for you and your energy needs. We strongly encourage you to work with your realtor, home builder and/or the solar company to customize as much of the home’s solar energy system as possible.

To help do that, we’ve outlined some basic questions you’ll want answers to before signing on the dotted line:

1. How big is the solar panel system and what size should it be?

The size of your system (i.e. how many panels you’ll need) should be based on your home’s anticipated energy usage, which is determined by several factors including the size of the home, number of residents, and your use of appliances. This should include your future needs as well, such as plans to purchase an electric vehicle. Work with your realtor, home builder and/or solar company to discuss adding more solar panels.

2. What should I know about the brand and quality of the solar equipment?

The quality of your solar equipment is essential to your system’s performance. There are several key elements to consider (aesthetics, efficiency, warranty length, etc.), making it all the more important to know what’s being installed and to be able to customize if you choose to do so.

However, we know that shopping for solar isn’t like shopping for a new refrigerator. Most people are unfamiliar with solar brands and don’t have an easy way to asses quality, performance, and price. To fix this, we created the EnergySage Buyer’s Guide – a Consumer Reports-style resource for researching and comparing today’s most popular solar panels, inverters, and home batteries.

3. How do I know if battery storage is right for me?

Pairing a home battery with your solar panel system lets you store excess solar electricity from your panels to use later when they aren’t producing enough power, like at night. Though prices are falling, batteries remain expensive; however, they make a lot of sense in California because of things like mandatory time-of-use (TOU) electricity rates, strong state incentives, and frequent power outages.

4. Should I lease or own my solar panel system?

There are two ways to finance your solar and or solar + storage system: own or lease. The right choice for you depends on your preferences and financial goals. Owning your solar panel system usually allows you to save the most money and take advantage of the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC). However, leasing may be the best route if you prefer the simplicity of signing a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA) and don’t have enough tax liability to benefit from the ITC.

Check out the California Solar Mandate Guide

Solar doesn’t need to add to the laundry list of challenges that can come with buying a new home. We built this guide to make the process easier by providing practical advice that you can use to make an informed, confident decision about the right solar energy system for your home. And if you have any questions along the way, EnergySage and our team of Energy Advisors are here to help.


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