A $14,000 solar array will generate about $25,000 worth of energy in its lifetime. These Echo solar panels are included in every home at Meritage's Lyon's Gate community near Phoenix.
A $14,000 solar array will generate about $25,000 worth of energy in its lifetime. These Echo solar panels are included in every home at Meritage's Lyon's Gate community near Phoenix.

Buyers across the country are warming up to the idea that solar-powered homes don’t have to be pricey, ugly, or unattainable. In fact, there are many reasons why residential solar is gaining ground in the U.S. Here are the top eight. --Codes. Starting in 2020, California’s Title 24 will require all new residential construction to be net-zero energy, which means that they will need renewable energy systems in order to generate as much power as they consume. Other states are not far behind in adopting this type of requirement, predicts Meritage Home’s CR Herro.

--Incentives. From federal and state tax credits and loan programs to utility rebates, there are plenty of financial reasons for homeowners to opt for solar. See www.dsireusa.org for a complete list of programs throughout the country.

--Aesthetics. Gone are the days of clunky rooftop panels that ruin a home’s curb appeal. Today’s solar technology includes low-profile shingles from companies such as Dow and SunPower that are designed to look like ordinary asphalt shingles. They’re also lightweight and easy to install, says Melissa Wahl of Cobblestone Homes.

--Appraisal/lending standards. A recent transformation in the way high-performance homes are appraised and financed has made it more affordable to own a solar-powered home, says Herro. For example, more appraisers are using the Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum from the Appraisal Institute to help them identify and describe a home’s green features, from solar panels to energy-saving appliances. This means that the value of these features will be considered when the home is re-sold.

Meritage mandates the form for all of its homes, which gives buyers peace of mind that their solar investment is sound. “It’s a lot easier for the average customer to invest upfront knowing they can recover the cost of the system if they sell,” Herro says.

--Payback. A recent Lawrence Berkeley Lab report found that homes with PV systems sell for an average $24,705 more for a typical 3.1-kW system than homes without PV systems. To prove the value of a solar system to your customers, show them this calculator on the Dow web site that estimates the savings accrued by choosing a solar home versus a traditional one.

--Legislation. The real estate industry has its hopes set on the SAVE Act, which would allow buyers of energy-efficient properties to qualify for larger mortgages than their incomes would normally allow. The measure, reintroduced in the Senate in February, would allow lenders to include projected energy savings from efficiency upgrades. Herro is optimistic that mortgages based on energy efficiency will become commonplace in the near future. “It will be just like picking out flooring and countertops, buyers will elect what kind of solar system they want and roll it into their mortgage,” he says.

--Cost. In the past few years, the cost of solar panels has fallen to about half of what it was in 2008. Installation costs have come down as well, to about $3 to $7 per watt depending on the region and the size of the roof. Herro says Meritage is able to install them for less than $4 per watt. Utility executive David Crane recently predicted that electricity from residential solar panels will be cost-competitive with that delivered by local electric utilities by next year.

--Clean, quiet, and abundant power. The technology generates no noise or off gassing and because solar power is generated from sunlight--not heat--even residents in the northern U.S. are able to take advantage of it.

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