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Buying a House With an Existing Solar Power System: A Detailed Guide

By Aniket Bhor on in Solar Power New Zealand

Buying a House With an Existing Solar Power System: A Detailed Guide

Among the several perks a used home may offer, a pre-installed solar power system is one of the most exciting. Home buyers can expect to save thousands of dollars in electricity bills while making their families energy independent as well as resilient against blackouts. 

But just as you won’t buy a used car without checking a few things, buying a home with an existing solar power system also requires considering a few essential factors. Let’s take a look at these factors.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Home With a Pre-Installed Solar Power System

Before you sign on the dotted line, here are a few things to check:

System ownership and warranty

The first thing to check when buying a home with solar panels is the system’s ownership status. Is it owned by the previous homeowner or by the installation company? When someone leases a system from a company, the company owns the system while the user pays a fixed monthly charge/rent for using it. Leased systems may not offer as much savings as cash-purchased ones, and you may not want the surprise of a recurring expense on top of your home’s loan instalments.

Speaking of loans, some systems may also carry an active loan on them, which means you may have to keep paying the bank until you fully own the system. Once again, you don’t want this to be a surprise, as it obviously isn’t a pleasant one. If the system does have a loan or lease contract, make sure that the home price isn’t too high, as homes with solar power systems tend to sell for more.

Age of the system

Just as you’d be wary of buying a 1999 Toyota Corolla with rattling noises and rust holes, you don’t want to buy a system that is in need of heavy maintenance. The good news is that unlike cars, or any other moving machines, solar power systems last much longer and need much lower maintenance.

Nevertheless, it is important to check the age of the system, especially in relation to the age of the roof. A roof that needs replacement but has solar panels sitting on it may mean added costs. Similarly, older systems may need part replacement. For instance, string inverters and solar batteries need to be replaced every 10-15 years.

Lastly, it is wise to check if the system is in warranty, and if the installation company is still in business to honour any warranty claims. If the company has disappeared, tending to a faulty system can be more of a headache than value addition. If you are unsure about the system’s condition, it is always a good idea to hire another installer or even an experienced electrician to inspect the system (just as you’d get a mechanic to inspect an older car).  

That said, keep in mind that the age of a system is never really a deal-breaker. As mentioned above, solar power systems undergo minimal wear and tear, and there are examples of 30 or 40-year-old systems still performing superbly. In other words, when it comes to solar power systems, age is often just a number! 

System performance

Probably the most important thing to check when getting a used solar power system is whether the system is operational (I am holding myself here from making another used car reference!). A system could be inoperational for one of several reasons - there could be broken wiring, a molten fuse, or it could be something more serious like a broken inverter or damaged solar panels.

The best way to check if the system is producing energy is to check for LED indication lights on the inverter, particularly the ‘PV’ light to ensure that power from solar panels is flowing to the inverter. An even better idea is to check the system production data on a monitoring platform. Nearly all systems come with some sort of monitoring capability, and you can ask the previous system owner or the installation company for access to the monitoring app/website.

Speaking of monitoring, it is helpful to check not only real-time production but also historical data. This can help you check if the system is performing efficiently or needs maintenance. A steep drop in year-over-year average generation also means something is not right, and you would need to get the system inspected. 

If the system comes with a battery, such as a Tesla Powerwall, you should also check if the battery is in working condition and how much of the rated capacity it can store.

Things to Do After Buying a House With a Solar Power System

Once you have made the wise decision of purchasing the house, here are a few things to know or do about your solar power system.

Understanding credits on the electricity bill and potential savings

When you receive your first electric bill in your new home, you can check if you are receiving a credit for the excess solar energy you send into the grid. There will be a line item on your bill copy, titled something like “Export” or "Solar Credit", which shows how much money you earned for pumping solar power into the grid. Typically, this amount is not large - it could be a somewhat insignificant-looking number, such as $20. 

Example Of A Power Bill With A Credit Line For Exported Solar

But don’t worry, this reflects only a small portion of what your solar panels are saving you. You are consuming most of the energy that your solar power system generates every day, offsetting grid power consumption and therefore the costs associated with it. In simpler words, your solar power system is slashing your monthly power bills, while also offering buy-back credits as well as helping combat climate change.

Learn about system maintenance

One of the amazing things about your solar power system is that it is not needy for heavy maintenance - no oil changes or tire replacements or any of the five dozen other things. Solar power systems can sometimes work even without regular maintenance. However, a basic, inexpensive maintenance routine can help maximise the power generation and consequently the savings from your system.

The most important part of maintenance is cleaning the solar panels. All you need to do is hire professional solar panel cleaners at least once a year. Cleaning your solar panels is a pretty simple affair - no detergent or special cleaner is needed, just pure water and a soft brush will do the trick. A good example of professional cleaners is the guys at Ecoshine.

Besides cleaning, the system also needs regular maintenance, wherein the technicians need to check:

  • Solar panel cleanliness and any defects/cracks on them
  • Cables, switches and connections for damage
  • Other parts for corrosion or deterioration
  • Vents for dust and debris
  • Performance of all electrical components, such as junction boxes, breakers, fuses, etc
  • Inverter display panel for any faults
  • Clear access to the isolator switches

Maximise your savings from the system

Once you buy your new home, you want the solar power system on it to do what it does best - slash your energy expenses while saving you against rising power costs. Besides regular cleaning and maintenance, there are some other ways to improve your savings from the system. 

This includes maximising your solar self-consumption, which means tweaking your energy consumption so that most of your daily appliance load runs on solar power. You can do this by shifting heavier, flexible loads to the daytime, such as washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers. You can even expand your existing system to match your energy consumption.

Another way to make the most of your solar panels is to switch to an electricity provider with good buy-back prices. Remember the solar “export” credits we spoke about previously? A provider that offers good buyback prices can help improve these credit amounts on each of your power bills.

Is It Worth It to Buy a House With a Solar Power System?

Home buyers know that the more upgrades a home has had, the better it is. Of course, this also means that the house price will be higher, and unfortunately, most upgrades don’t pay for themselves, such as fancy kitchen appliances. 

This is not the case with solar power systems. Yes, solar does boost the value of a home, which means you may have to pay a little extra for the property. But the system will pay for itself and even save you money in the long run. In other words, it is definitely worth it to buy a house with an existing solar power system.

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