How to Assess Your Own Site for Solar Potential

Reader Contribution by Kirk Haffner
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With the current federal tax credits and some local utilities offering incentives, tapping into solar power is more affordable and pays off sooner than it did four years ago. Before you bring a solar energy expert out to your house, take some time to check your site yourself. Evaluating your home for solar is simple: Just follow these four easy steps.

Check your paperwork.
To be eligible for the solar incentives from the government and/or utility companies, the person who owns the system (you) must own the property where the solar array will be installed. The utility account for the property must be in your name as well.

Check the orientation.
Southern-facing roofs are optimal; west-facing is the next best. Do none of your roofs face the best directions? Fear not. There are solutions. Many people use pole mounts and racked panels to maximize their solar production.

Check your view.
Even a little shading can create a big problem. There are systems designed to deal effectively with some shading but there is a limit. There are ways to deal with shading challenges. Obvious solutions are mounting panels to poles or racks. For one Olympia, Wash., family the best place for their system was in their backyard. So, they built a pergola and used the photovoltaic panels as shading.

More dramatic (and often less desirable) solutions to shading would be removing trees that cause shading. A good solar installer will be able to give you a reasonable estimate of how effective tree removal would be before you break out the chainsaw.

Check your structure.
Outside: If solar panels will be installed on your roof, you need to take a good look at the roof itself. If the roofing is due to be replaced in the next 10 years, get it replaced before you have solar installed. To save money, roofers can replace just the area where solar panels are being installed. The rest of the roof can be replaced down the line.


Your roof and its supporting structure needs to be in good condition. Solar panels’ additional weight is minimal, but damaged and/or aging roofs require a different approach. If your roof is sagging, bowing or crumbling, getting your home safe and solid should be the highest priority.

Inside: Your home’s wiring needs to be up-to-date. The panels’ electric requirements are pretty low, but it’s best to make sure your home’s system is able to handle the additional needs.

Bonus step: Check the low-hanging energy conservation fruit first.
Before you go solar, take a good look at how you can save energy today. Seal air leaks in your walls and around windows and doors, properly insulate your roof and under your home, and use an efficient heat source. These fixes make a significant difference and cost less than a full array of solar panels.  

Kirk Haffner of South Sound Solar provides his solar power expertise to Washington state’s South Sound. South Sound Solar hosts free workshopscovering the steps for DIY site evaluation in greater detail. These workshops also include information on the effectiveness of different systems and full information on available incentives and rebates. Check out the solar workshop page at