Residential solar power was once the domain of homeowners who liked science experiments and the environment. With ecological concerns now a mainstream issue, though, many homeowners now see home solar panels as a good path to limiting their environmental footprint. In fact, the US now boasts more than 2 million residential solar systems.

Of course, you may come at the solar issue with questions like how do solar panels work for your home? If you’re wondering how solar panels work, what benefits they offer, or even general costs, keep reading. This guide will cover the major areas of concern for residential solar power.

How Do Solar Panels Work for Your Home

Before jumping into the issue of solar panels and houses, it’s best to start with a quick overview of how a solar panel works. In essence, a solar panel takes light and converts it into electricity. The heart of this conversion is the photovoltaic cell.

A typical photovoltaic cell is a pair of silicon wafers with phosphorous embedded in one wafer and boron embedded in the other. This gives each waver a kind of positive or negative charge. When light hits the cell, it knocks an electron free.

The oppositely charged wafers push the electron out of the cell toward a conductive material that carries it to the rest of the solar system.


Battery Systems

In a battery system, those electrons get pushed into battery storage. The battery holds onto the charge until the home requires electricity for something. You usually see systems like this in areas where grid electricity simply isn’t available.

Grid-Connected Systems

The more common system type these days is the grid-connected solar system. These systems work cooperatively with the electrical grid in your neighborhood. As the system produces power, your home consumes the electricity first.

Let’s say you take a vacation during the summer. Your home will use a minimum of electricity while you’re away. Yet, your solar system will keep on making electricity.

All of that excess electricity gets fed back into the electrical grid. Utility companies typically buy that excess electricity, although some companies take steps to minimize that credit or payout.


Solar systems come in a few different flavors. There are hyper-specific solar systems, such as solar pool heating panels. There are also roof-based solar systems and ground installation systems.

We’ll look at roof and ground systems.


A roof-based solar system quite literally means installing solar panels on roof. You see these most often in homes with a good southern or western exposure. These orientations of solar panels on a roof let you maximize electricity production across the day or during peak hours.

A roof solar system is not a project for the DIY homeowner. For one thing, not every roof can support the weight of a solar system.

In most cases, a structural engineer must evaluate your roof for strength and make recommendations for reinforcing it for the solar system you want. At that point, a contractor will come in and perform any adjustments prior to the installation.

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Many general contractors also act as solar providers or work closely with a general contractor. These contractors typically work with structural engineers they subcontract to regularly.

That makes your best bet for a safe roof solar installation a search for solar providers near me.

Ground System

A ground system often proves more accessible for the DIY homeowner in terms of general setup. These systems typically mount solar panels on a pole or metal framework. However, you may need permits to install the system depending on local regulations.


All grid-connected systems will need the services of a professional electrician or solar installation company. Homeowners cannot connect a solar system to the grid on their own. More importantly, it’s generally unsafe for a homeowner to attempt this work.


Solar systems offer several common benefits for homeowners. Right at the top for most homeowners is a reduction in their monthly electricity bills. Even if you can’t wholly give up grid power, a properly installed and functioning solar system will offset some of your electricity usage.

A solar system needs very little maintenance aside from occasionally cleaning the panels of any accumulated dust, dirt, or grime from being outside.

Solar power is the definition of a renewable energy source. As long as the sun keeps shining, your system will keep producing energy. Solar also doesn’t require burning fossil fuels or increase the use of nuclear reactors, which benefits the environment.

You may even see the value of your home rise if you choose to sell.


The ultimate cost of a solar system can vary a great deal depending on factors, such as:

  • The size of your home
  • Whether it’s a roof or ground system
  • The installation company
  • The total watts of the system
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For example, a solar system designed around a 5,000 or 10,000 square foot home will cost substantially more than a system built around a 2,400 square foot home. A system that will mostly replace grid electricity will cost more than a system meant to simply defray costs.

On average, though, a residential solar system runs approximately $11,000 to $15,000.


You can reduce the cost of a system through a variety of federal and state government rebates and incentive programs. The federal Investment Tax Credit will let you reduce your tax burden by 26% of the cost of your solar system.

Many states offer similar tax incentives or rebates for solar systems, though programs vary by state.

Solar Power and Your Home

The question of how do solar panels work for your home is largely secondary to the question of if solar panels are right for your home.

Solar panels work best in areas with more sunshine. That means homes in desert areas and the southwest, in general, see the fastest return on investment. Northern homes still benefit from solar, but it’s a long-term investment.

Looking for more tips on upgrading your home? Check out more of the articles in our Home Improvement section.

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