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Ask Angie: How much does it cost to install solar panels?

Though solar panels can withstand most storms, it’s smart to make sure they’re covered under your homeowners insurance policy.
Though solar panels can withstand most storms, it’s smart to make sure they’re covered under your homeowners insurance policy. Tribune News Service

Dear Angie: What does it cost to install and maintain a solar panel installation? Are maintenance costs higher if there’s a good chance of storm or hail damage?

– Stephan L., Indianapolis

Dear Stephan: Home electricity prices aren’t coming down, and knowing that, many folks are making the switch to solar. The good news: It’s cheaper and easier than ever before.

Solar sales and usage have soared over the last few years, as the price of panels has dropped significantly. With cheaper panels and a key federal tax break, the U.S. solar industry grew by 34 percent in 2014 alone.

INCENTIVES FOR GOING SOLAR

The typical home solar panel installation costs from $15,000 to around $40,000. The panels and operating system comprise half of the cost, while the rest comes from labor, permits, inspections and operational expenses.

Out-of-pocket costs drop significantly when you factor in the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which knocks 30 percent off solar installations for residential and commercial properties.

Expenditures decrease even further with various state and local incentives, which differ widely, depending on where you live. Louisiana has one of the more dramatic examples, with a 50 percent state tax credit up to $12,500. So on a $25,000 installation, a resident of Louisiana can save a whopping $20,000 by combining the federal and state tax credits.

As for maintenance, since solar panels are typically made of tempered glass, they can take a beating from wind and hail, but you’ll want to add them to your homeowners insurance policy, just in case. The minimal rate increase is well worth the cost.

SOLAR TAX CREDIT LESS IN 2017

Now is the time to go solar. While the ITC may be extended, it drops from 30 to 10 percent at the end of 2016. Some state and local breaks have already expired, and others are on the chopping block. Louisiana’s disappears in 2016.

Still, with the falling price of equipment and a rise in marketplace competition, it’s worth considering the benefits of investing in solar.

When considering a company to hire, choose from those who have good consumer reviews on a trusted online site and are appropriately licensed, insured and bonded.

Angie Hicks is founder of www.AngiesList.com, provider of consumer reviews and services. Send questions to askangie@angieslist.com or tweet with #AskAngie. Follow her @Angie–Hicks.

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