Solar power or home repairs?
February 17, 2020 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm coming into a small windfall (less than $10K) and am having trouble deciding what to do with it! Dreamy me wants to install solar power but practical me thinks that other things might be more... practical. Please help me decide!

It's enough to cover about half the cost of installing solar power, which would put me in a better financial position long-term: I could sell a modest amount back into the grid and wouldn't be paying for electricity. (I have good info for my jurisdiction about costs/revenues/grants etc.) But if I use the money for upgrading old appliances and doing some home repairs, things will be better in the short-term (and all those things will eventually need to be done, regardless). I could also use more emergency savings. What do you think, hive mind?
posted by bighappyhairydog to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
Best answer: For a home, the best bang for the buck is usually doing things to help use less energy overall. Better insulation, LED bulbs, efficient appliances, proper maintenance and weather stripping.

Solar tends to be a much longer payback, and not as cost effective.
posted by nickggully at 3:55 PM on February 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you don’t have 6-12 months of living expenses in savings, plus appropriate retirement savings for your age/lifestyle, I would definitely just save it. You might have a $5k leak in your roof this fall.
posted by amaire at 3:59 PM on February 17, 2020 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Solar power is wonderful, but it is not a fantastic financial investment. You can use Google's Project Sunroof to get a specific estimate for your home, but even in quite sunny locales it often turns out to be something like $20k up-front (after incentives), to save $30k over 20 years, which is akin to getting a 2% return.

As such, I would lean toward spending a portion of the funds toward improving efficiency (possible targets include a smarter thermostat, more efficient water heater if yours is old and inefficient, LED light bulbs for your most commonly used lights), performing some deferred maintainance, and leaving most of it as emergency savings. This would have a positive environmental impact, and would also protect you from misfortune.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 4:00 PM on February 17, 2020

Best answer: There's different kinds of home repairs and it's almost impossible for strangers to tell you what's worth doing without a lot of knowledge about your house (and climate). Solar would be a better spend than a fancy new kitchen or some new appliances, but not nearly as useful as roof/gutter repairs, or more insulation, or damp coursing, or more efficient heating, or so on or so on.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:03 PM on February 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This really depends on your location; different states may have financial incentives for solar panels.
posted by bq at 5:18 PM on February 17, 2020

Best answer: It sounds like the OP has a clear grasp on grants and incentives; I'm assuming that when you say the windfall will cover about half the cost, that's after the grants/incentives/etc. Do you know where the other half of the cost would come from?

To my mind, it will be about how tight you're running things in general. If you will need new appliances and/or other work in the next couple of years, do you have the savings to do that when the time comes? And are you planning to stay in this home long term, or to sell in a few years (so is resale value a big factor or just a theoretical one)?

My guess is that, if there's any money you will need to put into the house in the next 2-3 years, that's the place to put this windfall, either now or into savings to cover those expenses when the time comes. But it would depend on the amount of your savings and how prepared you are for regular expenses to arise.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:00 PM on February 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Build savings first.

Then find some small improvements to make.

(I love my solar array, but I only installed it after first picking off all of the low-hanging fruit first)
posted by aramaic at 7:54 PM on February 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Take out $500, splurge on something stupid so you don’t feel like the money just went into a hole and then save the rest.
posted by geoff. at 12:02 AM on February 18, 2020

Best answer: How old is your roof? Applying solar if your roof is brand new might make sense, but if return on solar is measured in > 15 years and the roof is due to be replaced in < 20 years well now you have two problems.
posted by furtive at 3:47 AM on February 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Something no one has asked is: what is your time horizon?

Meaning - how long are you expecting to stay in the house? If you're going to be there for the long term (10+ years), then solar (and other 'long term' type things) makes more sense. If you're there short term, then fixes that will increase your home sale-ability would make more sense.

Change 'solar' to something like 'sunroon' or 'addition.' Same problem case; putting on an expensive addition doesn't really make sense if you're going to leave. But does if you're staying.

(you have said you've done all your homework and have decided/evaluated that this is something you want to do and have the details.. just like any big addition, so I'm just focusing on your main question.. do the short term or long term investment, not debating the benefits of solar)
posted by rich at 5:24 AM on February 18, 2020

Best answer: If the old appliances work, keep them in service, and fund the emergency savings for the day they don't. I'd make sure debt is under control and fund household repairs. Then I'd start calling solar companies and finding out what they have to offer. It's not a terrible idea to get a home loan at historically low current rates to fund solar for your home. And the more people see solar panels, the more they think it's an ordinary smart thing to do in the face of the existential threat this is Climate Crisis.
posted by theora55 at 5:45 AM on February 18, 2020

Best answer: If your neighborhood has an HOA, you might want to peruse the covenants before you think about doing a solar install. My HOA forbids solar of any kind. Last year, a homeowner did a huge solar install on his roof (dunno if it was in defiance or ignorance of the covenants) and now the HOA is in the process of making them rip it all out.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:21 PM on February 18, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you for all the excellent insight! I'm going to make other energy improvements for now, set aside some savings and plan for solar down the road.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 2:25 PM on February 18, 2020

You may be able to have your cake and eat it to. We used SunCommon for our solar. We got 2 loans. One for the amount (~$10k) that the feds would eventually give us back in taxes and the other for the remainder at 2.9% for 12 years. We put no money down, and our monthly payments on the loan are almost exactly what we would be spending in electricity each month.
posted by terrapin at 11:43 AM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

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