How Much Do Rooftop Solar Panels Cost?

ResidentialCalendarJanuary 25, 2018

By now you likely know how solar panels work, have explored the pros and cons of solar, and are starting to wonder how much it might cost to add rooftop solar to your home.

Rooftop Solar Panels Are Not One Size Fits All

When it comes time to get an estimate for your rooftop solar system, keep in mind that solar is not one size fits all. A properly designed rooftop solar system should be custom designed for your home, taking into account the pitch of your roof, the angle of your house relative to the Sun, shading from nearby trees, roof impediments (like chimneys and vents), and your household’s typical energy usage. Solar providers use this information to determine the ideal size and placement of the system on your home. Solar rebates and subsidies available in your area will also factor into the cost of your system, as will any add-ons you opt to purchase with your system.

A qualified solar provider should thoroughly explain your estimate to you before you decide to buy. That’s the best time to ask questions about your system.

The good news is that the price of rooftop solar systems has continued to drop over the past few years, making solar more affordable than ever, especially when you consider all of the buying options available to homeowners today.

Buying Options for Rooftop Solar

There are essentially three ways to purchase a rooftop solar system today: cash purchase, loan/financing, and Power Purchase Agreement (or a lease in areas where Power Purchase Agreements are not available).

Cash Purchase

It doesn’t get much simpler than this. With a cash purchase, you buy the solar system outright in one transaction and avoid having to pay any interest or monthly fees. 

The primary advantage of buying a rooftop solar system with cash is that you own the system outright from the get go, and can claim it as a permanent fixture on your home, immediately increasing your home’s value.

When getting an estimate from a solar provider for a cash purchase, be sure to inquire about maintenance and operation fees. Some solar providers will cover operation and maintenance fees while others will provide that service for an additional charge. Keep in mind that solar panels require very little maintenance and typically come with 20-year or longer warranties, so this shouldn’t be a deal breaker either way.


If buying a solar system outright won’t work with your budget, you might want to consider financing through loan. With a loan, you still obtain ownership of the panels and pay for your system over time, just as you would with any other type of loan, while still benefiting from renewable energy and electricity savings along the way. Most solar loans require little to no upfront costs, which makes solar truly affordable for any budget. 

There are also many options for solar loans. Some solar companies work with a third-party loan provider and special government programs also grant loans specifically for solar panels. For example, PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) is a government program that finances projects that increase energy efficiency. The PACE program varies by location, but in many places, homeowners can opt to pay for their solar panels through their property taxes. If none of these loan options work for you, you can apply for a personal loan through your bank or credit union. 

Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)

Most solar consumers in the U.S. today have a PPA. With a PPA, you don’t pay for the panels, but rather for the power your panels produce. The solar provider owns the panels, and all you pay for is the solar energy those panels create. 

One way to understand PPAs is to think of the relationship you have with your utility company. Your utility creates electricity that you use and are billed for each month. With a solar PPA, it’s like having a power plant on your roof, only that power comes from a big ball of fire about 92.96 million miles away.

The actual cost you pay for the solar energy that’s produced on your roof depends on your location and the solar company you work with, but typically the solar company will charge you a lower rate for power than your utility. That’s how the savings work! Your home uses cleaner power, thanks to your solar system, and you get charged a lower rate for that power, which can result in annual savings. It’s a pretty sweet deal. The bitter part is that PPAs are not available in every state. But don’t worry, if a PPA is not available in your state, a solar lease might be. 

Solar Lease

A solar lease is similar to a PPA in that you don’t pay any upfront costs for your panels, and typically the solar company takes care of installation, maintenance and warranty. However, instead of paying for the energy the panels produce, with a solar lease you’re technically paying for the equipment itself. Don’t let that confuse you. You are not buying the solar energy system, you’re just paying to use the equipment. Like a car or house rental, you’ll pay a fixed monthly payment for the property you are leasing from the solar company. 

The best part about a solar lease is that a good company will guarantee its estimate on what the solar panels produce. That means that if the panels don’t produce as much energy as expected, the solar company will actually cut you a check for the difference!

Click here to jump to a handy chart that summarizes solar buying options available through Vivint Solar.

The (Not So) Fine Print

There are a couple of other points to consider when considering the purchase of a rooftop solar system. Most long-term commitments require you to have a decent credit score. In order to obtain a loan for solar, you’ll typically need a credit score around 650, although that number can be different depending on the solar company you work with. If you have a lower credit score, other options like banks or credit unions might still approve a loan. If you live in an area that allows PACE, your credit score isn’t a factor because the payments are built into your property taxes. 

When it comes to buying a rooftop solar system, remember there are several incentives available for solar panel customers. If you purchase a solar energy system with cash or with a solar loan, you could be eligible to receive a tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of your solar panels. That means if your solar energy system costs $10,000, you would get a tax credit of approximately $3,000! There’s a variety of other credits that vary across the country. Learn more about the different incentives and what could be available to you.

The incentives, tax credits, credit scores, interest rates and benefits of solar can be a lot to take in, but a good solar company will help you navigate all of this. They’ll be able to tell you the size of system they’d recommend for your home and help you figure out which payment option will work best for you. 

Point is, if you are serious about getting solar and want to have access to the many benefits it can provide, there are now several options that make going solar easier than ever. Contact a solar provider today to find out if solar is right for you.

How to Go Solar

Vivint Solar makes renewable energy a simple and affordable alternative. We take care of everything from solar system design, to paperwork and permitting, to installation and maintenance.

Get a free estimate