Researchers from UCLA and UC San Diego have recently found that solar panels add value to your home. By looking at home sales and re-sales in Sacramento and San Diego counties from 2003 to 2010, they found, on a house-by-house basis, that solar photovoltaic (PV) systems add 3.5% to a home's value. That means, for the half-million-dollar homes they studied, they saw an average increase in value of about $20,000. When compared to the $20,000 initial homeowner investment, this is considered a very good return when compared with other home improvements and especially considering that the homeowner will save on utility bills. For a more in-depth price breakdown and review of other studies, please see our learning section article: Solar Panels Add Value to Your Home.
The second phase of their research tried to determine the demographics of homeowners that increased the likelihood of their home being equipped with a solar PV system. To nobody's surprise, the more liberal, higher educated, presence of a hybrid vehicle and a history of charitable donations to environmental causes from a household all increased the chances that their home had a solar energy system. Their results also suggest that white people are more inclined to have solar panels on their homes but that most likely reflects more of a socioeconomic division in those communities, with large single-family homes and disposable income to invest in those homes, rather than any race-specific "green" bias.
Ashlea Ebeling for forbes.com combined this research with a home renovation cost-benefit analysis by Remodeling Magazine to compare solar PV systems with other common home improvement projects. Regarding solar PV systems she writes, "homeowners appear to recover approximately 97% of their investment costs - in addition to the savings associated with reduced energy bills" consistent with our number-crunching above. Furthermore, compared to kitchens (60%), bathrooms (57%) and finished basements (70%), it appears that solar energy is the best investment of the bunch. The only investment better than solar from this analysis is a steel front door, which pays back at 102% of cost.
Ebeling mentions that from a practical view there is still a huge difference from a space that you and your family can enjoy and the most practical financial investment, "it depends on your personality as to whether you get more enjoyment out of ushering guests through a steel door, showing off new granite countertops, or leading a tour of the mechanical guts of a photovoltaic system."
As solar energy systems become more affordable, this is an important conversation to have and to continue. Not everybody will go out of his or her way to save the environment but it's hard to turn away from such a good investment. Furthermore, as the prices of solar components and installations continue to fall and energy prices continue to rise, systems will pay off more quickly and may climb higher on the wish lists of prospective buyers. Wouldn't it be great if someday you hear "what do you mean this house doesn't have solar panels?" instead of "what do you mean this house only has a two-car garage?"