6 things to look for when buying a house with solar
As solar PV panels become more common in Alberta, it’s correspondingly more likely that you may consider buying a home that already has these installed. Solar is not only good for the environment but, properly installed, will also make a big dent in your annual electricity bills.
But before you buy a home with solar, there are a few things you should ensure you get from the previous owner (or property developer, if this is a new build or a major reno) so that you have all the information you need to get the full benefits from the system.
Single line diagram - a “single line diagram” shows the major components of your system, tells you who installed it and specifies the system size (in kW) – this will have been required as part of the electrical permit and inspection process. The information it contains allows for maintenance of the system and other electrical work to be carried out safely, as it informs any electricians how the system is connected to your main electrical service. As noted in this helpful guide from the City of Airdrie’s Building Inspection Department (link), the Canadian Electrical Code (CE Code) Rule 84-030 requires a permanent single-line diagram be posted at the Supply Authority disconnect (so you’ll usually find this by your fuse panel).
System details - make sure you get a copy of the installer (or lease) agreement and any brochures or manuals that outline the system details, including the make and model of the panels and inverters. Reputable installers will warrant their work for several years, racks and inverters typically have a 10-year+ warranty and the panels themselves usually a 25-year warranty. This is a long-life asset and you want to ensure you have the information that shows when the system was installed, and by whom, so that you can follow-up any warranty issues that might arise down the line.
Generation history - ask how much the system generates in a year, in kWh, compared to how much the house uses. Although your use patterns may be different to the previous owners, this will give you a good idea of how much of your electrical needs will be covered by the system. It will also give you an understanding of if there is any capacity to expand your system - in Alberta, you are typically limited to having a system that produces no more than your annual needs.
Monitoring system - related to the above, most solar PV inverters come with a monitoring system/software that allows you to access the data from your system's inverters and see exactly how many kWh have been generated for any point in time. This is valuable data that allows you to track the value your system is creating and to determine if your system is working as intended. Ask what monitoring system the solar installation has, and how to access it.
Carbon offsets - find out if the system has been signed up to create carbon offsets through an aggregation pool such as Solar Offset. Once you take ownership of the system, the previous owner may be able to assign the aggregation contract to you, or you may be able to sign up to your own choice of aggregation pool. Either way, this allows you to create additional revenue by creating and selling solar carbon offsets for the remainder of any crediting period. For example, Solar Offset offers a 10-year crediting period. If you buy a home that has been creating credits with Solar Offset for 1 year, you can sign up with Solar Offset for the remaining 9 years.
Grants - find out if the system was installed using a grant, such as the Canada Greener Homes Grant (link) or City of Edmonton Change Homes for Climate Solar Rebate Program (link). These grants may include some obligations on you, such as allowing the grantee access to your production data. Also, some grants will mean that you cannot sign up for creating carbon offsets, as the grantee owns the rights to these, forever (such as the City of Edmonton grant), whereas others allow you to create offsets (such as the Canada Greener Homes Grant). See our post on this here.
Alberta has a great solar resource, and PV panels are an effective way of decreasing your exposure to volatile electricity prices, and of decreasing your impact on the environment. Buying a home with solar panels can be a smart choice and, if you remember these six tips, and you can make that choice smartly!