Gage Mueller, a solar energy specialist at ADT Solar, has experience in the solar industry as both a customer and a service provider. After installing solar panels on his own house in 2017, Mueller’s interest in solar grew until he decided to pursue a career in the industry in 2020 with SunPro—now known as ADT Solar, a residential and commercial solar panel company. In 2020, ADT Solar installed panels which produced more than 43,600 kilowatts of solar energy in Texas, according to Solar Power World. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How do solar panels affect the value of a house, if they do?

It depends on the market that you’re in. There are plenty of studies that say solar typically increases the value of the home by about 4%. I’ve actually been through the process of putting solar on my own house as well as selling it. In my experience, solar actually helped me sell my house. So I made all of my money back on the solar investment and actually made money on top of it because I was also getting electricity [through the panels].

What questions should people ask when considering solar?

Homeowners should ask: ‘Do I qualify for the tax credit?’ They should call their [certified public accountant], because the solar sales guy is going to say, ‘The government will give you 26%.’ But it’s not true—you have to qualify for it. The other question that I tell people to get answered is: How will this affect your homeowner’s insurance? Because the panels are attached to your dwelling. So per the law, anything attached to the dwelling is covered by your homeowners insurance, but your premium may go up, and you need to know that ahead of time to make an informed decision, because once it is on your roof, there’s nothing you can do.

Does solar affect appraisals and property taxes?

Most of the time, solar is increasing the value of your house—which is good, but you don’t pay a higher property tax. If your house appraises for $200,000 today and you put $20,000 worth of solar on it, then your house is appraised for $220,000. Your tax liability is still $200,000—because $20,000 is solar renewable energy and qualifies for an exemption. You gain the value in the appraisal, but not in the property taxes.

What credits and rebates are available?

It’s a federal tax credit. There is a difference between the words ‘credit’ and ‘rebate.’ It’s a credit, so you do have to qualify for it. Currently, it’s 26% of the cost of the solar or of the contract. That can mean installation costs, panels, inverters, bolts, railing, all of it. That credit is good through the end of this year. Next year, it drops to 22%. In 2024, on the residential side, it will actually go away entirely.

What variables can affect the effectiveness of solar panels?

It can depend on a lot of things. How does your house sit? Do you have a good, southern-facing roof? It doesn’t have to face south, but it helps. Are there obstructions where it’s causing shading? The sun has to be able to hit those panels in order for it to do its job. Is the roof less than 5 years old? Does it have roof penetrations? Those elements can complicate installations. When I talk to homeowners that are building their houses, I tell them to talk with the builder about putting any roof penetrations—vents, roof jacks, or anything that’s penetrating the roof—up towards the ridge of the roof or on the north side of the roof. You don’t want any pitches or gables. People like fancy roof lines, but they aren’t very conducive for solar.

What does the installation process look like?

The easy answer is: It’s a day. The solar process, however, is completely different. Installation is simple—but the solar process, in general, is not overnight. Buying solar is a bit like building a house. You will negotiate, you will sign paperwork, and then there’s this lull where the homeowner doesn’t see what’s going on in the background. The design is being done. Then, we’re working with utilities and we’re working with the city for all the approvals that are required. Once all those approvals are acquired and approved, then we’re buying permits. Then, at that point, we get to reach out to the homeowner and tell them we can schedule their install. It is about 30-45 days from the day the paperwork is signed to when solar actually goes on your house.

What kind of maintenance do solar panels require?

None. Any good solar company is going to tell you that God is going to take care of maintenance for you. There are no moving parts really in solar. Sometimes the panels do need to be cleaned—but when it rains, that will take care of it for you. I do not recommend anybody getting on their roof to clean their solar panels. I did it once—my wife yelled at me, and I saw very little increase in production. There’s little maintenance because it is all electronic.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated the wrong year of when the federal tax credit would completely expire. This has been corrected.