The stars at night aren’t the only thing that’s big and bright (clap clap clap clap) deep in the heart of Texas. On average, Dallas enjoys 234 days of abundant sunshine a year. And if you’re not getting money in your pocket for each of those sunny days, you could be missing out on the best natural resources that graces your home state.

Solar energy is powerful, free, and sustainable. Harnessing the sun’s rays by installing solar panels on your roof gives you more than just warm fuzzies for helping the planet — it gives you a good chunk of cash saved every year, along with a major increase in your the value of your home.

Installing a system can seem intimidating, since they’re expensive (around $20,000) and a bit difficult to understand. But in the following guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about solar panels — from the science behind how they work, to the tax credits that make a solar panel installation affordable. We’ll even show you exactly how much money you can save, and when your investment in solar energy will start paying off.

Freshome’s Top Solar Panel Installers in Dallas

We found two top solar contractors in the Dallas area that are a great place to start when you’re ready to install solar panels. We researched customer reviews, installation practices, and called solar representatives at each company to ask a few questions and gauge service and responsiveness.

Solar City

Solar City has a unique method of ensuring the highest quality installation from their employees — they make them all stakeholders in the company. Knowing that the Texans working on your roof have a vested interest in their company’s success should give you some peace of mind about the safety and longevity of your solar panels. Customers are provided with a bevy of financing options, a free installation, and a free system monitor.

The sales representatives at Solar City are friendly and helpful, and there’s no waiting on hold all day — we were able to speak to someone as soon as we called. Keep in mind that Solar City has an exclusive relationship with Silevo solar panels, so you won’t be able to choose who manufactures your panels.

Brands Available: Silevo
Color Options: Navy

Longhorn Solar

Longhorn Solar has installed over 1,000 solar photovoltaic systems since its inception (which is nothing to sneeze at) that have produced over 16 million kWh — saving its customers a total of almost $2 million on utility bills. Needless to say, it’s a great place to begin your search for a solar contractor. Plus, its sales representatives are cordial and the website is filled with city-specific information to help you navigate rebates and regulations. Expect multiple follow-ups from your sales representative if you reach out to Longhorn Solar.

Longhorn offers Axitec panels (one of our top four recommendations) as well as many other trusted brands. And they love American-made products, so if it’s important to you that your panels are made in the U.S.A., Longhorn’s a good option.

Brands Available: Axitec, Suniva, BenQ, LG, and more
Color Options: Navy, Black

Finding the best solar panels in Dallas

Installing solar panels on your roof or in your yard doesn’t come cheap. So it might be tempting to skimp on materials to save money upfront. But purchasing cheap solar panels will cost you a lot more in the long run. The most expensive panel isn’t necessarily the best, but you should make sure the product you choose measures up to your standards. And remember, the better the panel, the more energy it will produce, saving you more money every time the sun shines.

At Freshome, we recommend the following as a baseline for a quality solar panel: Minimum efficiency of 16.5, minimum max wattage of 230W, and a 25-year warranty. You should discuss your options for solar panel brands with your solar contractor, but most will have a variety to choose from, so it’s smart to have an idea of what you’re looking for when you start communicating with installers. We’ve researched countless solar panel providers, and have a few favorites that we recommend. You can read more about why we chose these four brands here.

Solar Power in Dallas

Solar Policies and Incentives in Dallas

Dallas has a deregulated energy marketplace, which means that energy suppliers compete for your business, and you are free to choose your favorite and reap the benefits of a low price for electricity. While your energy bills may not be very high, you can still save a lot of money by installing solar panels on your home. Especially with the help of some generous rebates and credits. We’ll walk you through the basic math below, but check out this guide if you want some more details.

Oncor Energy gives a rebate of $1,001 per kilowatt. That means if you install 5kW of solar panels, which costs about $20,000, you’ll get an immediate rebate of $5,005, bringing your total upfront cost to $14,995. But wait, there’s more! The federal government is currently providing tax credits for 30 percent of your solar installation costs. That’s a credit, not a deduction, meaning you’re getting $4,499 in cold hard cash come tax season. That means your total costs for solar energy in year one are down to $10,496 — almost a 50 percent discount off that initial $20,000 quote.

If you can pay that amount out of pocket immediately, you should jump at the chance. Those credits could expire at the end of the year. Your investment should pay off in about 12 years, and after that, every ray of sun is money in the bank. Or rather, every year nets you about $1,000 in savings.

Did we forget to mention the biggest way solar makes you money? It raises the value of your home by the cost of approximately 20 years worth of energy savings. In this case, that’s about $17,000. And you won’t be responsible for paying property taxes on value added to your house by solar panels.

If you don’t have $10,000 to spare on solar panels, you still have options. Most solar contractors will allow you to lease panels from them. That means you’ll pay $0 to have solar panels installed, and then pay a monthly fee to your solar company that comes out about equal to your electricity bill. But the trick is, that rate won’t go up over time like your current electric bill does. So while you won’t save as much money in the long run, you’ll still lock in low electricity rates while doing the environment a big favor. And many solar contractors let you buy out your lease after a few years, making solar leasing a great way to test the waters if your plan is to buy when you have more cash at hand.

Buying and leasing a solar panel system are both great options, but there’s a third choice that’s also a smart investment — getting a home equity loan for the cost of solar panels. If you get a loan for $14,995 and then use your $4,499 tax credit to pay it down, you’ll start seeing a profit in about 17 years. And your monthly low payment will be cut in half by the immediate savings you’ll see on your electricity bill.

What to Expect

Dallas receives 1700 harvestable kWh (kilowatt hours) of sun annually. While many cities in Texas pay an average of $0.13 per kWh of energy, Dallas residents pay much less, due to the open market that drives down prices. Most folks in Dallas will pay about $0.08 per kWh. If you use a lot of energy, your rate will be a little higher, at about $0.09 per kWh. Even though your electricity costs are already low, you can still save a lot on your energy bill if you go for solar.

We’ve calculated these savings based on the lower $0.08 per kWh cost, so if you know you use more energy than most, your savings will only increase from here. Check it out how much power you could generate with as few as five panels on your roof.

Solar panels are typically 3’ x 5’, so you just divide the square footage of your roof by 15 to find out how many you can fit. And just because you have the space, doesn’t mean you need to fill it. Depending on your budget and annual energy usage, you might decide to install solar panels on just a portion of your roof, or even away from your home in your yard.

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells, which are called PV cells for short. Typically made up of crystalline silicon, PV cells absorb photons when the sun shines on them. These photons discharge electrons from atoms, and the electrons become part of the electrical circuit and generate energy.

This process is referred to as the photovoltaic effect, and it was discovered in the 1800’s. So while solar panels may be the way of the future, the science behind them was discovered a couple hundred years ago. Understanding the exact science behind solar energy isn’t a requirement to install solar panels on your home, but if you want some more details on how it all works, check out this explanation.

On the grid or off the grid? (net metering vs. batteries)

There are a lot of tough choices you’ll encounter when shopping for solar panels, but this isn’t one of them. Staying on the grid is by far the best way to profit from the power of the sun. On-the-grid solar panel systems are also referred to as net-metering, while off-the-grid is synonymous with a battery-powered system.

The only reason to go with a battery system is if you’re located in an area so remote that you can’t access electricity in a typical way. So for Dallas residents and most others, net-metering is the way to go. The only downside you’ll see with an on-the-grid system is that you’ll be susceptible to the same power outages that you are now. But this is a minor inconvenience compared to going off the grid.

With a net-metering system, you’ll be able to pull energy from the power company’s supply whenever you have a deficit — say, a rare gloomy week. And when you have a surplus of energy, your home will contribute power back to the grid. Not only does this help the entire city become less reliant on traditional energy sources — you get paid. That’s right, you’ll be credited for all of the power you add to the grid, at the same rate you pay for electricity now.

How long does the install take?

Installing solar panels only takes a day on the roof, plus one more day to wire everything up. But unfortunately, you can’t get solar installed the day after you call a contractor — you’ll have to wait on construction and electric company permits. Don’t worry, your solar contractor will handle all of the paperwork for you.

The wait time could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, but once you’re cleared to go, you’ll be set up with solar in a week or less.

Does color matter?

It’s likely you’ve only ever seen navy blue or black solar panels, but a whole rainbow of colors are available. But even if you’re passionate about pink or gaga over green, you should stick with the basics and choose the traditional navy or black. Brightly colored solar panels are fun, but they’re also a lot less efficient. Plus, panels on your roof affect your home’s curb appeal, and black or navy is a sleek and timeless look.

In general, navy are polycrystalline, and black are monocrystalline. Monocrystalline is more expensive upfront, but often more efficient, which could save you money over the course of the panel’s life. Your solar contractor can help you decide whether navy or black panels are best for your situation, and if the added cost of monocrystalline is worth it.

Take Action

No matter which way you slice it, there’s no downside to solar. Even with Dallas’ low electricity rates, installing solar panels on your roof or in your yard is a smart investment. The upfront cost will be offset by rebates and tax credits, and you’ll start seeing a major return on your investment after about 12 years. Even if you don’t plan to stay in your home that long, the property value that solar panels add will more than pay back your costs.

And solar’s not just beneficial to your wallet — it’s kind to the environment. So what are you waiting for? Jump in by getting a quote from one of our recommended solar contractors in Dallas.

San Antonio’s Top Local Installers: Solar City, Longhorn Solar

Freshome’s Top Solar Manufacturers: Solar World, Canadian Solar, Axitec, Kyocera Solar