Congratulations to our September Install of the Month winner Luis M! Luis first got in touch with us back in the middle of 2017 to build a grid-tied system on his Spanish tile roof.
Luis lives in Covina, CA (near Los Angeles) where the cost of electricity is nearly 35% higher than the national average. Facing electric bills well over $250 during the sweltering summer months in Southern California, he was eager to run the math on solar energy to find out whether it was worth the investment in the long run.
When he did the math, he found that he would save $3,000 a year in electricity costs alone. After claiming the Federal Tax Credit for investing in renewable energy, he knew it would cost around $12,000 to get a system built and installed.
That meant his investment would pay for itself in less than 4 years—pretty appealing, given the 25-year wararnty on the solar panels.
“At a 7% return, he figured that money was worth about $1,050 per year on the stock market. But it would return over $3,000 a year in energy savings. Even with the penalty for cashing out from the retirement fund early, it was worth it.”
Luis didn’t have the budget to buy the system outright, and he didn’t want to be on the hook for loan payments. So he did something a bit unusual: he pulled $15,000 from his retirement fund.
At a 7% return, he figured that money was worth about $1,050 per year on the stock market. But it would return over $3,000 a year in energy savings. Even with the penalty for cashing out from the retirement fund early, it was worth it.
Once he decided to pull the trigger, he had to figure out how to mount the system on his beautiful Spanish tile roof. For that, we set him up with the Quick Mount flashing system. Rather than cutting tiles to fit them for hooks, the entire tile is replaced with the fitted Quick Mount base.
Luis took a slow and steady approach to installation, working around the unbearable summer heat (made worse by his tile roof retaining heat). He was determined to complete the installation with his family members, which saved him about $4,000 in labor on the project.
Once it was completed, the payoff was immediate: his first electric bill came out to negative $4.40, with the utility company owing him a credit for the surplus electricity he produced.
“[Finishing the project] felt good, but not as good until you get the first electrical bill: -$4.40. That was back in February. By the time it gets full sunlight hours, it should produce an extra 10% of electricity close to 950Kw this month.” -Luis M.
Here’s what Luis had to say about his project:
What type of solar system did you install?
What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?
It made a lot of sense to install a solar system by my self, not only for the savings in the electricity bill but it’s also great for the environment.
Did you have any previous DIY experience?
Yes, but not in solar installations. I learned everything from the how-to videos on the unboundsolar.com website.
What was the most difficult part of the installation?
The summer heat, it was very hot on my tile roof. I was also a little worried for the Santa Ana winds. I solved that worry by keeping the post separation to no more than three feet. Not that it was required, but just for peace of mind.
How many helpers did you have?
I only needed two people (family) on the actual panel installation. I didn’t want to drop one.
Did you hire a contractor?
Only for the actual final electrical connection from the inverter to the main panel. I did run all the conduit.
Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?
At the end, I wanted to make sure I could monitor the whole system on the web, and I added a wireless link myself. Now I can check and monitor the solar system on my iPad.
How long was the full installation process?
Well, I added extra posts, I was in no rush. It took me six months for a 22-panel system. Let’s break it down: it took an average of 1 hour to install a post, times 48 post. Rails took about a couple of days, and panels two days this time with two people helping. Conduit and wires took a couple of days by my self. Then the final electrical was the electrician and their assistant. The reason it took so long it was because of the summer temperatures and the tile roof. I had to replace the tiles I broke on the process. No big deal.
How did it feel to get your solar project finished?
It felt good, but not as good until you get the first electrical bill: -$4.40. That was back in February. By the time it gets full sunlight hours, it should produce an extra 10% of electricity close to 950Kw this month.
Who else did you consider before choosing Unbound Solar?
I couldn’t afford to have my panels installed by a solar panel company. ( I had three estimates done). I also did not have any cash available. What I did was, I took $15,000 from my Roth IRA. Let me break it down for you: that money makes an average of 7% a year on the stock market = $1,050. With my $15,000 solar system, it is going to create at least $250 a month, that’s $3,000.00 per year cash savings. I get $5,000 back from the government, that put the system at a cost of $10,000. Plus let’s add the penalty for cashing money out of your retirement, $1,500.00 in this case. Now the cost is $11,500, divided by $3000 a year of electricity savings. In 3 years 9 months, the system will pay for itself. In other words my investment of $15,000 is producing a 20% return on my money as I write this. By the way, after 3 years 9 months my system is going to give me net $3000 a year to put back in my IRA.
What was your total cost to install solar?
The solar system cost me around $13,000 at Unbound Solar and around $2,000 for the extra help. That is $15,000. I calculated I did save about $4,000 worth of work myself.
How much did you save on your taxes?
A third, about $5,000.
Components in Luis’s custom system:
- Panels: 280-watt LG solar panels (22)
- Inverter: SolarEdge SE-6000A 6.0 kW inverter
- Racking: IronRidge XR100 rail system
Luis’s Solar Breakdown:
- System Cost: $13,000
- Cost of Labor: $2,000
- Yearly System Output: 9,807 kWh per year
- Total time to install: Estimated 80-100 hours over a 6-month timeframe
- Federal Tax Incentive: Qualifies for $5,000 U.S. Federal Tax Credit
- Utility Rates: 16 cents/kWh
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