Solar Panel Cost per Square Foot: How Much Will Solar Cost For Your Home?
In 2023, the Heatmap Climate Poll found that 59% of Americans want to power their homes with solar panels, and 86% said they would welcome rooftop solar into their communities.
Given this fondness, why aren’t more homeowners going solar?
The biggest hurdle is typically cost. Many people have a vague notion that “solar is expensive,” which makes it hard to get the ball rolling on a project of their own.
But what if you could get a rough solar panel cost estimate to chew on before talking to a salesperson? You’d likely feel more confident heading into the solar process and better prepared to spot a scam.
With this in mind, we analyzed thousands of solar systems purchased on solar.com in 2022 to break down the solar panel cost per square foot of living space. Our goal is to give homeowners a sense of how much solar would cost based on the size of their home.
How much do solar panels cost per square foot of living space?
Home solar systems typically range from $8.25 to $18.28 per square foot of living space. The actual cost may vary based on the size and electricity consumption. These estimates are provided before applying any incentives or tax credits.
It’s important to clarify that these figures represent the solar panel cost per square foot of living space in your home – not the size of your roof or the square footage of solar panels installed. We like this measure because every homeowner knows the square footage of their home (if you don’t, look it up on Zillow!), but not everyone knows the area of their roof or how many square feet of solar panels they need.
With this method, simply multiply the square footage of your home by the figure in the table below that corresponds most closely to your home size.
|Square footage of living space
|Avg cost per square foot of living space
|Avg cost per square foot of living space(after tax credit)
For example, the cost of solar panels for a 2,500 square foot home would be $28,750 before incentives and $20,125 after the 30% tax credit.
2,500 x $11.50 = $28,750
While this method provides a quick-and-dirty estimate for the cost of solar panels, solar systems are sized based on electricity consumption — not the size of your home.
Does home size matter when it comes to solar?
“Dollars per square foot is a construction metric — solar is based on wattage,” said Brian Lynch, a solar industry veteran currently with REC Group. “The joke in solar is that if someone asks ‘What size solar array do I need for my house’ we answer with ‘Well, what color is your house?’
“The point is that house color has almost as much to do with sizing a solar system as home size. What solar installers really need is a recent energy bill and a sense of the complexity of the project.”
How much do solar panels cost for a 1,500 square foot house?
According to 2022 averages, solar panels cost around $27,500 before incentives, and around $19,250 after the 30% tax credit for a 1,500 square foot house. That boils down to a rate of around $12.80 per square foot of living space.
Related reading: How Many Solar Panels Do I Need for a 1,500 Square Foot Home?
How much do solar panels cost for a 2,000 square foot house?
A solar system for a 2,000 square foot house costs, on average, $29,200 before incentives and around $20,500 after the 30% tax credit. That’s a rate of $10.32 per square foot of living space.
If your home is closer to 1,750 square feet, you can expect the pre-incentive solar system cost to be between $27,500 and $29,200.
The chart below shows the average cost of solar panels for homes based on their square footage.
You’ll notice that there isn’t a great correlation between home size and cost. That’s because home size isn’t the best indicator of how many solar panels you need and how much they cost. Electricity consumption, sun exposure, and local incentives have a much greater impact on the cost of solar.
So, if you have two EVs and all electric appliances in a 1,500 square foot house, it’s likely you’d need a larger solar system than someone with all gas cars and appliances in a 2,500 square foot house.
And while the 30% solar tax credit is available nationwide, some states (especially New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts) have additional incentives that can substantially reduce the cost of solar and/or battery systems.
You can use your home size to get a ballpark idea of how much solar would cost, but to get an exact number, it’s best to get multiple binding quotes from local installers – which you can do right on solar.com.
How big of a solar system do I need for a 2,500 square foot house?
In addition to cost, it’s good to have an idea of the size of the system you’ll need to offset your electricity consumption. Solar systems are typically sized in kilowatts (kW). One kilowatt is equal to 1,000 Watts and the Wattage represents the total production capacity of the solar panels.
Using our cost estimates above, we can work backward to get a sense of how many Watts and how many panels an average 2,500 square foot home needs.
Let’s say we have a pre-incentive price of $28,750 and your installer is using $4.50 per Watt as their price point. That means your solar system would be 6,389 Watts, or 6.389 kW.
Now, you divide the size by the Wattage rating of each panel. Today, 400W is considered the best solar panel and industry standard for residential solar, and you would need 16 400W panels to make up a 6,389 Watt solar system.
6,389 Watts / 400 Watts = 16 panels
Let’s run the same exercise for some smaller and larger homes.
How many solar panels would I need for a 1,400 square foot house?
At $18.28 cents per square foot of living space, a solar system for a 1,400 square foot house would have a pre-incentive cost of $25,592.
The number of panels in that system would depend on the price per watt from your installer and the power rating of the panels. The table below shows a few scenarios:
|Pre-incentive system cost
|Price per watt
|Number of panels
How many solar panels do I need for a 3,000 sq ft home?
The average pre-incentive cost of a solar system for a 3,000 square foot home was $30,100 based on thousands of sales conducted on solar.com in 2022.
The number of panels in these systems depends on the price point from the installer and power rating of each panel. The table below shows a few common scenarios for a 3,000 square foot home.
|Pre-incentive system cost
|Price per watt
|Number of panels
You’ll notice that the number of panels for a 3,000 square foot house is not significantly more than the number of panels for a 1,400 square foot home. This is because your electricity consumption is much more important in sizing a solar system than the size of your home.
How many kW of solar do I need for a 2,000 square foot house?
The most accurate way to determine how many kilowatts of solar capacity you need is to average electricity consumption on your latest electricity bills (the more you average together, the better).
In fact, one of the first things solar installers ask for is a recent copy (or copies) of your utility bill so they can accurately size your solar system, as shown below. The highlighted areas show some of the clues solar companies use to get an average electricity consumption to size your system on.
For example, let’s say the sample bill above is for a 2,000 square foot house in Portland, Oregon. Based on the chart, their average electricity consumption is around 466.5 kWh per month, or 5,600 kWh per year.
By guessing and checking on the PVWatts calculator, we find that this homeowner would need a 5 kW solar system to offset their average electricity consumption.
Solar cost per square foot FAQs
How much do solar panels cost per square foot?
Modern, premium solar panels cost ~$13 per square foot. A 400-watt solar panel is typically 3 feet wide by 5 feet long, for a total of 15 square feet. At $200 per panel, that breaks down to $13.33 per square foot.
Can you buy one solar panel at a time?
If you purchase a solar system through a reputable installer you typically can’t buy one solar panel at a time – and it wouldn’t make economic sense anyway.
At its core, solar panels are a home improvement project. And like many upgrades, they require planning, permitting, and inspections – all of which take time, money, and expertise.
In fact, the cost of the solar equipment itself – panels, inverters, racking, etc. – is roughly half of the total cost of installing a solar system. The other half is soft costs like labor, permitting fees, and general overhead.
With that in mind, it’s more resource-efficient for the solar company (and more cost effective for you) to size and install your solar system to meet your current electricity consumption, and near-future needs like EV charging or switching to electric HVAC.
Installing the entire system at once prevents duplicate costs for labor, permitting, shipping, and other soft costs.
Is one solar panel enough to power a house?
No, one solar panel is not enough to power a house. The average solar system has between 10 and 20 solar panels depending on the sun exposure, electricity consumption, and the power rating of each panel.
In 2023, the most common solar panel is 400 Watts, which would produce a maximum of 2,000 Wh (2 kW) of electricity per day in a location that gets 5 hours of peak sunlight per day.
According to the EIA, the average household uses around 30 kWh of electricity per day, so a single solar panel would only provide a fraction of the load.
What is the average cost of a 1 solar panel?
Single solar panels are available online and at big box stores for around $1-$1.50 per Watt (often cheaper on secondary markets), depending on the type of panel and how many you’re buying at a time.
Solar companies typically have better pricing for solar panels based on their relationships with manufacturers – similar to how general contractors get better pricing for kitchen cabinets than the Average Joe paying retail price.
Solar panel cost is often lower on marketplaces like solar.com due to competition between local installers. For instance, if an installer knows that potential customers are comparing quotes from multiple installers at once on solar.com, they’re more likely to reduce their price per watt to stay competitive and win more business.
We analyzed thousands of systems sold on solar.com in 2022 to find the average cost of solar panels per square foot of living space.
This provides a quick way for homeowners to get a baseline of how much solar could cost for a house their size, which can help them avoid scams and make educated decisions during the solar process.
However, we’ll be the first to admit that solar systems are sized based on electricity consumption – not house size. In fact, our data does not show a strong correlation between home size and solar cost at all, due to variables like EVs, air conditioning, and heat pumps.
To get a sense of how many solar panels you’ll need and how much they’ll cost, use your utility bill(s) to see how much electricity you use per month. This is one of the first things a reputable solar installer will ask for during the solar process.
Home solar is a construction project that requires planning, permitting, and inspection. As such, full-service installers typically don’t let you buy or install one panel at a time.
Single panels are available online and at big box stores, but often at a higher price than they would be through a full-service installation company. The way to reduce the cost of going solar is to research incentives and get multiple quotes from local installers.
Brian Lynch is an investor in solar.com’s parent company, Electrum.