Frequently Asked Questions

 

Find quick answers to the most common questions below. Select a category to browse by topic.

 

SOLAR

Purchasing


Where do I get started?

The best way to get started is through the resources here at our web site. Learn more and find answers to your questions. When you're ready, visit our Get Started page.

What is the price for a solar installation?

With a little information from you we can readily offer estimates. After learning more about your project, we will customize a final quote. Please visit our purchasing page to learn more and see our price list.

Most solar projects fit one of the following categories and price ranges:

  • Residential 4-8 kW (rooftop solar): $12,000 - $18,000

  • Residential 4-12 kW (rooftop solar with batteries): $22,000 - $54,000

  • Residential 4-8 kW (ground mount solar): $15,000 - $24,000

  • Residential 4-16 kW (ground mount solar with batteries): $24,000 - $80,000

  • Commercial: $15,000 - $100,000+

By averaging the total installation cost by the number of solar panels, typical installations range from $1000 per panel (or $2.85 per watt) for smaller systems, and down to $650 per panel (or $2.00 per watt) for larger systems.

The total installed costs are also eligible for a 26% federal tax credit (years 2019-2022).

How do I get a quote?

See our purchasing page for additional information. Submit a project form to provide some information. We'll respond with some initial information and answer your questions before visiting the site for a final quotation.

Are there tax incentives?

You can claim a 26% federal tax credit (for year 2019-2022) on the full price for installation. Learn more here.

Do you lease or finance?

We do not, but for information with third-party financing, click here to learn more.




System Design


How much solar power do I need?

Smaller systems of 3 to 6 kW are popular for reducing bills by up to half, and to provide the quickest return on investment. Systems up to 10 kW are suitable for larger homes, battery backup power systems and net-zero goals. We recommend a system size based on space available for solar panels (i.e. roof area), the monthly electric usage, and to meet specific needs. In most cases, there are several good options to fit and more solar panels may be added later.

Will solar power run my air conditioning?

Yes! Solar power pairs perfectly with air conditioning since A/C is used most when there is the most sun. In many cases, the cost of air conditioning can be eliminated.

Will solar power run my electric heat?

Yes, but... since heating is needed most when there is the least sun, and largely at night, solar can offset only a portion of electric heating costs. Electric heat can be an enormous load, often multiple times the rest of the home's electrical load, especially during the coldest months. This is often due to poor building performance (leaky building envelope).

Can I charge my electric vehicle with solar?

Yes! Especially if you charge your car at home during the daytime, you can largely offset your EV charging costs. We even offer a EV station that boosts your charge rate and can limit charging to solar power only.

Will it pay for itself?

Solar savings relate directly to the costs they are offsetting, so utility rates and other factors apply. In general, because solar power systems have high longevity, they are expected to return the costs of installation at least once over the system's expected lifespan of 25+ years. This makes solar a reliable long-term invesetment. Battery system costs may add to the overall payback time, but they also provide benefits beyond the return on investment.

Is it better to install solar panels on the roof or on the ground?

Roof and ground-based mounts each have their advantages. Roof mounts are popular as they install quickly and have a lower cost compared to ground-based systems. Ground mounts have their advantages though, and are ideal for off-grid homes, winter optimization, or whenever a roof is unfavorable for any reason.

Roof-mounts:

  • Pro: most cost-effective

  • Pro: fast installation

  • Pro: does not occupy or disturb the ground

  • Con: predetermined orientation and pitch

  • Con: panels must be removed for re-roofing

Ground-mounts:

  • Pro: can optimize orientation/tilt

  • Pro: accessibility for snow removal

  • Pro: higher efficiency (due to air circulation, cooling)

  • Con: construction and site work has additional cost

  • Con: trench required for power line

  • Con: may need to be fenced




Installation


Is there a risk of a roof leaking?

We guarantee that the roof penetrations we make to install solar will be completely waterproof. In fact, our attachments are more waterproof than the nails used for shingles. We use the appropriate flashed and sealed roof attachments which are both UL-listed and warrantied for the life of the roof.

How heavy are solar panels?

The distributed weight of a rooftop solar array is less than 3 pounds per square foot. The mounting system is also engineered to handle the local snow loads (25 to 50 pounds per square foot).

What is required for a ground-based mount?

Most ground-based mounts are constructed with steel pipe in concrete footings, including multi-pole structures, mono-pole mounts, or other anchored platforms. Ground-based installations also require a trench to bury the power line from the solar array to the building. The location of the array must not interfere with water, septic, drain fields, electrical or telecom lines, and can be several hundred feet away if necessary.

How long does an installation take?

An average project is completed with 1 to 4 days of work, depending on the location, system size, type of system and electrical connection requirements or upgrades needed. Total project time may be from 1 to 4 weeks, including the site evaluation, system design, permitting, installation and commissioning phases. Projects scheduled late in the summer or autumn may have longer lead times.

What is required by the utility?

The utility requires you to sign an interconnection application and agreement. We may complete the application details on your behalf, but the homeowner must sign and return the agreement to the utility. The utility may also require proof of homeowners insurance.

When the installation is completed, your electric utility provider will change your meter to be able to record your excess solar power that flows to the grid.




Technical Features


How big are the solar panels?

We offer two sizes of solar panels. The residential size (most popular) is approximately 70x40 inches. The commercial size (for ground mounts) is approximately 80x40 inches.

How do solar panels look?

Our residential panels are all-black, providing the best aesthetic for a rooftop. Commercial panels have a plain aluminum frame and combined colors of a dark blue solar cell surrounded by a white backsheet.

Do solar panels resist hail?

Solar panels are faced with highly-durable tempered glass, which is rated to withstand a minimum of 1-inch hailstones at 50 mph direct strikes. However, we have seen our installations hold up to far worse conditions. In the event of a break, replacement costs may be covered by homeowners insurance.

How long do solar panels last?

Solar panels will continue to produce power for as long as they are practically useful. An average panel will degrade by about 0.5% or less per year. Most solar panel manufacturers guarantee at least 80% of the original performance at 25 years.

How long do inverters last?

Most solar power inverters are warrantied for 10 years, and some up to 25 years.

How much power does a solar panel actually produce?

In full sun a solar panel produces 70% to 90% of its rated power. The loss of power is due to the heat. Over the course of an average day, each solar panel will generate 0.5 to 2 kWh of energy, depending on the season and weather conditions.




Investment


How much is the federal investment tax credit? You can claim a tax credit on the total costs of solar energy efficiency improvements to your property. This includes battery systems, when solar is part of the system. We do not factor tax credits into our pricing, as this is something you will claim afterwards. Last updated: December 2020 2019 through 2022: 26% 2023 and beyond: 10% (commercial only) The residential tax credit can be claimed using IRS form 5695 for the tax year in which the system is installed. Unused credit from one year may carry forward to the next year. Please see the IRS web site for more information: https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-form-5695





SOLATUBE

Solatube FAQ


How does a Solatube work? Solatubes utilize a light-capturing acrylic dome on your roof to direct daylight through a 99% reflective tubing system.The tubing is routed through the attic to deliver light through an attractive round or square lens.Solatubes are much more versatile and cost effective than traditional skylights. Why use natural lighting? Studies have shown that people exposed to natural light are more productive, achieve a better sense of well-being, and are more positive. Until recently, the technology to deliver natural light to interior spaces like closets, bathrooms, offices and corridors simply didn’t exist. That’s no longer the case.

How much does a Solatube installation cost?

Our Solatube installations typically fall within the following range, depending on the model, length of extension tubing, lens options, and number of units. For a current price list, click here.

  • Solatube w/ installation: $650 - $950

  • Fixtures (decorative lens options): $20 - $99

  • When purchasing multiple units, discounts apply.

What sizes/options are available? Solatubes come in two sizes, and tubing length can be up to 30ft (two to eight feet is typical):
  • Solatube Model 160: 10-inch diameter, ideal for bathrooms, hallways, and other smaller areas.
  • Solatube Model 290: 14-inch diameter, ideal for kitchens, stairwells, living rooms and other larger areas.
How long does an installation take? The first installation takes about 2 to 3 hours, while additional units take about 2 hours each. The quick work of installation is one of the great features of Solatube compared to traditional skylights, because Solatube does not require any strucutral modification to the roof.

In what roof types can you install

Asphalt shingle roofs are most common. Contact us regarding other roof types.

Are Solatube's electric?

Solatubes use only natural sunlight and have no electrical components. However, Solatubes do include an accessory solar-powered night light, powered by two AA batteries, which automatically turns on to provide a moon-like glow at night time.

Do Solatube's require maintenance?

Solatubes are maintenance-free. The steel flashing used for the roof pass-thru has a wide base that installs under several rows of shingles, and are therefore not dependent on sealants to remain 100% waterproof.

What warranty is provided?

We provide a 5-year installers warranty and guarantee of 100% waterproof installations. If you have any problems with your Solatube, we will fix it for free.

Are Solatubes eligible for a tax credit? Yes, the full cost of installation for Solatubes that include a solar powered night light is eligible for the federal tax credit.





ABOUT US

About Black Hills Solar


How do I get a quote? Please visit our Get Started page. The best way to get started is with the resources here on our web site so you can get immediate answers to your questions. To learn more about pricing, visit our purchasing page. What is your service area?
We serve the Black Hills area and within 100 miles of Rapid City, South Dakota. - South Dakota counties including: Pennington, Meade, Lawrence, Butte, Custer, Fall River, Oglala - Wyoming: Newcastle, Four Corners and Sundance.
Where are you located?
We are in Rapid City. Please see our contact page for more information. What types of systems do you offer? We design and install residential and commercial solar power and energy storage systems. (We do not sell or service systems for recreational vehicles, hot water collectors, wind power systems or off-the-shelf products.)
What is your certification/experience?
Black Hills Solar is led by a certified PV Installation Professional certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, experienced in the design and installation of all PV system types with over one thousand solar panels installed since 2016. Our electrical team has over 25-years combined experience in electrical works. Check out the photo gallery to see our work! Are you licensed?
Yes, we hold building (Rapid City: AEC2369) and electrical contractor licenses (SD: EC-3543, Rapid City: AEC3138, Wyoming: M-52663).
Are you insured?
Yes, we are commercially insured by Acuity.





EFFICIENCY

Home Efficiency


How much electricity do I use?

Start by learning how to read your power bills, or request a monthly summary of usage from your utility power provider. If your utility has an online system to allow you to log in and monitor your usage and billing history, it is usually the best way to keep track of your usage. But if you need an in-depth understanding of your home's electrical loads, have us install a smart home energy monitor that can identify your individual appliances and help you identify issues and ways to save.

Is my usage above average?

Seasonal use varies based on heating/cooling needs, but you can take your 12-month total kWh use to compare to the average. The average South Dakota home uses about 33 kWh per day / 1000 kWh per month / 12,000 kWh per year.

How do I reduce my power bills?

Our Top Energy-Saving Tips:

  1. Reduce or eliminate air leaks, especially around door seals and windows.

  2. Improve insulation, especially in attics and around hot water lines.

  3. Know your appliances and how much energy they consume. Major appliances (i.e. heating, cooling, and pumping/heating systems) represent a significant majority of total energy consumption.

  4. Replace inefficient appliances such as old refrigerators and water heaters, replace indancescent lamps with LEDs, and replace furnace filters periodically.

  5. Understand your power bill and review your monthly usage. Compare with previous years. Contact your utility provider for support, and ask about incentives and rebates for energy efficiency improvements.

  6. Use a home energy monitor to learn about and observe your energy use, and quickly identify specific problem appliances.




New Construction


Should I design my roof for solar? Yes, you can design your house with a roof to make it especially suitable for solar. Feel free to share your preliminary design for our feedback. A 5:12 to 9:12 (or higher) pitch is recommended for the best results. Most importantly, the slope must face south (anywhere between south-east and south-west is excellent) and not be shaded. Skillion (or "shed" or "lean-to") roofs can be particularly favorable, as well as standard gable roofs. Complex hip-and-valley roofs are more limiting for solar panel placement. Any roofing material is compatible, but standing seam metal or rubber shingles are top picks. If designing your roof for solar proves difficult, consider a detached garage, pole barn, or ground-based system as an alternative. What electrical work is needed to be solar-ready? There are a few simple steps to be ready for solar and save money on a retrofit down the road. Hire us to install the electrical panels or consult with your builder to provide guidance. The elements to prepare include the utility service entrance, main breaker panel, conduits, and points of interconnection for the solar/battery power system. Should I plan to be off-grid? Sometimes the cost of an off-grid power system is less than the cost of the power line installation (especially in rural/remote areas). Ultimately, multiple power sources offers the best experience overall, but off-grid living is also right for some people and in certain circumstances. When building an off-grid home, there are a number of ways to optimize, which should be well understood and planned for prior to the design and construction. Our top home building tips:

  • Build for high efficiency. This is good practice for all construction, though not often applied to a high standard. While typically adding costs to construction, the long-term value of quality construction outweighs the cost in comfort, durability, energy, etc.
  • Choose a quality builder. Some conventional builders may not be particularly concerned about your home's energy efficiency, citing costs. Choose a builder who is educated in building energy conservation and agrees to meet or exceed the legal "voluntary standard".
  • Focus on the building envelope. If one thing must be done well, it should be the building envelope. When all windows, doors, ductwork and penetrations are complete, get a blower-door test to measure air-tightness. A home that does not pass a blower-door test is not only inefficient but may also indicate poor construction quality or lead to other problems over time.
  • Insulate thoroughly and reduce thermal bridging. Consider exterior installation, structural insulated panels, insulated concrete forms, etc. Insulate the slab and footings.
  • Design the roof for a solar array. Locate pipes and ventilation on the north side of the roof. Metal standing-seam and rubber shingle are top choices, but all roof types can be accomodated.
  • Install a mechanical air exchanger to maintain air quality and regulate humidity.
  • Install the electrical system to be ready for solar/battery/EV integration.
  • Install the main electrical panel in the garage or a mechanical room.
  • Install an electric tank water heater (do not install an electric-on-demand water heater).
  • Install heat-pump(s) for heating and cooling. Do not oversize.
  • Install a ventless heat pump clothes dryer.
  • Install new, high efficiency kitchen appliances.
  • Install geothermal or in-floor heating systems only when appropriate (often they are not and can sometimes be ineffective and costly).
  • Do not install a gas stove, gas oven, or other non-ventilated propane/gas appliance (due to air quality issues).
  • Learn more at greenbuildingadvisor.com and ecohome.net





ELECTRICAL

Service Upgrades


Do you do electrical service upgrades? Yes. We upgrade meter-main service boxes and add outdoor service disconnects. This involves having the utility temporarily disconnect power to allow us to change the meter box. Do you do electrical service without solar? Yes. And if you're interested in getting solar in the future, hire us and we'll provide a free solar consultation along with our service work. Why do a service upgrade? Some older homes (especially rural properties) have outdated and sometimes unsafe electrical installations. Upgrading your system brings the installation up to current codes and standards, adds safety features, and may identify and resolve common issues. Also, when adding a solar and battery power system to a home, it is sometimes necessary or preferable to upgrade the service for ease of installation, improving back-up capabilities, and for code-compliance. Do you have to do electrical upgrades for solar/battery? Sometimes, but in most cases we can install up to 10 kW of solar power on the average home with a 200A service without modifying the existing electrical system. When larger solar power or battery power systems are installed, or whenever breaker panels lack the capacity required, some kinds of upgrades or modifications become necessary. Can I add more circuits with a service upgrade? In most cases, yes. A service upgrade is often a great way to add circuits to a detached garage or pole barn. If you need more circuits in the house, a main breaker panel upgrade may be more suitable.




Breaker Panels


Do you service breaker panels? Yes. We provide the full scope of electrical services, from new circuits to complete breaker panel upgrades. Why do a breaker panel upgrade? A breaker panel upgrade may be desirable to improve safety, identify and repair issues, or to add additional circuits. Sometimes it is necessary to modify or alter a breaker panel to install a solar power or battery system.
How is safety enhanced? When we review your electrical panel, we check the electrical system for apparent problems, potential overloads, code compliance, and more. We can also install new circuit breakers designed for arc- and ground-fault protection (ACFI/GFCI). These newer breaker types protect the entire circuit rather than just the outlet, greatly reducing the chances of fire or electrocution.




Lighting


Do you install lighting? Yes. Contact us for an estimate. Do you upgrade lighting to LED? Yes, we do! If you have florescent tubes, incandescent bulbs, or other low-efficiency lighting, have us update your lighting system so you can reduce your power bill.





CHARGING

Battery Systems


Do I need a battery?

Batteries are required for back-up power and to store solar power for use at night. Without a battery, solar power will only reduce grid-power use during the daytime. A battery system can be added to a solar power system at a later date if the additional functionality is desired.

What can I backup?

Depending on the battery capacity, we can backup a small set of essential circuits or the whole property.

How long does it last?

Depending on use-management and available solar power, the battery capacity will be sized to power essentials overnight (at a minimum) or with a large solar array power everything continuously.

What is the battery lifespan?

Our preferred batteries have a 10-year warranty to have a minimum 70% of the original capacity.




EV Charging


How much can an EV charge from solar? The average solar power system can add up to 100 miles of charge per day. How much energy does an EV use?
An average EV uses 30 kWh per 100 miles (3 kWh per mile). How many solar panels are needed for car charging?
One solar panel generates 1 to 2 kWh per day. That's about 4 to 5 kWh per kW of solar. A PV system with 20 panels (6.8 kW) charges up to 40 kWh per day in the summer.





Learn more and get started: