Green Living: Buying solar panels

PORTLAND, Ore. -- If you're interested in going green and getting solar panels installed on your roof, it's important to do your research.

Solar energy companies claim you can drastically reduce your monthly electric bill by installing the panels. Christopher Hale says his customers see the impact right away.

"They're really excited when the first bill comes and their electrical bill is much lower than it was before," Hale said.

But before you sign up for solar panels, here's a reality check:

"Solar panels can be a big commitment. You want to make sure they'll work on your roof. Not every house is a good candidate," Mandy Walker from Consumer Reports said.

Make sure your roof will get enough direct sunlight. Panels are usually installed on the south side of your roof and shouldn't be shaded by chimneys, trees, or anything else above the roof line. Next, know your roof's age.

"If you can afford to pay for the panels outright, it will likely cost about $15,000 to $21,000 or more. But they'll pay for themselves in five to 10 years and then you'll get free electricity for as long as they last," Walker said.

Other things you should consider include the warranty of your roof and property taxes. Also, check your homeowner's insurance to see if you'll be covered in the event the panels are damaged by a storm.

"It's a very big decision. It's a big investment. It's going to be on your house for a very long time," Hale said.