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Do Solar Panels Make Sense for Chicago Homes?

Don’t let the clouds fool you: A recent analysis says Chicago has plenty of solar potential.

Solar experts are feeling sunny about Chicago’s solar potential.   Photo: John Konstantaras/Chicago Tribune

Installing solar panels may not be top of mind for Chicagoans who are traumatized by entire weeks without sun, but recent data from the real estate brokerage Redfin suggests they may be worth it.

Redfin found that Chicago-area homes with solar panels have a significantly higher median sale price ($303,500) than those without them ($195,000). This data comes with the huge caveat that homeowners who have the means to invest in solar panels also have nicer homes in general—so the price differential could be due to factors like better amenities, location, or size, rather than the solar array.

There’s stronger evidence, though: One study, by the Appraisal Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy, used “paired listings"—finding homes that are similar—to see if the addition of a solar array had any effect on prices. They found that home values increased $3,780 for every kilowatt of solar panels.

Redfin named Chicago No. 2 on its list of Midwestern cities with solar power potential. The city’s buildings earned an average solar potential score of 80, according to Sun Number, a startup that analyzes the amount of shade on a rooftop, cost of solar installation, cost of electricity, and local climate to determine a building’s rating. A Sun Number of 75 (out of 100) means the building has good potential for solar energy. The only Midwestern city with a higher average rating was Columbus, Ohio, with a score of 82.

So how much would it cost to get your own solar array? After a 30 percent tax break, you’re looking at $13,200 to $17,200 for a six-kilowatt system, which is what’s needed for an average-sized home, says Dan Hahn, founder of Solar Power Rocks, a website that explains the ins and outs of solar power. Once the system is paid for, homeowners can expect to save $12 to $20 per kilowatt of solar panels each month on the electricity bill.

Sure, we’re not getting as much sun as Florida or Arizona, but that doesn’t have to be a deterrent, Hahn says: “On a cloudy day, you might generate 35 to 40 percent less power than on a sunny day, but it’s still electricity, and solar panels still work in the clouds.”

Below, we found four high-end listings that feature solar power.

2654 North Marshfield Avenue

LIST PRICE: $1.229 million

Yes, you’ll have to drop over $1 million on this three-level West Lincoln Park home. But the solar panels will keep your utility bills in check.

3637 North Leavitt Street

LIST PRICE: $2.595 million

Thermal solar panels heat this home, which sits on a 50-foot-wide lot in North Center. Other highlights: a 44-by-25-foot roof deck with a hot tub and entertaining space on top of the garage.

2015 North Cleveland Avenue

LIST PRICE: $5.795 million

That indoor pool? Yep—it’s warmed up by solar power.

4126 North Leavitt Street

LIST PRICE: $1.175 million

If you’re all about energy efficiency, this three-bedroom—with a Tesla hookup—is for you.

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