Going green is not always the least expensive option for a family in today's harsh economic reality. In fact, the most expensive aspect of going solar is in the initial phase of purchasing and installing your panels.
Still, there are potential ways of saving while going green such as opting for used solar panels, though this option does come with the caveat of being willing to roll up your sleeves. Your best option to reduce the cost is to hire a professional, at least for the installation.
However, expertise is not a requirement when buying used solar panels, but it helps to have a guideline when making such a purchase. Be aware that technology improves over time and solar panel use is relatively new. In fact, several of the older panels are still in use today. The first thing you will notice is that older panels tend to be larger than newer panels when comparing wattage, but if you have the available space, it will be a lower cost option for going green.
Be sure not to ignore obvious damage, such as cracked glass, and missing or broken connections. Only you can decide your level of skill, and if you are willing to attempt repairs such as soldering then you should be able to repair broken connections using a soldering iron with 2% silver.
The most telling aspect is the output measurement that you receive from your digital meter; be sure to measure in full sunlight. To test used solar panels, measure across the plus and minus terminals of each panel. After setting your meter to measure DC voltage, a 12 volt panel should show about 21 volts in full sunlight. Be mindful that a battery is still necessary to be able to store the solar energy and that will slightly increase the initial cost.
Over the long haul, though, maintaining a solar panel is as simple as wiping down the panels every two weeks to remove debris and there is a bit of additional work required in maintaining the battery. Before final installation, verify that no shadows are cast over the panels and that the unit faces south with the correct tilt angle.
One other aspect of a growing technology is that demand drives the repair and maintenance industry that goes with the technology. Being a handy person does really become necessary based on where you are located.
Remember to investigate the tax subsidies offered by state and federal government for additional savings for your principal residence that might contribute as much as 30% of the cost. Check with your personal tax representative before purchase for a realistic expectation of how much you will have to pay out of pocket, and whether your state offers additional reimbursement.