Once you have decided that solar is a good option for your home, the next step is to talk to reputable solar installers near you. Any good solar panel installation company will start the process by doing a survey of your house. Among other things, they will check for sun hours, shade, the condition of your roof, and the overall suitability of your home for solar panels. Not all homes are a good fit for solar and this is the best way to find out if yours is a suitable candidate.
After they do a home survey, they will look at your electric bill and give you an estimate on how many solar panels you will need to replace the electricity you currently consume. Armed with this information they should give you a cost estimate and what your “payback period” is. This is the time that it will take for the solar system to pay for itself.
This is the point in time where you ask all your solar questions. You need to make sure you understand all the steps required to install solar on your home – the entire process from permits to turning the lights on. This guide is designed to help you with those questions so you can feel comfortable that you are working with a reputable company. Then you can rest assured that you will enjoy the benefits of owning your own power generation plant on your very own roof after the solar panel installation job is finished.
Get our solar installation checklist here and use it when you are talking to your installer.
The solar quote should include everything that the solar company will be responsible to complete. It needs to include sufficient information, so you feel confident in deciding about working with that company.
This list contains the minimum information that every good solar quote should include.
A good solar quote needs to address all the important issues. These include the cost and quality of the solar panels and how much you will save over time. This is the first step of ensuring that you have a package that will serve your needs. The next step is to find out about the solar company itself and what to expect as you move forward.
You should take steps to ensure that you are working with a solar company with sufficient experience to take care of your home. Make sure the solar company is licensed and insured to work in your neighbourhood. You want to make sure that any accidents or mistakes do not come back to bite you.
An extra step that will ensure you are working with a professional company is their certification. Solar installers can choose to be certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). This certification is not required but most serious solar panel installation companies are certified with NABCEP.
You need to be satisfied with the answers to these questions. Make sure you are working with a solar company that has a history of quality work and satisfied customers. Do not be shy about asking the solar company to be clear and upfront about their company. Get our solar installation checklist here and use this pdf when you are meeting with your installer.
This is true especially for the local utility question and the subcontracting question.
YOUR UTILITY: If you are installing a system that will be tied into the grid (most systems are tied into the grid), the solar company must abide by the rules of your utility. For solar companies that have experience with your utility, the process is usually smoother and free of problems.
SUBCONTRACTORS: Most solar installers use subcontractors to perform separate phases of the installation. A residential solar system requires many different sub-systems to be connected. Things such as roofing, solar racking systems and even master electricians are often completed by subcontractors. It is important to understand who will be working on your roof.
Most solar companies use well-known brands for solar equipment and that usually means they come with great warranties and will last a long time. But ask about the equipment just to make sure.
Here are some basic questions to ask about your panels and other parts of your solar array:
PANELS: A great way to compare competing brands is by comparing their warranties on the solar panels. Panels should be warrantied for a minimum of 25 years. That should cover power production. The solar company should provide at least 10 years of warranty coverage on their work. Many panel providers ship their products with a 25-year warranty.
INVERTERS: Inverters convert the direct current (DC) that the panels produce into alternating current (AC) that your home needs. They are available in two configurations, and each has their advantages.
Solar String Inverters typically come with a 10-year warranty. Usually, you can purchase extra add-on coverage for more years. This means that Solar String Inverters will need to be replaced once or twice during the life of the panel system.
Microinverters are installed on each panel and usually come with a 25-year warranty that matches the panel warranty. Microinverters can occasionally fail. If they do fail, you would lose the production of the single panel it is servicing until your replacement arrives.
Most solar systems do not have batteries but use the grid to store excess power. Due to recent widespread outages in Texas and California, batteries are becoming more common with solar systems. Many homeowners are installing solar simply to protect themselves against blackouts. There are advantages to installing batteries during the solar installation rather than later.
The most important issue for most people investing in solar is the costs and especially the savings. As we already covered, any good quote needs to include a quote that has the overall cost, an estimate of what you will save, and a payback period. It also should have listed the incentives for which your house qualifies.
Double-check these questions about costs:
Sometimes referred to as the ITC – or Investment Tax Credit comes with a caveat. The federal government does not pay you directly – they do not send you a check. The ITC is a credit off your federal taxes. If you do not owe the cost of the panels in federal taxes, you cannot use the federal credit. This is a good one to ask an accountant about.
There is sometimes confusion about the solar savings estimate. This number depends on three things:
1. The information about the annual quantity of electricity your panels will produce.
2. How much the power company will increase their rates.
3. What the net metering deal is in your state.
The representative from the solar company should be able to explain the process he or she used to arrive at your final numbers. Most solar companies use expensive solar estimating software to arrive at this number.
There is a free tool from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that will give you an approximate number. You can “sanity check” the solar company’s numbers. Check out the PVWatts tool
Utility Rates: Across the country, average utility rates normally increase between 2.5 – 3.5% annually. Of course, each state differs but you can get a chart of the history of rate increases from your utility company. Or you can compare your electric bills from past years.
If the rep used a rate higher than 3.5%, ask the solar rep why that number is higher than average. The rep might be aware of announced rate hikes that are in the works.
Take a short quiz to find out exactly how much you can save in less than 30 seconds by going solar.
The final thing to verify is the financing options you are being offered and how they affect the final cost. Most solar companies partner with financing companies to be able to offer solar loans. These companies offer low monthly payments without requiring a down-payment or any upfront costs.
Other methods offered are solar leasing and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). With these arrangements, the solar company or the leasing company owns the solar array until you finish the payments.
You need to be aware that when you take advantage of loan financing with no down payment, the finance charge is usually averaged into the loan payments. It is a good idea to ask the solar rep for the cash price vs the total loan cost. You always have the option of obtaining your own financing or coming up with the total cash price.
Panel installation is the most visible part of installing solar, but this process has many hidden steps.
When you are satisfied with the financial end of the deal, it is time to move onto the fun part - the installation. It is a good idea to get some clarity and assurances before they get up on your roof.
Here are some questions you can ask about the installation:
The typical residential solar installation will take between two to six months. The first step is when the solar installers or the engineer performs a site visit. They will inspect, measure, and photograph the inside and outside of your house. Then they will submit the needed plans and paperwork to the municipality to get a permit. Only then can they schedule an installation because they will have a date for the initial inspection and permission to hook to the grid.
UNDERSTAND WHAT TO DO IF SOMETHING DAMAGES YOUR PANELS
Once your system is installed on your roof and is generating energy and the solar company has moved on to other projects, you need to know what the steps are that you need to take if a solar panel is damaged.
Find out before they leave:
It is very exciting to install solar on your roof. It is even more fun to watch a readout of how much power the panels are producing at a given time. Ask your solar rep about software you can use to keep an eye on your system. They should have a software they recommend but if they do not there are third-party solutions that can track your panel’s output and your power consumption.
Power output is not guaranteed but you should not suffer from lower-than-expected output. The only way to discover if you have a problem that needs to be addressed is to monitor it with a software that is tied into the system.
Installing your very own mini-power plant right on your roof is important. You will want to make sure you have a total understanding of the process and what the responsibilities are of the solar company.
You do not need to ask every question we have outlined but you should have a good understanding of each of the major steps and know what to do if things do not work out as expected.
Solar panels have no moving parts and usually stay maintenance-free for years. But asking these questions will give you a good understanding of what is involved but it will also send a strong message to the solar installer. You are involved and you want all the bases covered. You probably will not ever have to contact your installer after your system is up and running, but you need to know what to do if it does not work out that way. Get our solar installation checklist below and use it when you are talking to your installer.