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What Questions Should You Ask A Solar Panel Installation Company Before Hiring Them?

June 15, 2021Solaris National
Solar installer on a roof of home installing a solar panel

Make Sure You Ask All The Right Questions Before Finalizing A Solar Panel Installation Job

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.

 

Lady asking two solar panel installation guys about home solar panels

​​What Information Should A Solar Installation Quote Include?

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.

Every Solar Installation Quote Must Have This Info:

  • SOLAR PANELS: How many panels will be installed and what are their make and model?
  • KILOWATTS (kW): How many kilowatts is the system size?
  • EXPECTED SAVINGS: How many dollars are you expected to save over your current bills? This should include anticipated rate increases by the power company.
  • SOLAR INCENTIVES: What Federal and State solar incentives do you qualify for and how to take advantage of them.
  • TOTAL COST: What is the total installed cost of the new system before you apply the incentives and afterward. This needs to be broken down by cost per watt.
  • FINANCING COST vs. CASH: What is the overall cost of your system both with financing and if you pay cash.
  • UPFRONT COSTS: Are there any upfront/out-of-pocket costs.
  • WARRANTY & MAINTENANCE AGREEMENT: What is the warranty on both the equipment and on the installation? Do they offer a maintenance agreement?

Nice To Have Information:

  • ALTERNATIVE CONFIGURATIONS: What other options are reasonable for panels and inverters and what are the different costs.
  • SOLAR vs. UTILITY CHART: A chart showing the difference of the cost of the solar array vs. expected utility costs over the life of the system.
  • BATTERY: What is the cost to add a whole-house solar battery sufficient to power the home in a blackout?
  • NET METERING: What are the Net Metering regulations in your state?

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. 

Solar panel installer on roof of home smiling in front of solar panels

Questions About The Solar Company.

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.

Here is a list of the minimum questions you should ask the solar panel installation company about themselves:

  • How many years have they been in business?
  • What is the total number of residential solar systems they have installed?
  • Do they have NABCEP-certification?
  • Are they licensed, bonded and insured (get their business license number)?
  • Get references from at least 3 recent customers.
  • What work does their company do and what do they outsource to subcontractors?
  • If you subcontract any work, what systems do they have in place to make sure they do quality work?
  • What kind of experience do you have with my local electric utility?

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.

What You Need To Know About Solar Equipment.

Home in CA with a solar panels installed on the roof and a car in the driveway

Make Sure You Are Getting The Best Equipment And Not Overpaying For It.

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:

  • What are the brand names of the panels, inverters, and batteries?
  • What kind of warranties do each of these have and is a warranty upgrade available?
  • Are there any common problems with these parts from your other customers?
  • What is the process when something goes wrong with the equipment?
  • Do I need to perform any regular maintenance on any of the equipment?

Warranty/Guarantee

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.

Batteries

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.

Money: Costs And Savings

A solar panel installation house made of hundred dollar bills with a solar roof on top.

Go Over The Financials Of The Deal.

Then Go Over Them Again!

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:

  • Is it certain that my home qualifies for the federal solar tax credit?
  • Am I missing any incentives – especially those offered by my state?
  • What is the payback period – the time when my panels will pay back the total cost?
  • Have we covered all my financing options?
  • Are my payments guaranteed not to change?
  • How much will the value of my home increase due to the panels?

Federal Solar Tax Credit

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.

Estimate Of Potential Savings

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.

Financing Options

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.

The Actual Installation Work

Solar installer on a roof of home installing a solar panel

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:

  • Tell me the different steps of the installation process.
  • What is the timeline and how long will it take?
  • How will you handle delays?
  • Is your installation work guaranteed?
  • Since you will be puncturing my roof, how will you handle leaks?

Installing On Time

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.

How About After The Installation?

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:

  • How can I monitor my system to make sure it continues to produce optimum power?
  • What should I do if I need a panel removed to do some roof repair?
  • What are the steps I need to take if a panel stops producing or is damaged by outside forces?
  • How can I add panels to the system if I decide I want more production?
  • What are the steps if I decide to sell the house while I am still making payments?

Software To Monitor Your System

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.

SUMMARY OF SOLAR COMPANY QUESTIONS:

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.

What you ask before a solar panel installation really matters! This is a list of all the questions including a downloadable checklist.
June 15, 2021 | Solaris National
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