Questions to Ask a Solar Company Before You Sign a Contract

If you’ve done your research and decided to power your home with solar energy, it’s time to set appointments with local solar companies. In short, the process involves evaluating your historic usage and conducting a survey of your home along with any potential obstructions around to give you an estimate detailing how many panels you’ll need, how much they’ll cost and how those panels will soon pay for themselves.

Chances are you already have a list of questions to ask, but you may not know everything you should ask to ensure you get the best system for your energy needs. If you’re thinking about switching to solar power, we’ve created this helpful guide with all the questions to ask a solar company before signing on the dotted line.

Solar Quote Essentials:

A great solar quote should have enough information from the installer to give you confidence and provide you with everything you need to make the best decision.

Here are some elements all solar quotes should have:

  • The make/model of the solar panels they offer and the number of panels recommended for installation
  • Total system size in kilowatts (kW)
  • A 3-D representation and/or satellite photo of your home with the proposed design of the panel layout on your rooftop
  • Information regarding the inverter or microinverter model
  • Expected annual electricity production in kilowatt-hours (kWh)
  • Anticipated annual savings (in dollars) with clear number for estimated annual utility rate increases
  • Information on solar incentives (LINK) that you can qualify for
  • Overall system cost (with and without incentives factored in) broken down by dollars per watt
  • All financing options available – solar loans, solar lease, PACE financing or cash options
  • Detailed warranty information on all project. components

 

Questions About the Installer

Choosing an installer with plenty of experience under their belt is a great place to start when deciding which solar company to work with. They should be licensed to work in your area and have proper liability insurance.

Here are some questions to ask a solar installer about their company:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • How many solar energy systems have you installed?
  • Are you NABCEP-certified?
  • What’s your business license number?
  • Do you have references from at least three satisfied customers?
  • Do you subcontract any system work and if so, how do you hold subcontractors accountable to do a good job?

Based on the answers to these questions, you should be more at ease if the company is well-established and backed by a team of experienced professionals. Here’s why the last two questions are particularly important.

Local utility companies like Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) have different rules when it comes to connecting home solar energy systems to the grid. Experienced installers will know these requirements and ensure a smooth process.

Subcontracted roofers are commonly hired by solar energy companies to attach solar racking systems and master electricians connect the system to the electrical panel. Subcontractors aren’t a bad thing, it’s just best to get clarity from the solar company you choose to work with.

 

Questions About Solar Equipment

Many solar installers use high-quality products like SunPower that provide good warranty coverage, durability and longevity, but it’s best to double check to confirm which panels each company offers. Some companies that use low-cost panels are simply looking at power offset and don’t take the quality of the panel into account. When it comes to the less expensive solar panels, it’s important to evaluate the quality of the panel, including the degradation rate which may impact your long term savings potential.You’ll want to be 100% sure that the solar panels you put on your roof for the next three decades are built to last and compare favorably to other panels on the market.

Here are some great questions to ask about the solar panels and other equipment the company offers:

  • Why did you choose the proposed solar equipment?
  • What kind of system is installed on your own roof or business?
  • What warranty protection is available for the solar panels, inverter, etc?
  • Have other homeowners had any issues with their solar equipment and if so, what were they?
  • Who do I contact if something goes wrong?
  • What is the cost to add battery storage to my solar system?
  • Do I need to add anything to the system to protect my solar panels from animals?

Warranties

Evaluating individual solar panel warranties is one of the best ways to compare solar manufacturers. Warranties should provide 25 years of coverage for power production and 10 years of coverage for the workmanship. Several manufacturers, including SunPower, offer 25-year warranties for both on their top panel models.

Home Batteries

With rising utility costs, the threat of blackouts and outages from wildfires and Planned Power Shutoffs, pairing a home battery with your solar panel system can keep the lights on and your appliances running when you need them most. Enjoy the peace of mind knowing that you don’t have to worry about spending an evening in the dark, with the additional benefits of extra savings when you use your stored energy during peak hours with higher time-of-use rates. 

There are advantages to adding home battery storage to your solar system during installation time. Installation labor costs might be reduced, meaning that adding a battery at the same time as the solar panels may be more cost effective than adding a battery later.

Animals

Most homes don’t see significant problems from animals playing with solar panel installations, but it’s possible that birds, squirrels or other small rodents can get underneath the panels or chew on any exposed wires. There are critter guards and other products on the market for these issues and your solar installer should tell you whether other customers in your area have had any issues with animals.

Questions About Cost and Solar Financing Options

The most common questions for homeowners when it comes to solar: How much does it cost? How much will I save? Like we said, a good solar installer’s quote should include the total system cost, estimated annual savings and the payback period. The quote should also include information on any solar incentives available, especially the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC), which was recently extended to 30%. This means that when you purchase a system you can earn 30% of the cost to install solar panels back as a tax credit the year after your installation is complete.

Here are questions to ask about your solar energy system’s costs and savings:

  • Am I eligible for the Solar Tax Credit?
  • Are there other incentives available and how would they reduce or repay my system costs?
  • Can I make payments on the system? Is the entire amount due upfront?
  • How long will it take for the solar panels to pay back their cost?
  • What rate of increase in utility costs do you use in your estimates?
  • What financing options do you offer?
  • Will financed solar panel payments increase over time?
  • Will solar panels increase my property value?

Savings Estimates

Your savings estimates should evaluate how much electricity your solar panels will produce each year, the average annual increase in the cost of that electricity and whether or not net metering is available to you. Utility rates increase by about 2.5 to 7% or more per year. You can determine your historical rate of increase from your utility company or by looking at old utility bills and the amount you paid per kWh. In the first half of 2022 alone, PG&E rates increased by 22%. 

Questions About the Solar Installation Process

Once the price and payment schedule has been worked out, the next step is getting solar panels installed on your roof to start producing energy.

Here are some questions about the process of installing solar panels:

  • What are the installation steps?
  • How long will it take to complete and what is your timeline?
  • What happens if your company doesn’t finish on time?
  • What guarantees do you offer for your work?
  • What happens if a leak develops well after the panels have been installed?

The Process

A good installer should be able to give you a clear timeline and commit to hitting all their deadlines. While certain things like start dates are within their control, things like permitting timelines and scheduling inspections with your utility company are out of their control, but are essential to getting final permission to operate (PTO).

Depending on circumstances, it can take as little as two months, up to a year for the entire process. Installers start with a site visit, then submit a system design to your local authority for a permit, schedule the installation and inspections and get final permission to interconnect and operate on the grid.

Questions About the Future of Solar

After you’ve completed your installation, it’s time to reap the benefits and savings of harvesting energy from the sun. While solar panel systems are built and designed to last for at least 25 years, things can happen and it’s important to be prepared.

Here are some important questions to ask:

  • How can I monitor the energy my solar panels generate?
  • What happens if my solar panels don’t produce the amount of energy that was quoted?
  • What happens if I need to remove my solar panels to have work done on my roof?
  • What if a solar panel fails because of a manufacturing defect or breaks as the result of bad weather?
  • What if I want to add more panels to my installation? Or add battery storage to my home?
  • What if I move while I’m still paying off my panels?

Future Home Renovations

Simply put, solar panels are designed to last for a long time.

Unless your solar panels are installed on a brand new rooftop, chances are you might have to remove them and have a roofer install new shingles or tiles. Some installers will offer to do this for you for a modest fee or you could ask them to write it into the contract.

Maybe you’re planning to start a family or buy an electric car. Your energy needs and usage will increase, so you should consider whether you might want to add additional panels to your installation in the future. It’s important to ask about these things before your panels are installed because there could be limitations or other things that may prevent you from adding panels down the road.

The Final Word

When it comes to installing solar panels, we want to help you make a smart choice by asking the right questions. This will help ensure that you’re getting a high-quality solar energy system and service with a fair contract and a company that has your best interests at heart.

If you’re ready to save money (and the environment) with solar, contact us today for a free customized quote.

Shannon Hughes