Best Questions To Ask Solar Companies Before Signing

questions for solar companies

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Going through any new process can be confusing, especially if you don’t understand the industry jargon – the same goes for solar. With so many solar companies to choose from, the idea itself can feel overwhelming.

That’s why we’ve put together a checklist of the most important questions to ask solar companies before signing on the dotted line. Questions range from financing options, different ways to go solar, tax incentives, total cost, energy production and much more.

Going solar is a no brainer, especially if you have high energy usage. Say goodbye to rising utility rates once and for all.

Table of Contents

Understanding your solar quote

When getting a solar quote, the installer should give you some important details. You’ll see funny words like energy offset, estimated production, kilowatt hours, modules, solar array, azimuth, sun hours and so on.

Once you know what to look for, you’ll understand solar like a pro. Below is everything that should be included in your solar quote, plus all the terms mentioned with a brief breakdown of what they mean.

Your solar bid should include the following

• Preliminary Solar design: top view of the home showing where the panels will be placed. Panel placement and amount are subject to change after roof inspection.

• Solar equipment: this will say modules (model type), inverter type, racking system, etc.

• Sun hours: aerial view of how much sun your roof can expect to get on an annual basis

• General Warranty Information: brief information about equipment and roof warranties included.

• Right to cancel: normally not found on the quote but a cancellation policy should be included on the agreement.

• Energy offset: this will show as a percentage and should be based on your homes previous 12-months of kWh (kilowatt hours) usage.

• Annual production: amount of electricity your solar system is expected to produce year-1 and over the lifetime of the system. Solar companies usually have this up to 20-25 years depending on the length of the agreement.

Estimated Savings: projection of how much you can expect to save based on current utility rates vs what you’ll save with solar over the term of the agreement.

• Agreement type: this should show as a lease, power purchase agreement, loan, or cash deal.

• Estimated Monthly Payment: this is where you’ll see what your monthly solar payment will look like.

• Estimated Investment Tax Credit: if opting to buy solar vs lease, you’ll usually have a number of what you may be able to qualify for depending on what the current federal solar ITC rates are.

Everything mentioned above is what you can expect to see on your solar bid. It’s worthwhile to mention that most solar reps now legally are to abstain from offering financial advice regarding the federal solar tax credit.

If you have questions about what tax incentives you may qualify for, it’s best to reach out to a licensed tax professional.

Questions about the solar company

Solar Installer

Here are some questions you’ll want to ask the solar companies you’re thinking of going with:

How long have you been in business?

Do you subcontract any of the work? Can you provide proof of licensing and all liability insurance?

Do you have any previous projects and testimonials?

Are you a solar installer or a solar contractor? (Contractors are affiliates for big solar companies)

What solar installation company will you be using?

What is your company business license number?

What is your home improvement salesperson license number? (applicable in certain states)

If you want to take it a step further, ask if the solar installer is NABCEP certified. The North American Board of Certified Energy was established in 2002 to ensure PV installers are held to quality standards.

Most solar installers require all applicants to have a high school diploma as well as some technical or trade experience before onboarding a new crew member.

Other hired installers gain experience through volunteer solar programs after accumulating so many hours. Either way, it’s always safe to ask about their hiring process to ensure you’re getting quality installers in your roof.

Solar equipment questions

These questions can be a bit outdated as most solar companies are using the latest technology in terms of solar panels, inverters, solar batteries and racking. Some of the most popular companies all copy each other in terms of equipment to stay competitive.

You’ll usually find the best solar companies using Hanwha Q Cells, LG Solar, REC Solar, Canadian Solar Cells, Panasonic or SunPower. Inverters will typically be from Enphase or SolarEdge as they’re both the industry standards. And finally, solar energy storage options will range from Generac, LG’s Chem Battery or the more popular Tesla Powerwall.

What solar panels do you offer?

What solar inverters do you use and what do you recommend?

Do you offer any solar battery options?

Most solar panels used will be monocrystalline silicone cells, so you don’t really need to have the monocrystalline vs polycrystalline solar debate with your solar sales rep unless technical questions are that important to you.

Solar panels producing at 355 watts per panel is considered the base level production. The more efficient panels are producing at 390 watts per panel or more. So long as the lifespan, production, and warranties of the solar panels are up to par – everything else is just a technicality.

Warranties, guarantees & home improvements

Solar Equipment Installation

Although solar is a custom solution and every solar project is different, the warranties and guarantees across each company should be similar.

Be sure to ask the following questions:

Equipment questions

• If the inverter burns out, who replaces it and will it cost me anything out of pocket to replace?

• If one of the panels stops working, who replaces it and will it cost me anything out of pocket?

• If the solar battery overheats and is faulty, will it be replaced at no additional cost to me?

Roof and energy production guarantees

• What’s your roof penetration warranty and what does it cover?

• Is there an energy production guarantee? Example: If the system underproduces, will I be compensated with a credit or check for any lost power?

Main service panel upgrade

• If needed, will your company upgrade my main service panel at no additional cost to me?

Last but not least, be sure your agreement includes a workmanship warranty along with a manufacturers warranty. You want to make sure your agreement comes standard with a 20-25 year equipment warranty but also with a workmanship warranty.

The workmanship warranty will ensure that if any maintenance needs to be performed, that it’s covered in it’s entirety at no additional cost to you.

Critter guards

• Do you offer critter guard installation?

Depending on where you live, animals such as pigeons, squirrels or other rodents can nest under your solar equipment and create a problem. If it’s not a common problem in your area, it wouldn’t be something to be too concerned about.

Let’s talk money

Solar Savings

If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, right? For most things in life that statement is true. With going solar however, that statement is absolutely true. Most solar installers across the industry offer zero down solar.

You get a savings report, qualify for solar, the solar company installs the solar equipment and you pay a lower electricity bill – it really is that simple.

With that in mind, it’s still smart to know what questions to ask when it comes down to the money as there are multiple ways to go solar.

Will this cost me anything out of pocket up front to install?

Note: if opting for a solar lease or solar ppa, solar companies may file a UCC-1 fixture filing. This is not a lien to the title of your home.

If you lease solar equipment

• If I default on my solar lease payments, will a lien be applied to my home?

• Am I paying for the equipment or for the energy the system produces?

If you go with a power purchase agreement (PPA)

• What’s my price per kWh?

• Am I on a fixed 0% price per kWh payment or an annual increased price per kWh plan?

• What’s the credit requirement and is it a soft credit check or a hard inquiry?

If buying solar

• What solar financing options do you offer and at what rates?

• Will the solar loan affect my debt-to-income ratio?

• What will my payment be if I don’t apply the federal ITC?

Last but not least, be sure to ask if your monthly solar payment shown is with ACH withdrawal factored in. The price shown on the agreement more often than not assumes you’re setting up auto-pay with your bank.

Expect to pay an additional $10-$15 per month if you decide to forgo auto-pay.

Federal solar tax credits

If you go with a solar lease or solar ppa, you won’t be able to claim any federal solar incentives. This section only applies to you if you decide you want to buy your system.

The federal tax credit for photovoltaics is currently set at 26%. By December 31, 2022 it will drop to 22% for systems installed in 2023 unless Congress renews it.

Statewide solar energy incentives are going to vary from state to state.

Here are some questions to ask the solar companies you’re working with:

Who gets the federal solar tax credit?

Are there any state solar incentives I can claim?

Always consult a licensed tax professional to see if you qualify for any applicable incentives.

Installation process

Solar Install at dusk

From the day you sign documents to the day your system is installed and activated can range from 4 to 8 weeks.

There’s just a couple of things you need to ask to make sure everything goes smooth. Here’s what to ask.

Who takes care of the permitting?

• How long will my install take?

• When will I be able to turn my solar system on and connect to the grid?

Here’s a more thorough breakdown of the entire solar timeline and what to expect when going solar. This particular article applies to homeowners going solar in California but this process is typical across most states.

Right to cancel solar agreement

In most states you have a legal right to terminate an agreement until so many days have passed. The same applies to your solar energy system.

If I change my mind, how many days do I have to cancel?

Since acquiring permits can be a lengthy process, installers want to make sure they solidify a deal by using shady practices known as “tie downs.”

Some solar companies have been known to install the solar racking system, installing a complimentary Nest thermostat, or home alarm system to legally bind an agreement before any sort of solar panel permits have been filed or acquired.

Unless you’re 110% committed to going solar, avoid companies who offer these services up front as you will not be able to cancel your solar agreement.

Monitoring and Maintenance

broken solar panel
If a solar panel breaks, having the right workmanship warranties means everything.

Assuming the solar panels and equipment have the correct workmanship warranties, you can expect maintenance guarantees along with monitoring. Companies like Sunrun and Tesla offer their own apps and user dashboards where you can track the real-time production of your solar system.

• What’s the turnaround time for a technician to come out?

• Do you offer any solar monitoring software where I can track my production?

Knowing your solar panels are working gives added peace of mind. It also comes in handy if you notice any irregularities in your power production.

Install incentives and referral programs

It pays to go solar but only if you ask! Since solar is a hyper-competitive market, you maybe able to benefit from gift cards, pre-paid debit, cards or even cash incentives after your installation.

Ask the solar rep the following:

• Can you subsidize the cost to cut down tree’s to increase my sun hours?

• What else can you offer me if I decide to work with your company?

• Do you have a referral program. If so, what’s the incentive?

It all comes down to people helping people. If you can help the representative you’re working with earn an honest living, it can be mutually beneficial. Plus, who doesn’t like helping their friends and family save money?

Miscellaneous Questions

Unique circumstances can present themselves. Here are some questions that may or may not apply to you but that are good to have in mind just in case.

What happens if your company goes out of business? Who assumes responsibility to the guarantee’s made in the agreement?

• What happens if I move?

• What happens if I need a re-roof or do an addition to the home after the solar installation? Will your company come and remove the solar, store it, and re-install it when I’m finished?

If you know for certain that you’re going to need a re-roof, ask your solar representative if they can factor a re-roof cost into the solar payment. This way you can get a brand new roof.

Some companies offer to remove and re-install your systems if you need to perform any home improvements. They usually come at a fixed cost for labor and storage.

You’ve got the power

How does it feel to be prepared to go solar? You’ve got everything you need and more to weigh your solar options. The next best thing to do would be to get a free solar quote and put this newfound knowledge to use!

Going solar is a smart decision but a big one at the same time. You want to make sure you’re working with a reputable solar installer and a rep who knows what they’re talking about before making a final decision.

Share this information wit your friends, family, and neighbors who might be on the fence about solar. The more knowledgeable homeowners are, the more honest the solar industry as a whole will become.

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