56 Questions to Ask Your Solar Company Before Going Solar
As with any major home improvement project, working with the right solar panel installer/contractor is every bit as important as the system you are purchasing.
Due diligence is critical to ensure you get the best solar energy system, a fair price, proper installation and prompt service. What follows is a list of 56 questions you should ask the solar company and the salesperson you will potentially be working with before you sign on the dotted line.
Don’t just take a radio or social media ad you’ve recently seen at face value. Ask these questions to be sure the solar company you will potentially be working with knows the business thoroughly and has satisfied other customers.
Also, be sure to request copies of insurance documents, certifications and licenses so you know that the contractor and solar panel installers have gone through the required training. Try to contact former customers and view other installations the contractor has completed. You should query local Better Business Bureaus and your state Attorney General’s office and check online ratings for comments about the contractor and the equipment you plan to purchase.
Here are seven essential questions or groups of questions about the potential solar company to get started:
- How long have you been in business?
- Are you licensed to do business in my state?
- How many solar panel systems has your company installed? Can you provide a list of consumer references in my area? Can I talk with former customers and also see successful installations?
- Who will do the installation at my site? Are they employees or subcontractors? If you involve subcontractors, do they work with a number of other employers, too? Have these subs worked on many of your solar panel installations?
- What training have you and your installers had, and what, if any, certifications do you and your installers hold? Do you have an installer with a Master Electrician license, and is there an installer on your team licensed to install solar?
- Does your company carry these types of insurance: general liability for at least $1 million, professional liability, workers' compensation or other types?
- Have you ever been involved in a legal dispute involving a solar installation?
Ask the solar company these questions to find specific details on what they’re proposing and why, as well as general information about what you can expect during and after installation.
- What size and type of solar energy system do you recommend for my site? Why?
- Are there any steps I must take before the installation - such as removing trees or replacing my roof?
- What brand(s) of solar panel systems do you install? What advantages do these brands offer over other options? Are the systems manufactured in the U.S. or elsewhere?
- What warranties do you and the manufacturer offer? Do you offer a warranty on installation? If the manufacturer is not located in the U.S., are there any difficulties with warranty work? How do I make a claim on defective or short-lived equipment?
- What tax credits, rebates and other incentives will this installation qualify for? Who files the paperwork for any/all of these incentives?
- How much of my energy usage will this system provide?
- What will the payback period be?
- Will I be able to monitor the output of my panels? What is the process for doing so?
- How and when will you involve staff from my electric cooperative in the installation? Do you have experience interconnecting with utility grids?
- Will permits be needed for this installation? Who obtains them and pays any fees?
- When will you begin the installation? How long will it take to complete?
- What is your daily schedule? (For example, is it M-F, 8:00 to 5:00, with an hour for lunch?)
- Will you be on the job site daily? If not, how will we communicate if there are questions or problems that arise? And how do I reach you after hours?
- If my energy use changes, can I increase the number of solar panels later?
- Is it possible the installation may cause my roof to leak? If so, does your company take responsibility for repairs?
The following questions make sure all of this information is included in both your bid and the contract you sign. Check these details carefully, then compare them to other bids you obtain from competing solar companies (get at least three bids, all in writing). Be wary of any really low bids.
If the contractor or their salesperson can’t supply the information, ask why not. After checking any contract to be sure this information is included, have a contract expert or lawyer review the contract before signing it.
- Is this bid an estimate or a fixed price? What is the process you will follow if you find unexpected problems with this solar panel installation and want to charge extra to fix the problems?
- Does the bid include the total cost of the project, including components, materials and labor?
- Does the bid include a breakdown of each of the components (make and model number, size/kWh per year, as well as the price of each) so I can see what each portion will cost?
- Does the bid include details about permits?
- Does the bid include the time frame for beginning and ending the installation?
- Does the bid include warranty information, as well as how to place a claim?
- Does the bid include expected operation and maintenance costs; projected monthly, annual and lifetime costs and savings; and projected energy production?
- Does the bid include payment options, as well as financing details for a solar energy system?
- Does the bid include details about who will file paperwork for tax credits, rebates and other incentives?
- What documentation will I receive when the project is done? (This may include lien releases and other contract-related paperwork, as well as warranties, operating manuals and more.)
The following questions cover billing and the expected payment due dates for your solar energy system.
- How much will the down payment be? When will it be due?
- What is the payment schedule?
- How long after work is completed will the final payment be due?
- Do you offer financing or have a relationship with a bank that offers financing?
10 Steps to Take Before Installing Solar
As prices decline and solar panel technology improves, installing a residential solar system—also called a photovoltaic or PV system—makes sense for some members. However, even with these recent improvements in PV technology, it’s important to get the facts before committing to a purchase. Consider these 10 essential tips as you explore whether going solar is right for your situation.
Make Your Home More Energy-Efficient Before Installing Solar Panels
Adding insulation, sealing air leaks and completing other basic fix-it projects make sense for several reasons. You can cut your energy costs immediately, and you’ll also be able to reduce the size of the PV system you purchase. Your electric cooperative may offer a free energy audit to members or might be able to provide a list of qualified auditors in your area.
Research, Research, Research Before Investing in a Solar System.
Your electric cooperative should be one of your first contacts. Experts at your co-op can answer basic questions, provide resource materials, direct you to reputable websites, and might also maintain a list of reputable contractors and other experts in your region.
Understand How a Solar System Integrates With Your Cooperative's System.
Most solar power systems are designed to provide you with a portion of the electricity needed but won’t provide 100 percent of your needs. At night and on cloudy days, and possibly at other high-energy-use times, you’ll need more power than your PV system can produce. That means you’ll still be connected to your cooperative’s power lines. Because these systems are grid-connected, energy can flow both ways. Each utility—including your electric cooperative—sets appropriate policies and rates for connecting PV systems to their lines (the grid) and for possibly purchasing any excess energy your system might provide. As you begin to explore solar systems, be sure you ask cooperative experts about rate structures, interconnection, essential safety precautions, and any other connection-related details.
Review Your Current Energy Use To Determine What Size Solar Energy System To Install.
Your electric cooperative staff can help you review your past energy use, and they can help you determine how your home energy-efficiency projects may help lower your future energy use. One pertinent bit of information that will be useful is looking at how your energy use fluctuates throughout the day. Having that information will help you determine—with expert assistance—the size and type of solar energy system best suited to your situation.
Tally Upfront Costs.
Most electric cooperatives do not sell, install, or maintain PV systems, so you will either purchase or lease a system from a contractor who is not a part of the cooperative. If you purchase a solar power system, you will be the owner, and you’ll be responsible for the purchase price, as well as ongoing maintenance and repair costs. If leasing is the option you prefer, you will pay less initially, but you’ll likely have higher ongoing costs. In either case, it pays to spend time figuring out all of the expenses you’ll be responsible for during the life of the system. Expenses may include:
Installation (in addition to the price of the system)
Others miscellaneous costs
If you are leasing, ask contractors about:
The length of the term
If the contract is transferrable to a new homeowner should you sell your home
The potential price increases
The same questions you’d ask if you were to purchase a PV system
In the “credit” column of your price comparisons, look at any incentives, rebates, and tax credits offered for either a purchase or a lease.
Search for Solar Energy Incentives, Rebates, and Tax Credits.
Any financial incentives available will help reduce your investment costs. Opportunities vary by state and locale, and many have expiration dates. One database offering details is www.dsireusa.org. This site includes an interactive map showing:
Federal and state incentives
Rebates for residential and commercial/industrial solar energy projects
In addition, your electric cooperative staff and your contractor should have up-to-date details about incentives available where you live.
Understand Short- and Long-Term Responsibilities.
If you purchase a PV system, you’ll need to meet the requirements of your electric cooperative’s interconnection agreement. That includes paying any costs of connecting to the cooperative grid. Local and/or state officials are responsible for conducting safety inspections, but it’s your responsibility to notify them in advance about your installation.
After the interconnection requirements are met and the safety and integrity of your system are approved, your cooperative will take care of the connection to the grid. As the owner of the system, you’ll be responsible for maintenance and system repairs. If you lease a system, your responsibilities will depend on the agreement you sign. Be sure you know and understand what your responsibilities are before signing.
Follow All Safety Precautions.
Most solar systems are grid-connected. Because of the two-way flow of electricity, excess energy your PV system collects during the daytime flows into your cooperative’s lines. This shoulders you with the responsibility for the safety of your cooperative line staff, others who may come in contact with a downed power line, and your cooperative’s equipment. Improper connection and maintenance of your solar panel system may endanger people and the reliability of the grid.
Choose a Reputable Solar Contractor/Installer.
Start with a list of options garnered from the following resources:
Your electric cooperative
Local or state Better Business Bureaus
Renewable energy associations
Your state energy office,
Your state Attorney General’s office
Your state Extension service staff
Other local experts
Contact at least a few of those solar energy contractors appearing on your list, especially if recommended by multiple state and local experts. Ask the questions listed below, check out other installations the contractor has completed, compare bids (get at least three), check references, and thoroughly examine contracts. If possible, ask a contract specialist or lawyer to review the contract before signing.
Maintain Good Records.
Keep files on your pre-purchase research and pre-installation data provided by your cooperative, as well as bids, contracts, inspection reports, maintenance records, and all other details you may need to refer to in the future. In addition, you’ll want to know about the performance of your solar panels, so set up a system to track and compare your actual system performance with predictions provided by the contractor/installer.