If you’re shopping around for a solar energy system, you undoubtedly have questions that you want to ask your solar company. But what questions are the most important ones to ask an installer?
The decision-making process is a bit easier if you divide the questions into two ‘stages’: First, you can ask the key questions which allow you to understand the value that their product offers. This will help you to rule out the options which are definitely not for you. After you’ve answered these questions, you can ask the questions that will help you make the final choice between this narrowed-down range of options. We discuss some of these questions below.
Remember that our job here at EnergySage is to make solar shopping easy for you. By shopping on our Solar Marketplace, you will instantly get answers to all of the most important questions about going solar. Our platform will also make it easier for you to ask any other questions that will allow you to make a final decision.
Understanding Your Solar Company: Asking the Right Solar Energy Questions
These days, most people go solar to save money. You may have the environment in mind when you decide that solar is the right option for you, but the fact is that the environmental benefits of going solar are about the same no matter which company or offer you choose in the end. Knowing this, it makes sense to choose an offer that also promises a reasonable amount of financial benefit to you.
This doesn’t necessarily mean opting for the cheapest solar system or the one that promises the highest dollar value for savings, but thinking about value will certainly help you to exclude the offers that are obviously not worth your while. What questions will help you compare the value of the various offers?
How much money will you save (over 20 years)?
Whether you are thinking about purchasing your solar system (either with cash or by financing with a solar loan) or you know that a solar lease/power purchase agreement (PPA) is right for you, the first thing you’ll want to know is how much money you will save. Having a set period of time in mind makes it easier to make meaningful comparisons. 20 years is a good duration for these calculations (although a solar energy system will produce power for 25+ years).
Solar shopping tip: Keep in mind that there are different ways to calculate savings – different companies may make different assumptions about how much your utility electricity rates will rise. EnergySage’s Marketplace standardizes assumptions like this so that you know for sure that the numbers you see are on a level playing field.
How much will you pay up-front?
There are all sorts of different solar offers out there, and the payment structures vary significantly. For instance, you may purchase your system outright, paying the full cost up-front – but by no means is this your only option. There are both loan and lease/PPA options where you can pay $0 down to have your system installed. There are even ‘in-between’ options that allow you to pay a partial amount up-front to save more later on.
Generally speaking, the more you pay up-front, the more you will save in the long run (purchasing your system outright will usually save you the most money). However, this may not be the most attractive option for everyone – depending on your situation (and personality) you may see more value in simply saving a smaller amount of money from ‘day one’ as opposed to waiting for your investment to ‘pay itself off’.
Will the system increase the value of my property?
The answer to this question is relatively straightforward: Numerous studies have shown that purchasing a solar system will increase the value of your property. If you have your system installed under a solar lease/PPA agreement, on the other hand, it will probably not.
Questions about the solar installation company itself
Once you’ve narrowed down your solar options based on questions about system value, it’s time to ask some more subjective questions. Knowing more about the background of the company who will install your solar system (and possibly finance it) will help you to make a choice. Below are some questions you can ask to get a better understanding of the nature of the solar installers you’re dealing with, as well as how they operate.
Note that all installers providing quotes on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace have gone through rigorous screening of their experience, history, qualifications, certifications, reputation, and commitment to solar. This means that by shopping with EnergySage, you can rest assured that you’re dealing with highly-reputable, professional installers. Read more about how to choose a solar installer.
Questions about their licenses and insurance:
If you’re not shopping with EnergySage, you might want to ask the installer the following questions to verify that they are properly accredited and insured.
- Do they have all of the necessary business license and insurance policies for your state and locality?
- What is their license number (so that you can you validate their credentials)?
- Do they design and install the systems themselves or do they subcontract to local companies? If they do use subcontractors, are the subcontractors licensed and have they undergone background checks?
- Will there be a master electrician on-site when the system is installed? (There should be.)
Questions about reputation with solar installers and contractors
Whether you are shopping through the EnergySage’s Marketplace or not, you can ask the following questions to get an idea of the experience level of a company. What you may be looking for in the answer is up to you – perhaps you’re looking for a smaller, local installer or you might be more comfortable with a company that has a broad reach across the region or even the country.
- How long have they been in business?
- How big is the area that they operate in? Are they operating in multiple states or are a local company?
- How many solar systems have they installed? While more is not necessarily better, this will give you some idea of their experience.
- How much experience do they have working with your utility company? How familiar are they with the permitting process?
- Can they provide you with customer reviews & testimonials, references and examples of their other installations?
- What is their rating with the Better Business Bureau, if any?
Questions about maintenance and warranties
While most solar energy systems will require virtually no maintenance and will operate without any problems for the duration of their useful lives (25+ years), you should be familiar with the replacement or repair procedures in the unlikely event that something does go wrong.
Questions to ask about warranties and replacement/repair procedures:
- Who should you contact if there is a problem with the system? Where are they located? Who is responsible for ensuring that warranties are serviced in a timely manner?
- How many different warranties are there total for the system’s components and what do they cover? (E.g. do they cover only the products themselves, or also shipping & labor for replacing them?)
- What happens if the system does not produce as much power as was promised? Does the company offer a performance guarantee?
Questions to ask about your solar panels and your roof:
- Does their warranty also cover your roof?
- If your roof needs repairs in the future, what is the process for removing and replacing the solar panels?
Questions specifically about solar leases & power purchase agreements (PPAs):
You can ask the questions above to a solar installation company regardless of what product they are offering (e.g. a solar system for purchase, loan, or lease). The questions below are specifically for companies offering you a solar lease or PPA.
Questions about liability and insurance:
- Will there be a lien placed on your property for the system? A lien can be taken out on your property if you fail to make your solar payments. This can make it difficult for you to sell your home.
- Is there an insurance policy that comes with the system, or do you need to take out additional homeowner’s insurance?
Questions about calculating savings, system performance and other contingencies:
- When they calculate your projected savings over the term of the contract, what utility inflation rate do they use? Many companies use an estimated rate of 4.5% per year. Can they provide you with a more conservative estimate (e.g. 3% per year), and if they do, how does this change the case for going solar with their program?
- What solar lease escalator rate do they use, if any? Escalator is the rate at which your solar lease or PPA payments will increase annually; it is typically around 2.9%.
- What is the minimum performance guarantee of the system and how will you be compensated if the system does not produce as much power as promised in the contract? Can you see the actual wording of the contract with regard to this before you sign the contract?
- What happens if the system produces more power than you need? Do you still have to pay for it? Is there any way you could pay more on a monthly basis than what they quote you?
- What is the fee for breaking the contract early (e.g. because you move)?
Ready to Start Shopping Solar? EnergySage Offers A High Quality Solar Marketplace
EnergySage is here to help you get the answers you need – both in in the early and the later stages of your installer selection process. Our Solar Marketplace makes it easy for you to compare quotes from multiple, pre-screened solar installers. Once you sign up and get your first first set of quotes, you’ll have the answers to the key value-related questions that every solar shopper should ask.
After your project is listed on our Marketplace, you will be able to see quotes from various installers and compare them side-by-side. The quotes will all include your estimated savings, upfront costs (if any), and basic information about the equipment and warranties. From there you can easily evaluate and compare your options, apples-to-apples and narrow them down quickly.
Ready to shop? Get started with an Instant Estimate and then compare solar quotes through our Solar Marketplace.