So you’ve got a few solar quotes from different installers, each with different pricing, equipment and savings estimates – what’s next? With all the information available, comparing solar quotes can be overwhelming, but we’re here to make it as easy as possible. If you’re sitting down to review multiple solar quotes for the first time, here are the most important questions to ask yourself, and the factors to consider as you’re evaluating one solar quote against the another:
What type of solar panel system will you install?
Key takeaway: solar equipment quality varies widely; it’s important to know the quality of the solar equipment included in your quote so that you can make sure it meets your needs and that you’re paying a fair price for it.
Solar is not a cookie-cutter purchase: the system that’s best suited for you and your property may not be the same as your neighbor’s. As you’re looking at your solar proposals, keep an eye out for these key factors:
Not all solar equipment is equal: panels and inverters come with varying brands, efficiencies, aesthetics, warranty offers, and more. It’s important to first understand the quality of the solar equipment proposed to know if it’s worth the price quoted.
Importantly, all solar equipment is durable and built to last, so “lower quality” doesn’t mean “low quality” – similar to how both a Lexus and a Toyota can safely and reliably get you from point A to B, any equipment included in your quote should produce solar electricity for more than 25 years.
When comparing your options, remember that your property and electricity needs are a very important factor in deciding which solar equipment is right for you. Given the same rooftop and the same amount of sunshine, solar panels with higher power capacities (i.e. higher wattages) and efficiencies generate more solar electricity. If you have a limited amount of space for installing your system and can’t fit enough solar panels to meet your energy needs, then using higher-quality panels can help maximize your lifetime electricity production, therefore overall savings.
Fortunately, you don’t need to read and digest tons of technical spec sheets to understand how the quality of one piece of solar equipment stacks up against another: EnergySage created the Buyer’s Guide to help you compare the quality of solar panels, inverters, and batteries head-to-head. Each product in the Buyer’s Guide has an independent rating based on its performance, warranty, durability, and more. (Bonus: if you’re comparing quotes on EnergySage, we include the equipment ratings directly in your quotes!)
EnergySage Pro Tip: If you’re reviewing a solar quote and can’t find details about the proposed equipment, consider this a red flag; you wouldn’t agree to a contractor installing a new refrigerator before understanding the quality of the appliance, right?
System design & estimated electricity production
Next, the system design: what’s the size of the system, and what’s the estimated electricity production?
Because of variations in weather, it’s impossible to predict the exact amount of electricity production from a solar panel system over a given year. However, production estimates from installers can be pretty accurate thanks to solar software design tools available today. Most people aim to cover as much of their electricity usage as possible with their solar panels, since that’s how you’ll maximize your savings.
While the size of your solar panel system is certainly important, try not to get too hung up on small variations in system size in your initial quote review: installers may be using slightly different assumptions for your energy usage or the solar potential of your roof. When you’re further along in the process and closer to making a decision, you can invite installers out for site evaluations so that they can refine their design and production estimates.
And who will install it?
Key takeaway: as you’re comparing solar quotes, pay attention to each installer’s workmanship warranty, and any indicators of reputation and experience, such as reviews and ratings.
Choosing a solar installer is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when it comes to going solar: a good installer can make you wish you had a hundred more roofs to install on, while a bad installer experience can make you wish you never started the project in the first place.
When comparing one installation company against another, consider the following:
Experience and reputation
Is the installation company that provided the quote a reputable one? How long have they been installing in your area?
Some installers will include review ratings or customer testimonials directly in their proposals, which can be a helpful indicator of an installer’s overall reputation – if this information isn’t in the quote itself, searching for reviews online will be your best bet. Keep in mind that many companies also offer references if you want to talk or email with someone directly to learn more about their experience with said company. If you’re having trouble finding reviews for a company you’re considering or they can’t provide testimonials, you may want to look elsewhere.
It’s also important to consider the installer’s licensing and industry certifications: these may or may not be included in the quotes, but should be readily available from the installer. Any installer who quotes on EnergySage is EnergySage Approved, meaning they’ve been pre-screened and vetted by our team. We check for reputation, experience, certifications, licensing, and insurance before partnering with any company.
Fortunately, solar panel systems require very little maintenance over their lifetime. That said, installer warranty offers are still an important factor to consider on the off chance you find yourself needing repairs to your solar panel system.
All solar quotes should include information about the duration of an installer’s workmanship warranty. Today, the industry standard for a warranty is 5 to 10 years, but some companies offer as much as 25 years of coverage.
How much will it cost?
Key takeaway: $/Watt is one of the most useful metrics to compare across solar quotes.
As you’re comparing solar quotes, we recommend not starting out with cost: although it is certainly one of the most important factors in making your decision, it’s hard to fairly compare the costs of one quote versus another without understanding differences between installation companies, system sizes, and equipment quality.
The cost of the project is the bare minimum of what any solar quote includes, but it’s pretty standard for installers to also include savings projections and any incentives you’re eligible for in cost summaries. When comparing costs between various quotes, it’s a good idea to look at the price per watt ($/Watt): similar to evaluating a home on a dollar per square foot basis, $/Watt is a helpful metric for comparing pricing across solar panel systems of different sizes.
On EnergySage, we automatically calculate and display the $/Watt of each quote. However, if you’re comparing offline proposals, you can easily calculate this yourself by taking total costs (not including incentives) and dividing it by the system size in watts:
$/Watt = gross cost / system size (W)
EnergySage Pro Tip: Is the price you’re being quoted normal? Take a look at this article, which shows the average $/Watt on EnergySage by state. However, definitely don’t brush-off a quote just because it’s higher than the number shown: there are many variables that go into overall project costs, and your system may be more expensive on a $/watt basis if it’s a ground-mount, a complicated install, built with high-quality equipment, on the smaller end, and more.
Now, how are you going to pay for it?
Key takeaway: if you don’t like the financier, terms, or rates of the financing option presented in your quote, ask your installer about alternative options.
Lastly, financing: if you experienced a bit of sticker shock when you first looked at the project costs, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are plenty of $0 down financing options for those that want to go solar with no upfront cost.
If your solar quotes include financing options, compare the terms, monthly payments, and interest payments across each. The financier is another important factor to consider: you’ll have a relationship with the lender for multiple years, so try and work with a reputable lender known for good customer service.
Also, don’t be concerned if your initial quote doesn’t include financing: always ask your installer about any financing options they can help make available to you. And, if you don’t want to move forward with the solar lender the installation company suggests, you can always obtain your own financing from your bank (i.e., a home equity loan, HELOC, or others).
Remember: quotes are not set in stone
Keep in mind that many solar quotes are preliminary offers: installers can update system design, solar equipment, and financing options according to your preference. So don’t rule out one solar quote for just one of the factors mentioned above; communicate feedback about the quote to the installer and ask if they can make updates. If you’re comparing quotes on EnergySage, it’s easy to message installers directly to ask for revisions to your quotes.
Compare and review quotes on EnergySage
On the EnergySage Marketplace, you can compare up to seven quotes from local solar companies side-by-side. All quotes on EnergySage include the factors mentioned above, including equipment quality ratings, $/Watt, financing terms, and more. Plus, all quotes use the same standard assumptions, making it the most transparent and easy way to compare. If you’d like to start with some ballpark numbers on estimated solar costs and savings, try our Solar Calculator.