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.
What questions to ask to get the best understanding of your solar company
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?
1. 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.
2. 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’.
3. 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
Questions about their licenses, insurance, and reputation with solar installers and contractors:
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.)
- 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?
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 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?
- 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?
What if I move?
Solar systems undeniably increase the value of most properties. However, real estate transactions can get tricky if you’re trying to transfer ownership of a solar system. Each solar system needs to be appraised uniquely, since every system’s output, warranty, etc. is different. You also have to consider how the system was purchased, as that will impact transferral of ownership as well. For example, if your solar system was purchased in cash, it is considered “real property” and makes the transfer a lot smoother than if it was bought on a loan or power purchase agreement.
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. They cover liability, insurance, calculating savings and system performance, and other contingencies.
- 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?
- 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? An 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)?
Find your installer on the EnergySage Marketplace
EnergySage is here to help you get the answers you need – both 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 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.