If you’ve decided that a solar power system is in your home’s future, and you’re looking at this article, that means you have already started to do some research about your options. You may have already been bombarded by ads for “free solar power,” looked into the efficiencies of solar panels, and crunched the numbers for your PG&E plan to see how much you could save. And while doing all the research and painstaking analysis on your own, you’ve probably already turned to one of the many online solar quote websites to try and pin down how much getting a system installed will cost, and who offers the best rates.
While many websites do offer fast and free online quote comparisons, there are a lot of details you should be aware of when looking at and comparing solar quotes. If you don’t know what to look for, you might spend more money than you need to, or get less than stellar service.
Make sure you look for reliable reviews indicative of a strong track record of service.
It’s important to research the reputation online of the installers you’re interested in to see if the quality of the service matches up to promises they make. Also, be sure to check how long the solar contractors you’re comparing have been around. No matter what a company promises right now, you want to be sure they’ll still be around in a few years when you need service. When we recently researched the top 30 companies on a “Top 100 Residential Solar Power Contractors” list, we found that more than a third went out of business within five years.
The internet is filled with countless review sites that allow people to sound off about a company, a product, or a service they received. But not all dedicated review sites are reliable. There are solar industry websites which allow companies to essentially pay for placement on their “best of” lists. While many of the reviews on these sites may be legitimate, you cannot wholly rely on these pay-to-play websites.
Instead, look to places like the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and Google, which are not tied to the solar industry, and thus aren’t incentivized to show favor. The BBB is especially useful, as it allows customers to provide reviews and file complaints to which a company can respond. The BBB also uses actual people to check submitted reviews, which helps deal with concerns about fake reviews. If a company has a long string of bad reviews and complaints that have gone unresolved, this is probably a strong indication to look for another installer.
While customer reviews are important, you should also check the services your installer offers to see if they can provide ongoing support and maintenance. A good solar contractor doesn’t just install systems. They should also be able to provide maintenance when needed, and be on hand to make changes and expansions to the system if necessary.
Don’t rely on quote comparison websites alone—reach out to the companies that top your list and meet with their contractors.
The internet allows you to quickly find solar quotes that compare prices for specific square footages of solar systems. Some may show star ratings that are aggregates of user reviews. Others use satellite imagery of your home to determine the size of system that is available, and model your quotes based on that.
While all this is very convenient sounding, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a given online quote is going to reflect what the end costs will be for your home. Online quotes are only rough estimates and don’t account for a lot of variables. Remember that every single online quote is based primarily off available data that you have provided. It’s not the same as having a contractor come out to your home to inspect the roof, take measurements of available space, and make an assessment based on what they’ve observed. Online quotes also don’t take into account differences in quality of service.
Once you’ve compared several solar installers, call those companies up and schedule an inspection of your property. In-person appointments can identify and account for issues that you weren’t aware of while doing your search. What if your roof is damaged and needs replacement? What if the roof can’t support the type of system the online quote was for? What if your home’s electrical system needs to be upgraded? A good installer can provide you with this kind of information, and suggest solutions and what they will cost.
Additionally, these inspections can also tell you important technical details about the system the installer is offering for your home. This information should include the brand of solar panels use, what types of inverters they are going to install, the time expected to complete the installation, and so on.
Research the warranties provided by the system manufacturer and installer, and the components covered by them.
After you’ve gotten multiple quotes, your next step is to research the manufacturers of the major system components for information on their overall quality and reliability.
For example, Capital City Solar has partnered with SunPower for the solar panels we use in our installations. We’ve done extensive research on our end, and have determined that SunPower panels meet and exceed our quality and service standards.
It’s important that a solar power system uses high quality parts, because all parts of these systems are expected to survive years of weather exposure, including sunlight, rain, and high winds. You may see quotes for comparable systems at lower prices, but they may be using lower end components, which can affect durability, overall build quality, and even their energy generation capacity.
But even the highest quality parts in these systems can break down over time, which makes warranties and maintenance services important for installers to offer. Manufacturers for solar products often offer their own warranties. SunPower offers a comprehensive system warranty that covers system components for 25 years.
Your installer should provide a warranty for the system installation which covers the cost of any labor necessary to fix mistakes made by their contractors.
Be certain that you’re getting a system that meets your energy needs. A system may only be cheaper because it will offset less of your energy bill.
If you look at online solar system comparison sites, you can easily find comparisons of the average cost of the most common system sizes. Currently, the average cost of a low-end 3 KWh system is just under $8,000, with a cost per watt of $2.63. That’s a tempting price tag, but that system is not necessarily the right call for your home. The average homeowner in California uses more electricity per day than such a system can reasonably generate. Such a system might only offset 25% to 50% of your yearly energy costs.
The bottom line is that a good solar installer will consider the hard numbers behind your energy bill. For example, if you use 1,000 kWh of electricity per month, or roughly 33 kWh per day, you need to a solar system that can generate that much per day if you want to entirely offset your energy bill, or close to it.
This is why it’s important to have contractors actually visit your home, rather than rely entirely on internet quotes. Your bills will tell you how much electricity your solar panels need to generate to greatly reduce the month-to-month costs. Contractors will be able look at your home and tell you exactly what kind of system you can get, and where you may need to make changes or compromises to meet your energy goals.
Solar systems are an investment into the future of your home, and it’s important that you do everything you can to ensure that you’re getting the best possible system for your money. At Capital City Solar, we know how important it is for customers to get a reliable system that can meet their needs for years or even decades. If you’re interested in getting a detailed, fact-based quote for your property, call us at 1-916-782-3333, make an appointment with us online, or use our online contact form. We look forward to helping you go solar!