When it comes to installing solar on your home or business, be a savvy shopper with these questions.
Most solar sales teams cover a lot of the same basics during their pitch—how solar works, how panels can save you money, how renewable energy is good for the planet. But it’s important to ask the right questions to make sure you’re getting the right crew for the job.
“One of the things we face is that few people have ever bought solar before—and a lot of people don’t even know someone who has bought solar before,” says Alan Gauntt owner and CEO of Granite State Solar. “So, it’s a new thing and we’re trying to educate people.”
Why is your price lower (or higher) than what I’ve seen elsewhere?
Maybe it’s the products they use. Maybe it’s the warranties. Maybe it comes down to company size and overhead. There are many factors that influence the cost. The rest of these questions are designed to help you tease out when a deal is actually a good deal or just is too good to be true. Because the price tag can’t tell you the entire story, especially when it comes to a sizeable home improvement like adding solar to your home. “People know what they should or shouldn’t buy cheap, and with solar, you get what you pay for,” says Alan.
Do you use Google Earth to size your systems?
Although digital tools can provide an initial assessment of your property, it may not always be up-to-date. Changes such as home renovations or tree growth may not be captured by Google Earth or other assessment software, leading to inaccurate quotes or designs. To avoid unexpected changes during installation, the most reliable way to get an accurate quote is to work with real measurements of your property. While digital tools can be helpful for a rough assessment, an in-person site visit is still the gold standard for accuracy.
Do your products and workmanship come with a warranty?
First of all, for such a big purchase, you want to know that you’ve picked a high-enough quality product that it deserves a warranty. And the company should have enough confidence in its craftsmanship to back that up too. And ask for specifics: what is or isn’t covered by a warranty? How do under-warranty repairs get handled? What is the cost and process for repairs outside of the warranty?
Are you insured and have workman’s compensation for your employees?
If the answer is no, think twice. “Not to scare anyone, but anyone who has worked in construction knows to never work with someone without insurance or workman’s comp,” Alan says.
In a worst-case scenario where an installer falls off your roof and gets seriously injured (or worse), the worker’s family is first going to go after the company. If the company is not insured, they could go under from this kind of catastrophe—which is a double whammy for you. First, it means you have to say ‘goodbye’ to any kind of workmanship warranty you may have had. And second, the worker’s family could press charges against you.
“I’ve heard people say they’ve gone with quotes that are $1,000 cheaper but the installer isn’t insured,” says Alan. “That’s good savings until it isn’t.”
Do you operate out of a local office?
Going local it keeps high-quality jobs and more of our energy dollars in-state. But there’s a tangible benefit for local solar customers too: Out-of-state installers don’t always pay attention to the fine details, leading to delays and problems for their customers. By comparison, a truly local installer has the reputation and established relationships required for a smoother installation process.
How often do you have issues after installation?
Plus, what types of problems do you run into and how do you fix them? It would be nearly unbelievable if a company says they’ve never had a problem. You just want to be sure you’re in good hands if something doesn’t go as planned. Ask how they handle service calls.
And if you get the sense that they’re constantly patching up leaky roofs or replacing bad panels, dig further. What are they doing to avoid these problems in the future? How big of an issue is this in the solar industry overall? (And if you get multiple quotes, see how their answers to this question stack up against each other.)
Can you send me references?
Customer testimonials are the best way to get the real scoop on a company. And company-provided reviews show that there’s some valuable brand loyalty going on.
And of course, you should also do your own google sleuthing. Things to look for include: Are there repeating themes between the reviews? (Are people constantly saying that the company was professional? Or that the workers left things a mess?) Are there reviews from recent customers or do they all seem old? How many ratings does a company have—a four-star rating from 40 customers may be a better indicator of consistent quality than a five-star rating from one customer.
What lending partner do you work with?
While the solar company can’t set the terms of the loan, they can pick a partner that has your best interests in mind. You can even ask how the company picked one lender over the other options out there. Solar companies should be in the know about what’s a good deal versus what loans come with tricky terms or pitfalls.