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 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?
The problem with Google Earth is that it can be woefully out of date—there may have been renovations done on your home not captured by Google Earth, or trees that have grown significantly or come down in the last 5 years. As a result, the quote or proposed design may be inaccurate, leading to price or design changes down the line. The best way to get an accurate quote—without surprises later during installation—is to work with real measurements of your roof or property.
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.”
What does your install crew turnover look like?
The lower the turnover, the more experience the crew has. That means better workmanship and fewer problems. This is also a great way to tell the stability of a company because that workmanship warranty is only good if there’s a viable company to back it up.
Do you subcontract?
First, a company that doesn’t subcontract has more seamless collaboration between the sales team and the installer team, which translates to a better experience for you. Designs can be communicated with fewer go-betweens and issues can be dealt with without a complicated game of telephone. Plus, it’s more likely that your salesperson may have more knowledge of the installation process and can build solutions into your designs before problems even come up.
“Our sales guys go to work sites,” says Alan. “And they can bring that experience into the early stages of the sales process.” You don’t get that if the sales and installers are separated.
The downside of subcontracting is that it is really hard for a solar company to have control over a subcontracted crew. That means things like quality, safety, and insurance are dictated by an outside partner, not the solar company you’re working with directly.
How often do you have issues after installation?
Plus, what types of problems do you run into and how do you fix it? 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.