There are a lot of details that go into installing solar on a home or business, so it’s important to know what questions to ask solar companies before signing a contract. If you’re ready to go solar, these questions can help you know what to look for when buying solar panels.
What is the upfront cost of solar installation? What solar financing options do they offer?
The upfront cost of installing solar panels depends entirely on the solar contractor’s payment terms, as well as the terms associated with the financial institution if a homeowner chooses to finance a solar installation. Typically, there are deposits due during the course of the project to pay for the design, permitting, and equipment costs. Be aware that some contractors who offer in-house financing are often passing lots of service fees your way.
A&R Solar partners with a handful of vetted financial institutions (mostly local credit unions) that offer low-interest solar loans for residential installations with limited to no out-of-pocket funds required.
Does solar increase the value of my home?
When considering what questions to ask solar companies, homeowners should be aware of how solar panels increase the value of their home. Studies and general market research consistently indicate that installing solar on a home will increase the value of a home. How much of an increase is dependent on where you live, but Zillow reports that homeowners can expect a 4.1% average increase in home value with solar installed.
Will solar panel performance degrade over time?
Having an understanding of how a solar investment will perform over time makes good sense. While solar panels have a lifespan of several decades, very small amounts of degradation do occur as your panels sit in the sun. Contributing factors to decreased performance are dependent on climate, module type, and racking systems, among others. Solar panel research has shown that solar panels degrade at a medium rate of about 0.5% per year. This pencils out to approximately 90% of panel efficiency after 20 years of operation. There are panels installed in the 1970s and before that are still working today, and most of today’s panels are warranted to be able to deliver at least 80% of their original output after 25 years.
Does the solar contractor qualify for all the solar incentives available to the homeowner?
In some areas, homeowners have to work with a certified or verified contractor in order to receive all of the utility, municipal, and state solar incentives. Make sure your solar installation company is qualified to provide these solar incentives. If homeowners are unaware of the solar incentives offered in each state, be sure to take some time to explore what your state offers.
Choosing a contractor is an important decision. It’s worth noting that your system will likely have a lifetime of 30+ years, so this relationship will continue long after the original installation. Choose a solar installation company that you trust and are comfortable having a long working relationship with, not just one with an attractive upfront offer but who may not be around for you later.
Does the solar company have a current license AND is it the correct license for installing solar?
Licensing requirements for solar installation vary from state to state, so it’s important to check that a solar company possesses the correct license. States and localities establish licensing requirements for solar contractors and electricians in order to protect consumers and the reputation of the industry. Take the time to find the local chapter of a national solar industry organization like OSSIA (Oregon), or WASEIA (Washington). You can also ask for their contractor and electrical license numbers directly or look them up online via the Oregon Construction Contractors Board or Washington Labor & Industries. Additionally, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council provides a great resource for determining solar licensing activities in the U.S. It’s also worth noting that some states require solar installers to obtain a separate, specialized solar contractor’s license; however, in most cases, solar is a specialty classification under the general electrical licenses.
Is the solar installer insured? How much insurance do they carry?
For instance, Washington state, the headquarters of A&R Solar, mandates a minimum coverage of $250,000 in general liability insurance. Though, it’s worth noting that more established solar contractors will often be insured at higher rates. A&R Solar carries a policy in excess of $2,000,000, and some of our commercial projects push that number even higher. When considering installing solar, it’s a good question to ask solar companies whether or not there are any current claims against the companies in question. There should be nothing to hide when it comes to establishing a relationship with your installer, and we maintain a policy of showing our current insurance certificate upon request during our sales process.
What if the solar energy system does not produce as much power as promised? Does the company offer a performance guarantee?
It’s a competitive industry, so unique selling propositions may come in the form of additional guarantees. These might be fixed price bids, guaranteed production, or guaranteed solar installation dates. Consider the value of the guarantee when comparing the cost of solar installation, even if that value is peace of mind. With A&R Solar’s Perfect 10 Guarantee, homeowners are provided a 10-year warranty on a residential system’s performance, workmanship, and labor. Your system will produce the amount we say it will in your contract, or we’ll refund you 110 percent of the missed energy your system should have produced. And while sometimes technology fails, our 10-year warranty covers faulty equipment replacement and any labor costs associated with repairs.
How long has the solar installer been installing solar in your climate?
There are a lot of people becoming solar contractors that do not understand how roofs, home construction, and electrical systems need to interact in order to achieve a long-lasting solar installation. Because a solar installation company has experience installing solar in Arizona doesn’t mean they understand the rain mitigation strategies that are necessary for the coastal Pacific Northwest or snow loads of the Cascades.
It’s important to choose a solar contractor that has experience working in your climate. With A&R Solar, homeowners in the Pacific Northwest can expect a keen understanding of the challenges posed by the climate, and how best to get the most out of a solar energy system in the Pacific Northwest. Because we’ve been installing solar for 15 years in the Pacific Northwest, we’re uniquely qualified to deliver the best solar installation in Oregon and Washington.
Make sure you know how to spot scammy solar sales tactics.
Is a solar installer familiar with building codes, electrical codes, and HOA restrictions in the area?
Electrical and building codes change depending on the city, county, state, and utility. As a consumer, the last thing you want is to invest a lot of time and money only to find out that your installation doesn’t meet the required codes, or that there are (sometimes hefty) additional fees tacked on to the cost of solar installation. Be aware that codes change, and many jurisdictions have the habit of not telling anyone until you show up to buy a permit.
If you have a Homeowners Association (HOA), it’s worth reaching out to ensure they don’t have requirements that could impact the design or location of your solar energy system. Many solar contractors can help you speak with your HOA in order to get your system approved to their standards. It’s also worth noting that many states like Washington and Oregon prohibit an HOA from banning the installation of solar panels, but they may have other requirements for your system that an installer should know about before designing a system.
Who does the paperwork for utility interconnection and permitting? Are associated fees included in the cost of solar installation?
There’s a lot of paperwork involved with going solar and getting a system certified and operational. The process of acquiring a building, electrical, and/or utility interconnection permit should be facilitated by the solar contractor. After installation, permitting agents will complete a final inspection before a system can be deemed operational. A solar contractor should disclose all fees upfront in writing.
What third-party solar certifications does your business have?
The gold standard certification in the solar industry is the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Board Certification. This industry-leading certification requires previous solar installation experience, as well as passing a rigorous test to become certified. However, there are other certifications like the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) PV certification, and the RISE certification. A 3rd party certification doesn’t guarantee the quality, but it can help determine which solar contractor invests in their workforce, which will directly result in a more successful installation. A&R Solar has the most NABCEP-certified PV installation professionals in the Pacific Northwest. Each NABCEP certified professional signs onto a comprehensive Code of Ethics that ensures the homeowner’s interests are paramount. When you are making an investment that costs tens of thousands of dollars, the training and experience of your solar contractor should be a key factor when deciding who to hire.
Does a solar installer use subcontractors for any of their work?
While using sub-contractors should not disqualify a solar installer from earning your business, homeowners should ask about what portions of the work are subbed out, as well as how long the contractor and their subs have worked together. What’s more, homeowners would be wise to ask about the kind of quality control processes that are in place and who will be responsible for any service issues in the days or years after installation.
At A&R Solar, the crews that install our systems are full-time employees with full benefits. They are trained by us, and their work is guaranteed by us.
Can the solar installer provide customer reviews & testimonials, references, and examples of their other installations?
Any self-respecting contractor will have a list of references handy if you ask, and it’s a sign of good faith if they volunteer a list for you. Contacting homeowners who’ve gone solar with the contractor can help determine if a solar contractor is right for you.
We’re proud of our work, and we’re ready to show it off by providing every homeowner with contacts to previous installations. Oftentimes, speaking with existing clients can help homeowners feel secure in moving forward with a solar installation, so we welcome the request.