Knowing what questions to ask when installing solar panels can be challenging, especially if it is your first time exploring the solar market.
Unlike purchasing an electric vehicle or a new appliance, solar energy installations are all completely unique, each with its own price, design, and expected performance.
Even if you understand how solar works, evaluating your purchasing options and making a decision can be nerve-racking, with a multi-decade commitment waiting on the other side of your contract.
To achieve the best possible experience when you go solar, let’s play a game of 20 questions that you can ask at your next solar consultation:
1. What type of solar panels do you install?
One of the most common questions that solar companies get asked is, “What type of panels do you install?”
Although having premium panels is certainly a critical aspect of going solar, it is important not to get hung up on any specific brands or wattages, as product developments and supply chain factors have most companies varying the exact panels they sell and install over time.
So long as your installer can promise solar panels 350 watts or larger, with efficiencies nearing 20% or more, you can rest assured knowing that your solar panel system will be made up of premium residential equipment.
If you’re concerned about aesthetics, your installer should also be able to tell you whether they install blue or black solar panels and what that means to your system’s performance.
2. What solar incentives are available to me?
So you don’t leave any money out on the table, asking your installer about available incentives is a great way to maximize the value of your investment. Whether or not you qualify for the federal solar tax credit, as well as other local solar incentives, may significantly impact the Return On Investment (ROI) of your energy system.
Around the country, solar incentives vary greatly by state and region, with some cities, counties, and utilities offering their own unique programs, tax credits, tax exemptions, rebates, and more.
Learn more about solar credits and incentives in the US.
3. How long have you been in business?
In a relatively new and growing industry like solar energy, companies come and go, and businesses that are simply out to make a quick buck usually do not last. Although the value of entrepreneurship is undeniable, working with an established solar installer is more likely to yield a good experience than with a company that has only been in business for a few years.
If your installer has been around for three to five years, this can go a long way in the blossoming solar industry. While six, seven, and eight-year-old companies are among the most impressive in residential solar today, businesses with over a decade of experience (like Palmetto) are just icing on the cake.
4. Do you sell or lease your solar panels?
Before you sign a contract, understanding its details is an absolute must. In the early stages of your home solar project, consider whether you will buy or lease a solar system based on your personal preferences, financial goals, and available options.
If you're not sure whether you'd like to buy or lease a system, Palmetto can provide both services. To learn more, you can speak with one of our experienced solar advisors to weigh your pros and cons.
5. Do you offer financing options?
Unless you plan to pay for over 20 years of electricity in cold hard cash, you may be one of the hundreds of thousands of people financing solar panels in the United States. While you are always welcome to explore your own financing options, many reputable solar installers will bring their own programs into the conversation.
By working with a company that offers multiple financing options, you are more likely to find a solar loan that’s structured to fit into your home’s current budget, that can unlock your long-term savings on electricity.
6. What do your warranties cover?
When going solar, you will likely have not one, but multiple solar warranties (product, performance, etc.) associated with your energy system.
Before signing on the dotted line, talk to your installer about exactly what each of your warranties entails, how long the coverage periods are, and whether or not you can extend the policies for even longer during the lifetime of your solar panels.
7. What happens if a part of my system breaks?
Hand-in-hand with warranty coverage, the potential of a part malfunction and a necessary system repair is something to think about before you go solar.
Although solar panel maintenance is generally infrequent, you should talk to your installer about the likelihood of system damage and what the procedure may look like if an unfortunate circumstance were to arise.
In the best-case scenario, such as when customers are covered by Palmetto Protect, your installer will have a dedicated customer service team that can field your request and repair the part as soon as possible, ensuring that your system will be back up and running without excessive time offline.
8. Can I add more solar panels later?
There are many reasons why your energy demand may increase after installing solar panels, such as driving an electric vehicle or adding a new member to your household. If you anticipate that you may want to expand your solar energy system in the future to accommodate new electricity use, talk to your installer about this possibility and what an upgrade may look like.
Depending on the way your system is set up and how much space you have available on your property, it may be a better idea to oversize your system initially, rather than add panels later. With that said, your installer may enable an easier expansion by designing a microinverter-based solar system.
9. How long will the installation process take?
Any salesperson can throw out an empty promise, but a company that guarantees an installation timeline (and has the past projects to prove it) is more likely to deliver a good end result. When talking to your solar installer, ask them about the window of time in which they anticipate your installation will be complete.
Although they may not be able to tell you your precise interconnection date during your initial conversation, reputable companies should be able to provide a breakdown of your solar installation timeline, including permitting, equipment delivery, and actual construction.
10. Do you have a customer referral program?
If your installer has a referral program, then that is a strong sign they are used to delivering good customer experiences. As the best advocates for any company are its customers, many solar companies will compensate those who refer new business in bill credits or cold hard cash.
11. Can you break down the total costs of my system?
If a solar contractor gives you a number and doesn’t explain what is included in the price of your system, that is a red flag that indicates you may not be getting the best deal possible. Although the average cost of solar panels varies across the country, the total price of any solar energy system can be broken down into hard and soft costs, including expenses associated with hardware, permitting, labor, and business overhead.
12. Should I install a string inverter or a set of microinverters?
There are advantages and disadvantages to both string inverters and micro-inverters. As every home solar project is different, talking to your installer about how each technology relates to your unique property can help you maximize your system performance and return on investment.
13. When will my system pay for itself?
If you purchase or finance your solar energy system with a reputable solar installer, they should be able to forecast an approximate break-even point. At this critical juncture, your system will have “paid for itself” in utility energy purchases avoided.
In general, you can expect a solar panel payback period somewhere between six to ten years, depending on your location, the size of your system, and many other factors. When talking to your installer, they should be able to break down the expected performance of your system as it relates to the price of electricity in your area over time.
14. How much will my electricity bills be after solar panels are installed?
When you go solar, experienced installers will tell you that you still pay an electricity bill once the panels are up and producing electricity. Although some advertisements may stretch the truth to say that your panels will completely wipe out utility costs, in reality, your electricity bills after going solar will still be present, but significantly lower (especially with net metering).
If you would like to get the full perspective as to how living with solar will be, ask your installer about utility company service charges or fees that will still need to be paid while you are producing your own electricity at home. In most cases, you will need to cover costs for utility transmission and grid upkeep. Beyond utility fees, the seasonality of your solar panel's production may also impact your monthly electricity bills.
15. How do I track my solar panel performance?
Today, most solar panels are installed with smart components that report system performance directly to a digital landing page. At Palmetto, we have the Palmetto App which allows you to track your solar panel performance alongside your electricity consumption (with a supported meter) to see your savings in real-time.
16. What happens when my system reaches the end of its lifespan?
Even though it may be 20 years, 25 years, 30 years, or more into the future, asking your installer about the end of your system's lifespan can help you avoid unwanted surprises later on.
While fly-by-night contractors may be surprised at the question itself, solar companies that plan to be around for multiple decades are sure to have an answer for you when you ask directly about the decommissioning process. Critically, the end of your contract may differ if you are buying or leasing your system.
17. Do you offer any special discounts? (Senior, military, etc.)
If you are a senior or a member of the armed forces, you may be eligible for discounts with certain solar installers. While these types of special deals are well established in many forms of shopping, tourism, and other industries, generally these discounts are less common in home solar. At Palmetto, we are unable to provide point-of-sale discounts for our customers, however, this is only because we already strive to deliver the lowest prices possible to all customers.
18. What other products do you sell? (Generators, EV chargers, home security, etc.)
If your installer is a solar company/roofer/jack of all trades, they may not be the most qualified to sell you your system. Although you might be interested in additional products and services that are related to solar, such as solar batteries, it is okay to be wary of a company that attempts to upsell your home energy project with a laundry list of other optional upgrades. Instead of working with a siloed conglomerate, choosing a solar-only installer may warrant a better overall experience.
19. What makes your company different from other installers?
When weighing your options between potential solar contractors, feel free to open up the discussion and allow installers to explain exactly why they deserve the job. Although any company hoping to stay in business will inform you that they are the best option, few installers have the tools, resources, and reputation to show for it.
When you go solar with Palmetto, we provide a dedicated project coordinator for your installation. With concierge-style service, custom homeowner solutions, and everything you need in-house, Palmetto has the experience and capabilities to deliver a five-star, high quality installation, every single time.
20. Can I make my decision and let you know tomorrow?
In a high-pressure sales scenario, you may start to feel that a solar installation company is pushing you to sign a contract right there, right now. If you feel rushed while going solar, asking your installer for some time to make your decision will quickly show whether or not they are acting in your best interest or are simply out to get your money.
At Palmetto, we pride ourselves on our low-pressure sales process, and are always happy to schedule follow-up calls and answer questions that come up after initial consultations. While we would never rush any decision, we also stay up to date with deadlines (such as expiring incentives or California's transition to NEM 3.0) and encourage customers to take action while they can still benefit from certain available policies.
Interested in seeing what it's like going solar with Palmetto, now that you know what questions to ask about solar energy?
We're here to help, and answer any solar installation questions you might have. Get started today by finding out how much you can save with solar.