So you want to go solar, but you want to make sure you do it right. Maybe you’ve heard some regrets from other people about going solar and you want to avoid the same mistakes. We hear you!
As professionals in the solar industry, we’ve seen it all, and we can give you a heads up on things to avoid to make sure you have a great experience. Here are the top eight mistakes we’ve seen people make when going solar…
- Choosing a fly-by-night company
Every once in a while we’ll get a call from a customer of another solar company asking for our help. It seems that whoever sold them the system and installed it is no longer around. We call this being “orphaned.”
Solar regulation is getting better every year, however the industry is very open and it’s very much “buyer beware.” Companies may not be trying to do the wrong thing (although some are); sometimes they don’t really know what they’re doing. Find a company that has been in business for a long time so that they’ll be there for you in case you need them in the future.
- Doing the wrong kind of “homework”
You probably know that information online ranges from reasonable to incredibly outrageous. And while there are plenty of good sources for information, there are also opinions being bandied about as facts. The challenge that we’ve experienced with people who do a lot of online research is that the contradictory information they receive ends up creating more of a dilemma than a solution. This is not to suggest that you should not do online research, but don’t go too crazy with it. Limit your research to industry standard organizations like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Energy Sage, who both give good general information. We also provide fact-based information on our blog.
- Falling in love with a solar panel
Modern solar panels are largely pretty good. The days of having to shop for “one panel to rule them all” are a bygone era—nobody out there is offering inferior solar panels. When someone falls in love with a specific brand and model, it can cause more delays because of availability. Here are some simple metrics to keep your eye on: panel efficiency (ideally over 19% with 21% being top performance), panel output (as of this writing 340 watts/panel is the bare minimum, and warranty (25 years is industry standard).
- Getting too small of a system
One of the most prevalent tricks of a bad solar company is to undersize and overpromise a solar system’s kilowatt-hour delivery in the hopes of getting you to just hurry up and sign on the dotted line. They often offer a cookie-cutter approach that has nothing to do with your actual home or energy usage. A good solar company will have a knowledgeable consultant design a system specifically for your home that meets your needs.
One of the best protections for you is to know your annual kilowatt-hour consumption (look at the Kwh numbers on your bill not the monetary numbers because those include fees, etc.) and also to know that 10KW DC of solar energy is going to furnish approximately 12,000-13,000 kilowatt-hours per year—no more, no less.
The typical cookie-cutter approach we’ve seen some competitors use is to offer a 11.5KW system to everyone and then promise as much as 20,000 kwh from that system, which is pure fiction. An 11.5KW system will produce between 14,000 and 16,000 kwh of energy in Florida. That’s the math.
- Fixating on price
A lot of homeowners erroneously worry about the big ticket price of the solar system. They are looking at their purchase like they would any home improvement, and their expectations turn into anxiety when they see the price tag. Unless you are going to purchase the system cash outright, this thinking is flawed. When you are going to finance a solar system, the only concern is: can my monthly payment outperform my current average electric bill?
Let me explain this thinking—your electric bill is never going to stop. Never. Do you calculate how much you’ll pay the utility for the rest of your life, cringe, and then decide no that’s too much, I’m not doing that? No, you don’t. Because you can’t. You will need energy for the rest of your life and you will pay for energy for the rest of your life, so choosing a lower fixed steady solar payment that can be transferred with the sale of your home if need be (and eventually goes away) is always going to win out over a higher electric bill, regardless of the overall sticker price.
- Looking for ROI
This relates back to the previous point about looking at the big number, however ROI is an important metric. If you’re considering purchasing your solar system in cash, you don’t have to install it on your forever home and use it for 20 years to make it a smart purchase. Here’s some sample arithmetic…if a solar system offsets $1800 a year’s worth of utility energy purchases, and it comes with a 25-year guarantee, that’s $45,000 worth of guaranteed power. Your two ROI calculations are:
$1800 a year is a 6% to 9% return on investment year over year. That’s not bad. The missed portion of this picture is that the resale value of your home just went up by $20,000*. By the time the average homeowner collects their tax credit and enjoys the return on investment at sale, the ROI is 90-100% after only one year of use. Don’t believe us? Let’s work it out: You’ve got a $29,000 system minus a $7,540 tax credit (assuming you qualify) leaving $21,460. If you use your system for one year and then sell your home, you have avoided $1,800 of energy costs, and selling your system to the new owner for $20,000 means you’ve recouped $21,800, which is more than a 100% ROI!
Guess what? It gets even better. The person who purchases your home is receiving $45,000 of guaranteed energy for $20,000, so now you’re a hero, too. It’s a win for everybody and it doesn’t require a lifetime in the house. (And if you enjoyed that math, here’s more math on solar.)
- Dismissing Savings
One of the great things about switching to solar energy is that your payment never goes up. You can’t say the same for your electric bill. Twelve dollars a month in savings might not sound like a big deal, but it’s 15% lower than what you’re paying the utility. That’s great! And every time the utility prices go up, your savings get more attractive. Within five years, your solar payment will be 20% lower than the cost of energy from the market, and those savings will continue to look better and better over time until eventually the payment reaches zero and you’re saving 100%—which is something the utility company is never going to offer.
- Misunderstanding the Warranty
Warranty? Who reads those things, anyway? Just kidding, you should read your warranties, but we’re going to break things down for you here to make that solar warranty a little more digestible. Solar system warranties have three components: the panel warranty, the inverter warranty, and the service warranty.
The panel warranty is 25 years on performance and typically less for materials (this may seem odd, but in truth most material failures occur in the first few months). Inverter warranties range from 5 years to 25 years and are often not discussed. Make sure your inverter carries a 25-year protection (often, companies will offer supplemental protection to increase a 10 year warranty to 25 for just a few dollars). Service warranties are provided by the installation company and are only required to be three years.
Good companies offer 10-year service warranties. If someone offers you a 25-year service warranty, that’s actually a big red flag. Most of the companies offering this have been around for two years or less, and the only thing that can be guaranteed is that they won’t be around in 25 years to honor their hefty service warranty. They are using it to sway you to sign. Don’t fall for it.
Chances are if you know someone who isn’t happy with their solar experience it’s because they made one or more of those big eight mistakes. Don’t let that be you! We believe a rising tide lifts all boats, and if we can make going solar a great experience for everyone, more and more people will choose to go solar. It’s the right thing to do. It makes good financial sense. And it’s a win for everyone.
*these calculations are supported by the National Appraisers Guide for Realtors