15 Questions You Should Ask a Solar Company Before Hiring

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated April 25, 2022
A homeowner discussing with two solar company representatives
Photo: 10'000 Hours / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Highlights

  • There are different types of solar panels, solar energy systems, and inverters.

  • Be sure to know who will install the panels.

  • It costs between $17,000 to $32,000 to power a home independently.

  • Installation costs vary depending on how much electricity you use.

  • Read the fine print before signing a contract.

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Whether it’s astronomical energy bills or those annoying power outages, one thing’s for sure—solar energy continues to grow, saving homeowners money and helping to keep the power on during electrical outages. But not every solar energy system stays on during outages, so it’s crucial to know what questions to ask your solar company before investing. Check out these 15 questions to help you know exactly how to hire solar panel installers for your home.

Solar Equipment Questions 

It’s no secret that solar equipment is a major investment, so you don’t want to invest in the wrong solar panels for your home. Here are five questions to ask the pro before choosing your solar equipment. 

1. What Solar Products Does Your Company Install?

Solar companies don’t necessarily install just solar panels, and not all solar panels are the same. For example, some companies offer solar shingles as an alternative to traditional shingles. You’ll also find there are different types of materials used in solar panels.

Here’s what you need to know to make an informed decision about the types of solar panels:

Types of Solar Panel Systems

There are three types of solar panel systems on the market: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film (or amorphous) solar panels.

  • Monocrystalline solar panels: Highest efficiency ratings but more costly than other types

  • Polycrystalline solar panels: Lower efficiency ratings but less costly than monocrystalline panels

  • Thin-film solar panels: Lightweight but less efficient, large, and more suited for commercial buildings

Low-quality solar panels do not give homeowners as high a return on investment as high-efficiency solar panels do, so discuss your options with the company during your consultation to ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.

2. Will the Panels Be On-Grid or Off-Grid?

There are also different ways that solar panels can work with the grid (called on-grid or grid-tied)—or work off-grid. Be sure to know which option you want before you speak with the installation company so that you’re informed when they explain which ones they provide. 

On-Grid vs. Off-Grid Solar Energy

Here are the different types of grid options for solar panels:

  • On-grid systems: A system that’s tied to the grid can mean compensation for electricity that is sent back to the grid when your panels create excessive energy, but when there’s a power outage, you won’t be able to use your panels to generate electricity.

  • Off-grid systems: Off-grid panels don’t connect to the grid at all, but you’re also on your own in terms of providing electricity to your home.

  • Grid systems with a battery backup: These systems are grid-tied but also have a battery backup that comes into action in case there’s an outage. 

3. What Will Be the Inverter Type?

There’s one more feature of solar panels that can affect your choice: the inverter type. Solar electricity is direct current (DC) electricity, but most appliances in your home use alternating current (AC) electricity. Here are your options for converting the electrical current:

  • String inverters: These inverters connect strings of panels to just one inverter, which converts DC electricity into AC electricity.

  • Power optimizers: Power optimizers work with a string inverter to regulate DC electricity and send it to that central inverter to be converted into AC energy.

  • Microinverters: This option converts DC to AC without the need for a string inverter via the back of the individual panels.

4. Where Will the Solar Panels Be Placed?

Most companies install solar panels facing the south, where the panels receive the most sunlight year-round. The panels will also be arranged at a 30- to 40- degree angle, depending on how far north you live. 

While many houses have a slope that’s ideal for the installation process, some houses may be too steep or have a flat rooftop. Have a chat with the company to see how they’ll place the panels depending on your roof type. Unless you’re building a solar farm, in which case you’d need a lot of land to house many solar panels.

5. How Much Power Will I Need for the Panels?

To help you budget for the total cost, knowing how much electricity your home needs can help you estimate how much you might get quoted by a company. 

On average, homes use 29 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per day. This is roughly 900 kWh per month or 10,000 kWh per year. Individual solar panels produce around 300 watts per hour on the most ideal, sunny day. To account for cloudy, rainy weather and nighttime, you’ll need anywhere from 12 to 20 panels. 

Since this number can vary so much, your solar company should give you an estimate of how many panels you’ll need.

Solar Installation Cost Questions

You’ll also want to prepare for asking prospective solar companies about the cost of their services. Here are a couple of questions to help you out:

6. How Much Will It Cost to Install the Solar Equipment?

Solar panels cost between $17,000 to $32,000 to power an entire house, installation included. The panels alone cost anywhere from $4,000 to $16,000. Cost factors include the type of panels, size of the house, and energy use, to name a few. It can be hard to estimate costs, so always get quotes from at least three companies. 

7. What Goes Into Your Pricing Model?

It’s also a good idea to ask for an itemized breakdown so that you can compare solar companies and make sure you’re getting the best deal. Ask the company to include the cost of labor and each piece of equipment to see how the companies stack up to one another.

Solar Installer Questions

You don’t want just anyone climbing up on your roof and installing solar panels. Another important part of the hiring process is to know exactly who will install the panels. Use these questions as a guide:

8. Who Will Do the Installation?

A professional installing a new solar panel
Photo: wera Rodsawang / Moment / Getty Images

Are the installers full-time employees of the company or do they subcontract? When headquarters are located out of state, companies usually hire subcontractors to do the installations. Sometimes local companies do this, too. If you want to make sure you have guaranteed quality control for your installation, make sure you’re choosing a local solar panel installer

9. What’s Their Experience?

How long has the company been in business in your state, what certifications do they have, and how many installations have they done in your area? Each state has different incentives, tax laws, and processes, so you want to make sure they understand the laws and processes for solar where you live.

10. How Long Will It Take to Install Solar Panels?

Most solar panel installations only take one to three days, but every company is different. It’s also useful to ask how long it will take from when you sign the contract to when the company turns on the solar energy system, as this can vary even more. It’s not unusual for this process to take two months or longer.

Solar Company Questions

This round of questions will help you vet the solar installation company itself. How does that particular company conduct business? Ask these questions to find out!

11. Can You Provide Testimonials?

Will they let you call anyone from their customer list at random for an unrehearsed, unbiased reference? If they won’t, consider why they will only let you call customers they have picked ahead of time. 

You might also want to do a little “background check” by searching for their current rating on Angi, the Better Business Bureau, or other reputable, independent customer review sites.

13. Have You Worked With the Local Utility Company?

If your electricity will in part come from the grid, you’ll want to know exactly how this works and the company’s relationship with the utility company. Each local utility company has its own rules regarding home solar energy systems, so it’s beneficial to work with a contractor who knows the ins and outs of your utility company.

Solar Paperwork Questions

No one likes to think about paperwork and permits, but you don’t want to leave these out, as the payment scheme and legalities regarding your solar installation are vital to avoiding contractor scams and staying in code with your municipality.  

14. What’s Included in the Solar Panel Contract?

If you’re planning on renting versus buying solar panels, be sure to obtain a copy of the solar lease and keep it in your filing box for safekeeping. If you’re buying solar panels, you’ll also want to read the fine print of what’s included in the quote and ask clarifying questions if any parts of the contract seem vague. 

Important things to look out for in the contract include maintenance and repairs, warranties, what happens if the manufacturer goes out of business, and how you’ll be financing your solar panels.

15. Who Will Do the Paperwork?

Will the company handle all the paperwork for acquiring the permit, solar renewable energy credits, grants, and other incentives, or will you have to navigate this on your own? If you don’t want to deal with bureaucracy, hire a full-service solar panel installer near you to handle the paperwork.

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