Shopping for home solar can feel overwhelming because, at first glance, many companies look the same. How do you tell them apart and choose the right system and company for you? We put together a list of 10 questions to ask every solar company to help you make the best decision.

Question #1: How accurate is your system design and quote?

Why: The more accurately a company can analyze your roof and energy needs, the better it can develop a quote that addresses your current and future usage and optimizes your potential savings. Additionally, the more accurately a company designs the solar system upfront, accounting for factors like shading, pitch and building code, the less likely you are to see changes down the line. Poorly designed systems are more likely to change after you’ve signed a contract. Make sure you understand how the contract addresses these kinds of changes, and whether you have the option to approve them or cancel.

Question #2: What happens if the system doesn’t produce as much electricity as I was promised?

Why: Most solar companies will offer some kind of production guarantee, but the specifics matter. Make sure you know what protection you have and what the company is required to do if the system’s production falls short. Likewise, confirm what steps they’ll take to monitor your system to ensure it is producing as it should.

Question #3: Between a lease, PPA and loan, which financing options can you offer me? Given my situation, would you recommend financing or buying the system outright?

Why: Some solar companies will try and steer you toward a single financing option that is best for them. We believe that picking the right financing and payment plan is deeply personal – it’s a choice that should be driven by you. Factors like your desired up-front investment level, credit score and tax appetite should all play a role in shaping your decision. Make sure to get a few bids to compare, and don’t get discouraged if one option isn’t viable for you or your home. Another solar company might offer a different option that makes going solar possible. Understanding your options is key to making the best financial decision for your family.

Question #4: Who designed my system, and will it really work for my home?

Why: This might seem like a silly question, but many companies have their salespeople design systems, and this practice can result in a system design that is larger than you need or one that doesn’t account for local building and fire code. Ask who designed the system: was it someone with technical expertise who understands what is or isn’t possible to build? Is someone checking the work to make sure the system fits on your roof and is up to code?

Question #5: How much electricity will my solar panels produce, and how is this forecasted?

Why: The factory rating for a panel’s electricity production is based on perfect lab conditions, but a solar system’s actual electrical output can vary. The best forecasts take into consideration factors related to your specific roof (e.g. roof pitch, shading and angle to the sun) as well as factors related to your home’s location (e.g. solar energy potential and historical weather patterns). An accurate forecast should also plan for a small amount of degradation.

Question #6: What inverter technology do you offer, and which one is best for my home?

Why: The traditional Single String Inverter is a durable and simple solution, and it’ll give most households the most bang for their buck. However, string systems can also experience reduced production due to shading or if a single panel becomes compromised.

Microinverters can be a good option if your roof has severe shading issues or you have small roof sections facing in different directions. Because each panel has its own mini inverter, each panel produces power independently, so shaded panels don’t affect the others’ production. However, because each panel has its own inverter, there are more opportunities for technical issues so be sure you know how the company handles inverter problems if they do arise.

Optimizers can provide the best of both worlds. They work similarly to microinverters, maximizing the production of each individual panel throughout the day and helping with shade and small roof faces. However, with optimizers there’s one central inverter, so the electronics are less complicated, less expensive and more durable overall than a microinverter.

Ask the solar company what kind of inverter equipment they offer and how they care for it over the life of the system.

Question #7: Do you have experience getting permits and installing solar in my area?

Why: Each jurisdiction has different building and fire codes that affect your system design. Remember that your local municipality has the final say on whether your system gets interconnected to the electrical grid. If your installation doesn’t meet the local building code, you may be required to make costly modifications to your system before it can be interconnected.

Question #8: Who is installing the system, and will the finished installation be inspected to meet certain quality standards?

Why: Solar systems have a lifetime of at least 20 years on your rooftop, so it’s essential that the installers do the work right. What kind of licenses do they have? Does the company incentivize their installers to meet certain quality standards? Are they monitoring the quality standards on every single job, and if so, how?

Question #9: How do I know my roof is ready for solar?

Why: A good rule of thumb is that your roof should have at least 10 years of life left before installing solar panels. If an inspection reveals that your roof doesn’t meet that requirement, your solar company may request that you reroof before installation. Ask whether the company’s contract contains a clause that lets you out of the agreement if your roof isn’t up to snuff and whether the company will charge you a cancellation fee for doing so.

Question #10: How do you protect my roof against leaks?

Why: Ask about the hardware that the solar company uses to mount the solar panels. Is the seal watertight? Will it withstand wear and tear over the lifetime of the solar installation? Most importantly, make sure the installer is responsible for fixing any damage that the installation might cause to your roof so you’re not left high and dry (or, in the worst case scenario, damp).

Ready to start your solar research? Request an iQuote to learn whether Sungevity would be the right choice for you.

Sungevity is a global solar energy provider focused on making it easy and affordable for homeowners and business owners to benefit from solar power. Learn more at www.sungevity.com.

Posted by Leslye Penticoff

Leslye is the Content and Community Manager for Sungevity. She's also an avid coffee drinker and rock climber, and serves on the Board of Directors at Margination, a nonprofit in Troy, NY.

2 Comments

  1. You all did an installation at our house a few years back at 3228 Harrison St in San Francisco. We have recently developed a leak in our modified bitumen flat roof under one of the feet in the stand. What do you recommend for us to fix this? Here are some pics https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/9375862/Family/roof.zip

    1. Leslye Penticoff October 31, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Dave. Our Customer Service team is on it and will reach out with an update soon!

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