With costs as much as 75% lower than just five years ago, solar has been growing rapidly in Virginia over the last few years. Rapid growth helped the Old Dominion climb into the top 20 states for the amount of solar power generating capacity installed statewide last year.
Homeowners that I meet who’ve gone solar so far are nearly always satisfied with their solar installation. In most cases, these solar homeowners are saving money on their electric bill and enjoying making and using their own clean energy.
Occasionally we hear about broken or underperforming solar systems put in by other companies because a homeowner has called us to fix the problem. We’re happy to help and usually we can get them up and running again without too much trouble or cost.
But it doesn’t make me happy to see poor quality work or to hear stories about solar installers that overpromised savings that never wound up materializing.
Here, I’m going to extend my advice to help homeowners in Virginia recognize the most common signs that a solar installer may not be committed to doing high quality work or to maximizing your money savings.
1. Ultra Low Price
Whether making a major investment, such as in a house or a car, or just picking up a six pack of beer, you know that the cheapest option is usually not going to be the best.
And sometimes the low price option will be so bad that it’s not worth getting at all. A car that leaks oil and needs to go to the shop every month will get to be pretty expensive pretty fast even if you got it originally for a rock bottom price.
It’s the same with solar panels. Not all solar is created the same. Cheap solar can wind up being very expensive in a few months or years when your solar system fails to produce as much energy as it should or stops working entirely.
Before selecting a home solar installer, you should get 3-5 quotes from different companies. You can certainly go with the low bid and it might work out fine. But if one bid is significantly cheaper than the others, that’s a sign that the installer might be planning to cut corners.
2. Zero-Down Financing
There’s nothing wrong with no-money down financing for solar per se. Main Street Solar and reputable solar companies that we know about in Virginia usually offer a loan option that requires little or no down payment to get started with solar.
But zero-down financing is not the best deal for everybody. A solar installer that cares about their customers will offer other financing options that may actually give you a higher return than their zero-down loan product.
If a company leads with zero down as the main reason to work with them, and if they try to push everybody into their zero-down offer, then watch out. They may make up for it with a high interest rate and high monthly payments that can eat away at your savings from solar and even cost you more each month than you would’ve paid if you had stuck with your local utility company.
3. Bogus “Extras” Thrown in
Recently, I heard that one solar installer that had just entered Virginia from a neighboring state was offering to throw in free “trenching” for customers who purchased a ground-mount solar system from the company.
What’s the problem? Well, you can’t install a ground-mount without digging a trench first. A solar installer offering this necessary construction service as an extra is like an automaker offering cars with a steering wheel at “no extra charge.”
Of course, unless you’re in the industry, you’re unlikely to know what’s extra and what’s included to put in solar. That’s another reason to get multiple quotes. If one installer offers extras that the others don’t, ask them about it. If the explanation is so complicated that you can’t understand it, that’s definitely a red flag.
4. Roofing Included with Solar
Do you need a new roof to get solar panels? Maybe. Solar panels should last 25 years or more, which is longer than the expected life of the roofs on most houses in Virginia.
Your roof is probably OK even if it’s not brand new. Solar panels can be temporarily moved if your place needs a roof in 5 or 10 years. You don’t need to jump into a new roof now if yours still has years of good service remaining.
Some solar installers will try to sell you a new roof whatever the condition of your existing one. That can really raise your cost to go solar, perhaps unnecessarily. But the worst part is that when you buy roofing and solar from the same company, it can be a bit like going to dinner theater. Neither the dinner nor the theater is top quality. Likewise, roofing from a solar installer isn’t going to be the best quality roofing. It may be expensive too.
If a reputable solar installer thinks you need a new roof, they’ll refer you to a high quality contractor specializing in roofing. If they try to sell you both solar and roofing as a package, watch out. You might be getting both roofing and solar that are merely burger-quality but at filet mignon prices.
5. High Pressure Sales Tactics
I’m starting to hear that more and more solar installers, especially companies from out of state, are putting deadlines of 72 hours or less on all their proposals. Why? The price of solar panels doesn’t change that quickly.
Do they claim that they’re selling you some panels cheap because they’re left over from another job and that if you don’t reserve them soon, the company will sell them to someone else? If a solar installer tells you a story like that, it’s a red flag that they may be trying to manipulate you.
A good solar installer will never rush your decision on solar. It’s a big investment. You need time to think things through, compare multiple bids, ask questions, search the web for company reviews, and talk about it with your family and friends. At Main Street, we always give people at least 30 days to review one of our proposals.
Empower Yourself with Knowledge
Solar can offer excellent value in Virginia now, especially with good incentives continuing through 2018. But you need to select the right solar installer.
Download our free e-book answering the top ten questions on home solar in Virginia and empower yourself with the knowledge you need to make the best decision on solar.
Featured Image © | Dreamstime Stock Photos
— Andrew Brenner, Main Street Solar