How to Buy Solar

Buying solar shouldn’t be that hard.clowning

Imagine if you went to a store to buy pants. Somebody told you that you needed those, or maybe somehow you figured that out (people pointing and laughing). So, you go to store that says they sell pants. How do you start the conversation? “Hi, I need those… I think they’re made from cloth? They fit on my legs… somehow; and I’ve seen some that work with this thing that ties around my waist?” Oh, and by the way, there are no prices marked anywhere. So, you have to believe whatever the salesman says about the value of his particular brand. That’s how most people buy solar.

Since you don’t buy solar as frequently as pants, it’s not obvious where to go or how to do it. A lot of solar providers hide the real costs, focus on your monthly payments, and tell you not to worry. Meanwhile, you wind up with the solar equivalent of $200 worth of polka dots and stripes. They work, but people are still laughing, and usually it’s the sales guys. Ouch!

“Still clowning around with Solar?”

So, here are five things to ask if you’re buying solar.

1) What’s it cost? If you’re financing or leasing, get the monthly estimated bill. Get the total cost of the system at the end of the financial terms. Shop the price. Typically, leases can run two to three times the total cost of a purchase. Ask about who gets your tax credit. When you buy, that comes to you. When you lease that goes to them. Leases have an “escalator” clause. Your monthly payment will increase over time. Ask about that. By the end of the lease, your monthly payment might not be less than a utility bill. It all adds up to the real cost. Going solar should save you money. Make sure they can prove it does; both short term and long term.

2) What’s the quality of the parts? If the panels aren’t American or German, panel failures can be more frequent. Even if maintenance is included, like a lease, somebody still has to get on your roof to fix or replace the parts. That leads to the next question.

3) Who is doing the installation? You take for granted they know solar. They might not be licensed electrical contractors. That’s different than a solar license. They may not have much experience on roofs. They’re punching holes in your roof to install this system. It’s nice to have solar company that has roofing expertise.

4) How does this affect my home value? If you’re in the last home you’ll ever own, resale value isn’t so important. If moving is in the cards, here are a couple of things to consider. Buying a solar power system typically adds $10,000 per Kw installed to the resale value of your home. Leasing a system requires that the new owner assumes the lease. They can refuse, or use that as bargaining chip against you.

5) What’s the warranty? Listen carefully here. 30 years is the headline. That solar panel warranty will be touted the loudest. Reality check: The moment anyone makes changes to your roof installation, they’ve voided the roofing warranty. Ask about how much of the roof your solar installer is willing to stand behind. A lot of them warranty a very small perimeter around the panels. The tricky thing about roofing is that the leak inside may not appear directly under the problem outside. A good company will warranty the roof under the array and all the way to bottom of the roof line. Again, it’s good to ask about roofing expertise. If all they’ve ever done is solar, you might want to shop further. Years of installation experience count too. Always ask about that.

Getting these questions answered doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a perfect installation, although, it might prevent you from looking like a clown.

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