In the residential solar industry in America high pressure, in home, sales tactics are the norm. However, you can beat these tactics and get an excellent deal if you are armed with the right information.
Good information and transparency of pricing data is the key to consumers getting offered the best deal on solar. Solar companies know that when they offer a price to a user of a platform like www.solar-estimate.org, and now also www.solarreviews.com that the user has been given access to accurate pricing information and that they will not win work unless they offer a good deal.
The top ten things you need to know and do when collecting solar quotes to ensure you get the best deal on solar panels
It is important to know the average cost of installing solar panels in your area. In some states data from each installation of solar panels is reported to the government and so can be obtained from sites like California Solar Statistics, NYSERDA in New York or MassRenewables. However, the problem with this data is that it all includes PPA jobs and these tend to be reported at an inflated price by the vendor to maximize their tax credit. This data tends to over state the cost of installing solar in these states and so is of limited use. In most other states this data is not reported or published by government at all.
The largest source of solar panel installation cost data in the US comes from www.solar-estimate.org. This platform used by around 80,000 home owners per year to seek solar quotes from their local installers. Because this platform provides a lot of volume to solar installers and because more than 200 solar companies submit estimates through this site each day, this site contains the most accurate and up to date solar panel cost data available. However, aggregate data is not published on this site and so we have obtained this data an published it on SolarReviews.
Know the relative cost of one brand of solar panels or solar inverters compared to another
There is a significant variance in cost between brands of solar panels and inverters. See this discussion for information about the choice between tier 1 and tier 2 solar panels.
The unique thing about buying a solar power system is that you expect it to last 25 years. This means you need to make a conscious trade off between lowest cost and the brands of equipment that are least likely to fail and most likely to still be in business if they do fail in 10 or 15 years time.
We will soon be publishing data from California where we have reported costs for installations using specific brands of equipment. However, at the date of writing there is no real way of getting this data online other than ringing solar solar companies and asking them what they charge or different brands of equipment.
Know the reputation of the solar panels and solar inverter you are purchasing
Allied to the point above you should consider which brands of solar equipment have the highest ratings from consumers.
We have the largest collection of solar company reviews on the internet.
The issue with using reviews of solar panels and inverters is that there are very few reviews of these products and even then the people reviewing them do not necessarily have an idea how they will perform over 25 years. However, they are a guide to quality.
Know the reputation of the solar installation company you are choosing
The solar company you choose to install your solar power system is as important as the specific brands of solar panels and inverter you choose because it is up to this company to install the equipment correctly and they are your first port of call if anything goes wrong.
To cut a long story short it is better to buy your solar system outright if you can for maximum savings but a PPA can still save you money if you cant buy your system outright. Most solar companies that specialize in cash purchases and don't offer PPA's will offer you one or more loan options. You should always check if you are eligible for a HELOC (home equity line of credit) before speaking to specific solar companies because a HELOC will usually be cheaper than the unsecured solar specific loans they will offer you. Heloc rates are around 4.5-5.5% whereas unsecured solar finance is usually around 6-8%. If a solar company knows that you can get finance sorted out yourself they will also tend to feel they have to offer you a better deal to get your business. This is not always true but in some cases it is and at least you will be making sure your borrowing costs are as low as possible.
Know your savings
A decision about solar involves consideration of a lot of factors because it is a very long term investment. It is important to know what your savings will be before making a decision to install solar panels. Here is the leading solar savings calculator in America. You can either use it with historical data or you can use it to also get live pricing from local installers. It will also show you how many solar panels you need.
Know how solar incentives and tax credits work
It is important to know how the solar tax credit and other incentive schemes work and what the eligibility criteria is for each. The solar savings calculator will also show you what incentives are available to you and how to go about claiming then.
A list of all solar incentives is available at dsireusa.org although the solar savings calculator summarizes this incentive data better because it allows you to search only for the incentives that apply at your address and for clients of your specific utility.
Know how much power a quoted solar power system will produce on your roof
A key assumption underpinning the return you will make from your solar system will be the amount of power it will produce. This varies depending on the location, the direction of the roof (south is best) and the tilt angle or slope of the roof. If your house has roof space facing anywhere between south-east and south-west, at a normal roof pitch of around 22 degrees and is largely unshaded between the hours of 9am-4 pm then this is probably not a big issue for you. If you are concerned, then the best calculator for working out the exact production from a specific roof is a government solar calculator called PVWatts.
This PVwatts solar production data is also available in the solar savings calculator.
Know the actual amount your utility will pay you for solar power your export to the grid
In many states there is 1 for 1 net metering so that you get the retail price for solar power that is excess to your requirements during the day and is exported to the grid. However, this can be more complex that what you think because the actual rate they pay may be lower than the rate at which you buy most of your power. You should go through this in detail with your utility and your solar company.
Getting your solar quotes through bulk buying platforms gets cheaper prices
It is not secret that solar companies will hand out their best pricing when they know they are facing stiff competition.
That is why you are often better to request your solar quotes through a marketplace like SolarReviews or Solar-Estimate.
Solar-Estimate is used by over 80,000 consumers per year and receives competitive bids from more than 200 solar companies around America. Installers know that if you have used this platform they will be facing.
Government data in California showed that on average users of the Solar-Estimate platform in 2015 paid $4.17 per watt for their solar system compared to a state wide average of $5.26 per watt.