By Mandy Ellis
Even though the federal tax credit decreases the price of a solar system, reviewing aspects of the installation process can also help you save money on the overall cost of going solar. Because prices vary for installation and solar modules, here are a few ways to save money on solar and how to tell if you’re getting overcharged on installation.
7 Ways to save on solar panel installation
Evaluating multiple quotes from different installers, either from in-person meetings or through a third-party like SolarStory, is the top way to save money. “Get at least three quotes from different-sized installation companies if you want the best deal because each has various programs and equipment,” said Austin Matson, marketing manager at Solar Solution AZ in Tucson, Ariz., “Plus, installers get competitive when you’re reviewing multiple quotes.”
Do your research
Take advantage of the surplus of reviews on solar installers and solar equipment on the web. Apply your own research against what installers have said to verify facts and pricing on panels, see if you’re getting overcharged, receiving the equipment you need and working with a reputable installer.
Ask neighbors, family or friends
“Check with your neighbors, and it’s likely if they had a seamless experience, you will, too,” said Omar Nasser, CEO of Treepublic in Bel Air and Sherwood Forest, Calif. Ask family, friends and neighbors how many quotes they got, whether they enjoyed the experience, whether they would recommend the installer, and whether their pricing felt accurate? The answers can help point you to a top installer and illuminate the best value.
Find the right installer
“Choose an installer who communicates effectively, and if something isn’t clear, don’t sign with anyone even if it sounds like a good deal,” advised John Sertich, president of Clean Energy USA in Rehoboth Beach, Del. “Understand and feel comfortable with what you’re buying because you’ll be in business with that installer for a long time due to the extended life of the product and warranties.”
Don’t let one pushy salesman ruin your solar experience. By speaking with local companies who know your area better over national corporations, Matson says you may be pleasantly surprised with the excellent experience and pricing they provide once given a shot.
Work in add-ons
If you plan on purchasing something like an electric car, ask the installer about expanding the solar system to support an EV charger and if they’ll reduce the system pricing or EV charger pricing to lower your overall expense.
Check for incentives
“Manufacturers and installers may offer incentives for their services or products, or there are great deals online,” said Nasser. “Ask if there’s a referral program, like putting up a yard sign gives you credit towards your system.” Price reductions from installers and/or manufacturers can help bring down cost, especially when added to any federal or local incentives.
Don’t over-complicate it
“Don’t go for extras like batteries because they’re not something most consumers need,” explained Sertich, “In most states where solar is overproducing, the excess gets fed back into the grid, your meter spins backwards and you don’t need add-ons that reside in the periphery of what you’re trying to accomplish with solar.”
How to know when you’re getting overcharged
“The rule of thumb is $2.75 to $4 per watt, where the top is high-end panels,” said Nasser. “If it’s Chinese knock-off panels with 10-year warranties instead of 25-year warranties and a simple system coming in near $4 per watt, you’re overpaying.”
A pushy sales approach, an outlier in your quotes or an installer who doesn’t allow you to take a quote home with you are red flags that you may be getting overcharged. If the quote seems high, see if they’ve added value through a large warranty package or an equipment upgrade. Homeowners can also use the SolarStory database to verify correct pricing.
“If the price is higher, that might be a sign there’s stuff you don’t need,” explained Sertich, “Conversely, if a quote is low, there may be a reason the price is too good to be true, like the installer doesn’t have or won’t provide referrals, or they haven’t done many installations.”