Adding solar panels to your home or business can be a great way to reduce your overall utility bills, and to reduce your carbon footprint as well! While electricity itself doesn’t produce harmful fumes and emissions, electrical power plants often use fossil fuels to operate, so the less electricity you use, the less pollution that’s created overall.
Before you do get solar panels for your home or office, however, note some very important questions to ask a manufacturer or an installer, and which you might also need to ask yourself. This will ensure you choose the right panels, that you know how to use them properly, and that you know how to keep those panels maintained and in good repair through the years.
Which solar panels will provide enough electricity for a home or office?
Solar panels come in a variety of sizes and strengths, and each variety will collect and store a certain amount of power. Don’t assume that one or two panels are all that’s needed for your home or business to be fully powered, even if you don’t think you use much electricity every day. Depending on the amount of electricity consumed by your house or commercial building, you may need to invest in more than one solar panel, or may need to upgrade to a high-quality variety that collects more power overall.
Note, too, that you might also consider how to make your space more energy-efficient when you get solar panels, so you will always have the power you need from those panels. For example, energy-efficient kitchen appliances, a tankless or on-demand hot water heater, and LED light bulbs can all reduce your power consumption, at home and in a commercial facility.
Be sure to consider this before you buy your solar panels; if you’re taking out a home improvement loan or a business loan for those panels, consider making these changes inside your house or commercial facility at the same time. You can then increase that loan amount to cover the cost of making your home or office interior more energy-efficient overall.
Will your roof or property need some clearance for the panels?
While solar panels can collect sunshine even when they’re not in bright, direct sunlight, they won’t collect and convert as much energy when they’re obstructed by overhead tree branches, outdoor signage, a satellite dish, or anything else that may hover over them and create shade.
It’s vital to ask an installer about the clearance your property might need for the panels, as you may need to trim the trees on your property, or ask a neighbor to trim theirs, so your panels are in full sunlight. If those panels would be obstructed by something that cannot be removed, such as outdoor signage or tall buildings, you might need to invest in larger panels that will draw as much sunlight as possible, or invest in a stand-alone panel that is mounted on the ground, along with roof panels, so that your home or commercial facility gets the solar energy it needs.
Will your local climate support the panels?
Solar panels can absorb sunlight even on a cloudy or rainy day, but the more direct sunlight they’re exposed to, the more energy they will absorb and store. If the climate in your area is very cloudy with little sunlight throughout the year, you might consider installing a solar panel that is just attached to the hot water heater or HVAC system. The panel you choose may only gather enough power for one such appliance, but you would still be saving some money on your overall energy costs by having that one appliance powered by solar.
Ask what the warranties cover specifically
A long and detailed warranty can mean that you’re buying a high-quality solar panel, and that the manufacturer is willing to stand behind his or her product. However, you also want to ensure you know what that warranty covers!
Ask if the warranty on your solar panels covers the wiring, the converter, and the batteries that are part of the solar panel system. It’s also good to ask if the warranty covers shipping and labor for any part that needs replacing while it’s under warranty, or if the warranty covers just the cost of the part itself.
It’s also very important to ask if any warranty covers potential damage to your roof from the panels or the installation process. Rarely will a solar panel or its components cause roof damage, but in case a panel does get broken, or the wiring becomes bare and frayed and singes the roof, it’s good to know if such damage is covered.
If your home’s roof or the roof of a commercial building is not covered under the solar panel warranty, you may want to check with your homeowner’s insurance carrier, or property insurance carrier. Note if any damage from a solar panel would be covered under that insurance policy instead, or if you should add a rider to the policy, so you would be reimbursed in the rare case of roof damage caused by solar panels.
Is there a performance guarantee?
A warranty covers physical parts, whereas a guarantee covers service or performance. It’s good to ask if your solar panels will have a performance guarantee; this guarantee would refer to the amount of power they will actually collect, convert, and store for you, given your typical weather conditions.
If your solar panels do have a performance guarantee, you also want to ensure you know everything required of you to honor that guarantee. For example, the guarantee may not be valid if you allow tree branches to grow across the front of the panels, or if you don’t regularly brush leaves and other debris off the front of the panels.
What happens if the panels are destroyed or stolen?
A warranty for the parts of a solar panel may not cover the cost of replacement if the panels are destroyed or stolen. It’s good to ask about this, to know if the manufacturer or installer offers a replacement option, or an insurance plan that would specifically cover the destruction or theft of these panels.
As with damage to your property’s roof, you may want to ask your homeowner’s or property insurance carrier if their policy would also cover destruction or theft of the panels, or if they offer an additional rider for these costs. You can compare their prices with any additional insurance offered by a solar panel manufacturer or installer, and note which would be the best option for you.
Consider what a lease would include, versus the option to buy
If you can’t afford to purchase the solar panels you need, you might be able to lease them, or lease to own. As with leasing a car, you would need to consider the long-term cost of the lease, including any interest payments, versus the cost of buying these panels.
When comparing these options, be sure you factor in the amount of savings you expect when it comes to your energy bills, and any “perks” in the lease. For example, a lease might include an extended warranty package, a routine check of the panels, and so on. Having these items included in the lease might then make it a more cost-effective option versus buying.
Ask if leased panels can be transferred
Are you thinking you might sell your property in the near future? If you buy solar panels, you should be able to take them with you to your new home or office. If you lease them, however, be sure to note if you would be allowed to transfer those panels to a new structure under that same lease.
If you can’t transfer the panels under the same lease, is there a fee for breaking the lease early? If so, you need to consider this fee in the overall cost of a lease. In some cases, purchasing the panels may then be the better, more cost-effective option overall.
Ask if a lien is put on your property for a lease option!
When you lease solar panels, the installer may have the right to put a lien on your property, so that you cannot sell your home or commercial property without first terminating your agreement with the solar company. This lien itself can make it difficult to sell your property, as the new buyers may be obligated for that lien amount when they buy your property.
Whatever the case, always ask about this potential lien before you decide to lease solar panels so you know your obligations, and any rights the solar company has to your property itself, if you should decide to lease the panels.
Ask about the process and cost of temporarily removing the solar panels
All roofs need regular maintenance and eventual replacement, and your new solar panels may need to be removed and then reinstalled if your structure’s roof needs any type of work done in the near future. This is why it’s good to ask about this process and cost.
In some cases, the cost for temporarily removing solar panels itself is very minimal, as the wiring for the panels may not need to be removed and then reinstalled. In other cases, such as when the roof needs outright replacing, temporarily removing and then reinstalling the panels might be a bit costly and cumbersome. Whatever the case, always ask about this, and especially if your structure’s roof is a bit older, and may need some repairs in the near future.
Ask how they figure inflation when figuring your cost savings
Very often, a solar panel salesperson will provide charts or some type of figure that gives you an idea of your overall costs savings, if you were to choose their solar panels. If so, ask how they figure inflation, and check these numbers against the standard inflation in your area.
If they are using an inflation rate that is much higher than average for your area, you may want to do your own math and adjust that rate accordingly. This will ensure you get a more accurate picture of the overall savings you might expect every year.
How do you clean these solar panels in particular?
Typically, solar panels only need an occasional sweep with a standard, soft-bristled household broom, to remove leaves, twigs, seeds, and other debris that may have settled on their surface. Running a garden hose over them will also typically remove caked-on dirt, mud, bird droppings, and the like.
However, you want to be sure you know how to properly care for your solar panels in particular, and especially if you live in an area prone to strong storms that might leave behind watermarks, mud, silt, or sand from a nearby beach. If you live in a tropical area, you might also notice salt stains from seawater, or a structure located near production facilities may suffer oil stains and greasy residue on its solar panels.
Don’t assume you should clean solar panels with standard household glass cleaners, scrubby pads or brushes, degreasers, or anything else that you might use on regular windows or other glass surfaces. While solar panels are very durable, the wrong tools or chemicals can scratch them or cause the glass surface to become cloudy, so always ask about how to keep them clean and how to tackle debris that doesn’t brush or rinse away easily.
Ask about maintaining the batteries
If you’ve ever wondered how solar panels can provide a home or business with power at night or on a cloudy day, the answer is batteries! The power collected by solar panels is converted into the power used by your home or business, and then stored in batteries that are connected to a structure’s electrical lines.
As with any other type of battery, solar batteries may need a cool and dry place for storage, away from bitter cold and extreme heat. You may not need to do much to maintain these batteries every day, other than wipe down the connections or anodes on occasion.
Ask your manufacturer or installer about any such needed maintenance, so you know those batteries don’t lose power due to improper storage. This will also ensure the wiring and other accessories of the batteries are always in good repair.
Ask about incentives!
Many local governments offer tax incentives for installing solar panels on your home or commercial facility; this might be a deduction you can take from your tax return, or a rebate you get from your state or city government to cover some cost of solar panels. You can usually ask the manufacturer or installer about these incentives, so you don’t overlook any monies you might receive for having them installed.
How will you know when your panels need maintenance or repairs?
A solar panel may need maintenance if the wires come loose from the panel, if there is corrosion on those wires, or if the glass of the panels becomes cloudy or otherwise damaged. However, this type of damage may not be easily visible, especially to someone who has never had solar panels installed on their home or commercial facility before.
Rather than assuming you’ll be able to easily see damage to your new solar panels, ask your manufacturer or installer what to look for that might indicate your panels need repair. This can include a sudden spike in your city-supplied electric bill, visible corrosion along the batteries or converter attached to the panels, or discoloration on the surface of the panels. Knowing what to look for before any of this damage occurs can ensure that you address these problems quickly, and that you keep those panels in good repair.
Bonus question: Can you disconnect from the grid?
One last question or issue to note before you have solar panels installed is if you’re legally allowed to completely disconnect from your city-supplied power. In some areas, you’re allowed to install all the solar panels you want on your home or commercial building, but must still be connected to city-supplied power in some way, rather than going completely “off the grid.”
If you are thinking of disconnecting your home or business from the city’s electrical grid, ask your installer if this is allowed in your area, as he or she might be familiar with local laws and regulations. If they’re not sure of these legalities, ask your city or county clerk; typically the department that issues building permits would be familiar with such restrictions.
You might also consult with a local real estate agent about what is allowed in your area, as they are usually knowledgeable about any laws that are applicable to a home’s or commercial facility’s utilities. Even if you need to pay an agent a small fee to consult with them about this issue, it can be worth it, to ensure your home or business is compliant with local regulations. This will help you to avoid fines, penalties, or costs for reconnecting your structure’s electrical wiring to the city-supplied power after your solar panels are installed.