What you will find on this page
- How this matters
- Am I a good fit for going solar?
- How to actually go solar
- More answers
- Cool videos
- Comment or suggestion?
- Topic contributors
How this matters
We checked and it looks like our homes, together, have more than 630,000 square feet of roof space on which we could generate close to 6 million kWh of “green” electricity in a year. If we all went solar, we would offset 4,173 metric tons of CO2, which is like removing CO2 generated from burning over half a million pounds of coal. Home by home, community by community, going solar is grassroots momentum that drives change.
Am I a good fit for going solar?
If you answer “Yes” to these 4 questions, then looking into it would be worth it.
- Do you own your own home?
- Will you live in your home for the next 2 years?
- Do you pay federal income taxes?
- Does the sun hit your rooftop or a large section of your yard on most days?
With respect to Lake Hogan Farms’ HOA, these types of installations require aesthetic review and approval by the Architectural Review Board (ARB).
How to actually go solar
This guide lays out the basic steps for researching and getting it done. You may also want to check this page with additional details.
1. Get familiar
If solar is new to you, it’s a good idea to read up a little bit before you start your shopping. Key things to look up are the status of technology (solar panels keep getting more efficient, energy grids are getting more sophisticated about incorporating clean energy options etc.), economics (what are your cost factors, how do service providers make money), and the actual installation and maintenance. These three articles are a good start for your homework.
- What are solar panels? A beginner’s guide (May 18, 2020)
- Solar power for your home 2020: the story has changed (April 16, 2020)
- Solar power can boost your home’s value (October 5, 2019)
- Going solar in North Carolina (Audubon Society)
- NC residential customer guide to going solar (June, 2018)
2. Screen your local installers
Same as with any service providers for your home, there’s usually an upside to working with someone in your area.
Check their stability and their licensing.
If they’ve been around since before 2015, when federal tax credits began to phase out, they’re likely well established. Because solar installations come with 10-20 year warranties and have a long life expectancy, you want to make sure they will be around to honor that. Their Google ratings and a call to the Better Business Bureau are also good indicators. Also check their number of employees; a small number is a sign they’re doing a lot of outsourcing.
Confirming correct licensing is easy, but you will need the names of specific people working for the company.
- Make sure that NABCEP board certified professionals work for the company. This is the industry gold-standard.
- Confirm the company has a General Contractor license in NC.
- Also make sure their installers have a NC Board Examiners of Electrical Contractor license. Going solar is essentially an electrical upgrade on your home.
Here are some installers we found in our area using these criteria.
3. Take the time with proposals
It really pays to get proposals from at least three different installers that passed your checks, not just to get the best value, but to make sure the solar panels, the installers, and the company that its backing everything are rock solid, including their relationships with suppliers.
How to vet the quality of the company
As you’re going through the proposal stage with a company’s sales representative, asking a few of these questions is a good litmus test to inform your decision.
- Is the sales rep an educator
- Are they comfortable with you doing research and getting other bids?
- Do they give you sufficient time to check references?
- Will they let you check how long employees have been with them?
- Do they have sufficient solar panel and inverter options and inventory?
- Are employees genuinely happy, loyal, and optimistic in their work?
- Is the rep comfortable talking about “the good and the bad” of solar?
- How upfront are they when explaining the financials?
- Do they responsibly discuss the decision to spread the system cost over time?
- Did they advise you to update your homeowner’s insurance to include solar?
How to compare the actual proposal information
There are several big items to check out when comparing proposals.
- The proposals should be based on the same set of inputs that you gave them. Differences in how a sales rep interprets your input and translates what you say into your solar energy needs could be the reason why one proposal is less expensive than another. And, keep in mind that if one installer says they can do xyz, say put a 9 kW system on your roof to achieve your desired output etc., then another should be able to do the same thing.
- All proposals should have all shading and irradiance issues (e.g. factors that could reduce the availability of sunlight) around your home included in the assumptions and reflected in the design. Make sure you ask about this!
- Compare the costs of multiple proposals using a Dollar per Watt ($/Watt) calculation. A less expensive bid might be undersized and the relative cost for providing solar energy on a $/Watt basis might be higher. Until you do the math, you won’t know. The calculation is simple. Just divide the total system gross price by the size in Watts (kW x 1000).
- Also compare the cost of the proposals to industry norms. For instance, if you are being charged more than $4/Watt for an average sized (6kW) roof system, then look elsewhere. This is important, because you want to recoup your investment/loan when you sell your home, and the market won’t support an overpriced system.
- Get more than just the manufacturers’ warranties for the solar panels and the inverter. You will want warranties for roof penetration, labor workmanship; and labor service (e.g. labor that may be required for taking care of a “warranty claim” such as returning or exchanging a solar panel or an inverter for a refund, replacement, or repair.
- Don’t forget about the design of the solar system, and how it will impact the appearance of your home
When making the final selection
As you head into the final stretch, remember to consider pricing, design of the system on your roof, the quality of components and materials, electricity output, warranties, business history, etc. And if the company you like the best doesn’t have the best price, ask if they will meet or beat your lowest equivalent quote.
4. Signing the contract
Determining how you will pay for the system is a big part of signing the contract. More than likely you will have access to various financing options. Remember, these are loans, not unlike a mortgage, and you might end up paying interest for a while. Also keep in mind the overall return of this investment. It could influence how you decide to pay for it.
5. The installation
The installation includes permitting, the actual installation or mounting of the solar panels and the inverter, and connecting your system into the electric grid. All this should be handled by your installer. It’s straightforward and turnkey for them.
6. Running on Solar
The installation will include a monitoring app to check how the system and each panel are performing. You can get as involved in keeping track as you want and try to become as energy efficient as possible.
Also important will be maintaining your system. You will get recommendations from the installer. Those should include washing down the system with a hose about every two years to remove debris or soil that might have built up. Because you live in Lake Hogan Farms, if you don’t have what’s called a “critter guard”, each spring you will also want to check for squirrel nests under the panels.
Going solar is relatively simple. But, because it is a big decision, it does help to pay attention to the details along the way. On this “Going Solar — More Answers” page, you will find additional helpful information as you go through the process.
- What types of solar systems can I choose from?
- What are the main components of a solar photovoltaic system?
- Will my solar system be connected to the grid?
- Will I need a battery?
- What is the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and how long does it last?
- What are the ways to pay for solar?
- How should I think about the return on this investment (ROI)?
- Are the age and condition of my roof a factor?
- What should I be thinking about when buying or selling a home with solar?
- What are the risks to going solar?
- How long does going solar take?
- How can I determine the quality of the solar equipment?
- Will I still have a bill from Duke?
- How much solar do I need to offset my electricity usage?
- EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator
- Google’s Project Sunroof
- Solar United Neighbors
- Shockoe Solar
- Renu Energy Solutions
- Paradise Solar Energy Blog “Tier 1 vs Tier 2 Solar Panels”
- Stanford University
Comment or suggestion?
We hope this is helpful and welcome information. If you have a comment or suggestion, just drop us a note using our contact form. Make sure you include your contact information. We will get back to you as quickly as we can. Keep in mind that we are a small group of volunteers supporting this resource.
Nicole Fouche, Danielle Leonard, Tilly Pick