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Things to Consider Before Installing Rooftop Solar Panels

Across the United States, more and more people are starting to invest in solar power systems. They are outfitting their roofs with solar panels — and why not? Solar power technology has seen incredible advancements in recent years, many of which have helped to lower the cost of the equipment involved.  Installing solar panels on your roof is also a wonderful way to generate electricity for your home and business, as well as the grid, without increasing your impact on the environment

However, there are many things that you need to consider before you jump in and start the installation process. Understanding the different factors involved in a project like this is so important — taking a look at common solar panel myths is a good idea, too.

To help you decide whether or not solar power is the right option for you, your home, or your business, we’ve put together a list of the top 15 things you need to take into consideration before you install those rooftop solar panels.

1. Does your roof need repairs?

Before you even consider installing solar panels, ask yourself, how old is my roof? If you know that you will need a new roof soon, or that a part of your roof is damaged, it probably isn’t the best idea to install solar panels. If you can, take care of any roof repairs before the installation. That way, you won’t need to pay extra to dismantle the work and then put it up again (in some cases for at least 20 years).

Another aspect to consider is the warranty on your roof compared to the warranty on the solar panels. If you have solar panels that will last for 20 years and a roof that will only last between 10 – 15, it increases the cost of maintenance. Try to match both projects in terms of how long they will last in order to reduce the amount of effort, time and money you will need to invest.

2. What is the shape of your roof?

Roofs come in many different shapes and sizes. Before you go ahead with any installation, make sure that your roof has enough space for the solar panels. If there isn’t enough room, you likely will not get the return you expect on your investment.

3. Which direction do the slopes of your roof face?

Solar panels require specific placement in order to generate the maximum amount of power. Most professionals say that the best placement is to have the panels face south while others say west. Regardless, this information is important for you to determine before the installation starts.

4. How much weight can your roof handle?

Installing solar panels will increase the weight on the structure of your roof. If the weight of these solar panels is too much for your roof to handle, there is a potential that it will collapse. This is very dangerous for many reasons, not to mention costly. To avoid both situations, it is critical to have a professional evaluate your roof to determine if additional support is required to complete the installation.

5. Where will the water go?

When it rains, water runs down the roof, into the gutters and out and away from your home. When installing solar panels, equipment like racking and wire harnesses can prevent the water from flowing and draining properly. In some cases, solar equipment can move the water in a different direction, which can create leaks and other problems. These problems will need repair, which means the solar panels will need to be removed.

To avoid all of these issues, make sure that you inform your contractor of these concerns. They will be able to present a plan to you to prove that the installation will not impact the water runoff in any way.

6. What about nature’s other surprises?

Part of maintaining your solar power system is dealing with severe weather like lightning storms, hurricanes, hail, and more. There is a potential for some solar power equipment to get damaged during these events. While some insurance will cover these types of events, it is something to consider, especially if you live in an area where this type of weather occurs often.

7. How do you connect to the grid?

In addition to the structure and shape of your roof, you also need to consider how you are going to connect your solar power system to the grid. When connecting with a local utility, there are many things that you need to determine.

Examples include:

  • How long will it take to get hooked up?
  • Do you need to pay any fees?
  • How will you be credited for the generated electricity?
  • When will you be credited for your generated electricity?

For more information on where states stand on net-metering (the how and when you will be credited for the electricity you generate) check out this handy guide.

8. Did you shop around?

Before signing any agreement with a contractor, make sure that you’ve done your research. Picking the first contractor you come across might seem like a quick and easy way to start saving money sooner rather than later. However, this isn’t necessarily true! If you are serious about installing solar panels on your roof, shop around and get different quotes from different contractors.  Do some research on these companies to make sure that they are reputable and their customers are satisfied.

After you speak with a few contractors, you will be glad you did. You can compare quotes, customer reviews, and other information to make the best, informed decision.

Signing a Contract

When you are ready to sign a contract, there are a few things to look out for in the agreement. Some of these items include:

  • Financing expectations
  • Ownership expectations
  • Performance expectations
  • Entities that might collect data on your electricity production and usage
  • Companies that have access to your electricity production and usage data

If this information is not clearly defined in the contract, you might want to ask the contractor a few clarification questions. Never sign for anything you are not comfortable with!

9. Do you trust your contractor?

Installing a solar power system is both a home improvement and electrical project. This is why when you start your search for the right contractor, you validate that they have the correct credentials. For example, asking if they have accreditation from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) is a good place to start.

Choosing a contractor that you feel will also be around for the long term is also an important factor to consider. While there is little maintenance that is required, if something stops working, you want your contractor available to fix it under warranty.

10. Did you pick the cheapest options?

Cheaper solar panels rarely translate to better solar panels. While the technology has dropped significantly in price over the past decade, investing in the cheapest models or brands of solar panels can leave you in the dark. Cheaper or low end solar panels are often manufactured in a way that makes them less durable. When solar panels are less durable, it decreases your investment value as well as potential future savings. The scary part is that these lower quality panels can sometimes be dangerous, resulting in safety hazards. The last thing you want is to have a fire start in your home because of low quality solar panels.

As a consumer, it is so important to invest the time and money into installing the right solar panels. In the long run, it they will last longer and give you a much higher return.

11. What about warranties?

Warranties are an important aspect of protecting your solar panels and other related equipment. If anything happens to your solar panels, having a warranty helps you to keep the manufacturer accountable — without any additional cost to you.  There are also some incentive programs (available in many different states) that require you to have a warranty for your solar equipment.

If you don’t have a warranty, these programs will not accept your application.

Types of Warranties

A few different types of warranties exist for solar panels, equipment and installation. Some of these warranties include,

Solar Panel Warranty

This type of warranty should cover your solar panels for 25 – 30 years. If the warranty offered to you is for less than 25 years, understand that this is considered lower than the industry standard. This warranty covers a guaranteed minimum power output over the warranty period of the panel. Industry standards indicate that you should receive a minimum of 80% energy output for the length of time the panels are covered under the warranty.

Installation Warranty

This warranty covers situations where the solar panels and related equipment have been installed incorrectly. These types of warranties can generally last from 2 – 10 years. Many of these warranties cover things like, the labor and parts related to repair or replacing elements of the system, roof penetrations, shipping, replacing defective parts, and more. For more information, make sure to ask your contractor what kind of installation warranties they provide.

Inverter Warranty

This type of warranty can change from company to company.

That being said, there are a few industry standards that can help you to get a better idea about the warranties that you should be offered. Standard “string inverters”, which handle power from a “string” of panels, often have a warranty period between 5 – 10 years. Generic “micro-inverters”, which attach to individual panels, have warranties that can last between 20 – 25 years. Inverter warranties generally cover, material or manufacturing defects and flaws. Inverter warranties generally don’t cover, improper installations, normal wear and tear caused by extreme conditions, and improper maintenance.

12. Do you have the right insurance?

Having the right insurance to cover both yourself and any damage to your home during installation is something you absolutely need to consider. Many problems can arise during the installation of your solar panels that you might not even think about until it happens. In addition, before the work can even begin many building codes, requirements for rebates, legal regulations and certifications require insurance. These rules and regulations vary by state, so it is important to contact the correct resources for your state before your project starts.

13. Did you take advantage of rebates?

The cost of installing a solar panel system in your home can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000.  The good news is many states, cities and solar companies in the United States offer rebates for installing solar panels on your roof.  Before your project begins, ask your contractor what options they have and if they don’t have any options, they should know of rebates that are offered by the state and city.

Overall, the government really wants to get people interested in investing in solar power. The Department of Energy itself offers as much as 30% in savings through rebates and tax credits. Your local utility and electricity providers might also offer savings.

14. Can you really DIY?

Solar panel installation is best left to the professionals. Period. There are many things that could potentially go wrong if you aren’t properly trained in the installation process. Examples include:

Wiring Problems: This is a job that requires you to work with electrical elements. If setup incorrectly, you can generate electricity shocks that are harmful to you and everyone around you. Always consult an electrician for any electric work.

Leaky Roof:  Installing solar panels require you to create holes in the roof. If these holes are not created or sealed properly, you will damage your roof and cause leaks.

Safety Standards and Code Compliance: Many solar panel warranties require installation by a licensed professional. If you install that equipment yourself, those warranties become void. If there is any damage caused during installation, or if there is problem with the way the panels were manufactured, you will not receive any compensation.

In addition, building permits and other related rules and regulations are difficult to follow if you are not familiar with them. All paperwork must be completed correctly because the project can be rejected.

15. Don’t forget about maintenance.

Keeping your solar panels working and your roof in good condition is all about establishing proper maintenance procedures.  It’s a good idea to find out from your contractor what those maintenance procedures are before the installation begins.  If you are unable to meet those maintenance requirements, there is a good chance your equipment will not last as long as you want it to.

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