How Long Is the Process of Going Solar and How Do I Get Started?
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”Mark Twain
When making the switch to solar energy, the process is relatively quick and painless for the homeowner. First, if you are dealing with a knowledgeable solar rep, they will help you understand exactly what the benefits are and answer all questions to your satisfaction before you sign on that dotted line. If your rep is vague about questions that you have or doesn’t offer to get you clarification if they don’t know the answer, it is best that you wait until they have answered you satisfactorily in writing. The most important thing you can do to protect your family from costly solar mistakes is ensure that the company you choose to work with has a track record in the industry and will provide everything in writing upfront, so it never becomes an issue of your word versus the sales rep. Here is the basic process of working up a proposal that outlines the services that will be provided:
Step 1: Collect Your Energy Bill
Before even beginning the conversation, make sure you have access to a recent utility bill in your name. The sales rep will reference a recent utility bill to ensure that the system being customized for you actually fits your needs and provides the value you are expecting it to. Together, you will look over your existing utility payments and usage and determine the best course of action. Sometimes, you want to generate 100% of the total utility costs you generate, and in other cases, maybe you only wish to generate a portion of the needed energy.
PRO TIP: Remember that when you’re viewing the bill, you’re viewing it annually versus monthly, as there will be months of higher energy usage and months of lower usage. The bright summer sun might produce energy differently than a cloudy fall, especially if you live in a northern climate. By looking at your usage holistically, you can ensure your system suits your needs both now and also in the future.
Step 2: Review a Custom Proposal
You, your home, and your situation are all unique, so you should deal with a rep who takes the time to understand what’s important to you and creates a bespoke proposal that addresses those needs. Should you get the impression that the solar proposal given to you is a simple copy and paste job, ask the rep to show you the areas unique to your home and make sure they’re in line with what you viewed together on the energy bill. If you have questions or want to see additional explanation, now is the time to voice that and also ensure that everything you agreed upon is in writing. The proposal should include any promises made verbally, and you must receive a copy for your records. If they promised you a warranty (and I would not enter a solar contract without one), make sure it’s written in the contract and also verbally explained to you by the rep. Ensure that you’re both in agreement and have a crystal clear understanding of expectations. By being proactive about what is and isn’t covered under warranty, you can ensure there is no confusion down the road.
Step 3: Select the Best Plan
Even though you may already know what’s best, take the time to learn about the various options and how they will affect your energy and your wallet. As the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Your rep should help you understand the pros and cons of different panels and different financing/payment options available for you. Your rep works for you, so don’t just settle for the largest system just because your rep wants a bigger commission. Make sure that what you choose is right for you and your family. Make sure the design is future-proof because your needs may change one day. If you are expecting tax credits or other incentives, ask how that works to ensure they arrive as expected. Verify that you understand exactly what you are paying for and if they’ve already accounted for those credits in the solar quote.
Step 4: Sign the Contract
Until you sign on the dotted line and commit to the project, prices can change. Ask if there are any additional savings that you could take advantage of, both from the installer and federal/state incentives. Once you’re satisfied with the contract, sign it and request a copy for your records. As with many things related to utility billing and solar, prices trend up, so it’s best to lock in a favorable rate as soon as you’re satisfied. The process until installation is long, so you don’t want to make a single payment more on your energy costs than you have to. When you transition to solar energy, you begin to own your power versus renting it. So, you want to make payments towards your equity in the project as soon as possible.
Step 5: Get Started
You will either continue to work with your rep or begin a relationship with a dedicated project manager. The best situations will be a combination of the two, as your rep has a financial interest in making sure they complete the project on time and to your satisfaction. A project manager will have better access to the nitty gritty of the construction process. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions or clarify the timeline if it changes. Ask any homeowner who has undertaken a major home renovation, and they will tell you to expect delays. Make sure that you are aware of any additional deliverables needed on your end to help keep the project on track. Finally, understand when you need to be present for certain work to be complete and adjust accordingly.
Step 6: The Waiting Game
Because of the complexity of solar, most projects do not happen as quickly as one might hope. On average, it takes between 1-4 months for the system to be activated once the contract is signed. This is due to dealing with contractors’ schedules, permissions, inspections, and natural delays. Here’s a general guideline of the process:
• Proposal review by the installer
• Contractor scheduling
• Site visit by the installation team
• Apply for local and utility incentives
• Apply for utility interconnection and local permits
• Structural or geotechnical inspection
• Solar system installation
• Utility meter installation
• Local and utility inspections
• System activation
• Post install: Application for tax credits and additional incentives available
Don’t worry, you won’t be responsible for much of the list, and your rep or project manager will handle the day-to-day issues.
Step 7 (Optional): Throw a party
When the project is done, I always encourage my clients to throw a party to celebrate the end of a long journey. What’s more, I often foot the bill as it’s an opportunity for the homeowner to show off the new addition to the house, feel good about making an impact for future generations, and, as the consultant, it’s a great chance for more people to see the process up close. It’s a win-win for everyone, and it’s always a good time.
While switching to solar can be a long process, it’s worthwhile. As they say, all good things come to those who wait, but that really only applies after the contract’s signed, and people are working behind the scenes to get you what you want! The most important thing you can do to speed up the process is to ask everything upfront and ensure all decision-makers are available during the proposal presentation.
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- Solar for $0 down
- Save up to 50% on your energy bills
- Increase your home value
- Get clean renewable energy
- Get a 30-year warranty
- Customized proposal and best value
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Jon Nelsen | Solar Consultant