Mistakes To Avoid When Going Solar

At California Solar Guide, we’ve been designing solar systems for over 20 years, and in our experience, here are the seven biggest mistakes to avoid when going solar.

Solar is a long-term investment, so it’s essential to avoid making common mistakes that can cost you money. Here are seven of the biggest mistakes to avoid when going solar.

Our List Of The 7 Biggest Mistakes To Avoid When Going Solar

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The 7 Biggest Mistakes To Avoid When Going Solar

Mistake #1 – Not Researching Your Contractor

It all begins with choosing the right solar company. There are a lot of solar companies out there, so it can be tough to figure out who to trust. 

The #1 most important thing, make sure the solar installer is licensed and insured.

Nothing can be more important. Don’t wind up with Chuck in Truck.

In California, it’s easy to check on a solar company. Go online to the California State Licencing Board and enter the name of the solar company.

If they are legit, the company profile will come up, and you can immediately find out if they are licensed, insured, and in good standing.

1 - Research your contractor. Solar installer smiling on a roof with solar panels

Here is a tip: look for negative reviews. Also, check review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. They tell you more than positive ones.

It may be more complicated if you are dealing with a solar broker. But how would you know?

Ask the question directly: Are you a solar broker? Also, they won’t come up on a contractor search because they aren’t contractors.

If they are brokers, then after the sale, they will turn it over to a contractor, and you may never hear from the solar broker again.

So, to avoid the #1 mistake, find out ahead of time exactly who is responsible for performing the work on your solar project.

If you get this one wrong, nothing else will matter. Read our tips on how to pick the best solar contractor.

Mistake #2 – Picking A Cheap Solar Panel

Not all solar panels are the same. Poor-quality solar panels cost less initially but will not produce well over time and could even damage your roof and home.

And let me tell you something as an industry insider – the quality of the solar panel you choose is more important than the initial price, and here’s why:

Over the next 25 years, high-quality solar panels will cost less because they produce more power over time and last longer than conventional panels. You are ultimately buying power!

2 - Pick a quality solar panel. Man holding up an all black solar panel on a roof with solar panels

We all know the old saying – you get what you pay for, especially in solar. 

Cheap solar panels are cheap because they’re made of low-quality components that won’t produce the same results.

There are dozens of panel manufacturers, so how can you tell which are the best?

Solar panels are judged to be good, better, and best. Tier-1 panels are considered “the best” by solar industry experts.

An independent 3rd party certifies that Tier-1 panel manufacturers are experienced and financially stable. The cheapest option may not be as stable.

Financial stability is essential because your panel manufacturer needs to stay in business to honor its warranty. So be sure to pick a Tier-1 panel and avoid one of the biggest mistakes homeowners make when they go solar. Read more about the best solar panels.

Mistake #3 – Not Sizing Your System Properly

You do not want a solar energy system that is too big or too small for your family.

How can you figure out what the right size should be? 

First, get your annual kilowatt usage by calling your electric company and asking for your energy consumption.

If the electric company says your family used 10,000 kilowatt hours over the last year, then the system should be sized accordingly.

A system designed to produce 5,000-kilowatt hours of solar power would be too small. And it won’t meet your energy needs.

But the opposite is also true. If your system is too big, you’ll end up wasting money.

3 - Size your system right. Beautiful home with a big solar array on it

Follow the goldilocks rule. Be sure to match the energy production from the solar system to your annual power consumption.

So it’s not too big and not too small. It’s just right.

Mistake #4 – Assuming It Will Look Good

Find out what your solar panel installation will look like BEFORE it’s installed; don’t wait until it’s too late.

A poorly designed system can be an eyesore for you and your neighbors.

Messy wiring and cables running across your roof – uneven panel placement. Some installations look sloppy. A reverse tilt on your roof can ruin your home’s curb appeal with the panels sticking up in the air.  

4 - Check out their work. Man looking at solar panels on a house

A well-designed system will look clean on your roof and add value to your home.  

Ask to see photos of the contractor’s solar installations or drive by a few nearby.

Mistake #5 – Not Getting a Production Guarantee

Here’s a secret about solar that will help you avoid another costly solar mistake. 

When you buy a solar system, you’re buying all the power that the system is supposed to produce over the next 25-plus years. But how do you know you’ll get the power that the contractor promised?

Here’s the secret: most companies only give you a performance guarantee.

But what you want to get is a production guarantee for your solar energy.

Performance/Production: They sound the same, but they are not. 

A performance guarantee means the solar panel will still operate for 25 years.

How well? They don’t specify. They consider it to be performing as long as it produces any power. 

Wouldn’t it be better if the contract guaranteed power production?

5 - Get a production guarantee in writing of the solar energy that your system will produce

That’s exactly why you need a power production guarantee. And it needs to be in the contract.

You are buying power. Some companies like Sunpower will guarantee solar energy production, and others won’t.

So, when comparing quotes, get a solar production guarantee in writing.

Mistake #6 – Not Checking What The Warranty Covers

Speaking of guarantees and warranties, here is another important mistake to avoid when going solar.

The solar panel manufacturer holds the warranty on the equipment, not the solar panel installer, and most equipment warranties do not include shipping or labor, which can be thousands of dollars.

So you need to find out if shipping the panel along with the labor to remove and re-install it is included in the product warranty.

It’s expensive to remove, ship, and reinstall a solar panel. That’s why the warranty must cover all the costs – don’t assume it is.

Again, be sure it’s in writing…check the fine print to see what is covered.

6 - Check the Warranty to be sure it covers labor and shipping too

I can tell you from years of personal experience in the industry that the best 25-Year warranty in solar is the SunPower Warranty. 

The only solar warranty that covers your whole system (not just the panels), including the shipping and labor, is the Sunpower warranty, and you won’t have to worry because it’s all in the contract.

#7 – Not Checking Shading

Finally, let’s talk about shade’s negative effect on your solar panels.

Solar panel systems work best when they are getting direct sunlight. That might be obvious.

What might be less obvious is that shade can dramatically reduce solar panel output. 

That makes Shade the #1 enemy of all solar panels. The shade can be from trees, chimneys, vents, or anything that casts a shadow onto the solar panels.

The second story of your home can create shade on the panels if you live in a two-story house. 

7 - Check for shading where your solar panels are going. Avoid areas with shade from trees, the second story, and any other source

Here’s the problem: not every solar contractor will be careful about shading studies, and as a result, they could greatly overstate the solar system’s kilowatt production. 

Keep this in mind when looking at rooftop panel layout proposals from different contractors, and take a good look at your roof to see if there are shaded areas.

That’s why you must get a production guarantee in writing.

Costly Mistakes To Avoid When Going Solar

Now that you know the seven biggest mistakes when going solar, avoid each one by taking the simple steps outlined above.

And be sure to make a sound investment by getting a quote from a company like Sunpower that guarantees your solar electricity production and provides a comprehensive warranty.

Always get at least three quotes from vetted, qualified solar installers. EnergySage makes the process easy!

Recommended reading: Free Solar Panels: 5 Solar Scams To Avoid