Straight answers to frequently asked questions
(that many solar companies won’t give you)
How do I know if a solar installer is really qualified?
This is one of the hardest and most important decisions you’ll have to make in buying a solar system. Here are four ways to make choosing the right installer easier:
- Get multiple quotes, even if you’re in a solar co-op area.
- Read the quotes thoroughly, compare them, ask questions, and insist on clear answers.
- Go online to check each installer’s certifications and credentials.
- Talk to customers who bought the same type of system you’re considering – roof, ground mount, battery backup, off-grid, etc.
How do we know which components to choose? The terms are all new to us.
There are literally dozens of solar module companies selling product in the US. Some are good, some are really good, and some are not very good at all. It’s the same with inverters. Many companies are now installing string inverters of questionable quality to save a few cents per watt on cost. A residential system based on cheap string inverters and cheap, foreign-made modules cannot be compared to a system based on leading-edge micro inverters (25 year warranty) and high performance modules. This is a purchase decision that’s expected to last 30 or more years, so it pays to do the research and to understand what you are buying. We did, and these are the components we use and recommend.
Are those solar kits on sale at home improvement stores a good deal?
No, they’re not, for three reasons: First, they’re missing many components you need for a safe, complete, code-compliant solar system; buying those, and hiring a qualified profession to install them increase your short-term cost substantially. Second, most components they do include are cheap, poorly made and low on performance and durability; this can cost you long-term. Third, one generic kit made to fit all buildings won’t necessarily fit your roof’s type, material, pitch, truss or rafter composition and spans, etc. “One size fits all” generally doesn’t. For specifics, click here.
Our system doesn’t have batteries. Can we add them now?
Adding batteries to most existing systems is no problem. The configuration we’d likely use is called AC Coupling, and it’s fully compatible with all kinds of systems from micro inverters like Enphase to string inverters like SMA. The technical working of this connection is pretty far into the weeds, but we’d be happy to discuss and provide a quote to anyone interested.
Solar co-ops in our area are promoting 20-25% discounts. How is this possible?
It isn’t. At first, co-ops looked like a good thing because they promoted the growth of solar to many more homes. But their installer evaluation process, member expectations management and member protections raise some red flags. One thing we know from nearly two decades in the solar business is this: No reputable installer can offer a 20% discount on a quality solar system and pay Community Power Network (CPN) a $600 fee per installation and make a fair profit. Real-world margins just aren’t that big. So what you may get for your 20% discount is a 20% cheaper system, based on cheaper components, a new (and less qualified) installer looking for work, and/or cheap and unskilled labor. But that’s a cheaper system, not a discount. If you’re considering solar from a co-op, get at least one alternate bid from someone besides the co-op committee’s selection. You’ve got nothing to lose, and when you compare apples-to-apples quotes, you may be pleasantly surprised. Learn more here
Are solar modules durable?
They’re UL® certified and tested to withstand hail, hurricane-force winds, rainstorms and other kinds of severe weather.
What about the rest of my solar system?
There are no moving parts to wear out. Solar modules are warranted by the manufacturer for 25 years, most inverters for 10 to 15. In addition, modules are warranted to perform at at least 80% of original output after 25 years. Batteries for off-grid systems last 7 to 10 years if properly maintained. One recent development is that Enphase microinverters now come with a 25-year warranty which is very attractive to buyers.
Do I have to maintain my solar panels?
Just keep them relatively clean. In most areas, rain does that.
If I sell my house, can I take my solar system?
You can, but you’d do better leaving it in place, where it’ll increase your home’s resale value.
How big a system do I need?
That depends on how much unshaded area there is for your array, by how big a percentage you want to cut your electric bill, and what your budget is – all of which Milestone Solar covers with you in our initial contact and free site survey.
Should I lease or buy my system?
There are tradeoffs either way.
When you lease, your initial outlay may be lower, but you’ll give up federal tax credits and state incentives and grants that could put tens of thousands of dollars in your pocket. You could also be giving up hundreds or thousands of dollars a year in Solar Renewable Energy Credits (which also vary from state to state) that solar system owners earn by selling credits for power produced to the electric utilities.
If you own your solar system, it adds substantially to your home’s value and potential selling price. But if you sell your home before a solar lease is up, the added monthly payments could deter potential buyers.
Overall, with the low interest bank financing available, we encourage customers to carefully review all options before committing to a lease agreement. In almost all cases, we feel that buying and owning is a much better deal than leasing.
How do I pay the initial purchase cost?
As a Milestone Solar customer, you can get quick, easy financing at low, fixed bank rates on your choice of terms with no down payment.
How big a roof do I need?
The size of your solar array depends on your site’s orientation and shading and your energy needs. But don’t worry about the size of your roof. We can also use empty ground space; setting the poles, digging trenches and laying conduit back to the grid connection point will add a little installation time.
How long does installation take?
For a typical roof-mounted residential system, six to eight weeks overall. Most of that time is for ordering the components, shipping from the manufacturers and distributors, and filing for and obtaining all the required permits. Installing the system itself takes only one to three days. Ground installations take a little longer. Large commercial, municipal and agricultural systems obviously require much more time. Either way, as a Milestone Solar customer, you receive a specific detailed schedule – one that we live up to.