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How to Avoid Solar Panel Scams

Home technology expert Ross Trethewey teaches host Kevin O’Connor what he needs to know about solar installation plans, financing, and rebates to ensure homeowners get the most for their investment.

Kevin O’Connor and home technology expert Ross Trethewey meet back at the shop to talk solar financing. Ross explains to Kevin that solar is so popular right now because the system cost is at an all-time low while energy prices are at an all-time high. Ross explains how to avoid scams and make the most of a solar installation.

Why is Solar Energy Becoming Popular?

Everyone’s phones and internet browsers are full of solar panel ads, and there are now door-to-door salesmen walking through neighborhoods attempting to sell systems. Why is solar so popular right now?

At the moment, solar panel systems are the most affordable they’ve ever been. Also, electric rates are at historic highs. Local and federal government rebates are also particularly attractive, meaning more folks are interested in installing solar panel systems on their roofs.

Ways to Finance Solar Installation

There are essentially four ways to pay for solar installation. Those ways include the homeowner paying for the solar system themselves out of pocket, using a third-party lender to secure a loan for the system and installation, leasing the system from a solar company, and a power purchase agreement. The benefits of these options vary.

Cash

When a homeowner pays for their own installation, they own the system. This means they can take full advantage of the solar rebates offered by federal and local governments. While they do have to come up with a lot of money (typically north of $13,000), they don’t have to pay interest. They might also be able to obtain a discount for full payment.

Loan

Some homeowners may choose to secure a third-party loan to pay for their solar panel system. In this scenario, the homeowner still owns the panels, and they retain all of the tax rebate benefits, but they’ll have to pay back the loan amount plus interest.

Leasing Agreement

Homeowners who want solar but don’t want to pay out of pocket or secure a loan may choose to lease their system from a solar company. When this is the case, the homeowner benefits from lower electricity bills, but the leasing company retains all of the tax benefits and rebates, and owns the system.

Power Purchase Agreement

Similar to a leasing agreement, homeowners who enter into power purchase agreements will pay less each month for electricity. They agree to purchase their electricity from the solar company in exchange for the solar company installing the panels on the homeowner’s roof. Again, in this scenario, the solar company retains the right to rebates and tax benefits.

How to Know if Solar is For You

Solar isn’t for everyone. There are a few questions to ask yourself before contacting or responding to a solar company:

  1. Does my house get enough sunlight? If your home is constantly shaded by trees or buildings, a solar system is most likely not ideal.
  2. Is my roof in good enough shape? Older roofs that will need replacing within the next few years aren’t good candidates for solar panel systems. However, homeowners may be able to take advantage of certain tax credits for their roof and solar panel system.
  3. How long am I staying in my house? Solar panel systems generally take 5 to 8 years to pay themselves off. If the homeowner is moving within the next few years, it may not be worth the expense or headache to install a system.

If the answers to those questions aren’t favorable, a solar panel system may not be ideal for you.

How to Choose a Solar Company

With the ability to finance solar panel systems, get paid for them, and retain tax benefits, many solar companies are sprouting up. Not all of these solar panel companies are reputable, however. Some are simply in it for revenue generation, and once they land the agreement, there is very little incentive to return and service the system.

Instead of choosing the first solar panel installer that knocks on the door, do a bit of research. Ask friends and family who they used for their solar panel systems. Also, for each potential contractor, find out where they’re from. It’s better to work with a locally owned company than one run by a conglomerate 3,000 miles away.

It’s also important to know how long a company has been in business. Ten years of experience looks better than 6 months. And while a new company isn’t necessarily a bad company, the homeowner should do more research to verify that the company is legitimate.

One other thing: Look for Solar North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). These contractors have undergone third-party certification that ensures they know what they’re doing.