⏭️ Your Steps to Install a Home Solar System
In this section we discuss the typical steps homeowners like you take to get a solar system installed at their home. This process begins with an inquiry and ends with a newly installed solar system being activated.
The first real step in your journey is to inquire with one or more companies about getting solar for your home. You may fill out web forms after doing some Google searching, see a flier in your mailbox or get a reference from a friend or neighbor and contact a solar sales representative directly.
These questions may include:
- Do you own your home?
- What amount of energy have you used in the past year?
- What is your roof made of?
- How old is your roof?
The solar company will also look at satellite maps to determine where the most exposure to sunlight is for panel placement. In some cases, you’re going to be asked if you’re willing to cut trees. To you the qualification process will feel more like a conversation of question and answer for maybe 5 to 10 minutes.
Design the System
Once you are qualified by EnergyPal or another solar company you will typically receive an initial design of your solar system within the proposal or price quote. The system design will often be calibrated to include enough solar panels to produce a sufficient amount of energy over the course of a year to offset the majority of your home's current or expected energy usage. The system design will usually be either a satellite image of the home, or it will be a schematic of the home, with solar panels laid out on top. When reviewing the design you may have some questions or concerns about where panels are placed.
Sometimes solar companies will reduce the size of a system to show a total lower price even if it doesn't cover the full utility bill. This is often referred to as “under-sizing”. Sometimes solar companies may oversize the system simply to maximize their total sales price. It's important to be aware of local utility regulations as they may provide constraints or rules on the size or total production potential of your system.
With quotes and proposals and system designs in hand this is when you will usually begin a process of comparing the quotes and trying to understand how they suit your needs. You may be interested in the lowest monthly payment or you may be interested in the highest total power produced or they may get stuck on particular aspects such as the system size in kilowatts (kW), the type of inverter or the location of the panels on the roof. There's a lot of information provided in solar proposals that take some time to digest and absorb if you're doing it on your own.
The bad news for you is that comparing quotes is extremely difficult. The data is presented in different forms and is not always apples-to-apples. Companies may purposely present information in a biased way to try to win a customer by portraying the information in a very favorable light.
The good news for you is that we take this pain in the buying process as a huge part of our value proposition. We can clearly educate why some quotes are better and why some quotes are worse for your specific situation.
Let us help you compare quotes:
Get a free custom quote on your solar system
EnergyPal has access to many top-rated solar installers with high quality panels and great financing options. We make it easy to assist homeowners to compare quotes through our online custom accounts we create for homeowners.
Once you have determined which company you're going to go with and which panel design you prefer, you will enter a process called signing. This is simply letting your sales representative know or selecting online the proposal that you prefer and agreeing to move forward.
If the Solar Company is an in-person business then they may have a representative sit in your living room and walk you through the proposal and have you sign the contract right there. These are often slightly high-pressure sales where either a customer is going to love their sales representative and be happy to sign or perhaps the sales representative sitting in the home is too aggressive and in the end alienates the customer and gets kicked out.
Other solar companies will provide information virtually like EnergyPal and allow a customer to review the proposals and quotes in the comfort of their own home and answer questions by phone or email. These customers may sign right after they're presented the proposal or may come around a few months later when they're ready to sign the contracts.
Signing the contract is a very straightforward process. Contracts and agreements are generated and shared online for you to review.
After signing the contract a series of processes are kicked off. The most apparent to you will be the scheduling of a site survey. This is when a person assesses the structural integrity of your home as well as the roof or ground. They will also look at sun exposure and inspect the electrical systems suitability for solar.
You usually don't even need to be at home for the site survey to take place. In some cases the site surveyor will need to enter the home to look at the attic crawl space. This could be to plan a path for electrical conduit through the Attic or to double-check the structural Integrity of some roof Rafters or trusses. For you, a site survey is quick, easy, and painless. Sometimes the surveyors will even use drones to take photos and measurements of the roof.
Also behind the scenes is the engineering process that occurs after you sign your contract. The engineering team is ready to take all the inputs from the initial solar design from the site survey results and from any other information that may have been provided by the customer in order to design the final layout and electrical configuration for the solar system. They will also do a structural review of the home to make sure the roof can safely support solar. The purpose of the engineering is to develop a set of plans that can be submitted to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), which is a technical name for the city or town building permit office, to get the permits to do the project.
From your perspective this is a step where you don't really have much to do unless the engineering department comes back with questions. Maybe the initial roof areas where panels would go is not going to work for structural issues or the property needs an upgrade to the main electrical panel. These questions and concerns will be relayed to you through your sales representative.
Permitting is another step that is really a non-step for you. The solar company will take the engineering plans and signed documents from the customer to then submit to the local authority having Jurisdiction (AHJ).
Within EnergyPal's current top service territories, installers manage over 3000 AHJs (cities, towns and counties) building permit offices. Because of the massive fragmentation of AHJs and the fact that many have their own particular rules and processes for obtaining permits, this can be an area of delay and frustration for homeowners and solar companies alike!
Solar permits tend to take longer as building departments need to receive fire department approval or utility pre-approval before granting the building permit.
Solar installation is an exciting time for you because you will actually see crews onsite and have visible progress on your solar system.Solar installations are usually 1 to 2 days depending on when the crew arrives.
Typically a crew of 3-7 members will perform the installation. This consists of installing mounts into the roof material, laying “rails” or racking for the solar panel arrays, connecting the panels to the rails / racking, and wiring all of the solar panel arrays and inverter(s) to the main electrical panel.
Once the system is installed you might be extremely excited but slightly disappointed because your system will not yet be functional. In order to become functional the solar company will need to request a final inspection and submit documentation to the AHJ and utility.
After final inspections by the city and the utility the system will be granted permission to operate (PTO) by the electric utility serving you. Typically this point will happen between 2 weeks to 2 months after the installation. The long delay is usually due to the utility bureaucratic process and slow processing timelines.
As soon as PTO is granted the system can be turned on (typically by the Solar Company personnel) then immediately when the sun is shining the system will produce power and feed the home and or the grid. You will now be able to start using your system monitoring app to view the system producing power.