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Going Solar 101: A Transparent Guide for Homeowners

It’s an exciting time for solar energy. According to SEIA, the cost of installing solar panels has fallen by 40% in the last decade, and the solar industry has grown by 24% year-over-year. The residential solar market is poised to grow over the next four years as interest rates decrease. 

Installing solar on your home can save you money, raise your home’s value, and reduce your carbon footprint. You can set an excellent example for the next generation and create long-term wealth in one fell swoop. 

We’ve been building solar systems for 19 years at Exact Solar. No one in the Southeast PA and New Jersey area is more qualified to install a solar system on your home. 

But even if you own your home outright, getting a solar system is not as simple as deciding to go solar and asking someone to install it. Some homes in the U.S. are on electric grids with outdated equipment that simply can’t handle the extra power. 

Other homes might not be good candidates right now because they’re too shaded or the roof needs to be updated. 

Our goal is to be honest and transparent with anyone who decides to “go solar,” so we’re here to break down the process of going solar for you (including the things that can go wrong). 

Step 1: Initial Sales Consultation

When you decide to go solar, you’ll likely interact with someone from a solar company’s sales team. They will assess your home’s solar candidacy, ensuring your roof is facing the right direction, isn’t shaded, and is in a “green zone” for solar based on the local utility company’s requirements. 

They’ll use their software to show you roughly how the solar system will look on your roof, where the panels will sit, etc. They’ll design a system based on your power bill and how much power you want to offset from your utility. 

Many door-to-door solar sales professionals will try to get you to sign a contract with them before you do any research for yourself. It’s critically important to step away if it’s your first interaction with someone and they’re trying to “close” you on the spot.  

When you go solar, you commit to 25-30 years of energy production on your roof. Knowing that’s the timeframe, don’t you deserve the best information from the most experienced installer? 

If you’re ready for a low-pressure consultation with one of our solar experts, request your free estimate here: 

Get a Free Estimate

Step 2: Site Visit 

A panoramic view of a rooftop solar installation by Exact Solar.

Many solar companies (especially if they’re headquartered in a different state) skip site visits altogether, relying only on satellite image data, photos, and power consumption to draw up your system remotely. 

At Exact Solar, we prefer to do both. 

We use satellite imagery to analyze your property remotely, and then we come out and ensure our calculations are correct. During the site visit, we look for anything that might not have been obvious remotely and double-check that your roof and electrical wiring can handle the extra loads a solar system will put on them. 

During a site visit, we fly a drone over your house and use software called Scanifly to map out where the panels will sit on your roof. We’ll also scope out placement points for the inverter and system disconnect. 

We’ll inspect your roof for damage and ensure it can take the solar system’s weight. We’ll encourage you to ask any questions that come to mind so you can make the absolute best decision for your home. 

If you’re interested in learning more about what happens on a site visit, we’ve done a comprehensive write-up for you: 

What Happens During a Solar Site Visit? 

Step 3: Contract Signing

Once the sales engineer has confirmed that your home is a good candidate for solar, you’ll be sent a preliminary contract. The contract puts the original cost estimate and estimate for your system’s power production in writing. 

In a perfect world, signing a contract would mean construction could start on your solar system immediately. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

It’s important to note that sometimes, there are unforeseen delays or costs in the installation process. I’ll cover a few of these below! 

If your installer is honest and transparent with you, they’ll keep you informed every step of the way as they communicate with the utility and run into potential roadblocks. You should never see a surprise added charge on your bill! 

Step 4: Permitting and Interconnection Process

After you sign your contract, your installer will send your designs back to engineering for electrical review before sending them to the utility and township. Depending on the system’s size and complexity, this can take a few days or a few weeks. 

Sometimes, your township requires approval from the utility before they’ll look at your application. Occasionally, the utility and township’s applications can be filed simultaneously. It varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

At this phase, the utility or township might delay your application or request changes to go solar for several reasons. They might reject the application because they believe the local grid can’t handle the amount of solar you request. Each jurisdiction has its own requirements that can lead to variability in the permit review process and timeline. 

A lot of the grid’s infrastructure is outdated and can’t handle the extra power. Unfortunately, much of the U.S.’s grid infrastructure was only designed for electricity flowing one way and needs to be updated to handle the bi-directional electricity flow that net-metered solar systems provide.

Step 5: Navigating Grid Capacity and Infrastructure Limitations

If the infrastructure near your house needs to be updated, the utility may ask that you pay to update it before your solar system’s installation. 

Sometimes, this means a simple service cable upgrade. It could also mean that your installer just has to downsize your system to fit the utility’s requirements. Other times, it’s a lot more costly. 

If you and your installer want the utility to come out and double-check if it really needs to be upgraded, with some utilities, you can ask for someone from the utility to do an “engineering study.” This essentially means that you are asking the utility to send someone out to see if their data (the reason they rejected your application remotely) aligns with what’s going on with the wires around your house. 

The study’s cost will be out of your pocket, but it might save you the cost of upgrading local infrastructure near your home. 

If your installer is experienced and used to working with the utility, and you’re ok with the cost of a minor update, it’s very unlikely that your project won’t move forward. At Exact Solar, we have 19 years of negotiating with utilities under our belts. 

But we’ve seen projects grind to a halt because the necessary upgrades were too costly for the homeowner to receive an ROI on their solar system. Unfortunately, this is just part of working in the solar industry. 

Step 6: Installation

Once all the red tape has been cut and the permits have been accepted, it’s time to install your solar system! 

Your installer’s crew will show up at your house, climb on your roof, and build your system. Then, they’ll switch it on, take you through all of the equipment, and show you exactly how your power tracking app works. 

The Reality of Going Solar

Going solar is a great choice. But it’s also a complicated process with many moving parts. 

In a perfect world, you’d decide to go solar, sign the contract, then 3-4 months later, your system would be switched on and you’d start saving money. For some people, that’s exactly what happens! 

For others, the reality is that red tape and bureaucracy will delay your installation. For some, the installation process can take 6-18 months. 

Your installer will negotiate with the utility company and township on your behalf. Though these delays can be frustrating, it’s essential to be patient. Your installer will work out a compromise with the utility; it’s what they do. 

At Exact Solar, we’ve earned more than 400 verified five-star reviews. Our installation crews are a pleasure to work with; we take great pride in that. As a homeowner making a 25-30 year decision for your home, this is what you deserve. 

We’re an entirely vertically integrated company, meaning that:

  • The people who sell you your system
  • The people who design your system
  • The people who do your site inspection
  • The people who install your system

Are all from one company. When you read one of our reviews, you’re seeing a reflection of our entire process. 

Sadly, this is not the industry standard. 

If you’re ready to go solar and want to put your home in the right hands, set up a free consultation with one of our expert solar sales engineers today! 

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