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How do you negotiate with a solar installer?

Solar customers with a contractor looking at contract

So you’ve gotten a quote from a local solar installer, and you’re worried it’s too high. Can you negotiate? Of course the answer is “yes,” but the questions then quickly becomes “how do you negotiate with a solar installer?”

In short, to negotiate with a solar installer, you need to arm yourself with knowledge so you know what to expect, go with the installer that can give you what you want, and be ready to adjust your expectations. Here’s more:

Compare quotes from other installers

If you can find one solar installer in your area, chances are really good you can find two or three. In fact, we maintain a list of trusted solar installers all over the U.S. Find installers near you and get quotes today.

The reason you need quotes from multiple installers is to get a good idea of the differences between them. Last time you needed a new car you didn’t just buy the first one you test drove, right? Oh you did? Maybe that’s a bad example…

What you should look for in a solar quote

A quote for a home solar system should be represented by an informative document that includes a few essential things:

  • The total sale price of the system
  • The sale price broken down as dollars-per-watt of electricity-generating power
  • The equipment to be used, including brand names and model numbers
  • The energy the system is expected to produce over time, usually expressed as kilowatt-hours per year
  • An estimated payback timeframe, including information about available incentives
  • Warranty information about the equipment, installation, and long-term power production

That sounds like a pretty complicated list, but it shouldn’t take up more than a few pages, and your solar salesperson should be able to explain it all to you in simple, straightforward terms.

The benefit of getting multiple quotes is you’ll get a feel for which company you’d prefer to do business with, even if their price is higher. You can use the quotes you receive to ask your preferred installer why they chose the equipment they do, and why their price is higher. Sometimes you end up paying more up front, but reap benefits in the quality of the materials that makes the system more useful and powerful over the long-term.

See also: Nine crucial solar installer considerations.

Check the facts

Man using a laptop

As of mid-2017, the average cost of a home solar system is about $3.40 per watt, so a 5-kW system would cost you about $17,000 before any incentives. That can vary based on the state you live in, so it’s best to check some more local data.

Ready to get your analytical hat on? The best way to see if you’re getting a good deal is to compare the price you’re offered to other prices from people in your state. And there are some great ways to do that!

Installers in some states are required to report data on all solar installations, and that info is often kept in fairly easily-searchable databases. If you live in California or New York, there are huge troves of data you can search through and manipulate. If you’re a little Excel savvy, you can drill down to the juicy meat: cost per watt for recent installations about the same size as the one you’re looking to buy.

If you live outside of the Empire or Golden states, you can look up installation data for the whole country at The Open PV Project. Be warned, though, the data is kinda thin for residential installations in the last couple years.

Upsize your system

You might not think of this as a good strategy, but it can be the best way to reduce your costs. The final price of your solar installation is made up of all the smaller costs associated with putting it all together. Equipment and hardware are really just a small part of that. Labor, equipment, transportation, permitting, and profit margin all add to the cost.

But once the installers are up on your roof, adding a few more panels costs only about as much as the panels themselves, and the savings, as they say, are passed along to you!

Let’s take a look at that $17,000 5-kW installation, and add another 4 275-watt panels to it. The cost of the 4 additional panels plus installation is about $1,300, and it brings the installation size up to 6.1-kW. That makes the cost per watt drop from 5-kW at $3.40/W to 6.1-kW at $3.00/W. Now your total cost has gone up, but you’re getting more for each precious dollar.

Chart comparing solar prices for 5- and 6.1-kW solar systems

But wait! This only works if you have extra space on your roof, and if you live in a state with a robust net metering policy. States without net metering don’t allow you to earn 1-to-1 credit for the extra energy your system produces, so you shouldn’t install a system that can produce any more energy than you can use at one time.

Try solar group purchasing

You guys like Groupon? Group purchasing of solar power is kinda like that. You get some neighbors to sign on as interested parties, then approach a solar installer or three and find out what kind of deal you can get for a large volume of small installations.

The trouble is it can be difficult to set up such an arrangement, which is why it’s great that there are groups willing to help you do it. another problem is that these are all still small installations requiring complex design, permitting, and logistical work, and every home is unique. That means you might not save more than 5 or 10% on your costs, even with a big group.

Still, a penny saved is a penny earned—that’s part of the reason you’re exploring home solar in the first place! Check out the Solar Outreach Partnership and Community Power Network to get started.

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