May 27, 2024

Homeowner's Guide To PV Solar

Murray Lampert's Gregg Cantor provides tips and tricks to ensuring you are selecting the right solar company for your needs. Understand the basics of photo voltaic solar , what to look for in an installer, and what to expect in terms of panel needs.

Photovoltaic solar is a great investment in the Northern hemisphere. With that said, it’s very important to design the right system based on your personal energy needs and consider how much your usage may increase when the utility cost is reduced dramatically and/or you decide to undertake home improvements or buy an electric vehicle.

 It’s very important to have a professional design a system properly, that doesn’t drastically over produce. Bigger isn’t always better in PV solar, since over designed means higher equipment and labor costs, which takes longer to pay off. The sweet spot is to produce enough of your own energy to zero out the utility bills in a 12 month period.  I recommend think ahead, so you can scale your system up with more panels if necessary.

So where do you start and what do you look for?

  1. The right manufacturer. Sunpower, Panasonic or Tesla.
  2. A reputable contractor with factory trained installers.
  3. Full service design, permitting and installation.
  4. Installation and Equipment Warranty.

What to expect in a proposal?

A very detailed report of capital cost and energy savings based on 12 months historical power usage you provide from your local utility.

Does solar work for every home?

Solar works for most, but not all homes due to shading, the position of the sun and existing roof conditions. A qualified solar company will use satellite technology to evaluate existing conditions and establish the best position of solar panel arrays for the best production.

What are the basic requirements?

Enough area for roof mounted or land for ground mounted panels. Roof mounted panels are by far the most cost effective installation. Ground mounted systems are much more expensive due the mounting structure required and underground work required.

How to determine if panels will work on your home based on exposure?

The PV Solar designer establishes the optimal location of panels based on the azimuth. The azimuth is the PV array’s east–west orientation in degrees. In most solar PV energy-calculator tools, an azimuth value of zero is facing the equator in both northern and southern hemispheres; +90° degrees is facing due west and –90° degrees is facing due east. There is flexibility in design if there are location limitations.

How do you get started?

Research the 3 top solar manufacturers, Sunpower, Panasonic and Tesla, then reach out to local, approved contractors who are factory trained - certified. You can also go to the manufactures websites to find local dealers.

Gregg’s Top 10 Most Important Questions When Interviewing Solar Contractors:

1. What is your experience?

2. Are you factory trained?

3. Is the system installed by employees or subcontractors?

4. Do I need to replace my roof?

5. If yes, do you sub-contract the roofing or handle it in house.

6. Do you handle the permits and coordination with the municipalities?

7. Is my electrical panel sufficient to add solar?

8. Do you install solid state panels or panels with a string inverter?

Solid state panels mean that if one panel is defective, the remaining solar array works. Panels on a string inverter are like Christmas lights. If one panel goes out, you lose the entire string.

What about warranties, upkeep and repair?

Typical warranties are 20 – 25 years backed by the manufacturer. Solar panels should be kept clean similar to windows for optimal production. The system will be connected by hard wire and/or wifi so you can monitor production with an app or online.

Are there any out-of-the-ordinary things a homeowner should take into consideration?

Roof mounted systems are very straight forward as long as there is adequate area for panels. If space allows, consider the possibility of expansion – adding panels. Make sure the system is sized appropriately. You will likely use more energy because of the cost per kilowatt savings. When undertaking PV solar, it’s a good time to swap out incandescent lighting to LED and upgrade HVAC (heating & air conditioning). Also, consider roof replacement.

As a Design - Build firm, we know first-hand that proper sequencing of electrical, roofing, and PVC solar is critical, says Gregg Cantor, President/CEO of Murray Lampert Design, Build, Remodel. If the roofing and panel installation is not completed properly, the roof may leak. Also, with existing tile roofs, great care is needed so that surrounding areas are not damaged.

We see our share of poor solar installations on homes we remodel. Many times we’ve been called back on a leaky roof only to find a solar company has caused damage during installation after our work has been completed. In fact, we have seen solar installers damage existing roofs so bad, the panels needed to be removed and the roof replaced.

In the course of installing solar, often existing roofs are penetrated. That’s why it’s so important to have a licensed professional roofer handle removal, re-install or replacement of roof covering in conjunction with solar.

Gregg’s Top 10 Tips for evaluating solar companies in San Diego?

  1. Go to** ** and check license, bond, workers compensation etc.
  2. Make sure the company carries liability insurance and names you as additional insured.
  3. Check reviews.
  4. Ask for and call references.
  5. Require a detailed proposal and have the roofing broken out separately so you can compare on your own.
  6. Be skeptical about companies who do more than electrical and solar.
  7. Confirm what manufacturer’s equipment they install.
  8. Compare labor and equipment warranties.
  9. Find if you will be getting monitoring software to keep track of production.
  10. Request a hard wired connection if you are in a weak cell service area.

What does a typical solar panel project require in terms of installation, maintenance, and repair?

Installation only takes a few days, however the entire time frame is about eight weeks from signing the contract until turning the system on. Most of the eight weeks is spent getting permits and utility approval.

During the actual install, panels are mounted on the roof and electrical wiring is run through conduit from the roof to the main electrical panel. Once the system is approved, the breaker is turned on and the system starts sending power into the electrical system of the home. From local solar expert Josh Oraha,

 “This year there have been a lot of changes with grid tied solar systems in California. The export rate has dropped significantly to pennies on the dollar. Meaning that the extra power you would produce from your solar energy you are not compensated at retail rates anymore. Here is where energy storage is very beneficial (batteries). We no longer want to export your extra production of solar power. Instead we want to utilize the batteries to store your energy, so solar running during the day will power the home, and the batteries will power the home at night. This eliminates the home purchasing power at night during the high peak rates. The batteries also give you the ability to have backup power in the event of a power outage. The option of solar only without batteries is always there as well but realistically it is phasing out in California as solar with batteries will be more cost effective long term. With solar only you must still be prepared to have higher electric bills each month.”

~ Josh Oraha, Wave Electric Energy  

For current information, please  

Maintenance and repairs are typically minimal when quality equipment is installed properly.  When comparing manufactures, make sure to look at the warranty term and coverage.

The role of the roofer in solar installation.  Why is it important?

During the solar installation process we drill holes into the water proofing on your roof for mounting the solar system. Because of this, it’s important that the company performing the solar installation is also familiar with the process of roofing installation and repairs.

What is the most common question from homeowners interested in solar installation?

Most customers want to know how much of the bill we can cover with solar. The goal is to offset 100% of their electric bill. Most customers can go solar with a 10 year loan that has payments less than their current electric bill. This locks in their payment, and after 10 years they have free electricity for the life of the system. Most systems are warranted for 25 years, but the full life expectancy of a system can be over 40 years.

What are some things homeowners can do in preparation for a solar installation project?

Gathering their electric bills and knowing the age and condition of their roof are key factors in providing a quote to a customer. If they have a HOA, contacting them to determine the process for approval helps speed things along

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