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7 Worst Mistakes to Make When Buying Solar Panels

Joel Lee 02-09-2016

Solar energy has long been seen as an unsustainable, idealistic gimmick Is Solar Energy Sustainable? 4 Problems to Solve Before the Solar Revolution Read More , and many still think that way, but recent advancements have proven how viable solar energy can be 6 Advantages of Solar Panels You Probably Haven't Considered Solar power is becoming increasingly common among middle class consumers, with more and more people realizing the advantages of solar panels. Read More — not just for saving money but drastically lowering your carbon footprint 7 Energy Saving Technologies to Lower Your Home's Carbon Footprint The following energy saving technologies can be introduced into our homes to reduce our environmental impact. Not all will be affordable just yet, but hopefully they will all become the norm in the near future. Read More .


And maybe you’re now convinced and ready to invest in some solar panels yourself.

That’s great! But before you dive in, there are a number of pitfalls that you’ll want to avoid. Home solar panels are more complex than emergency residential solar kits How Residential Solar Power Kits Can Keep You Online During Outages While fossil-fuel powered generators are well understood, the same isn't true for residential solar power kits. There are thousands of products on offer, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Which ones are right for... Read More , for example, and even a small mishap can end up being quite costly.

Here are several mistakes you’ll want to avoid.

1. Not Asking the Right Questions

Proper preparation is the single most important thing when it comes to buying and installing solar panels. Never before has the phrase “Measure twice, cut once” been so crucial. These things are expensive and you do NOT want to end up with an inefficient or non-working system.

Important preliminary questions include:

  • How old is your house? Can it support solar panels?
  • How much energy do you actually need to produce?
  • Are you willing to further reduce your energy usage?
  • Is your roof facing towards the equator?
  • Is your roof pitched at an efficient angle?
  • How much shade/sunlight does your roof actually get?
  • Will you need to upgrade your energy meter?
  • Will you need any building permits?
  • Should you lease or own your solar panels?
  • How much are you willing to spend?
  • How long before your solar panels pay for themselves?

Your answers will give you a much better idea of how feasible solar energy can be for your situation. If you find out that it won’t do you much good, don’t feel bad about giving up (until you move somewhere where the feasibility is better, of course).

2. Declining to Be Informed

On the one hand, just as you can flip a switch and get light without understanding light at a quantum level, you don’t need to know how solar panels actually work The Energy of The Future, Today: How Do Solar Panels & Heliostats Work? Renewable resources. It’s a problem that we face every day whether we realize it or not. With every pump of a gas handle, with every press of a car’s accelerator, with every plug of our... Read More to benefit from them. On the other hand, being completely ignorant is just going to come back and bite you in the future.

There are two main things you should understand, even if only at a cursory level: solar PV systems and solar panel specifications.

Solar House Off Grid PV


Regarding solar PV systems, you’ll want to look up the difference between grid-tied and off-grid systems (grid-tied are simpler) and all of the different components that are necessary for a working system (panels, inverters, batteries, etc). Check out our quick start guide to all of this 5 Types of Home Solar Electric Systems and Choosing the Right One Want to know how you can make your life greener, make your wallet a little more full and not be so dependent on the power company? Install one of these home solar electric systems! Read More .

Regarding solar panel specifications, there are several different terms and numbers that you’ll want to understand, including but not limited to: cell type, rated power at STC, rated power tolerance, module efficiency, power warranty, etc.

3. Buying Cheap, Buying Fast

To supply the energy needs of a modern single-family home, you’ll likely need a 2 kW system if you’re extremely energy efficient (about $15,000 to $20,000 to install) or a 5 kW system if your energy usage is more conventional (about $30,000 to $45,000 to install).

These prices are face value, meaning with no incentives or rebates included, so the final cost won’t be so high — but that’s still a lot of money and you’ll probably want to cut that cost down as much as you can. That’s fine, but be extremely careful about HOW you cut those costs.


Solar Panels Cheap

Cheap is bad. In the current solar market, “You get what you pay for” is 100% true. Yes, there are companies working to bring those costs down 10 Important Tech Companies You Should Know in 2016 2016 is shaping up to be a year full of technological advancements and innovations. You don't want to be left behind. Here are some of the most important companies you need to know. Read More , but you should still expect to spend a lot for a quality, efficient system. Do not skimp! Short-term savings will be more expensive in the long run.

Shop around and get multiple quotes. Going to several different solar providers lets you get a clearer sense of how much you can expect to spend. If you see a must-grab offer for $5,000 but everyone else is charging closer to $15,000, it should give you pause.

It also gives you leverage for negotiating down. Not only that, but part of shopping around should include researching the credibility and expertise of various providers. And don’t forget about financing options! It isn’t necessary to drop $15,000 up front for a brand new solar PV system.


4. Mixing Various Brands

This one isn’t much of a problem for most people, but there are some who think they’re so clever that they can mix-and-match different components from different manufacturers to cut down on costs — which is totally possible, but may end up as a regret.

Solar Panels Mix Match

You won’t actually save much up front because, as mentioned earlier, you often get what you pay for in the realm of solar panels. On top of that, solar PV systems are designed to interface with certain parts, sometimes even specific brands.

At best, your savings will be marginal but your system won’t be as robust and may require lots of maintenance in a few years. At worst, it won’t work at all or may break down far quicker than you might expect.

5. Ignoring Incentives and Rebates

At face value, a solar PV system for a modern home is probably going to cost you somewhere between $15,000 and $30,000 — but depending on the state in which you live, you won’t have to pay nearly as much.

There are several tricks and tips you can use to lower the price of a solar PV system How to Calculate True Solar Panel Cost For Your Home Perhaps you need to figure out what the cost of a home solar system will be after federal, state, and municipal incentives? Let’s take a look at how to figure that out. Read More , like taking advantage of government and corporate incentives.

Electricity Bill With Graph

The truth is, the U.S. government wants people to invest in solar energy — that’s why the Department of Energy offers all kinds of ways for you to shave costs in the form of tax credits and rebates, sometimes as much as 30% across federal, state, and local.

Not only that but your local utility company may offer rebates for installing solar power, and these rebates can go as high as 30% as well.

6. Neglecting the Warranty Terms

The general rule of thumb — in and beyond the solar panel industry — is that the length of a warranty indicates how much confidence the manufacturer has in its product. In other words, a shorter warranty often translates as a cheaper and lower quality product.

Solar Panels Warranty

When you buy solar panels, make sure you know what your warranty entails. Ask about what exactly it covers and for how long. Don’t be tricked by the deceptive “performance warranty” (which is usually 25 years) when you really want to know about the “panel warranty” (which is closer to 10 years).

7. Thinking You Can Do It Yourself

If you’re a DIY guru who has made all kinds of successful improvements to your home and you know your way around wood, wires, roofing, and electronics, then this obviously doesn’t apply to you.

Solar Panels Alone

On the other hand, if your hands-on experience goes no further than LEGO, then you probably don’t have the necessary expertise. You do NOT want to make a mistake during the installation process!

Leave it to the professionals. If your solar provider doesn’t do installations for some reason, hire a reputable third-party company who will 4 Companies That Will Help You Run Your House On Free Solar Energy With all the electronics that are running in your smart home, you need some juice to power it all. And there's nothing better than not worrying about climbing utility bills by using solar energy. Read More . Don’t skimp here — using inexperienced or otherwise cheap installers is almost as bad as doing it yourself.

Are Solar Panels Right for You?

If this article has scared you away from the idea of installing solar panels, rest assured: thousands of people who have no applicable experience have successfully outfitted their homes with working solar energy. As long as you do your research, aren’t too stingy, and can find an expert provider, you’ll be fine too.

Have you decided that solar panels aren’t for you? You can still reduce your carbon footprint in little ways here and there, such as with a solar generator Solar Generators vs. Fuel Generators: Which One Is Best for You? Should you choose a solar or gas powered generator for power outages and camping trips? Which is most suitable for which job? Read More , solar lights around your house 10 Reasons You Should Use Solar Lights Around Your Home You don't need fancy panels to take advantage of solar energy: small solar lanterns with tiny solar panels attached are essential for any household. Here's why. Read More , or these amazing solar gadgets for the outdoors The Best Solar Tech for Camping This Summer Solar gadgets can make your time in the woods more convenient and more satisfying. What benefits do they offer? Read More .

How do you feel about solar tech? Have you installed solar panels to your own home? Share your thoughts and experiences with us below in a comment!

Image Credits: Jan Krcmar via Shutterstock, Visual Generation via Shutterstock, gmstockstudio via Shutterstock, smspsy via Shutterstock, Federico Rostagno via Shutterstock

Related topics: Energy Conservation, Solar Energy.

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  1. Matt Meiresonne
    February 22, 2017 at 2:50 am

    Hey Joel,

    Good tips. So true.

    Do you ever think about optimizing solar panel performance to maximize output?

    • noahjacobsmith
      July 3, 2017 at 8:23 pm

      This time I'll use Inplix instructions to make it by myself.