Solar Inspections: When and How to Do Them
If you’re like most homeowners, you likely receive a flood of offers for a free solar inspection and installation quotes. The pitch is always a little different. But in most cases, these installers are offering to visit your home, take measurements, ask and answer questions, and draft up solar proposals, complete with details like:
- Design specifications
- Installation costs
- Solar generation estimates
- Monthly (and lifetime) savings
- Payback periods and ROIs
This free guide explains why solar inspections exist, how they work, and what steps you can take (as a homeowner) to ensure you receive the proper solar photovoltaic (PV) installation for your savings and energy goals.
What Is a Solar Inspection, and Why Do They Exist?
Whether you finance your PV system, going solar is a significant investment. With proper planning and sizing, however, that investment can reduce your reliance on the utility grid, saving you thousands of dollars over the 25+ years of your PV panels’ warrantied lifetimes.
A standard residential solar installation pays for itself in about 7 to 10 years. There are carbon offsets since every kilowatt-hour of solar reduces an equal amount of grid electricity generated from dirty fossil fuels.
Even if you’re only installing a single solar panel, the above benefits exist. The goal, of course, is to install a PV system large enough to cover some (or even all) of your energy needs – without overpaying for extra solar capacity that you’ll never be able to use.
This is why solar inspections are so necessary.
They allow technicians to correctly size your PV system – based on budget and energy needs. This analysis is valuable since no two homes (or homeowners) are the same. Even identical houses on the same block might have different energy requirements.
- One home houses a family of 4 – with an electric vehicle (EV).
- The other house is home to an elderly couple living on a pension.
Moreover, this inspection process is often required for municipal solar permits, with city officials needing to receive and review any PV installation schematics before work can commence. The same is true of specific solar incentive programs at the local, state, and federal levels.
How Solar Inspections Work
Solar inspections are often broken into discrete phases – including pre-installation and post-installation.
Pre-Installation Solar Inspections
Pre-installation solar inspections are almost always free. And when you accept one, that installer will do some or all the following – through on-site visits, using satellite and drone imagery, and via remote communication (by email and phone):
1. Inspect Your Home’s Solar Potential
At this stage, solar technicians will measure your home’s roof’s pitch, angle, orientation, and size, including potential obstacles like vents or chimneys. If commissioning a ground-mounted system, the same analysis still applies. But the focus is on whether your yard or garden receives enough direct sunlight.
2. Analyze Your Roof’s Structural Integrity
Because solar panels are heavy, you need a solid roof to support their extra weight. If yours is a newer residential property, you should be okay. But homes with older roofs may require significant upgrades before work can begin.
3. Conduct Shading Analyses
The more sunshine is hitting your panels, the more solar power and savings your system can generate. Therefore, many inspections factor in things like surrounding trees – and whether they can be trimmed back or removed entirely. If there is shade from nearby buildings, the installation team must factor this into their total solar production numbers.
4. Factor in Climate and Weather Data
Your PV system’s solar output will vary due to seasonal fluctuations and the sun’s changing position. Most solar installers take this into account to provide you with accurate monthly, annual, and lifetime production estimates based on the unique geography of your home.
5. Analyze Your Home’s Electricity System
The next step often involves inspecting the electrical wiring throughout your home – and whether it can support the addition of solar power, on-site batteries, and EV charging. It’s not uncommon for breaker boxes and electrical panels to get switched out with solar-ready alternatives that can handle the extra load.
6. Measure Electricity Consumption
Your current energy consumption provides a baseline against which to size your PV system. However, it’s common to add enough slack solar capacity to accommodate future additions – like new family members, electric vehicles, or energy-hungry gadgets.
Remember that the general trend for most homes and businesses is to consume more power over time – not less.
7. Conduct Energy Efficiency Audits
This step is optional. But energy efficiency audits allow technicians to identify opportunities to reduce your overall consumption without altering your lifestyle. This can include everything from improved insulation, installing ENERGY STAR appliances, and swapping incandescent lightbulbs with LED alternatives.
The less electricity you use, the fewer PV panels you’ll need. And this reduces the total cost of your solar installation.
Some installers take this one step further by “electrifying” more appliances so that you can power more of your home using solar energy instead of fossil fuel. Standard upgrades include furnaces, stoves, and ovens – many of which use propane or natural gas.
8. Navigate HOA Restrictions
Some homeowner’s associations (HOA’s) restrict residential improvements like solar installations. Fortunately, this is becoming less common as more states and communities introduce various “solar bills of rights.” However, this trend is far from universal. And your solar installer may need to coordinate with HOA representatives to receive the necessary permission.
9. Analyze Current (and Future) Utility Rates
It’s impossible to determine how much you’ll save by going solar without understanding local utility rates. Therefore, most installers will want to look at your monthly electricity bills – preferably over the past year or more.
The higher your utility rates are, the more you stand to save by going solar. And in nearly every electricity market in the country, prices are trending upward. This means your PV system will only become more valuable with time.
It may take several visits and consultations to complete these inspections and provide you with a detailed solar proposal for your home, complete with costs, savings, output, and payback periods. Plus, there may be additional consultations to discuss solar financing – whether you’re using cash, loans, solar leases, power purchase agreements (PPAs), or property-assessed clean energy (PACE) loans.
Based on these numbers, you can decide whether going solar makes sense, given your savings and energy goals. And because these inspections are almost always free, you can consult with many different installers before choosing the best proposal for your unique situation.
But remember that there is another broad category of solar inspections that take place once your panels have been installed.
Post-Installation Solar Inspection
Post-installation solar inspections come in different varieties. For example, most installers will test and configure your PV system to ensure it performs as expected. This post-installation inspection happens before handing over the “keys” and bringing your PV system officially online.
In addition, municipal authorities, utility representatives, and even solar rebate administrators might conduct their independent inspections to verify that your PV system is built to code and meets all relevant regulatory requirements. These third-party inspections are less critical for off-grid solar installations that aren’t connected to the utility network. But for grid-connected installations, things like utility approval are often required since you’re feeding invisible currents of electricity into the entire system:
- Utilities must be able to account for and accommodate this extrasolar power throughout the day.
- They must also factor in your energy needs at night – when the sun goes down, your panels stop working.
Residential vs. Commercial Solar Inspections
The above represents a comprehensive overview of the solar inspection process for residential PV installations. However, non-residential solar photovoltaic inspections introduce a lot of extra variables. By their very nature, most commercial and industrial solar installations involve larger PV systems – requiring more measurements, calculations, and visits.
- Because your commercial solar installation sends more potential energy into the grid, utility operators will also want to see more paperwork before permitting you to operate (PTO).
- Depending on your commercial solar installation size, you may also need to conduct environmental impact analyses, feasibility studies, and additional municipal inspections.
- Commercial solar installations also lend themselves to more overall design options – including standard rooftop installations, ground-mounted systems, and even solar-enabled carports.
Preparing for Your Solar Inspection
Whether as a prospective residential or commercial solar customer, there are steps you can take to make the PV inspection process a little smoother:
- Collect as many utility bills as possible, with most installers wanting at least a year’s worth of electricity statements to accurately understand your current consumption. This step is crucial for ensuring you receive a PV system that is correctly sized for your energy requirements.
- Discuss with family members or business partners your future energy needs. If expanding your business or adding a new wing to your home, the solar installation you receive today might not be adequate to cover your electricity requirements tomorrow.
- Draft up a list of questions – including costs, savings, financing options, and ROIs. This is also an excellent time to study each installer’s portfolio, online reviews, and experience. Given how competitive the industry is, going solar is now a buyer’s market. And you have the luxury of choosing the best installation team for your energy and savings goals.
- Provide more accessible access to electrical panels, attics, rooftops, and anywhere else electricians and installers might need to visit during their on-site inspections.
Last but not least, be prepared to accept multiple offers from competing installers. Because most inspections are free, there’s no reason not to. And once you’ve done all the prep and planning on your end, booking back-to-back inspections becomes much more accessible.
Your solar journey starts when you respond to an installer’s offer (or simply Google “solar panel inspection near me”). But it doesn’t end once your PV system finally comes online. This represents only the next step in a journey that will last for 25 years or longer. And over that multi-decade investment, many things can and will go wrong with your solar installation – from cracked panels to pest infestations to faulty inverters.
Troubleshooting these issues requires having a technician on-site to inspect your PV system. However, the average solar installer isn’t necessarily equipped to repair, replace, upgrade, or maintain an existing PV system. This is sometimes true even of the original team that first installed your solar panels.
And yet, preventative maintenance and emergency repairs are essential for extracting the most value from your clean energy investment. PV panels might ship with 25 years of warranty protection, but the inverters, batteries, and racking in your installation come with much shorter warranty coverage. Even the wireless routers used to transmit solar monitoring data have limited lifetimes, with 2G and 3G routers poised to lose connectivity within the next year as the major telecom carriers migrate to 4G and 5G technology.
Whom do you recall repairing something like that?
We have the answer.
With our AI-powered platform, we can analyze your current solar PV installation to develop a unique DNA profile – based on size, location, weather, technical specifications, and other project-specific variables. We then use that DNA profile to instantly match you with local solar repair teams who have the skills, training, and qualification for the exact problem your PV installation is facing.
Ready to learn how our on-demand solar workforce can help you generate the most utility bill savings and carbon offsets over your PV system’s lifetime?