You’ve decided to join the renewable energy revolution and invest in solar panels for your home. Great decision! Not only will you be doing a serious favor for the environment by lowering your carbon footprint, but you’ll also dramatically lower your monthly energy bills… that is when your solar panel system goes online. When exactly will that be? The time it takes to install your solar panels can vary anywhere from one month to up to three months depending on a number of factors. Three months probably feels like a long time, especially while your air conditioner hums in the background, gobbling up expensive energy. Let’s look at each major step in the solar panel installation process and how it contributes to the speed of the project.
Getting to the Solar Contract
This article will mostly focus on the time it takes to install solar panels for your home after you sign a contract with an installer. However, if you are just beginning your solar installation journey, then you have a couple of extra steps to complete first, and each step will add time to the process.
Finding a Solar Installer
You may dream of solar panels for months or years, but your first concrete step to making that dream a reality will be choosing a solar installer. You may be chomping at the bit to get solar panels on your roof, but don’t rush this step. Choosing your solar installation company is the most important decision you’ll make in this entire process. If you choose an inexperienced company or a “guy with a truck” who swears he can install your panels at a cut-rate discount, you could come to regret that choice.
It’s always a good idea to get more than one solar installation quote. This allows you to compare pricing and see how you feel about working with different companies. Resist choosing the cheapest quote. Many times, paying a little more for quality and experience in the short term will save you a lot in the long run.
The General Site Visit
When you begin to narrow down your solar installer choices, you’ll want to request a general site visit. A representative from the company will come out to your house to assess your home’s energy needs and evaluate your property. During the site visit, the installation expert will look at things like:
- Your roof type
- Roof angel
- The general condition of your roof
- Any shading concerns with your roof
- Any other factors that could affect your future solar power system
With this information, the installation expert will be able to make a recommendation on the ideal solar panel system size for your home. They can also explain financing options and equipment brand choices to you.
After the site visit, the solar company will provide you with a project quote for the solar panel installation.
Typically, a solar company can schedule a home visit within one or two weeks of your call depending on their schedule.
With a few solar installation quotes to compare, you should be able to make your decision. Your chosen solar installer will draft a scope of work that will confirm the size of your solar power system, the brands of your panels and converter, and your payment option (such as a cash payment, a loan, a lease, or a power purchase agreement). Once you sign a contract with your installer, and the installation will formally begin. Start your clock!
Step One – The Engineering Site Visit (One to two weeks)
Before your solar panels can even be ordered, the solar installation company needs to make sure your roof and electrical system are up to the task of going solar. They will dispatch an engineer who will perform an assessment of your home.
The engineering site visit is different from the general site visit that occurred at the beginning of this process. The engineering visit will get into the nitty-gritty of making sure your roof is strong enough to hold the solar panels and that your electrical system can handle the amps that the solar system will produce. In other words, if there are any major problems with your home, this is when you’ll find out.
For example, if you have an older home, your electrical system may not be able to handle the amount of energy you want your system to produce. This may require you to upgrade your electrical panel. Another common problem is that you may have an older roof that is nearing the end of its life.
It doesn’t make financial sense (or cents) to install solar panels on your roof if you’ll have to uninstall them in a few years when you replace your roof. The solution is to replace your aging roof before installing the solar panels. (Yes, this will be expensive, but we offer a big discount if you use us for a roof replacement and solar installation.)
This stage can be a nail-biter, but it’s definitely better to know problems in the beginning than to discover them after your panels are in place and you’re ready to flip the switch!
Depending on your installer’s schedule, it may take one or two weeks to schedule the engineering site visit.
Additional Resources: How Long Does Re-Roofing a House Take?
Step Two: Pulling Permits (One week to several months)
Any time you plan to make a major change to your home, your local town, city, municipality, or homeowner’s association wants to have a say. This may feel like a colossal waste of time, but building permits ensure that your contractor performs work that meets local building codes and protects your safety.
Permitting requirements vary depending on where you live. Some cities require very strict permits, while others don’t. If you live under the careful eye of a homeowner’s association, they’ll almost certainly want to approve your project before it gets started.
Fortunately, you don’t need to personally do all this paperwork yourself. Your installer will handle all the forms and just ask you to sign them.
The length of this step will depend on how accommodating or slow your local civil servants are. In some areas, permits are approved in a matter of days. In others, it can take weeks or months to get that glorious stamp of approval. If there is an error on your forms, or your solar installation company’s plans don’t meet local building codes, your permits will be denied, and you’ll need to start all over again!
Step Three: Raking in the Solar Incentives (Typically performed while pulling permits)
Investing in solar panels for your home isn’t cheap, which is why it’s so helpful when the government offers to shoulder a portion of the bill. Even now, a variety of renewable energy incentives are still available to homeowners who pay for solar. The biggest one is the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) that lets you deduct 30% of the cost of your solar installation from your tax bill.
Many state and local governments also offer their own incentive plans, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Your solar installer should be able to identify all the renewable energy incentives you qualify for and help you apply for them. Typically, this process occurs in tandem with pulling permits, so it shouldn’t add a lot of additional time to your installation.
More Resources: Tax Credit System Extended Until 2020
Step Four: Ordering Your Solar Equipment (One day to several weeks)
As soon as your permits are approved, your solar installer will have a green light to order your solar panels and the other necessary installation equipment, including the inverter and the racks that attach the panels to your roof. Your installation company may already have this equipment in stock, but if not, your project manager will need to work with the company’s shipping and warehouse department to put in the order with the equipment manufacturer.
If your solar panels and other equipment are coming from overseas (such as China), you could be facing a wait of several weeks for the equipment to arrive. (at Semper Solaris, we strive to use equipment designed and manufactured in the United States).
More Resources: 5 Questions to Make Sure You’re Getting Top Rated Solar Panels
Step Five: Scheduling Your Solar Installation (One week to one month)
When the paperwork is approved and your equipment order has been sent, your solar installer can finally schedule the installation. If your equipment needs some time to arrive, this could push out your installation. The other major factor will be your installer’s schedule. During the busy months of the year, a solar installer may be booked for several weeks or even a month out in the future. It can be frustrating to wait for their schedule to clear, but at least this indicates that your chosen installer has a great reputation and a thriving business.
If you want to speed up the installation process, one option is to start during the offseason. Winter time is typically slower for most solar installation companies and can help get your solar installation on the calendar more quickly.
Step Six: The Installation (One to three days)
The day of your solar installation has finally arrived. On this day, the trucks will trundle up to your home, carrying well-trained installers and your equipment. After so much waiting, you may be surprised at how quickly this major step is accomplished. If you own a smaller home and/or ordered a smaller solar power system for your home, the installation may be completed in a single day. For larger systems and larger roofs, it may take two or three days to complete.
What does a solar installation for your home actually entail? Here’s what will happen:
- The solar installers will start by prepping your roof so that they can safely and securely attach the racking.
- Next, they’ll install the electrical wiring that will connect the panels to your home’s electric panel.
- After the wiring is in place, the workers will install the racking on your roof to hold your solar panels in place.
- With the panels in place, the installers can attach the solar panels to them.
- Next, the workers will install the inverter, which will convert the direct current energy (DC) that your solar panels produce into alternating current energy (AC) that your appliances and the power grid needs.
- Finally, the workers will either install a power meter if you are going to plug into the utility grid and take advantage of net metering, or they will install your solar battery
It sounds like a lot of work, but experienced and motivated workers can get it all done faster than you might imagine.
More Resources: How to Prepare for Your Solar Installation
Step Seven: Final Approval (several days to several weeks)
The home stretch! The solar panels are sitting pretty on your roof, but before your installer can flip the magic switch, there’s one more step that needs to be completed. If you plan on using the net metering system here in California, you’ll need to get final approval by an inspector from your local government and/or your public electrical company.
The purpose of the inspections isn’t to grind down your last nerve; it’s to ensure that your installer built your system up to code as outlined in the permits they submitted. As long as your installer knew what they were doing, your system will be approved, and your installer can finally, FINALLY, turn on the solar panels for your home.
The time this process takes will depend again on the efficiency of your local government and whether your system requires one or two separate assessments. If you are not plugging into the net metering system and are instead storing your solar energy in a solar battery, you will not need a final review and approval from your public utility.
Solar Panels for Your Home Are Worth the Wait
It can feel like a long wait between signing your solar contract and finally flipping the switch to turn on your solar panels. However, even if you have a longer-than-average installation process, it still isn’t a long amount of time in the grand scheme of things. What are three months when you plan on spending the next ten years or possibly the rest of your life in your home? Also, solar panels last for decades, so it won’t hurt them to wait a few weeks on your roof before they start working. It’s also worth the wait to make sure you pull the right permits and receive the approvals you need to legally and safely operate your system!
The solar installation company you choose can affect the speed of your installation. An experienced local solar installer will know which permits to pull, which incentives you qualify for, and how to request the final approvals once the system is in place. They’ll also be less likely to make mistakes during the permitting process or during the installation, which can slow down the work and cost you money!
At Semper Solaris, we want to be your local solar installation company. We’ve opened offices throughout California so that we can offer local expertise throughout the state. Please take a look at our excellent reviews on SolarReviews.com, Angie’s List, The Better Business Bureau, and Yelp and then contact us for a free home energy audit.