8 Reasons To Get A Site Inspection Before Buying Solar Power

a solar inspection

If you are considering putting some solar panels on your roof, then I strongly recommend that you have a physical site inspection before getting firm quotes.

Since I started SolarQuotes many years ago, we’ve handled hundreds of thousands of quote requests and over those years the most frequent complaint I’ve had from people looking for quotes is:

“This solar installer won’t even give me a ballpark price for a solar system! He’s insisting on coming round to my house first!”

I understand the sentiment. If you want really ballpark figures, here are the approximate cost of solar systems. Just be aware that those prices can vary by thousands depending on your home’s layout and the condition of your roof.

If the prices on that page don’t have you running for the hills then the next step in all honesty is to have each solar installer/salesman come round and assess how suitable your home is for solar power.

A word about heavy handed sales tactics

A very valid reason for resisting a site inspection is that you have heard press reports of some solar sales people pressuring people into buying. I believe this is completely unacceptable. I work hard to try and keep solar companies that employ those tactics off SolarQuotes. But in the rare instance that someone referred through SolarQuotes tries to get you to sign anything without giving you the courtesy to go away and consider your options, just contact me. I don’t want to refer companies that use those tactics.

Oh, and whilst we are on the subject, if you ever come across one of the special breed of jerks who try to get you to waive your cooling off period, please kick them out of the door first, second, report them to ACCC, and third let me know so I can out them to the world.

The reality is that 98% of solar sales people and solar installers are really nice people who just want to come round so they can be sure that the recommend a system that suits your electricity usage patterns and your house. Of course they also want the opportunity to impress upon you why their solution is the best, but that is all part of the fun.

Rant over.

Here are the reasons why I recommend a site inspection if you want to end up with a  system that makes you happy:

1) You can look them in the eye and assess their competence by asking some tough questions like these. If they can’t answer them or look panicked, end the visit promptly and move on.

2) It weeds out the ultra cheap and nasty mobs who can’t afford to send someone round, they just wanna flog it, get someone to bang it on your roof and disappear.

3) They need to check the condition of your roof if it is more than 10 years old. It may need repairs before anything is installed. You really don’t want to have to remove your panels to repair your roof a few months/years down the line.

4) Shading. If you have any shade on your roof at all you just can’t assess how much that will hurt your solar power system from Google Earth or Nearmap.

5) Cable Routing. They need to assess how they are going to get the cables from the solar panels to the inverter with as little modification to your house as possible.

6) Your Switchboard. They need to look at your switchboard to see if it needs upgrading and if there is space inside it for an extra circuit breaker.

7) Inverter location. The need to scope out where the inverter can go where it will be nicely shaded, out of harms way, and ideally as close to the meter as possible.

8 ) Panel location. If you are getting a big system (3kW+) then roof space is likely to be at a premium. You should really get a more accurate measurement than Google Maps can provide. Also you may need to split your solar panels over multiple roof areas. If this is the case then you are much more likely to get a better designed, better performing system if the designer can actually visit your home.

Having said all that, you may want a small system, have a recently built home with a massive north facing roof, a modern switchboard and no trees or other shading issues whatsoever. In that case, you could reasonably argue that buying solar without an inspection is pretty low risk. And it is. But even if you are only paying $2,500 for your system, don’t forget that with the rebate, it is $5,500 worth of gear that you will use every day for the next 20 years and an inspection will hugely increase the chance that you get a system that performs well and makes you happy, then a quick inspection is kind of a no brainer isn’t it?

 

About Finn Peacock

I'm a Chartered Electrical Engineer, Solar and Energy Efficiency nut, dad, and founder of SolarQuotes.com.au. My last "real job" was working for the CSIRO in their renewable energy division.

Comments

  1. Some more reasons to get a site inspection:

    1. Eliminate the chances of install delays on the day of install.
    2. Eliminate any chances of being caught out by ‘additional’ install charges by getting an accurate quote whose price can be guaranteed.
    3. Installers can assess pitch of the roof (which you cannot see from Google) and find out whether a scaffold or scissor lift will be required.
    4. Installers can assess the actual access to the roof.

  2. tony sanderson says

    Finn I have had a good read of your jargon and have improved my knowledge of this pretty tricky business. I did get a quote from a supplier, he did use google only, so I have gone away from him and now have a critter coming Monday to do an on site quote. Thanks for your info.

    cheers

    tony

  3. Fair enough.

    However, the biggest problem I have is the potential rip-off by sparkies to install systems.

    I was quoted $3 250 for a 2.5 kW typical 2-storey installation with steel roof. This was an INSTALL ONLY – I would supply a kit system. If I do the heavy work and have the panels on the roof, then maybe $3 000.

    What we need to know is HOW MANY MAN HOURS (on average) it takes to install 1.5 kW, 2.0 kW etc. etc. systems. Averages are easy to calculate from installation data that can be collected, as with standard deviations (exceptions like difficult installation) – its not rocket science – AND regulations to ensure that consumers are paying fair prices.

    For example. Two neighbours got 2 kW systems installed – took two blokes a day to install. Say 15-20 total man-hours. Both two-storeys with TILED roof.

    If for example you take your car to get fixed, there are industry guidelines for consumers as to how long it takes to do specific repairs. Then you can compare quotes to see who is trying to shaft you.

    Does the CEC provide these?

    Considering the hourly rates that you would expect to pay a sparky (and a premium for some CEC accreditation), for my installation, with my hauling the panels up to the roof, would 15 hours be reasonable for the sparky to do the rest of the install on 2.5 kW system?

    If so the cost per hour is $3 000 (install only quote). Then hourly rate is $3000/15 hours = $200/hour! Shit! I paid an engineer $100/hour to come and have a look at some structural renovations. For a non-solar electrical job, maybe you might pay $60-70/hour?

    Now you ring the 20-30 installers here in Toowoomba, and most are only interested in SUPPLY AND INSTALL, and not interested in discounting if you do the labouring side. One gave me a ball-park figure of $1500-2000 if I mount the panels myself.

    If you look at the quotes to get install only the rates the sparkies are getting are a fu))ing rip-off.

    They have got you by the balls and they know it.

    The CEC, electricians professional bodies, and federal government should must have guides and legislation in place to ensure that fair rates are being charged to consumers for PV system installations by electricians.

  4. Hi,
    Just had a3.3KW system installed. Initially, google-earth showed room for 20 panels. Out came the installers and said 12 only. We asked for more and got a 15-plan with landscape. Out came the installers, but it rained. Next team of installers had the plan for 20, so went away. Fourth time round we got 13 portrait panels with one inverter (we paid for two- we are on three phase). Then the excuses flowed – cannot mix landscape and portrait patterns,even though we had planned to split the system with two inverters. My guess is that installers do not want to lift roof tiles that are close to the roof pitch. And our installer wanted the easy way out! The company has a good reputation but the installers are contractors. Communication is not their forte.
    Mike T

    • Most sales people and installers are motivated by greed (quickest time to install). They and the installation contractors are lazy, indifferent to customers’ needs, and dopey in general.

      Just noticed over the last couple of weeks my two neighbours PV systems installed last month. One has massive shadowing from neighbour’s pine tree for an hour or so in the afternoon (July) and is mounted on West side.

      The neighbour next door had shadowing from sewer vent and gas flue around 2-3 pm (July) over 3-4 panels out of 8. Installed North facing.

      The electricians are not professional like university graduates like engineers and scientists – who I believe have greater ethics. Electricians are only TAFE graduates with Certificate IV and then course to become licensed.

      They generally have less intelligence, and poorer communication skills and work ethics than a university graduate.

      I have both an undergraduate degree in science, and an advanced diploma in electrotechnology (including classes for electical trades) (TAFE) so I can speak from both sides. I have also done part of the CEC Designers course.

      Moral of the storey – pretty much the PV industry will lie to and cheat you. The onus unfortunately is on me to do weeks of man hours to research everything, and to have control over as much as possible. Get to know your rights and the regulations required so that you can pull up anyone who tries to shaft you.

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