13 Questions You Must Ask Before Buying Solar

By Finn Peacock – Founder of SolarQuotes

Solar panels and a question mark"Hey Finn – I’ve been made a fantastic offer on a shiny new solar power system for my home. It is heaps cheaper than all the others on the market. Is it too good to be true, or a genuine bargain?"

Questions of this nature arrive in my inbox almost every single day. So, I thought it was about time that I wrote a page dedicated to it.

Before I begin, I’ll start by saying this: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Most solar installers out there are good people who provide quality systems at a fair price.

However, in the wake of some very generous government incentives a few years ago, a number of unscrupulous companies decided to cash in on this ‘solar gold rush’, then disappear forever just before the warranty claims started to roll in.

The amount of shonky installers isn’t as bad as it used to be, thank God. But there are still a number of companies whose business strategy seems to be banging cheap solar junk on your roof using subcontracted installers who get paid so little that it virtually guarantees corners will be cut. 

This side of the industry puts a lot of people off getting solar. That's a shame, because for many people a solar power system at today's prices can offer returns of 20% or more. Try getting that from the bank! And the joy of getting a minuscule electricity bill is something everyone should have the chance to experience.

So what's the layperson considering installing good quality solar to do? 

To help you sort the wheat from the chaff, I’ve devised 13 questions. Eight questions you can ask a solar salesperson and five questions you can ask yourself (I've also spent the past 6 years curating a list of installers I trust to provide you with quotes so you don't get ripped off).

Let's start with the questions for the salesman. Seriously – if a dodgy salesman hears even one of the following 8 questions they’ll probably start running for the hills!

Question #1:

ACCC LogoHas your company ever been reprimanded for your advertising practices?

In Australia, we’re very lucky to have a very competent government agency that monitors the practices of small and large businesses – the ACCC.

They have very strict regulations for what businesses can claim in their advertising – and they’re not afraid to enforce them. Thus, if a solar installer has ever been reprimanded for their advertising practices, this is a red flag.

Question #2:

How many of your installations have ever failed a government inspection?

This one is pretty obvious. If a dodgy solar installer has cut corners in their installations to save money, chances are the system won’t last very long after it’s installed – If a solar installer has failed lots of government inspections, this points to unsound business practices that are likely to extend into the future.

To be fair, everyone makes mistakes – so if a company has installed thousands of systems every so often they will make a mistake. What you want to know is: Are they up front about this, and is there a pattern of shonky work?

Question #3:

Is the CEC (Clean Energy Council) accredited installer present for the entire install?

An electrician who is qualified to install solar panels is an expensive hire. Some firms get 'labourers' to do most of the install, then get a CEC accredited sparky to sign it off. That is asking for trouble.

If you're looking to get quotes for solar from installers within our trusted network, that are looking out for your needs (and not just their own wallet) then simply click here to start the process

Question #4:

How do you calculate what system size will give me the best return?

Sizing a system is a lot more complicated than looking at your bill and choosing a system that will generate enough electricity to cover your usage.

The salesperson needs to understand when you use electricity in your home, not just how much you use – because if you use all of your electricity at night, solar won't be much help!

They need to estimate how much you will export and how much you will import to make a good estimate of your savings. 

Be wary of any solar company that claims this is a simple calculation!

Question #5:

What is the product warranty on the solar panels? Is it at least 10 years? Is the installation warranty void if I don’t pay you to regularly ‘service’ my solar system?

Check the small print for this one!

A lot of less-than-reputable solar installers will claim that you need to get your system regularly (around every two years) serviced by their company in order for your warranty to still be valid.

In my humble opinion, as a chartered electrical engineer, solar systems only need to be checked every 5 years and cleaned once per year for maximum performance.

Legally, you shouldn’t be compelled by a business to have your system serviced frequently by them just to stay in warranty – the great thing about Australian consumer law is that applies whether or not a business claims it does!

Also, I highly recommend you read this post to discover what the different warranties actually mean.

Question #6:

What kind of solar power system do you have on your roof, kind sir/madam?

Was it the Bible that said "Don’t buy a shirt from a naked man"? If the solar installer doesn’t have a solar system themselves, this is a pretty big red flag. Any solar installer worth their salt knows the benefits of solar inside-out – and would thus have a system of their own to reap the rewards!

Sigmund FreudQuestions to ask yourself:

Question #7:

What 3rd party evidence is there that the quoted panels are any good?

 What you’re looking for here is objective, independent information that can confirm the quality of the solar panels they want to stick on your roof. Google is your friend here.

If Google can't help you – we will. Just shoot us an email.

Question #8:

What 3rd party evidence is there that the quoted inverter is any good?

In the same vein as question #7, you want to know that the inverter they’re going to be using isn’t some cheap, low-quality one that will break in 6 months time. Independent information about the inverter the installer wants to use will help you feel confident that they’re not trying to increase their profits by giving you an inferior product.

We have a great resource here that goes through the most well-known inverter brands.

Question #9:

What happens if you Google “youtube [solar company name]”?

YouTube isn’t a common channel for people to vent their frustrations about dodgy dealers, which means that if a video about a solar installer pops up, chances are they’ve ticked a lot of people off!

Question #10:

What happens if you Google "whirlpool [solar company name]"?

The Whirlpool.net.au forums are one of the best sources for researching a solar company. The forums have tons of users discussing all things solar, and if a solar company is good (or bad), one of the easiest ways to check their reputation is by seeing what the folks on the Whirlpool forums have to say about them!

Question #11:

What happens if you Google "whirlpool [solar panel name]"?

Question #12:

What happens if you Google "whirlpool [solar inverter name]"?

Question #13:

When was the last time you bought the absolute cheapest option available – in any product or service category – and it made you happy for years to come?

Before starting this website, I spent decades in manufacturing where an old engineer once told me:

"There's always someone prepared to make something a little worse to sell a little cheaper"

In my experience of the solar industry, there's always someone willing to import something a lot worse to sell a little cheaper. It can mean the difference between your system lasting 2-3 years and it lasting 25-35 years.

If you're considering installing solar panels for your home or business, SolarQuotes can help you get quotes from high-quality installers quickly and easily:

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