• Solar Installation Checklist San Diego

    If you've been looking into going solar for your home in San Diego, you've probably figured out that there isn't necessarily a one-size-fits-all process that applies to all homes and homeowners.  There are many factors to be considered before even starting the process of getting a quote, including your roof condition, typical energy usage, future home upgrades, etc.  In an effort to simplify this process, we've laid out a list of the steps you should take when going solar for your home in San Diego.  

    1.  Figure out if your roof is right for solar.

    Before even considering going solar, you should determine whether your roof is right for solar.  There are a few main factors to consider when evaluating its eligibility.
    A. Angle: Solar panels in San Diego absorb sunlight best when facing in a Southerly direction.  So if you have a roof that only gets sun exposure from the North, you may not have optimal exposure for solar.  Most roofs in San Diego have enough Southerly exposure to where it will work regardless.
    B.  Material:  Unfortunately, some roof types are not suitable to have solar installed on them.  While most roofs here in San Diego are shingle or tile, which are perfect for solar, there is the occasional wood or slate roof that is not good for solar installation.  These are rare though and in 99% of cases we can install on whatever surface you have available.
    C.  Roof condition: If your roof is old or is in poor condition, you may need to get it inspected before going solar to ensure that it will hold up under the weight.  If there are any cracks or roof leaks already, undoubtedly the solar will make it worse so it's a good idea to make sure before making the leap.  It also should be noted that your system will likely be on your home for 25 years or more, so if it's already old, you may want to replace it to ensure its quality for the long run.    
    D.  HOA Restrictions:  Many homes in San Diego, specifically many of the condos and townhomes that exist in the area, must adhere to the rules their HOA lays out for their neighborhood.  Rarely, but sometimes, the strict HOA's may not allow you to install solar.  Therefore, you should undoubtedly check with your HOA before you start the process of going solar.  You will save a lot of time if you figure out off the bat that you can't install.  If that is the case, you can likely lobby the organization or ask for an exception.  This is pretty rare in San Diego, so likely this won't be an issue for you.  


  • 2. Figure out how much energy you use and are going to use.

    figure out your energy needs
    There are a few things you need to consider regarding your energy use before you pick up the phone to call a solar company.  Those are:
    A.  Your current average monthly energy use:  The easiest way to figure out your average monthly energy use is to look at your overall electric bill over the last year, add up how much you used total in kWh, and divide that by 12 (12 months).  This number is important as it helps determine how much energy you will need to produce every month to zero out your bill, which will ultimately determine how many solar panels you will need.  
    B.  Any home additions that may affect your future use:  Are you planning on doing additions to your home that may contribute to your energy bill?  This could be a heated pool, a hot tub, a granny flat that you're renting out, etc.  These type of future additions may greatly affect your energy use, so calculating how much more energy you will need to offset that addition will likely affect how many additional panels you will need.
    C.  The people using energy in your home:  The amount and type of people living in your home can greatly affect your energy usage.  Maybe you have a new baby, a kid coming home from college for the Summer, or an elderly parent moving in with you.  In all these cases, your energy usage is likely to go up, so considering the usage of these parties, and how long that usage will be, should be part of your considerations.  You don't want to underestimate the amount of power you will be using, so every member of your household should be considered.
    D.  Electric Vehicles: Do you currently have, or do you plan on buying an electric car?  Electric cars are a great way to cut down on your gas consumption, but they obviously require energy from your home to work.  So when going solar, you need to consider how an electric car will affect your consumption and need to consider getting enough panels to compensate for that.  With the right amount of panels, you can offset your home electric use as well as the energy required to power the electric car.
  • 3. Figure out how you're going to pay for the system.

    While you may want to talk to a solar consultant before you decide how to pay for the system, it is still good to consider your financial situation before you start the solar process.  There are a number of things you should consider when thinking about this decision:
    A.  How long you plan on living in your home: If you plan on staying in your home indefinitely, then pretty much any financing option will work for you.  But, if you plan on selling your home in the near future, you will likely want to pay cash or opt for financing that you can pay off before you're trying to sell.  Solar can add a lot of value to your home, but sometimes transferring ownership of a solar system, if it is financed, or transferring the lease, can be complicated and can scare off buyers.  If you are leasing the panels, then the installer owns the panels and you are simply paying for the power produced.  So in that case, if you were to sell your home, the new homeowner would have to be approved in order for the lease to transfer.  The same goes if you are financing the system and haven't paid it off completely.  So if you are planning to sell the home, you should be sure you can pay off the panels before you plan on selling.  If you don't, the panels can actually detract from the attractiveness of the home, as it can complicate the buying process.
    B. If you want to own the panels: With financing or cash purchases, you will own your panels when you're done paying.  With leases or Power Purchase Agreements (PPA), you are paying the solar company for the power produced by the panels, which is typically less than your original electric bill, but technically they own the panels and racking.  At the end of a lease or PPA, the panels will be taken off your roof and taken back by the solar company.  While the lease or PPA can be good for those that don't have a ton of cash to pay upfront, or who don't care about owning the panels and just want to pay less on their power bill, we typically don't suggest them as the ROI is not as good as if you own the panels.  
    C.  Your Credit Score:  If you don't have the best credit, you may have trouble qualifying for a solar loan.  This may force you to look at other options (lease, cash, PPA)
    D. If you want to be eligible for the 30% Federal Tax Credit:  If you opt for a lease or PPA, you will not qualify for the 30% Federal Tax Credit for solar installations.  This should be considered when calculating the overall ROI of your solar system.
  • 4. Choose your brand of solar panels

    choose your solar company
    While an energy consultant at a solar company can often help you with this decision, certain companies only install certain panels, so you'll want to do your own research first to know what panels suit your needs.  When looking at panels, you'll want to consider a few factors before making a decision:
    A. If you value quality or price:  Solar panels vary greatly in quality between manufacturers, so there is a big difference between, let's say SunPower panels and LG panels.  While there are plenty of panels that are efficient at the lower end of the price range, their production, durability, and warranty are often very limited compared to the top-of-the-line panels.  If you want to maximize the amount of power you are producing, for the longest period of time possible, then you'll want to go with a higher quality panel so you can maximize your roof space to produce the most power possible, and optimize your return on investment.  If you have plenty of roof space and don't care about the durability and warranty of the panels, then you may want to go with a cheaper panel.  At the end of the day, spending a little more money on good panels ultimately increases your ROI in the long run.
    B. If you care about the aesthetics: Solar panels vary greatly in aesthetic appeal between manufacturers, so if you care about how the panels look on your roof, you should do your research on the aesthetics of panels from different companies.  Cheaper panels will often have the standard white backed, silver-framed look and sit high off your roof.  Higher quality, more expensive panels will often be fully black and have a low profile on your roof, which most people find more stylish.  It really just depends on how much you value style.
    C.  If you care about the warranty:  Solar panel warranties differ greatly from company to company, so you'll want to figure out who has the longest, most comprehensive warranty for the price.  Having a good warranty guarantees your investment, so there's a big difference in having panels warranted for 10 years, and 25 years.  To maximize the ROI of your solar, you'll want to choose a company like SunPower, who has the longest and most comprehensive warranty on the market (25 years).  
  • 5. Choose your solar panel installer

    solar installation checklist
    Now that you know generally what panels you want to install, you have to choose your installer. This arguably the most important decision of the process, as who installs your panels, and who services them in the future, will determine your whole solar experience.  When choosing your installer, you will want to consider these main factors:
    A.  If you want to go with a local or corporate company: While there a plenty of corporate, national solar companies to choose from (SolarCity, Vivint, Sunrun, etc.), we strongly suggest you choose a local company to do your installation.  The reason why is that many of these larger corporate companies often subcontract out their work, which means that the crew installing your solar doesn't have the vested interest in the quality of the installation compared to that of a local installer.  Local companies also have a more sensitive reputation, as they are not advertising on a large scale, and depend more on referrals and reviews for business than the larger companies like SolarCity, so you know they are going to try to do a better job than some of the subcontractors.  The other reason is that they are in your community, and have likely installed on a home very similar to yours.  If you're in San Diego, this is important as you'll want to choose a company that is used to installing on clay tile, as many homes in the area have that type of roof.
     B.  If you want to go with a new company or older one:  Many solar companies have come and gone over the years.  Due to the up and down nature of the solar business due to changing legislation and market conditions, it's very easy for companies to grow quickly during the good times, and just as quickly go down the drain in the bad times.  The last thing you want is to be installed with a local company and then have them go out of business.  This has happened to plenty of solar customers already, and when their company goes out of business, they are often left with no one to service their solar panels or uphold the workmanship part of their warranty.  So you'll want to make sure that the company you choose has been around for a long time, so you know they have the know-how to survive even through the tough times.  
    C. If you want to go with a certified dealer:  While all local installers are essentially resellers of panels from different manufacturers, different installers may specialize in installing panels from different companies.  You'll want to make sure that the installer you choose is highly qualified or certified to install the panels you choose.  For instance, with SunPower, there are different levels of dealers based on certification.  There are Elite dealers, which are certified to sell SunPower AND other brands of panels, and Master Dealers, which are certified to sell exclusively SunPower, chosen through a highly stringent and selective process of evaluation.  In this case, if you choose a Master Dealer, you are choosing a company that is proven by SunPower to be a highly qualified and top-notch installer of SunPower panels.  Making decisions like these can ensure that your installation will go smoothly and be of the highest quality.
  • 6. Get Installed

    ground mount solar
    Finally it is time to get installed.  You've chosen your panels, your installer, and your financing, and now your solar company will get to work.  They will now take the following steps:
    A.  They will order the panels from the manufacturer.
    B. They get all the necessary permits in order to install.
    C.  They will install the panels, inverter, racking, and monitoring system.
    D.  They will get your Permission to Operate to turn on the system and connect it to the grid.
    E. They will do a final inspection on the system and turn everything on.
    F.  They will set up your monitoring and show you how to keep track of your production.
    The timeline of this process can differ based on your home, where you live, and your financing, but the installation itself should only take a few days at maximum.  You'll want to make sure that the installers clean up properly after they leave, and that you understand your monitoring before the tech leaves your home.
  • So if you've been thinking about going solar, it is important to consider these seven things in order to optimize your solar investment.  You should do a lot of research on your own, as you don't want the installer you call to push you into making uninformed decisions.  While this whole process may seem complicated, a good solar company will be able to steer you in the right direction, without pressuring you into signing immediately.  We strongly suggest that if you're looking to go solar in San Diego, give us a call, we can give you an honest, objective opinion on what panels, company, and financing will be best for you.
    Contact us today for a free quote.
  • About the Author

    Michael Powers


    Michael is one of the founding partners of Stellar Solar. In 2001, he helped launch The Home Depot’s national solar energy program which is now offering home solar through hundreds of stores in nearly a dozen states. He is a writer and marketing professional with over 30 years’ experience in the fields of energy, market intelligence and leadership training. He currently serves as treasurer and board member of Global Energy Network Institute (GENI), a San Diego-based non-governmental organization that advocates linking renewable energy resources around the world using electricity transmission.