With a solar panel system, there is a little bit of a process for buying them and some pre-installation tasks you’ll need to complete. This article walks you through each of those steps so you can buy with confidence!
Welcome to our third article in our Going Solar Series! By this point, you should have checked if your house is a good candidate for solar, and estimated the pricing and payback period of your panels to see if this is a good financial decision for you. Now it’s time to show you how easy it is to buy and go through some pre-installation tasks for a solar panel system!
If you missed the previous articles, check them out!
First article: Are Solar Panels Right for You?
Second article: How Much Do Solar Panels Cost? What is Their Payback Period?
To start with, I have to recommend that you consider buying your solar panel system from our friends over at GoGreenSolar. They do a fantastic job of putting together a custom quote for you and answer any questions you may have. Their solar panels are priced competitively, but what really makes GoGreenSolar great is their expertise and assistance in making sure you are able to install these panels yourself.
They provide detailed plans with engineer stamped drawings for permit submission. They take care of the interconnection paperwork with the utility company for you. And they customize your kit of parts so that you have exactly what you need to mount your panels to your roof and get them connected. The only thing they don’t include is the wire and conduit needed to go from your solar panels racks to your inverter and from your inverter to your circuit breaker. However, they do provide wiring instructions that estimates how much wire you’ll need and instructs you on how to connect it all.
Still need to get connected with a solar panel company?
Let us connect you with our contact at GoGreenSolar to help get you started!
The only downside was that their solar production estimates were a bit optimistic and didn’t really take into account the trees in our backyard. If you’ve gone through the steps in our first two articles and worked through our worksheet, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from your solar panel system. If you haven’t gone through our worksheet yet, then you can get it for free by signing up for below.
Solar Panel System Ordering Process
Ordering our panels from GoGreenSolar was as easy as it could be. We contacted them to tell them our interest in panels, and they were able to get us a custom quote pretty quickly. This quote includes an image showing how the panels arrangement on your roof and an estimate of their production. Their production numbers assume a best case scenario, which may be closer if you have good sun exposure and consistently sunny weather like in California.
Their quote also gives you an itemized list of the services they’ll be providing and information on their warranty. Assuming you like their quote, and have decided if you are going to finance through them or pay them directly, placing the order can be as simple as reading them off your credit card information. They’ll then send you an invoice for your tax records and then the process begins!
Gathering Data for the Solar Panel System
Once you’ve begun this process, the first thing needed is to help gather some data for construction plans. This involves taking some pictures of your roof to compare the vent pipes to the fuzzy black mark on their satellite images. This helps to make sure they can avoid anything significant. Just taking a few pictures from various angles of your roof and electrical panels is all that’s need here. They’ll also ask you where your electrical panel is located in your house. Then they can estimate the wiring runs and indicate the location on their construction plans.
The “hardest” part is easy if you have access to your attic. They need you to take some pictures of your rafters and to measure their width and spacing. For example, “My rafters are 2×6’s spaced every 16 inches”. Their structural engineer uses these numbers to calculate if your rafters need reinforcing to hold the weight from the panels. These numbers also help estimate the mounting brackets spacing for the solar panels. So be sure to look to see if your rafter spacing appears to be roughly consistent.
Ours had a single span shorter when you got to the side of the roof where it began to slope down. If you have a different spacing like this, then take a measurement. Provide that information a proper layout of the solar panel brackets is recommended and saves you some headache later. They’ll also ask you to measure the height and length of your attic so that they can determine roof pitch. Just pick a rafter and measure it to the best of your ability and they’ll take care of the rest.
Solar Panel Interconnection Process
Part of the services provided was help with an interconnection specialist. The interconnection specialist contacts you to collect information. Then works with your utility company to complete and submit the interconnection paperwork. They really couldn’t make this process any easier, which is one of the best parts of their service!
Unfortunately, it was during this process the utility company told us they impose a size limit on the system we could have. It wasn’t stated anywhere online, but is part of their fine print on the interconnection paperwork. This is why I highly recommend you contact your utility company in advance to determine if they impose a size limit.
Our utility company based our limit on our electricity usage from the previous year. They plug that number into an equation and tell us how big our system can be. The utility company’s equation goal is we only produce 80-90% or so of our usage each year.
Sadly, they won’t let you have a big enough system to go 100% or more.
Unfortunately, their equation makes no allowances for reduced solar production due to shade from trees. Or for future increase in electricity consumption from things like the following:
- buying an electric car
- converting your gas furnace and water heater to electric
- having a baby who likes to turn all the lights on
Once the details worked out with the electric company, we received an updated quote from our solar panel company, and they promptly refunded us the difference. With the paperwork out of the way, the utility company process was done except for a simple phone call to switch out our meter allowing us to turn our system on. This can only happen after you have your solar panel system installed and passed permit inspection. So, next up is getting a permit.
After collecting all the information and answering questions, the solar panel company will put together a drawing packet that you will need to submit for permitting. They will mail you three copies of this drawing package, and will send you a digital copy as well. You should have everything you may need for submission no matter what the city requires.
While permits may seem like a headache, they act as an important secondary check to make sure that nothing was missed and that your plans adhere to your local building code. Also, likely your utility company won’t connect your panels to their grid until you pass your permit inspection. Submit your permit applications early.
Each City’s permit process is a little different. While GoGreenSolar will answer questions for you, they don’t do this part for you. If you’re unfamiliarity with your city’s permit process, I recommend you contact the permit office for help.
Our Kansas City Process
For our city, we just needed to go onto their online portal, make an account, and then figure out what permit to apply for. That’s honestly the most confusing part of the whole process. Searching for the word Solar didn’t actually direct us to the correct permit, which is why I recommend you contact your permit office.
For us, we had to apply for 2x “Electrical General – Residential” Permits and 1x “Residential Miscellaneous Structures” Permit. One of the Electrical permits was for the Solar Panels. The other was for our circuit breaker panel that needed updating to make room for new breakers. The Miscellaneous Structures permit was for the rafter reinforcements to bear the weight from the solar panels.
Actually applying for the permits was really easy. All I had to do was enter my address, upload the plans provided, and pay a small fee. The permit office then reviews the plans and contacts you if they need any clarification, or changes made.
Our City office required a note clarifying a detail to be added to the plans before they would accept them. We forwarded their message to GoGreenSolar’s team, and who revised plans right away so we could resubmit and keep the permit process moving. In about a week, everything had been approved and we were ready to start installing once the solar panels arrived.
Structural Reinforcement Process
If you find your rafter’s need to be reinforced, then you’ll be relieved to know that it is a fairly simple process if you have attic access. Our rafters were 2×6’s and were spaced 16 inches apart, but because our roof slope is so low, they carry a higher weight burden and needed to be reinforced.
The structural engineer provides you with a drawing dictating how they should be reinforced. Our rafters had to be sistered with an additional board. Since we couldn’t physically get a long enough board into our attic, we were allowed to split it into two boards so long as they overlapped in the middle by a certain amount. This will all be stated in the notes on the engineer’s drawing. So be sure to read them carefully and don’t let your eye’s glaze over.
We borrowed a trailer, purchased all of our lumber, hauled it home, and then managed to get it up into the attic before collapsing in exhaustion. I knew I would need help in order to hold the boards and get them nailed in place. Trying to work out availability with my brother just to go and lift all those boards a second time didn’t appeal to me so I caved. I called a contractor we know and sent him the engineer’s plans.
He quoted me a few hundred dollars to have him and two of his guys climb up into the attic and nail them all in place for us. That was a no brainer so we went that route, but if you have friends willing to help you, this is easily something you could knock out yourself. My advice would be to call a contractor first and see what their pricing is. They may also get better prices on lumber than you would as well.
Solar Panel System Delivery Process
Delivery was as easy as it could be. The delivery company contacted us to schedule a delivery window, so I arranged to be working from home during that time. They backed their truck into my driveway, wheeled the pallet onto a lift that was smaller than my pallet and then frighteningly lowered it to the ground as the whole mechanism shook.
You read that right. These are big panels and they come in a stack on a pallet with all of the other parts and pieces boxed up and wrapped together. Then a guy with a pallet jack suspends them 5 feet in the air and lowers them to the ground. It was a little terrifying to watch, especially knowing how much I’d spent on them. That said, if they start to roll off the ramp or anything like that, stand back and watch them go. DO NOT try to stop them! That pallet weighs several hundred pounds and will crush you if you get under it. Just let them fall and let the freight company’s insurance replace them for you.
Checking For Damage
Once the pallet is in your garage or wherever you plan to keep them for the next few days/weeks/months, it is time to inspect for damage.
DO NOT sign the delivery paperwork until you have had a chance to go around and look for any damage to the parts or packaging. If you see anything that potentially looks damaged, write that down as a note when you sign the paperwork. If you don’t, the freight company could claim that you damaged it after they delivered it, and refuse to pay out on a freight claim. Take pictures of the packaging too, especially if you see possible damage so that you have a record for later.
Once the delivery person has left, it’s time to unwrap your panels and inspect everything. Then bounce up and down in nerdy excitement because solar panels are awesome!
There should be a packing list with the panels, so go through it and make sure that everything is there. If they missed something, just contact your company and they will quickly send it to you hopefully. I found I was missing a bracket and they had a new one sent out to me almost immediately.
If everything is accounted for, then go ahead and separate out the mounting brackets for the rails. Now get ready for one of the coolest DIY projects of your life!
Hopefully that helps you with the buying and pre-installation tasks for a solar panel system! Seriously, reach out to Amanda via email or fill out this form for GoGreenSolar directly to get a quote. We will hook you up with the awesome GoGreenSolar team to get you started. Up next is the Installation Process! You can read about that in fourth post of our Going Solar Series.
Also let us know if you’ve decided to Go Solar or if you have questions. We’re happy to help in anyway we can to get solar panels for your home!
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I’ve linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust. There is no additional cost to you.