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13 ways your solar installation can get more expensive

Avatar for Dave Llorens
Published on 10/31/2017 in
Updated 03/04/2019

Photo by cafecredit under CC2.0

From the homeowner’s perspective, installing solar is usually as easy as getting solar quotes, signing a contract, scheduling installation and flipping on the system. That’s because installers usually take care of everything else, from design to permitting and interconnection, all the way through to a years-long warranty agreement.

Solar installers charge a price based on the peak capacity of your system, measured in watts. A typical solar system for your home will run you about $3.50 per watt of capacity, or about $17,500 for a typical 5-kilowatt system, before incentives like the federal solar tax credit or other incentives in your state.

To make it confusing, every state has different solar policies and programs for home solar. You need to learn what the specific solar incentives are in your state to really know what your final (net) price is going to be. But hey, that’s what we’re here for! If you’d like an actual quote for your home, connect with a solar expert near you.

Here are the 13 things you should be aware of which may inflate your cost of going solar:

1. Flat Roof Tilting

If your roof is flat, you must build some scaffolding to tilt it up towards the sun. That framework costs some money.

2. Different Roof Types

Some are harder to seal or flash, or find studs. Accordingly, some installers will charge more based on your roofing material. see more here

3. Roof age

The age of your roof also plays a big part. If you’re only a couple years away from needing to replace your shingles, putting solar panels on top of them now will mean paying your installer to come back and take them off so you can re-roof. Luckily, many roofing companies have gotten into the solar installation business, and you might be able to find a package deal where you can do both at the same time.

4. Structural Problems

The hits just keep on coming! If your home’s been subject to water leaking, termites, flat roof membrane shrinkage or other problems, you’re gonna have to spend some money to get your roof solar ready. Thankfully, these problems aren’t all that common.

5. Distance

If you reside outside the regular service area of your nearest installer, there may be associated travel fees that will be passed on to you.

6. Monitoring Systems

Some solar companies sell monitoring systems which upload data about your solar energy production to the web. If these interest you, expect to pay a little more, but know that the price of the solar monitoring system might be worth it compared to the loss you’d suffer if your system stops working and you don’t know until a month later.

7. Trenching

Does conduit need to be run underground to near your meter? There may be a fee for that. This type of activity is generally associated with ground mounted systems… which brings us to….

8. Ground Mounts

If your system is installed in your backyard instead of on your roof, not only does your contractor have to build the framework but also secure it to the ground. That usually means concrete. Concrete, building a frame, and securing it to the ground costs money. Therefore, this type of installation is usually more expensive than installing a system on your roof. The upside? You get to aim and tilt the panels optimally for your region, whereas on a roof you are bound by the direction your home is already pointed.

9. Permits

Your region may have much trickier or more expensive building permits than the installer is used to. Therefore, you can expect higher fees for this.

10. Inverter Upgrade

Let’s say you want to install more solar down the road. Therefore, you could opt to purchase a beefier inverter to accommodate your planned upgrade for some extra money. For example, you might want to take advantage of utilities being required to pay for excess yearly production sometime in the near future. Currently they are not required to.

11. Service Upgrade

The inverter (the thing that makes the unusable DC current your solar panels produce into usable AC current for your home appliances) is like an appliance itself. It will need to be connected in your main breaker panel and there may not be space for it. This can create an issue and an electrician may need to install a sub panel, or your utility may need to upgrade your service (for example, from 100 to 200 amp service). You can tell what service you have by looking at the door to your main breaker panel, it should say (MAX AC) somewhere.

12. Disappearing Incentives

There’s a very real danger of state solar incentives going away. In fact, many of the best solar incentives of the past decade have already dried up. But don’t worry, the cost of installing solar has fallen 70% in the past couple decades, and it’s always getting lower, except…

13. Increasing Prices

Ack! The price of solar is going up! Here’s a simple version of a very complicated story: for years, foreign manufacturers of solar panels have imported millions of panels into the U.S. at ever-lower prices, which has been very good for U.S. consumers and solar installers. But U.S.-based solar manufacturers have gotten a raw deal, and one of them, Suniva, brought a trade dispute case to the International Trade Commission (ITC). The ITC agreed with Suniva that foreign manufacturers have caused it “injury,” so now they’re going to make recommendations that all panels from certain countries be subject to tariffs. That’s going to have the immediate effect of increasing home solar prices by about 15% for all of 2018 and 2019. Read more about it here.

Now the fun stuff: Solar DISCOUNTS!

  • Employee Discounts. Aside from the state rebates, you may qualify employee discounts. For instance, if you work for HP, Google, or other companies, you get a discount. Check with your employer!
  • Group Purchase discounts. This is where many people get solar at once. Solar companies are going to start exploring this business model soon, but for now you can do it yourself if you have friends that are interested. If you call up an installer and have five serious customers in the same neighborhood, you can seriously lower overhead for the installer, and they can pass those savings on to you. Get a quote for solar today and ask your installer about it.
  • $0-down solar. Remember how we said above all states have different solar policies and incentives? Well, in the best states, solar installation companies will put solar on your roof for $0, and you can pay over time with a loan, lease or power purchase agreement. This kind of arrangement allows you to go solar now and pay over time, with the money you save on electricity bills exceeding your payments. What a time to be alive.

Bottom line – don’t freak out about all this. The salespeople for your local solar company know their stuff and can explain all of it to you in better detail.

Last modified: March 4, 2019

8 thoughts on “13 ways your solar installation can get more expensive

  1. Avatar for Joe Joe says:

    It’s not free. It’s a loan. There’s no such thing as a free system.

  2. Avatar for Hemant Parekh Hemant Parekh says:

    I am planning to add solar heater for my pool. Currently poolis not heated. Should I get the heater installed and use it for a season before getting the solar system installed? This way I do not need to add panels later.

  3. Avatar for Shawn Shawn says:

    I would add that the current cost of batteries as an option to store electricity for later use ought to be added to this helpful list of “13 things…” Our installer encouraged us to wait 3-5 years on emerging battery technology, which he predicted would become more efficient, lighter in weight, smaller in size, and maybe even less costly. Just my two cents on solar. We are VERY pleased with the performance of our solar panels and inverter since June 2, 2017 when our system went “on” for the first time. It has performed as promised, producing, on average 95-100% of our monthly electricity consumption, and leaving us with electric bills as low as 27 cents, and as high as $10.50 in the hottest month of our Summer here in NE Ohio. Our last bill gave us a “credit” of 38 cents :+) So far so good.

  4. Avatar for Manuel Manuel says:

    Hello, I got solar system at home, but after I turned on, I started having problems with blinking lights, the power back and forth, my main panel making a noise and when I took a look sparks behind the circuit breakers. the electrician told me that when you get solar system, the company needs to replace your main panel and because they didn’t the bus got burned on two circuity breakers, the main and the AC. Anybody know if this is true or happened before? I will really appreciate it since it is going to cost me $2,500.00 plus involving insurance. Thanks

  5. Avatar for Anonymous Anonymous says:

    How do I find out if i live near a company who installs and provides services I need to have a solar system put in? Do we need electric company to do anything? We live in Ward Co, ND.

  6. Avatar for Peggi Peggi says:

    what is your opinion about companies advertising Free Home Solar systems. Is this a scam? What’s in it for the companies suppling the system? Pls let me know before they install the “free system”in my home. What are the pros & cons. thank you

  7. Avatar for mike cleek mike cleek says:

    i am thinking about a new construction home in cochise co. we intend to use rastra wall sys. for the home and roof ie. flat, if we use staggered roof height would this give the angle needed for solar panels to be installed.

    1. Avatar for Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" says:


      The ideal angle is 30 degrees, but that’s ideal. The main thing is having minimal (no shade) and the array pointing South, West, or South East. No system is perfect. If you don’t have ideal conditions, solar still works, but it means that you’ll have to have more panels. The same house with ideal conditions would have less panels. Solar racking and framing can adjust your panels to the right angle, but it may not look pretty. Best to get an experienced installer to help you make the best of it. Hope that helps.

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