One of the key steps to going solar is ensuring that your home is ready for the installation. Once you’ve signed a contract with a solar installer, the next step is typically for an engineer (not a salesperson) to conduct a site visit to ensure your home’s structure and electrical wiring are compatible with your new solar panel system.
In the past, most site visits were conducted in person, but more and more installers are switching to virtual site visits to make the process easier and quicker. The sooner you complete your site visit, the sooner you can start saving with solar energy – and, if you live in California, a virtual site visit will help you submit your interconnection application in time to lock in current net metering rates before they drop on April 15, 2023. In this article, we’ll explain what your installer will learn from a virtual site visit and how you can prepare to make it as successful as possible.
Virtual site visits make going solar easier and faster.
If you’re in California, choosing a virtual site visit can help ensure you lock in better long-term solar savings before a new solar policy goes into effect on April 15, 2023.
As part of your virtual site visit, your installer will need to learn about your roof measurement and pitch, solar exposure, roof conditions, electrical system status, and structural information.
Unlike an in-person site visit, which an installer would largely complete on their own, you will need to be involved in the virtual site visit by taking photos and compiling any necessary information on behalf of the installer.
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What’s in this article?
What is a virtual site visit?
Site visits are an essential part of the process of going solar. Either prior to signing a contract or soon thereafter, your installer will need to conduct a site visit as a final check to ensure the solar panel system you’re purchasing is suitable for your home and vice versa. A virtual site visit is the remote collection of information and pictures that your installer would otherwise gather by visiting your home. As part of the virtual site visit, you’ll likely need to take pictures or videos of key areas in your home and send them to your installer so they can make sure everything looks ready for your solar installation. You also may need to gather some information about when certain parts of your home were most recently updated – we’ll get into more of the specifics below.
Why are virtual site visits important for California solar shoppers?
Virtual site visits can make going solar easier–and the process faster!–for most homeowners, but they’re especially important in California right now. On April 15th, 2023, California’s new net metering policy, NEM 3, will take effect, decreasing the value of the credits you earn through sending excess solar energy to the grid by about 75%. Fortunately, if you submit an interconnection application by April 14th at 5pm PST, you’ll be able to lock in current rates for 20 years!
As part of the process, you’ll need to complete a site visit – but, given the compressed timeline and increased demand for solar at the moment, it’s important to act fast, and a virtual site visit can help expedite the process of going solar to ensure you meet the deadline for higher solar savings.
What your installer will learn from a virtual site visit
During a virtual site visit, there are a few pieces of information that your installer will need to make sure are ready for your solar installation – we’ll explain what you can do to prepare this information quickly and easily:
1. Roof measurement and pitch
The first (and one of the most important) steps of a virtual site visit is the assessment of your roof. Your installer will need to understand your roof’s size, orientation, and angle so they can finalize the design of the system accordingly. This step won’t require anything from you except your address – installers will use a satellite image of your roof for measurements. When you get quotes through EnergySage, we provide these images directly to installers.
2. Solar exposure
Next, your installer will need to understand your roof’s sun exposure by conducting a shade analysis. If you have large trees near your house, it’s possible you’ll need to do some trimming to ensure your solar panel system gets enough sunlight to be worth it. You also won’t need to provide anything at this step – your installer can again use the satellite imagery provided by EnergySage and perform the shading analysis using an available software service, like Google Project Sunroof.
Shading analysis, photo credit: Google Project Sunroof
3. Roof conditions
Your installer will need to know approximately how old your roof is and if you’ve had any leaks or other issues with it – generally, solar panel systems last about 25 to 30 years, so you want to make sure your roof can support that lifespan! If you receive quotes through EnergySage, we’ll request some of this information up front so your installer will already have a good idea of your roof’s status. From there, they’ll use the satellite imagery to assess if there are any areas that need repair or present concern, as well as if there’s any roof obstructions.
Property details in the EnergySage Marketplace
4. Electrical system status
As part of the virtual site visit, you’ll need to provide photos of a few main components of your home’s electrical system. Your installer will use the photos to understand the age and location of these components so they can plan how to interconnect your solar panel system and decide if you need to make any upgrades before going solar. Here are the photos you’ll need to take:
Your electric meter will likely be located on the outside of your house (though it may be located inside in some parts of the country) – make sure your photo clearly shows the number displayed on your electric meter, which will be necessary in your interconnection application.
Main electrical panel
In some states, like California and Florida, your electrical panel will likely be located on the outside of your house – in other states, it could be inside in places like a basement, garage, or closet. For this photo, first take a wide shot photo of the closed electrical panel from about ten feet back so your installer can get a feel for the area they’ll be working in. Next, open the panel to get a close up of the breakers, the equipment label, and the main line (this should come into your electrical box from your electric meter).
Wide shot electrical panel
Close-up electrical panel
Not every home has a transfer switch, so it’s possible you won’t need to take this photo – but, if you have a whole home generator or a home battery, you’ll likely have a transfer switch that’s located adjacent to your electrical panel. Be sure to alert your installer if you have one of these, and send them a picture of this device as well, as it will impact the electrical design and layout of your solar panel system.
Transfer switch, photo credit: Generac
5. Structural information
During your solar panel installation, your installer will need to access areas in your house to install equipment. For the virtual site visit, you should take photos of a few key areas so your installer can decide how they want to place the equipment, including:
It’s important to provide photos of your attic (or crawl space) so your installer can assess its structure and decide where to run conduit. Additionally, these photos from the underside of your roof help your installer to determine the spacing of your roof rafters, as well as the condition of those rafters.
Side of your house and yard where your installation will occur
In an ideal solar setup, your panels will be installed on the south side of your roof – but, depending on your roof’s orientation, east- and west-facing setups often work as well. You’ll need to take a photo of the side of your house where your panels will likely be installed (you’ll see this information in your quotes) as well as the area in front of your home. Your installer will then use these photos to plan where they’ll stage and install your equipment.
South side of house
Other house photos
If your installation will be located in the back or on the side of your home, it’s also a good idea to take photos of the front and/or side of your house – this way, your installer can make sure they’ll have enough room to access the installation areas.
Getting a close-up photo of your roof material will help your installer assess the condition of the roof material (i.e., are the shingles wilting at all) and determine the equipment they’ll need to complete your installation. If your roof is high up and you can’t safely get a close picture, don’t worry – just try to get as close as you can without compromising your safety.
Equipment like inverters or batteries are sometimes installed indoors – so, it’s helpful to take a few photos of areas where this equipment might be placed (like in a garage) to help your installer with their planning.
Interior walls of garage
Commonly asked questions about virtual site visits
What happens if you no longer want to go solar after your virtual site visit?
Sometimes site visits – virtual or in person – can uncover issues that increase the overall cost of your installation. If this happens and you decide you no longer want to proceed with your solar installation after your virtual site visit is complete, make sure to talk to your installer. While each installer’s practices vary, most will understand your specific situation and are unlikely to hold you to the pre-site visit contract. Additionally, in many parts of the country, solar contracts are required to have cancellation clauses allowing you to not proceed for any reason within three days of signing the contract.
Can you schedule your virtual site visit before you sign your solar contract?
Some installers may be open to conducting a virtual site visit before you sign a contract, but most will first want the contract signed (or sometimes a small deposit). This doesn’t mean they’re trying to trap you into an unbreakable contract – they simply want to gauge your seriousness and willingness to move forward before they put in a lot of time.
Is there any additional information your installer will need during a virtual site visit?
Your installer may request some measurements from you or additional photos as part of the virtual site visit. If you have any questions on the specifics, make sure to ask your installer or reach out to your free Energy Advisor through EnergySage.
Use EnergySage to go solar with confidence
Ready to get quotes or start exploring your solar options? It takes just a few minutes to request quotes through the EnergySage Marketplace. Within one or two days, you’ll have up to seven custom solar quotes from highly-rated installers to choose from. You can select one and sign within a few days or consult with your personal Energy Advisor to help you compare, decide, and complete the process with confidence.