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Why did my cost to go solar increase after a site visit?

Many shoppers, especially those using EnergySage, receive all of their initial solar quotes online before ever having a company visit their property. Occasionally, we hear back from customers about instances where they received an original, online quote for one price and, after a site visit from the installation company, the price increased. What happened?

Fortunately, because today’s solar design tools are fairly advanced, most online solar quotes are very accurate, meaning the majority of shoppers don’t experience this particular pain point. However, if you hear back from an installer that they have to increase the price after seeing your site in-person, it may be due to one of the following reasons.

1. Electrical panel upgrade

Your electrical panel is responsible for distributing electricity from your solar panel system through various circuits in your home. The majority of people, especially those with newer homes, don’t require any sort of breaker box/electrical panel upgrade prior to a solar installation. However, if you have an especially old electrical panel, or if the amperage is too low to accommodate the electricity produced by your solar panel system, you may see the cost of upgrading this included in your updated quote.

The cost of upgrading or replacing an electrical panel can vary depending on the size: swapping to a larger panel (400 amps) will cost more than a smaller one (100 amps). Generally speaking, most homes and residential solar panel systems require a 200 amp panel, at a maximum. This replacement typically costs between $1,000 to $3,000. However, if you’re installing a smaller solar panel system and are swapping a 150 amp breaker box in a like-for-like replacement, you won’t need to pay as much.

That said, if you’re considering inviting an installer out to your property and want to know ahead of time whether or not you may need a new breaker box, consider taking a picture of your current panel and sending it to your potential installer: experienced solar installers will be able to tell just from a picture and a few details whether they’ll need to upgrade your panel prior to installation.

Considering a solar battery?

If you’re planning on installing a solar battery, expect your quote to include costs for installing a critical load panel: this is necessary for the addition of any storage system.

2. Roof repairs or replacement

Your solar panel system will last for 30+ years, so you want to make sure your roof will also last this long without requiring any repairs or replacement (so that you can avoid the cost of removing and re-installing your solar equipment).

Upon a site visit, your potential solar installer has the opportunity to look at your roof in-person and, when doing so, they may notice some issues that need to be resolved before they are comfortable putting panels on top of it. This can include signs of aging or structural issues that need reinforcement prior to adding the extra weight of solar panels to your roof.

The added cost of this type of work can really vary from roof to roof; keep in mind that your solar installer may not offer roofing services themselves, so you may have to work with another contractor before moving forward with your solar installation, but you can always ask your solar installer for recommendations of companies they’ve worked with before!

3. Tree removal

Remote solar design tools are fairly accurate at predicting the impact of shade on solar production. However, depending on the tool the solar installer is using, they may not have access to the most up-to-date satellite imagery; if this is the case, it’s possible that trees close to your home have grown to the point that they could dramatically decrease the expected output of your potential solar panel system now or in the future.

While no one likes to cut down trees, installing solar panels in an area that experiences shade for the majority of the day is only going to cost you money in the long-run. Post-site visit, your solar installer may include a fee for tree removal or trimming, think of this as a good sign: they could have very well installed your solar panel system in the shade knowing it wouldn’t produce the energy you needed, but instead did you a favor knowing they could potentially lose your business by increasing the cost.

4. Changes to system design

In addition to taking a closer look at your roof, site visits enable installers to take final measurements of your roof size, as well as to inspect the outside of your house to determine where the best location is for the inverter and cables. Based on what they find, they may have to adjust your system design, which could either increase or decrease installation costs based on whether you need additional equipment, require longer cabling, or if the installation is slightly more difficult than what they anticipated from the satellite imagery.

What to do if your quote increases in price

Above all, you want to make sure that if you see a higher price quoted than what was originally proposed, you fully understand where those added costs come from. If your installer can’t explain these changes, consider this a red flag and look into other solar options available to you. However, keep in mind that if there’s a reasonable explanation for the added costs, it’s likely that any other installers who come out to visit your property will likely also have to make similar adjustments to their pricing.

Your first step: getting online quotes

Before taking the step of inviting an installer out to your property, it’s a good idea to start by gathering initial cost information. By registering on the EnergySage Marketplace, you can receive up to seven custom solar quotes from local installers to compare side-by-side. All quotes on the Marketplace include cost information, including total cost, available incentives, $/watt, and more. If you’d like to start with a ballpark estimate of potential solar costs and savings, try our Solar Calculator.


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