With the many perks that come from solar panels, it's no wonder that so many homeowners are making the switch to solar energy. But that raises the question: How can you avoid falling victim to solar scams and con artists when you have solar panels installed?
Nobody is off-limits to a scam artist. Not senior citizens, not veterans, and not even people who want to reduce their carbon footprint and rescue their household budget with clean renewable solar energy.
Although the vast majority of solar installers are upstanding citizens, bad actors lurk in every industry. Just a little knowledge about the sneaky tricks to look for will help you a lot in deciding on which solar installer to use.
Here we explain the most common solar scams and how to avoid them when you upgrade your home to capture clean, inexpensive solar energy. Also, we are continually onboarding reliable solar installers into our network, so you can take the risk out of choosing a partner by finding a short list of your potential solar panel providers through EnergyBillCruncher.
Stop Dishonesty at Your Doorstep
Posing as a representative of the power company, a salesperson could knock on your door and try to convince you to buy solar panels or sign a solar lease. The usual high-pressure sales tactics come into play, such as a sense of urgency—you should act now before the utility raises rates, a huge rebate will expire, or free backup batteries will all be snatched up by your neighbors.
The stranger will certainly tell you about solar energy’s benefits too, such as the money you’ll save after clean, quiet panels go up on your roof. Then out comes the tablet or clipboard for your signature.Get Home Solar Estimates
We don’t know of any utility company that sends representatives door-to-door this way, so right away the conversation is based on deception. Nowadays it’s common for hucksters to claim they are “partnered with” or “working in association with” a brand you trust, when what they are really doing is targeting that company’s customers unbeknownst to the company.
Adopting solar energy at home is too important a decision to rush. If someone claiming to be from the utility stops by to talk solar panels, simply say, “I don’t conduct business at my door.” Ask them to leave any literature at the door, and close it with a polite thank-you.
Don't Let Them Start Installing Solar Panels Without a Contract
Don’t let a solar company drop off materials or set up a single ladder without a contract, no matter the excuse the installer might give. In writing, you need to see the system you’re getting, how much it will cost, and the payment terms.
Here's how this solar scam works.
The solar company will disrupt your household with the first stages of the work, then insist you sign the contract before they continue. It’s too late to negotiate the finer points, they’ll say. The contract will reflect inflated prices and extra charges that were never discussed. Likewise, if you don’t sign, they tell you that you’ll face exaggerated labor charges to undo the work so far. Under duress, many homeowners sign the contract. That’s no way to adopt solar energy! Don’t let anyone start work without a signed contract.
Don't Fall for Deceptive Lease Agreements
An installer might encourage you to sign a solar lease agreement based on exaggerations and omissions. For example, they will tout the major benefits of upgrading your home with a solar energy system, such as:
- Selling the excess energy to the utility. This is made possible by a framework of rules called net metering, whereby solar panel owners who generate more electricity than they need can sell the excess to the grid. When the power bill comes, the electricity they bought will be offset by what they’ve sold, and they only have to pay the difference, the net. With high-quality net metering (available in many states), solar panel owners can get their power bill to zero or even into negative numbers.
- Manufacturers’ rebates. Who doesn’t love a rebate? It’s like a coupon in reverse. Panel and battery manufacturers regularly offer attractive rebates to new owners of home solar energy systems.
- Tax credits. The federal government, as well as many municipalities across the country, give sizeable tax credits to people who buy home solar energy systems. The incentives drive solar adoption, which eases the strain on local utilities and reduces pollution.
Those all sound pretty great, right? But there’s one important qualification the salesperson with the lease agreement might have left out.
Here's how this solar scam works.
The salesperson weaves the tax credits, rebates, and other advantages of solar panel ownership into a sales pitch for solar leasing or a Power Purchase Agreement, PPA, but you probably noticed that the three compelling benefits of solar panels we listed above have one thing in common: They’re available to the owners of the panels.
No leasing arrangement provides any kind of ownership, despite what a slick salesperson might tell you. To the owners go the tax credits, the rebates, and the opportunity to sell excess energy to the utility.
Leasing can still be a worthwhile way to adopt solar energy and reduce your power bill, especially if you have no money for a down payment, but leasing doesn’t come with the numerous perks of ownership. A reputable solar panel installer will be upfront about the specific solar incentives and solar rebates you qualify for, not try to dazzle you with rebates and freebies that could never materialize.
No matter where you live, you can verify all possible solar energy incentives available to you with help from EnergyBillCruncher. Plus, at our site, you can locate your town's favorite solar installers in seconds and get estimates on a possible home solar energy system.
Don't Believe Those Pitches for "Free" Solar Panels
As advantageous as solar panels are for cutting energy costs at home, solar energy systems are a business. Only by hiding or shifting costs can any business claim to give something away for free. In the residential solar industry, this can happen when a company rolls the upfront cost of going solar into the payment plan. But a cost deferred is still a cost. At EBC, we are careful to discuss this useful option as "zero down" or "$0 up front" to avoid misleading consumers.
As for the upfront costs of a home solar energy system, keep in mind that most homeowners say that the perks of owning a renewable energy system far outweigh the costs up front. These perks include lower energy bills, easy maintenance, strong warranties, clean and quiet energy production, and a comforting degree of energy independence. Given credits and rebates, optimal systems like Bob Kovacs' home in the woods can pay for themselves in about five years.
Let High-Pressure Sales Tactics Be Your Warning Sign
Some salespeople are too pushy by nature but otherwise harmless, while some use aggressive sales tactics to distract you from the downsides and to short-circuit your powers of reasoning. This is as true in the realm of home solar energy as it is in automobile sales, computer sales, and timeshares.
Watch out for these signs that you’re dealing with a sneaky solar salesperson.
- They say it's a limited-time offer and you only have days or hours to act.
- They want to start work without a contract.
- Their uniform (if they wear one) and vehicle do not match the company they claim to represent, like your power company.
- Freebies and instant rebates are yours if you sign today.
- The money-saving estimates sound too good to be true.
- Assurances are given for all of your concerns, yet nothing is in writing.
- An overall rushed feeling, including too-frequent callbacks.
- You're warned that taking your time could cost you.
Most solar installers are good people with enthusiasm for clean energy and saving homeowners money. Still, if you're going swimming, it's good to know about rip currents, however infrequent they are.
30% Tax Credit Is Yours When You Own Solar Panels
One of the strongest financial incentives of adopting clean solar energy at home doesn't come from a particular solar installer—it's the generous 30% federal solar tax credit, which was increased and extended under President Biden. With this national program, you can deduct almost a third of the cost of buying your home solar energy system from the federal taxes you owe for the year the system is activated. This could mean $4,000 to $6,000 in solar energy savings, more than enough to cover the installation of a typical solar energy system.
Avoid Scams by Taking Your Time and Comparing
Treat solar panel shopping the same as you would a mortgage. You know that with a mortgage, you should shop around at a quote comparison hub like Lendgo for your best mortgage options, speak with many providers, and know your bottom line. It's the same with solar panels. If you don't shop around, you may get locked into a solar energy contract that's not what you expected. We built EBC to provide a quick, easy way to compare solar options.
Pushy salespeople sometimes try to dissuade you from reading the terms of an offer. They want you to sign without a careful review so that they will have you on the hook. At EnergyBillCruncher, we encourage you to request several estimates from local installers rather than going with the first one you see. Take your time so that you can make an informed decision about your solar panel investment.
Once You Have Panels, Beware of Strange Repairmen
People posing as utility workers or solar installers might stop by your home, claiming you need replacement solar equipment. The person doesn’t work for the company behind your panels, nor does he work for your installer. He’s a complete stranger with a diagnosis he made during a drive-by.
Before you fall for the scare tactics of a third party, dig out your installer’s business card and make a phone call, or contact the solar panel manufacturer. Most solar panels come with long-term warranties (20 to 25 years), and solid warranties usually stand behind solar accessories as well, like inverters and backup batteries. If you let a stranger fiddle with the equipment, it could void the warranty.
How to Easily Avoid Solar Scams
Want to know a great way to avoid solar scammers and dishonest companies? Use EnergyBillCruncher when the time comes to explore your solar energy system options. You can compare solar energy offers from the comfort of your home before doing some digging of your own.
We'll leave you with perhaps the most important piece of advice. Take your time! This decision affects your home and your finances for years to come. Of course, the 30% solar federal tax credit is great (that's a no-brainer), but be sure to review state-specific solar incentives and solar rebates to ensure that you're making the most of every available solar offer.Get Home Solar Estimates