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Top 5 solar contract tips

Tip #1: Make sure you're getting what you pay for.

Solar companies should always be licensed contractors able to perform the work they are promising to do, and their license numbers should be printed on your contract. A good business partner will stand behind their products and services.

Tip #2: Know how much you'll pay - this year, next year, and beyond.

One of the major benefits of going solar is that it allows most homeowners to secure lower electricity rates for years to come and protect themselves from rising utility costs. Legitimate solar contracts should include a clear payment schedule, with a total amount and due dates listed for each month and year for the entire term of the lease or PPA agreement. The contract should also list other fees or charges, and any payments due at the time of signing, installation, and inspection phases of the project.

Tip #3: Make sure your home — and especially your roof — is protected from risk.

In a PPA or a lease arrangement, the solar system is typically owned by the solar company, often in a partnership with a financing partner. Therefore, it is the solar company's responsibility to take care of the solar system. An ethical company will take responsibility for restoring the roof in case of any damage that might occur during installation or removal of the solar system. SolarCity's contract protects against damage to your home or property, and takes responsibility for system installation, repairs and monitoring for the duration of the agreement.

Tip #4: If it's not in the contract, it's not part of the deal.

Do not take emails or word of mouth as legally binding assurances of your service contract. Make sure that any special arrangements offered by the salesperson are listed clearly in the contract. If a solar leasing ad mentions a zero-down offer, the transaction must be advertised as a lease and all of the terms and conditions must be listed in that ad. Solar leases are subject to both federal and state consumer leasing laws, which build in a range of consumer protections. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a good resource for information about applicable laws and best practices.

Tip #5: Know your options when moving or selling your home.

Solar PPA and lease contracts are commonly drafted for a term of 15 or 20 years, and some homeowners may choose to move during this time period. Your contract should list your options clearly in case you move or sell your home. A solar lease should be transferable to the new property owner in most cases, and solar companies will often allow you to move your solar system and have it reinstalled on your new home.