sunmetrix solar panelA typical solar PV installation has a 20-year lifetime. However, it comes with a hefty price tag and involves many decisions. Nevertheless, it is an investment that can really pay off. Avoiding some of the more common mistakes during your initial research phase can drastically increase the profitability of your solar investment.

So here's a quick look at five common pitfalls to avoid:

1) Not having the right expectations Patience is a virtue especially when it comes to solar investments. Many investors are unrealistic about the payback period of their solar installations. It takes many years, not months before you can convert the sun's rays into profits. Having a proper assessment of your solar resource should be one of the first steps, helping you to adjust your expectations. Sunmetrix Discover can help you get a good idea of what to expect in terms of the electricity you can generate with panels and the money you can save. Sunmetrix GO offers you even more, with a real test drive experience that allows you to directly compare your electricity generation with your consumption, hour by hour.

2) Overpaying for your installation Although prices have been falling in recent years, a solar installation is still a big purchase. A good analogy would be a car purchase (or lease): you need to shop around to make sure that you are getting good value for your dollar. Also, don't forget the maintenance and replacement costs for some of the equipment. Although these may not be an issue at the beginning, they will increase the total cost of ownership. Finally, don't forget to check the incentives in your area before making your final decision. For the United States, we have a list of incentives by state. And for Canada, we have a list of incentives by province.

3) Not taking care of your investment properly With no moving parts and a long lifetime, solar panels are quite easy to maintain. However, it is still very important to make sure that the panels are working at their optimal capacity. External factors such as shading from vegetation or accumulation of snow or dust on the panels can significantly decrease their output. Internal factors such as faulty wiring can also adversely affect performance. Thus, monitoring the actual versus optimal level of electrical output is essential to identify any problems.

4) Underestimating the variability of the sun By its very nature, solar energy is intermittent. Seasonal and daily changes in the incoming solar radiation, as well as cloud cover, will cause your output to vary over time. Understanding the seasonal variation at your site will help you prepare for these patterns. In addition, being aware of the long term average values and the possible deviation from these values on a year-to-year basis will help shape your profitability expectations. Just like a well-balanced investment portfolio of stocks and bonds, your solar investment will bring consistent returns in the long run, but some degree of variation should be expected.

5) Not getting a second opinion It's always best to get more than one quote and we can help you with that. Check out our list of highly-rated installers in your area. Even if you don't have the time to get quotes from multiple installers, you can still do your own due diligence. Ask for your installer to give you a written quote, outlining the expected electrical output for the proposed system, included warranties, and the price. Then, use our tools to cross check this information. Not only can this give you a better understanding of your investment, but it can also give you more bargaining power.