We all have that friend or family member who is an expert on electricity, appliances, or one of the other numerous mechanisms that keep a house running smoothly. Often solar energy expertise is not as common – which is why finding the right solar installation company may be confusing. What do these solar installation companies even do and where do you start?
A solar installation company measures your roof, determines the amount of sun hitting the roof, and designs a system based on your energy needs. The business buys and installs the necessary equipment, applies for permits, and files the paperwork required to connect to your local utility. The installation company may also handle maintenance and repairs if needed, although solar panels are extremely durable these days and tend to last for over 25 years. As a homeowner you want to work with a company that is both experienced and trustworthy.
With thousands of solar installation companies operating in the U.S., choosing one is certainly a complex undertaking, but with a little research you can have both a financial and energy saving solar system, in addition to a low stress buying experience. Let’s look at where you can locate a local company, and how to choose the right one for you.
Where to Find a Solar Installer?
Most people start with a web search which may return dozens of solar installation companies. Websites like Yelp offer customer reviews and can inform you if a company is local or not.
There are also reputable websites available which vet solar installers and provide detailed reviews of these companies, listing pros and cons, pricing, warranties, etc. Some sites, including Silfab Solar, offer virtual calculators which allow you to estimate the size, cost, and potential savings of your solar system with ease. Some of these platforms even provide free quotes for the solar panel system suitable for your home. Energysage.com and Solarreviews.com are just two of the numerous resources like this available to you.
One of your most reliable methods of sourcing a solar local installer may even be to simply ask your neighbors. Find out by taking a walk around your neighborhood to see who around you has a solar system installed. Reach out and inquire about which company installed their system, what the buying experience was like, and most importantly, if they recommend the company for your home.
Once you have created a short list of three or four installation companies, it’s time to request, compile, and compare the offers on a solar system for your home. There are several important factors to consider when evaluating solar installation quotes.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Solar Installer
Most solar installation companies do not manufacture equipment, instead they buy what they need from a distributor or the original manufacturer. When exploring your options, make sure to ask for a list of the solar brands they use and offer to install. Once you understand the brand of equipment the installers utilize, take a moment to research the quality and reliability of that equipment to determine if it aligns with your values and goals for your home. Depending on the installer, if you have a preferred brand, you may be able to specify which products you want installed.
Reputable installers offer high-quality, Tier-1 equipment that come with long-term warranties. On average, a solar system is expected to last up to three decades, so the quality of the components is an important consideration. Panel manufacturers in the US, for example, must adhere to strict manufacturing processes and go through rigorous third-party testing to be considered Tier-1. US made panels means US jobs, some of those jobs may be in your local economy.
Every state in the U.S. has licensing requirements for solar installers. Some states require multiple contracting licenses, while others require only general or electrical contracting licenses. The installation of solar power systems is highly technical in nature, particularly when adding battery storage, so you want to be sure that your installer has the required certifications, and licenses.
In most states, you can verify online if companies have the required licenses to install your system. A licensing database such as IREC list what credentials are required in each state. Installers hire technicians with certifications, typically from NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners). These certifications ensure the installation team is well-versed in the installation process and safety protocols.
As with any new business you are looking to use, it is important to understand the reputation of the company and its team. Even if an installation company has completed numerous jobs throughout your neighborhood you will want to do some research of your own to understand their company values, their overall work, and if they are dedicated to the level of quality you expect.
It is important, and a good practice, to ask your neighbors about their solar installation experiences, but in addition to Yelp, Consumer Affairs also publishes reviews from other homeowners in your area. Another resource for evaluating businesses are the ratings listed on the BBB (Better Business Bureau). The BBB also rates the viability of a business. Overall is it important to work with an installer that has been in business for a while and will continue to be in business, especially if your panels ever need repairs or work that falls under the warranty.
A solar system can stay on your roof for more than 30 years, making the associated warranty crucial to have and understand in the long run. Most tier 1 panels have 25-year product, performance, and workmanship warranties. These are three distinctive solar warranties. Let’s look at them.
- Product warranty: the manufacturer of the system warrants their mechanical components. Most solar panel makers offer at least a 10-year product warranty on their solar panels. Tier 1 companies offer warranties of up to 25 years. Most inverters and batteries, on the other hand, come with 10-15-year product warranties.
- Performance warranty: the manufacturer of the solar panel ensures that the panels will deliver a certain level of power, despite natural degradation over time. Typically, solar panel brands promise about 80% of stated power output by year 25. Some companies, such as Silfab Solar, offer longer performance guarantees such as 82.6% output by year 30.
- Workmanship warranty: the installer of your system covers wiring, mounting, or other labor issues. Most installers offer 5 or 10-year labor warranties on their systems, but longer workmanship warranties, such as 25 years, are offered. Some installation companies will warrant the entire system, not only their workmanship.
Make sure that the warranties are clearly mentioned in your proposal. Then check the terms and conditions of the warranty for repair or replacement charges that you may have to pay, such as shipping of a replacement panel if one should stop working. If the panel manufacturer is overseas, it could be more difficult to obtain warranty service than if the manufacturer is in North America.
Pricing and Payment Options
The cost of a system is a major factor in your decision when selecting the company to install your solar panels. The average cost of a solar power system in the U.S. ranges between $3 and $5 per watt. This means a typical 5 kW system can cost $15,000-$25,000, before any tax incentives. As with most purchases, the cheapest solar panel system isn’t necessarily your best choice. Look for a good balance of quality, price, warranties, and service. For example, inquire about how easily you will be able to reach a customer service representative during and after the install process. Is the customer service located in the US and in your time zone? Factors like these can play heavily into your overall satisfaction of your solar installation.
As a solar customer you conveniently have several options for how to pay for your new clean energy. These include cash, lease or PPA (Power Purchase Agreement). However, your installer may or may not offer you all these choices so make sure to discuss all available with them before moving forward.
- Cash, credit card, loan: means you own the system outright and all of the energy it generates. Some utility companies will buy from you what is generated above what you use each day, making your system even more financially viable.
- Leasing: means you do not own the system but pay a monthly fee for the system. You do own the energy it generates. And as mentioned above, some utility companies will buy from you what is generated above what you use each day.
- Power Purchase Agreement (PPA): means the installation company acts like your utility company. The installer owns your system. You pay the installation company for the energy you use. Over the lifespan of a solar system, a lease or PPA may not yield returns as high as a cash purchase. However, this arrangement may be better for you if you do not have cash to spend upfront, are not planning on living in your home for 6-10 years, or you can get a better energy rate from the installer than what your local utility offers.
Other Things to Consider
Your best practice, when speaking with a potential installer, is to ask as many questions as you can. Ensure you clearly understand what equipment you are buying, how it will be installed, and how you will pay for it. Ask about the installation timeline (how long before they can get a crew to your home) and how long it takes to obtain a permit (not all companies handle this step for you). Municipalities can take from 1 day to 4 months to issue a permit and this must be in hand before your installer can schedule a crew.
When comparing offers, if one quote is significantly higher or lower than the others find out why. Has the installer over or underestimated the number of panels required? Does the proposal have extra items, such as storage that you did not request? Ensure you are comparing equal proposals.
Don’t give in to high-pressure sales tactics, such as forcing you to sign an agreement in the first meeting. The best installers are excited about the products they sell and want you to be a satisfied customer who shares your positive experience with your neighbors.
Summing It Up
Given the long life of a solar system, going solar could be one of the smartest decisions you make for your family, your budget, and for the planet. Conducting your research, speaking to several installers and neighbors, understanding your requirements and what is being proposed, all will enable you to make the wisest decision for your solar future possible. Start that research process today so you can enjoy your clean solar energy as soon as possible.
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