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10 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Solar Installation Company
You’ve bought a house, you’ve bought at least a few cars, but how many times have you bought a solar panel system? For most people, it’s less than they can count on a single finger. (That’s code for 0) So how do you choose a solar company to build your solar energy system for you?
Our goal is to give you a tried and true system for choosing the best solar company. More important than the type of panels, and length of the warranty is making sure you pick a good company to install your solar panels.
A warranty and system are only as good as the company behind them.
These are the main questions you’ve got to ask:
- How many systems have they installed? What is their work history like?
- Do they specialize in solar energy systems, or something else?
- What do their customers say about them?
- Are they able to offer any local incentives?
- Are they NABCEP or otherwise certified?
- What do their warranties cover, and for how long?
- Do they offer a variety of panel, inverter, and battery options?
- What purchase options do they have?
- Do they install their own systems, or does someone else do it for them?
- Can they show examples of their work?
- What will be required for repairs and maintenance?
Why does the solar installation company matter?
- Roof leaks caused by improper installation of mounting systems.
- Electrical wiring mistakes that can cause damage to the home’s electrical system.
- The company goes out of business before the warranty expires, leaving you on the hook when a warranty issue comes up.
- Misleading claims on costs and leasing options by salesmen.
- Companies using a one size fits all solution.
1. How many systems have they installed?
The question isn’t necessarily “How long have they been in business?” This is a good question, but not exactly what we’re after. We want to know how much real experience they have. Asking how many systems they’ve installed gets right to the heart of the matter.
Pick a company that has a good track record of system installations.
While it’s great to support new companies, the relationship you have with your solar company can last 5 years, 10 years, or 20+ years. You want to pick a company that is going to do the job right the first time, and still be around 15 years from now.
They say the proof is in the pudding. Why do they say that? No idea. But the proof in solar is in the installation history.
The number of installations is a different measure than the number of years in business. There are many different kinds of solar companies out there.
Some solar companies are “sales only” organizations that contract out the solar installation and others that install and have someone else make the deal with you. It’s not as common to find companies that sell and install solar energy systems.
A company might have 10 years of experience in solar, but that could mean that they have been selling systems for 9 years while another company was doing the installations. This may be a good experience but is very different from a company that has been doing its own in-house installations for 10 years.
Let’s be clear, a company doing their own installs for only a year is not a total disqualifier. That just means that you’ll have to be extra thorough in the other areas of the vetting process.
The perfect number of installations varies, but generally, less than a dozen installs per year is too low.
The number of installations also determines if a company can really say that they have a specialty in solar. Companies with lower installation amounts might just be getting started, or might be companies who primarily offer another service like a roofing company or electrician, but they offer solar on the side.
With a purchase like this you want someone with a proven track record, and a clear specialty in the field of solar energy.
2. What do their customers say about them?
Check online reviews, ask for customer references, and see how open their website is to the thoughts that their customers have.
Just like you might take a testimonial curated by a company with a grain of salt, take online reviews with a grain of salt.
Studies show that online reviews skew towards being more negative, and they’re not always a good measure of how all customers feel about a product or service.
You’ll know when you see the reviews themselves what the company is like, but the average rating might not be totally accurate. People are a lot more likely to report a negative experience than a positive one! Are the customers lying? No, it just means you’ve gotta look into the reviews, rather than just taking the average star rating as the end all be all of a company’s performance.
Another thing to look for is if a company seems to have good relationships with past customers. How many of them are featured on their website or social media channels? Do they post real customer reviews on their website?
A company being open in this regard is a good sign that they have good customer relationships.
It’s not a bad idea to ask for a customer or two in their area that can serve as a reference.
One note, local or regional companies will rely a lot more on their positive reviews and may have fewer resources available for having someone go and chase down those reviews.
A big national company may have a whole team dedicated to chasing down and eliminating their negative reviews. They can do this by offering discounts or other perks for the people that take down their negative reviews. It’s not an uncommon practice.
3. Are they able to offer local incentives?
One of the benefits of working with a locally owned company is that they will often be able to get you the best deals and have access to any state-specific rebates or incentives. These differ from the national solar investment tax credit which we’ve covered in depth.
Ask about these incentives, and if you are the type to shop around at multiple companies before making a decision, be sure to about this.
Regardless of whichever local incentives there are, there are national incentives that are gradually getting phased out. They’re still available currently, but won’t be forever. That article we linked to goes into more details.
4. Are their installers NABCEP or otherwise certified?
These certifications are a mark of excellence, safety, and quality.
NABCEP stands for North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. This is the highest level of certification that a solar professional can have. You want to ensure that their installers have this certification.
In the construction industry falls, and electrocution are the two most common causes of death. The installation process of roof-mounted solar panels leaves the installers at risk for both of those heavy-hitting construction dangers. To earn the NABCEP PV installer certification, a company’s installers must go through rigorous training that includes thorough training on personal safety.
The other main reason to expect the NABCEP certification is that it certifies the engineers that design the systems, as well as the inspectors who check on the system after installation. NABCEP has the industry’s highest standards for the quality of workmanship on solar installation projects.
The fact that the company can say that they have employees with these certifications is a sign that they are willing to invest in their people.
5. What do their warranties cover, and for how long?
Not all solar warranties are created equal.
Warranties differ in these important areas:
- Amount of time they protect you for
- What part of your solar system they protect
- The quality of the company that is backing them
Other components in your system will have different warranty lengths.
As you can see, there is a good deal of variation. It’s best to choose a company that is consistently at least in these ranges, if not at least in the upper ends of these ranges.
Another important note is that the inverter, panel, and battery warranties are all given by the manufacturers of those products, then the workmanship warranty is given by the installer.
This is because the company that was offering them a warranty went out of business! We’ve been installing solar energy systems since 2008. In that time we’ve installed over 8,500 solar energy systems. We’ve been in the communications and energy business since 1999. We’ve been around for a long time, and plan to be around even longer.
Always do your homework when you choose a solar company!
6. Do they offer a variety of panel, inverter, and battery options?
Every home is different with different needs. Just like we mentioned earlier, you probably don’t have the same kind of car as your neighbors.
A company may try to be efficient and offer a one size fits all solution, but this is a mistake.
A roof that doesn’t have as much space may need more efficient panels. These may be more expensive, but they will be necessary to produce an adequate amount of electricity for the home.
A roof with a lot of space may be able to get away with using less expensive panels that are larger, and a bit less efficient. A customer might want different panels that are more aesthetically pleasing if the roof design requires them to be on the front of the home.
A solar energy system really needs to be tailored to the needs of each customer’s home. Make sure that your home’s needs are met.
7. What purchase options do they have?
A solar energy system can be purchased in cash, financed, or leased.
Cash and financing are two ways to own a system outright. A lease means a third party owns and maintains the system. You, the homeowner are just a renter. Just like you were with the regular old power company!
At Big Dog Solar we only offer purchase options. Owning your solar energy system means that you get the tax credit, you have control of the system, and once the system is paid off you keep getting the power that you’re producing.
Just because we only offer purchase options does not mean that you have to pay for it all upfront, although you certainly can if you want to!
A lease option has its own benefits, just like temporarily renting a home has its own benefits. Just like in owning a home, the real savings come when rental prices go up, and your mortgage payment stays the same.
This article outlines some of the shadiest practices that companies have put into their solar financing. These things aren’t the norm, but they are things to watch out for.
When talking about purchase options, watch out for companies whose main value just seems to be their cheap price.
A company that leads its offering with its low prices is often in a race to the bottom of the pricing pile. If you’ve ever been to the dollar store, you know that you can’t be the cheapest around without sacrificing quality and quantity somewhere along the line.
While you should get a good deal on your solar energy system, some deals are just too good to be true, or too good to work out in the long run.
8. Do they do their own installations, or does someone else do them?
You want to know the people that are going to be doing the installation.
This is a big project, and it’s important to have a relationship of trust with the company you work with. More established companies will often do their own installations. Some companies just sell the systems and have another company install them.
Neither option is necessarily right or wrong. If they use subcontractors to do the solar installation for them, then you want to know which company is doing that installation. This adds another level of vetting that you should be doing. The questions in this list can apply to the company selling you the system and the company installing the system.
The thing to look out for here is if they dodge your question, or misrepresent themselves to you. If they’re open with you then you’ll be able to look into the installation company and get a feel for who you’re working with.
9. Will they show you examples of their work?
Just like a good artist, a good construction company will be proud to show off its work. If they’re putting effort into doing a good job, their past installations are often their pride and joy!
A good solar panel installation company will have at least a few examples of their work to show you, and they won’t be shy about it.
As you’re looking at the pictures or videos, look for these things:
- Are the panels well aligned?
- Are electrical components showing in an unsightly way? (inverter boxes, wiring)
- How do the systems look overall?
10. What will be required for repairs and maintenance?
Most solar energy systems don’t require too much. Once they’re connected you can just let them do their thing. But what if repairs need to be made? Will the company you choose to take care of them? Or will you have to hire someone else?
The good news is that panels are built really tough. There usually aren’t any moving parts that allow the systems to last for a really long time. All components are tested to meet certain quality levels. The Underwriter’s Laboratory tests panels for things like hail damage resiliency. They go all out!
What about keeping the panels clean? If you do a bit of online research, some people say not to clean the panels at all, some people claim that you need to regularly have professionals come out to clean the panels.
The truth is, if you can reach your panels with a hose then you can give them a spray down once or twice a year and be good. Typically because of their angle, the rain will work to clear them off as well. The exception to this is the people that live in areas with high dust, tons of pollen, wildfires, or farm fields nearby.
If you live in one of these areas you should wash them off more often. When washing them make sure to go online and educate yourself on them. The panels are covered in tempered glass. If you hit them with cold water on a very hot day, you could cause cracking in the panels. Consider using a professional in these situations.
If your panels are on a second or third-story roof and they appear to have dust or dirt caked onto them, then please call a professional.
Choosing a Solar Company
If after reading this guide you have more questions, feel free to reach out to us. you can get a quote to start comparing prices, or just reach out with more questions and our solar specialists can get you the answers!
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