Getting your solar panels installed is the last major step towards energy independence. Being that your solar panels are a big investment, it’s important that you find a solar installer that you can trust. A good solar installer will also take care of maintenance for years to come. We know that there are a lot of companies out there that offer installation services, but not all of them are that great. As with many industries out there, there are companies that just want to make a quick buck by cutting corners. You don’t want to hire the wrong people; what you save on a cheap installation is only going to cost you more money later on down the line. Keep reading for tips on finding a good solar installer, and how to root out bad companies looking to screw you over.
Why Hiring A Good Solar Installer Is Important
Your solar panel array is going to be in use for over twenty years. They’re also expensive. So you want to make sure that the installation is done right to avoid any issues further down the line. Hiring a low-quality solar installer to save a few bucks will cost you in the long run. Bad solar installers are often inexperienced, use low-quality equipment, and do a generally shoddy job with the wiring and mounting of the panels. Not only will this cost you money in repairs and inspections, but you will lose efficiency and valuable power output, and the municipality or utility provider might not even find your solar array up to code. A few criteria you should look for in a good installer are:
- Local or family owned
- Been in business for at least five years
- Tier 1 panels and quality equipment
- Proper licenses and certifications
- Good customer service
- Good reviews and testimonials
A good installer has a long list of completed projects and happy customers, which they should be able to refer you to. They use the best equipment and wiring, and should have all of the proper licenses and certifications required by the state. They will also do the servicing and maintenance for you in the future (such as the all-important solar panel cleaning). If the installation goes smoothly, and is done correctly, then your PV array will provide you with the electricity you need for at least two decades. Find a good solar installer and don’t sell yourself short!
How Do I Find A Trusted Solar Installer?
Since the solar industry has exploded over the past ten years, a lot of electricians, carpenters, and construction workers are taking advantage by getting into the business of installing solar panels. It’s a lucrative market, one that’s only set to grow in the coming years. But like with many maintenance jobs, not everybody does honest work. We’ve all heard the horror stories. A bad mechanic, a horrible plumbing job, a fixer who didn’t fix. Solar panel installers can have the same issues, so it’s especially important to dig deep and do your research to make sure that the people you hire are actually going to do their jobs, and that they’re certified and trained to do it correctly.
The internet is your friend. Searching for solar installers in your area is going to bring back dozens of hits. You’re going to find big names along with small, family-owned businesses. In addition to search engines, there are a ton of websites dedicated to helping you find the right solar installer. If you’ve already found the manufacturer and brand of solar panel that you want, the company website will also have a list of trusted installers for their product. This is probably one of the better choices, as both the company and installer want to stay on good terms with each other and their customers. The manufacturer doesn’t want a shoddy installation of their product, and the installer doesn’t want to lose the branding and publicity that comes with being recommended by a major brand.
Ask Others Who Have Installed Solar Panels
Word of mouth can make or break a business. That’s why it’s good to ask others who have had solar panels installed for their recommendations. Take advantage of friends, family, and neighbors who have solar panels and ask for their opinions. Ask about the process, and ask about any installers that stood out to them, both good and bad. Ask how the panels are doing now, and if they had any issues. Also inquire about the customer service and how they were treated on a personal level. It’s also important to know whether or not they’ve called them back for maintenance. If a different company is doing the upkeep, then that could be a major red flag.
Make a List and Start Making Calls
Once you’ve gathered enough information, it’s time to start narrowing things down. Make a list of the installers in your area and start making some phone calls. Get a feel for them as a company, and note how they treat their potential customers. Ask questions, even if you don’t intend on actually hiring them. Test their knowledge and see what they know about solar panel types and efficiency. Watch out for people who dodge your inquiries, or seem frustrated about whether or not your actually going to hire them. Good solar installers will stop and listen to you, and be willing to answer your questions. They will also give you direct answers, or at least give you a call back when there’s a topic they need to do some research on.
Get Quotes From Multiple Installers
After asking around, start getting some quotes. Prices will vary based on your location, home energy usage, the size of the proposed system, the type of panels, and of course, the quality of the installer. Compare quotes, and make a note when you see prices that lie far outside of the range. Exorbitant prices can mean quality, or they can mean a company looking to make up for low revenues. Low prices can mean a good deal, or it can indicate a company that underpays its workers.
Check Certifications, Reviews, and Background Experience
Once you’ve gotten a feel for the different solar installers in your area, as well as the prices they’re going to charge, it’s time to start looking into their background as a company. This is by far the most important part, as any company can look good up front, but actually being backed by good work is what counts.
Once again, it’s time to use the power of the internet. The first thing you want to check is licensing and certifications. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) is a non-profit that certifies solar installers. A certification from the NABCEP is the industry standard; no good installer is doing business without it. There are also various state-level licenses and certifications that installers must have, though these vary from state to state. Places where solar energy is more common are bound to have more stringent regulations, while other states may require simple variants of electrical or construction licenses. Check the requirements for your area and compare them against your local installers.
The next thing you need to know about is background experience. Companies that have been around longer are more desirable. Five years is a good minimum to start with. These are companies that are more likely to have large projects under their belt, and employ experienced workers that are loyal and hardworking. They should also have recognition and partnerships with well-known solar manufacturers. Ask them to refer you to past projects so you can check their work. A good solar installer should have no problem pointing to their previously completed projects. You should also inquire whether or not the company existed before installing solar panels. A background in electricity, maintenance, or construction is an indicator that the company is well versed in a wide range of specialties.
Of course, you can’t forget about the reviews. While a company can tell you all about their certifications or how many projects they have under their belt, the best way to really know whether or not you’re in good hands is to hear it from previous customers. Everybody is going to have some bad reviews, you can’t satisfy everyone, but a good company will have way more good reviews than bad. This should be reflected across multiple platforms. If a company has high reviews on Google but bad reviews on Facebook, then you’ve got some red flags. A good mark of a trusted installer is how they respond to bad reviews. A good installer will go out of their way to settle complaints and customer grievances in a nonconfrontational manner. Bad companies will blame the customer or outright ignore them.
Do the solar community a favor, and leave a review about your solar installer! Whether they were good, bad, or just OK, you want to let others know about your experience. We should do our best to promote good solar installers while warning others about the bad ones.
Local vs. National Installers
While there are lots of big names out there, sometimes it’s best to go with smaller family-owned companies. Large companies aren’t the best at customer service. They get so many calls that they can afford to be less personal with their customers. This can be seen in their reviews; small-time installers will have much better reviews than the large corporate installers. The smaller companies are more willing to give you the attention that you want from a good solar installer.
Corporate installers are more likely to buy equipment in bulk at a low price, which isn’t always the best quality. They also tend to hire subcontractors to do the installation, and they might not do the best job. That also removes the liability from the company, as the subcontractors will be the ones at fault if something goes wrong. That also makes for a bureaucratic nightmare when you have to call the company, subcontractors, and the manufacturer when something isn’t done correctly.
Local companies are more likely to personalize your PV set up, and will have no problem ordering high-quality parts just for you. They tend to already carry high-quality name-brand equipment, which they choose based on previously rated performance and customer satisfaction. They’ll have Tier 1 solar panels and name-brand inverters. You’ll also be working with them directly. The same people you speak to on the phone are going to be the guys who install your panels. This makes for a situation where you have open communication where you can build a personal relationship. They’ll be there to answer your questions and concerns. If something goes wrong, they’ll also be the ones to fix the problem. You won’t have to go through a larger contracting company to get a fix.
The Installation Process
Once you’ve found your installer, then you can begin the actual installation process. It’s complex, and can be pretty stressful. So here’s a quick rundown of what the installation process looks like.
The installers are first going to come out and take a look at your home. This is when they’ll measure your home energy use and take a good look at your roof. They’ll also take a look at your electrical system. This is when they’ll begin to come up with ideas for the actual layout and design for your PV system. They will help you decide on a type of solar panel, or if you want to go a different route and invest in solar shingles.
Layout & Design
The installers will come up with the best layout for your home. This depends on your home energy usage, the type of solar panel you want, available space, and the directions and angle of your roof. The design isn’t final, you have to sign off on it in order to go ahead with the process. This is where you can make changes to the layout before a final design is chosen. Once you approve, paperwork is signed, and the installation process moves on to the next stage.
Solar panel installation requires construction permits from local agencies. Your municipality and utility companies have to know about the project. If you’re still paying off your home, the bank will need to know about the solar panels as well. Waiting for approval from the regulatory agencies can take a few weeks.
Once the permits have been approved, the installers will begin mounting the solar panels. While the planning and permitting phase can take a few weeks to a month, the actual installation doesn’t take more than a few days. But before the panels can officially be hooked up to the grid and begin powering your home, they must pass a final inspection.
The solar panel array needs to be up to code before you can begin using it. This is to ensure safety, as well as standardization across the residential solar industry. Panels that aren’t up to code can be dangerous to work on. They can also cause issues during power outages, power surges, or strong thunderstorms. Once your system is up to code, then it can be connected to the grid and begin supplying your home, and the grid – via a grid-tie inverter – with electricity. Now you can take advantage of that sweet solar tax credit.
The solar installation process is tough. It’s easier when you have a good solar installer that you can trust. Remember that it’s best to go local over national. Local installers will give you the personalized attention you need, while larger companies will hire subcontractors who have too many jobs to care about you as a customer. Remember to do research into their background. You want to know how long they’ve been in business, how many projects they’ve completed, and their licenses and certifications. Ideally, you want a well-established installer who has completed several projects and has been in business for at least five years. Be sure to check the reviews, as third-party testimonials are a strong indicator of a company’s performance. Finally, once installed, that same company should be the people you call when it’s time for the annual maintenance check-up. A good solar installer will take care of your solar needs for years to come.
Frequently Asked Questions
A good solar installer will have a long track record of satisfied customers, along with experienced employees and good reviews on social media. They will also use high quality equipment and provide good customer service.
Search online and ask others who have had solar panels installed. Look for proper licensing and certifications, past experiences, and reviews on social media. It’s also good to talk to the installer directly and gauge their demeanor and level of customer service.
A bad installer may be cheap, but will cost you more in the long run. You will end up with cheap solar panels, low quality inverters and wiring, and a bad grounding job. You can also be fined by the municipality or utility company if the PV system isn’t up to code.
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