10 Questions to Ask Every Solar Installer Before You Sign Anything
Buying a solar energy system isn’t like buying a car. With a car, you can trade it or sell it in a couple of years if you don’t like it. But solar power becomes part of your home. It’s a mini-power plant on your roof or in your yard. It will likely be there, still working, longer than you own the property.
And though it pays for itself in just a few years and then produces free power for 20+ more, it’s not a small initial investment.
Do you want to maximize your investment and minimize your trouble?
It all depends on asking the right questions of your solar installer – before you choose which one to hire. Don’t go with a company just because your friend works there. And whatever you do, don’t install it yourself.
Before you commit to a solar installer, be sure to each them the following questions:
1. Do They Design the Array and Install the Solar Panels Themselves?
A lot of companies use subcontractors for the actual installation. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as the subcontractors know what they’re doing. The solar company you choose to work with should design your system, project its performance, and provide you with what you’ll need to monitor and maintain it.
How much expertise do they have? Ask them about the pros and cons of bifacial solar panels and pay close attention to their response.
What differentiates one solar company from another comes down to things like responsiveness, reliability, service, the warranty situation (more in a bit), and expertise. As you go through this list of questions to ask a solar installer, you’ll get a good idea of how to identify these qualities.
2. What Is Their Level of Experience and Licensure Status?
Find out how long each solar installer you meet with has been in business. While every business starts somewhere, solar companies have been known to come and go pretty quickly. Part of the reason for this is because in many states, all you need to become an installer is an electrician’s license. So any good electrician can decide to ‘offer solar’ as an additional service.
And other groups, like roofing companies that don’t really specialize in solar, have also started offering it. This makes sense, because if your roof is old, you’ll want to replace it before installing solar panels. So it’s a natural fit for a roofing company to offer solar installation. But, that doesn’t mean they prioritize this part of their business, and that’s what you care about.
Ask how many installations each prospective solar installer has done.
And while you’re at it, ask for their business license number and insurance information so you can verify that they are a certified solar installer in your area. Get the certifications of the subcontractor too, if that’s who is installing your actual panels.
Here’s a clickable U.S. map that gives the solar licensing requirements in each state.
3. Can You See Examples and Testimonials of Other Solar Customers?
Nothing beats a track record of success. Any good company should be able to show you photos of projects completed and have real reviews and testimonials. Ideally, you could get some addresses and go see other projects they’ve installed, but that would probably depend on those previous customers giving permission.
But if you can’t go see any projects, perhaps some of their customers are willing to talk with you on the phone. It doesn’t hurt to ask. The best customer to talk to is someone who had their installation done several years ago. If they are still happy with it, you can have confidence in this solar installation company.
4. How Do Their Warranties Work?
One of the best things about questions like this is that you really just want to see how well they know their stuff. A warranty for a solar installation should be a no-brainer, non-negotiable, standard offer that doesn’t cost anything extra.
The investment is too great, and you need to know they stand behind their installation and design work. Any company that does not offer a warranty probably won’t be in business very long.
Coastal Solar offers a 25-30 year production warranty on our solar panel installations. With how well the technology has advanced, anything less than 25 years should be regarded with suspicion.
Also, be sure and get the warranty for the inverter, which will likely be shorter than the one for the panels.
With all this in mind, be sure the warranty is in writing, and make sure you understand the details, including who to contact if something goes wrong and how to activate the warranty.
5. How Does Your Solar Installation Integrate with the Utility Grid?
Utility integration and permitting are two of the primary reasons not to do it yourself for a solar installation. The permitting process is very specific, and different in each region. Likewise, different utilities will have different policies on net metering, prices per kilowatt they pay for your extra solar energy production, solar meter inspections, and other items.
Again, this is a great question to ask during your solar consultation because a knowledgeable solar installer will know this information. They should demonstrate expertise by their answer to this question, because it should be something they talk about with every customer and prospect.
An expert solar installer will know the codes in your area, and understand what is required to meet them and how to have them inspected. They should even be able to give you an approximate timeline for this.
6. Will There Be an NABCEP certified PV Installer and Master Electrician on Site?
NABCEP certifies solar installers who must go through a rigorous series of exams that verify their expertise and knowledge about solar energy technology. It costs money to take courses and get certified, and they are required to take ongoing courses to maintain their certification.
The NABCEP certification gives you great assurance that this solar installer is highly skilled, knowledgeable, and trustworthy. Coastal Solar’s trusted designer, Keith Freeman, is NABCEP-certified, and he has earned the moniker “Pioneer of Solar in the Southeast” as a result of leading so many big solar installation projects here and in the Caribbean.
7. Where Do They Get Their Solar Panels?
There are many highly reputable solar panel manufacturers from all over the world. China has a number of well-regarded companies. There is also Canadian Solar and several good ones in the U.S.
But while there are many solar manufacturers with strong track records, you do want to consider that it can be harder to enforce a warranty on panels that were built overseas.
If you choose to go with a newer solar installation company, you will feel better about that choice if they are using panels from a manufacturer with a great reputation. How much do solar panels cost?
Also, don’t forget to ask the same questions about the inverter. Check online to see reviews of the inverter each solar installer will be using. There is a range of quality here, and you don’t want to get stuck with an inferior product.
8. How Do We Know the Roof Won’t Leak?
This is yet another question that should be an easy question for any experienced solar installer. A good installer should never have leaks. If they do, they should be able to spell out what went wrong, and in most cases, the cause is a faulty roof that should have been replaced first.
But what you’re looking for here is a clear explanation about racking, mounts, and fasteners, with photos and perhaps examples brought to you during your solar consultation. You should ask, “Where will the water go?”, and feel assured by the answer.
9. Who Do We Call If There’s a Problem?
There should be a local person you can contact if you have any issues with your solar panel array, inverter, or energy production.
You want a phone number that won’t disappear in a few months, and that doesn’t redirect to someone across the world. Ideally, you will have a business card, email, and phone number for the same person who does your solar consultation.
One simple way to test this is to send them an email a few days after the consultation. It doesn’t matter what you ask. If they never respond or take days to get back to you, that’s a bad sign. Anyone selling you a solar array – an electricity-generating system that will be a permanent fixture at your home – ought to respond to your emails in a timely manner.
10. How Do We Know the System Is Performing Well?
During your consultation, your solar installer should be able to show you projections for how well different sizes of solar power systems will perform at your location.
Many factors come into play here, such as trees and other shadow-causing objects, the angle of your roof, which direction it faces, how much sunlight it gets, and the number of panels, which is the single greatest cost factor.
They should be able to show you break-even points (how long it takes to recover your investment), estimates of utility bill inflation, and what you’ll save in various scenarios. They should also discuss the software you will be given that enables you to monitor your solar array’s performance.
With all of this in hand, once your system is installed, you’ll be able to see how much solar energy your system is producing and how well it aligns with their projections. There is software today that enables you to see how each individual panel in your array is performing, so any laggards will stand out. And your installer should have a process in place for handling that sort of problem.
That’s one place the warranty comes in. If a panel starts under-performing, will your solar installer come out and inspect it? If it’s faulty, will they replace that panel free of charge? That’s what a warranty should do!
Next Steps – Get Your Free Solar Consultation and Quote
As you can see, there is a lot to consider. Your solar consultation should not take just 20 minutes. This is a major discussion. Budget some extended time so you can ask these questions and understand the answers.
Information is power, so if you’re considering solar energy for your business, poultry farm, or residence, invite Coastal Solar to give you a free, no obligation solar consultation.