The 6 Most Important Questions to Ask When Vetting a Solar Installer
So you’ve got a long list of solar installers you’re interested in and need to narrow your search down to a few worthy, reputable companies. Well, let’s get started!
Note: If you’re at the very beginning of your search, read this first and then come right back!
Without further ado…here’s a list of the most important questions to ask when vetting a solar installer!
Are you NABCEP certified?
A NABCEP certification is a stamp of approval from the most respected international solar education community in the world. They provide courses and certification exams for those in the solar industry, from panel installers to sales representatives. Any reputable solar installer will be NABCEP certified, so this is an easy way to narrow down your search.
How long is your workmanship warranty?
The last thing you want is to be 5, 10, 25 years down the road and have an issue arise, only to find out that your installer of choice did not offer an extensive workmanship warranty, leaving you to deal directly with the manufacturers and pay extra for repairs or maintenance.
Your equipment will come with a product warranty (typically 25 years) but a workmanship warranty comes directly from the solar installer. This should cover maintenance and repairs if the system fails or is not producing energy properly. Your installer should handle all of the calls, paperwork and repair of your system. If they don’t offer this, or offer a shorter-term warranty (anything less than 25 years is below industry standard for any reputable company)…move along.
Are you certified to install batteries?
Even if you aren’t in the market for energy storage today, this matters. Firstly, it tells you that they’ve put in the extra work to become certified to install batteries, and this is no simple task.
Secondly, we get many inquiries from customers who went solar with an installer who does not install batteries and now wants them retrofitted by us. There are a few factors that go into whether this will be simple or difficult to accomplish, but it will almost always be simple if you begin with a battery-certified solar installer and tell them from the start that you may want to add energy storage down the line. They’ll make sure you get a system that will allow for seamless integration when you’re ready!
Which design software do you use?
In our opinion, there is one design software that rises above, and that is Aurora. It is the most detailed and comprehensive solar software on the market, and the only one formally approved by the California Energy Commission for new home builds. The weather analysis is taken from the nearest airport for the most accuracy when calculating your system’s estimate energy production. Aurora also uses lidar technology to guide the designers when building out a 3D model of your home.
Why is this important? If you are going to pay thousands of dollar for a solar system, it needs to produce exactly what you are expecting. Unfortunately, some companies use cheaper software, and this can lead to design changes (and price changes) after contract signing.
I have personally designed systems on Sighten, Energy Toolbase, OpenSolar and Aurora. Aurora gets the top spot while Sighten sits at the bottom, as the estimations were much higher than the system could have possibly been able to produce. This is misleading tactic some companies will use to win your business. Be careful!
Here’s an unbiased list of solar design softwares with rankings if you’d like to look into it. Note that it does not rank Aurora as the best PV design software, but it is a pretty decent guide!
Does my energy company offer net metering?
Another misleading tactic disreputable companies use is to not inform you that your energy company does not offer net metering. While this is not common, it does happen. If net metering is not offered, your system should typically only be sized to offset 70-80% of your energy. If your energy company offers net metering, you are good to offset your energy by 100%. Oftentimes if your energy company doesn’t offer net metering but another in your area does, the solar installer will offer to cover your cost to switch.
The solar company you are vetting should either already know this information or be eager to find out when you ask. Brownie points if you don’t even have to ask!
If the solar installer you are vetting does not know, that is a big red flag. Designing a system to offset 100% of your energy consumption when you won’t get equal credit when selling back to the grid (without informing the customer) is unethical. Some people do not care and want the full 100% and that is perfectly fine as long as they are making an educated decision and have been given all of the facts!
What kind of financing do you offer?
This is more of a tie-breaker than a make or break question. Typically, the most reputable companies will be offering the best financing available. Why? Because the better the relationship a solar installer has with their financing company, the better terms and rates they will be given.
For example, if installer X is offering a 20-year term at 2.99% and installer Y is offering a 15-year term at 3.99%, you can assume installer X is slightly more trusted by their financing partner.
It’s also important to list a few questions that customers ask, but may not bear as much weight as they link – and I’ll explain why.
How long have you been in business?
On the surface, this seems to be a pretty cut and dry way to find out whether the installer you’re vetting will be around in 25 years, but it’s not that simple.
For example, executives and managers from a major entity often branch off to begin their own operations, using their extensive experience to create something better. From the outside, it simply looks like a brand new company with no history, but internally they have accumulated decades of solar knowledge and have the motivation to do it better.
If you find out a company has only been in business a few years, ask who the execs are and what their experience is. This will give you a better understanding of the company as a whole. Also, it’s typically a safe bet to go with a company who’s been around a while, but make sure the reviews and other offers beat the competition!
What is your BBB rating and are you accredited?
While this also seems like a decent way to find out whether an installer is the real deal, unfortunately BBB has a “pay to play” system in place that makes their accreditations less than trustworthy. We hope that they have straightened this out, but in the mean time you can find multiple trusted review sites to peruse, like Google, Solar Reviews and BestCompany.
Now you’re ready to find the best three or four installers to request a proposal from! We hope this article helps you narrow down your search and eventually make the best decision for you and your home.
P.S. If you have a few minutes, get to know our team at Sunshine here!