How to choose a trustworthy solar panel installer
Choosing a solar panel installer can feel like a minefield. With so much choice, where do you start? A credible and trusted company will work with you to design a solar panel installation that's tailored to your home and falls within your budget.
Here's a step-by-step guide to support you in finding a reputable solar company that knows how to install solar panels:
Considered the "gold standard" for solar panel installers, The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certification program is nationally recognized and well-respected. A company with installers that are certified by NABCEP is a bonus, says Dan Glaser, Panasonic Senior Sales Engineer, Solar and Storage.
While NABCEP certification is a benefit, there are installers with experience equivalent to or greater than NABCEP, says Glaser. One of the key questions you should ask is how long they've been in business. Dedicated solar panel installers typically have experience ranging from five to 10 years. Glaser suggests requesting a portfolio of work to review.
Customer reviews can provide powerful insights. Glaser encourages exploring social media and sites including Yelp, EnergySage, and Solarreviews.com. Look at serviceability and how quickly a company responds to problems. Be careful not to rely completely on reviews, as people often only leave reviews only when they've had a problem, he says.
National vs. Local Solar Panel Installer
There is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing a large national company over a smaller local provider. The benefits of a larger company include depth of experience and resources; a wider range of payment options and maintenance services; and more comprehensive warranties. But smaller solar system installers may be able to proffer bigger savings, better customer experience, and a deeper knowledge of local regulations, market conditions, and climate.
License requirements vary from state-to-state and it's important to verify that a solar panel installer has the required licenses before working with them. Local and state requirements include solar, electrician, and general contractor licenses.
In solar, one size does not fit all. A good solar panel installer takes the time to meet you, analyze your property, and provide a quote for a solar panel installation that's customized to your needs.
Comprehensive warranties are your safety blanket. They ensure the protection of your solar panel installation and your investment. Don't settle for anything less than three types of warranties covering the product and equipment, performance/power output, and labor. "The majority of manufacturers' product warranties are 25 years," Glaser says. However, not all companies offer the same long-term performance guarantees, which can make the difference between a great investment and a not-so-great one. Premium solar panels should offer a minimum power output performance of 90% in year 25.
Operations and Maintenance
Look at a provider's maintenance packages, advises Glaser. Ideally, your solar system should be inspected and cleaned at least once-a-year to keep your panels operating at maximum efficiency. Some installers include maintenance and others provide it as an add-on.
Not all solar panels are created equal. It's wise to get opinions from several providers. But be wary of the cheapest price. "If it looks too good to be true, it generally is," Glaser says. "Some newer installers don't understand the length of time a system is warrantied for and what it takes to cover that installation over 25 years or more."
Basic installations can be as quick as a day and larger installations on complex roofs — such as one with tiles — can take up to a week. If you see a lower price, review the warranty and understand why.
By way of guidance, the average US solar panel installation currently costs $12,810 after tax credits. Remember, there are generous federal tax incentives and state incentives available to help lower the cost of residential solar systems. Your installer should be knowledgeable about all government rebates and explain the details to you.
Be Present During Installation
It's worth being there for part of the installation, says Glaser, to assess the quality of the work. Tell-tale signs of a poor installation include exposed wires and roof leaks, which can quickly get expensive. Panasonic has done much of the qualifying work for you and works closely with their installers to support homeowners through every phase of ownership. A good place to start is by searching their trusted network of Premium and Authorized installers.