With solar exploding across the US and growing quickly in Virginia, in most parts of the state homeowners should have at least a couple solar installation companies to choose from. But making the right choice can make the difference between a solar system that will serve you well for decades to come and a less attractive outcome.
Overall value is important when choosing between the increasing number of professionals offering solar products and services. Often the low bid is from a company that is highly qualified and has a well-managed operation, but sometimes it comes from a company that will cut corners or that may not fully understand the job requirements.
SolarReviews.com, one of the leading websites for customers to post reviews of solar installation companies, offers a helpful list of things you should do to find a solar installer that will provide the expertise, high-quality work and reliable service to make sure that your solar energy system hums along smoothly and offers you the maximum amount of money savings. Here’s their list:
1. Read Reviews and Get Recommendations
Of course, every solar installer is going to say that they do good work. But reviews from their customers offer an outside view from someone who’s worked with that company. SolarReviews.com, Yelp, and Angie’s List are good places to find reviews of solar installers in your area. And if you know anyone — a family member, friend, coworker or neighbor — who’s gotten solar in your area, ask them who they worked with.
2. Get Multiple Price Quotes
Don’t just go with the first company that you find online or who calls you or comes by your place. Always talk to at least one more solar installation company before you decide who to go with. You may find a solar company that responds to your request for a quote quickly, which indicates that they really want your business. Other installers can take a couple days or longer to get back to customer inquiries — possibly indicating that they’re too busy right now or that they’re just not that responsive.
3. Learn about the Equipment They Sell
As with anything for your home, better equipment usually costs more. Solar panels made in the USA cost more than imports, but the domestic panels may last longer and produce more energy. Likewise, monocrystalline panels — the original black panels made from a single cell of pure silicon — are more expensive but produce more energy than polycrystalline PV panels. However, the gap between the two is closing, and polycrystalline panels may be the best choice for your installation. A good solar company should be able to explain the difference clearly and make a recommendation to fit your budget and your home.
4. Find out what Warranties and Guarantees They Offer
Depending on the brand, solar panels (also called modules) come with a warranty on parts from 25 to 35 years. The inverter, which is the part of a solar system most likely to break down, should come with a warranty of at least 10 years and up to 25 years or more. And some solar companies offer their own guarantees on labor or even on the performance of your solar energy system. For example, Main Street Solar offers a Solar Performance Guarantee where we make sure that you get at least a certain amount of energy from your solar panels every month. If you don’t, we’ll fix it.
5. Are they Certified?
Both solar companies and the installers they employ can be certified in solar system design, installation and maintenance. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) is one of the most reputable certification programs for solar PV and solar heating installers. For solar companies, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) can show how a company has dealt with customer complaints.
6. Are they Committed to Service? Can They Offer Customer References Who Say that They Are?
The way that an installation company works with you before you sign a contract with them can help predict how they’ll treat you while installing your solar energy system and afterwards if any maintenance is required. If they can answer your questions in a way that’s easy to understand, if they respond quickly to inquiries and if they seem helpful and skilled in the initial consultation, that’s a good sign of quality work to come.
7. What Financing Options Do They Offer?
The financing options that a solar installation can offer vary by state, depending on government regulations, and also by company. In Virginia, the options for solar companies to finance home solar are pretty straightforward. After taking advantage of the 30% federal tax credit for solar installations, most homeowners in Virginia pay for their new solar systems with cash to get the maximum financial benefit for themselves. For customers interested in financing, loans at attractive rates are available from some installers directly while other installation companies work with their customers to apply for a home equity loan from a credit union or local bank. Beware of any financing that sounds too good to be true — it probably is.
A Reputable Installer Will Listen
Finally, a solar installation company that you can trust won’t use pushy sales tactics like cold calling or put on the hard sell to try to get you to sign on the dotted line before you’re ready. Fortunately, in Virginia we don’t see a lot of this kind of solar sales yet. But in other states where the solar incentives are more lucrative, such as California or New York, aggressive solar sales tactics are all too common.
And, who knows, as Virginia becomes a more attractive market for solar power, homeowners in the state may start getting cold calls and home visits from out-of-state companies. They may try to pressure you into making a quick decision.
So, you should only choose a solar company that takes the time to listen and respond to your questions and concerns until you feel comfortable.
A solar company that provides educational materials on their website through a blog or ebooks is even better. It shows that the company wants to deal with a customer who’s empowered with the information to make the best decision about solar for his or her home.
Speaking of empowerment, our free guide, “Top 10 Questions and Answers on Home Solar in Virginia”, will empower you to make the best decision about solar for your home. Download your free copy now.
— Andrew Brenner, Main Street Solar