17 Key Questions To Ask Before Hiring Solar Installer

17 Key Questions To Ask Before Hiring Solar Installer

Investing in a solar power system is a big decision and choosing the best company for solar installation can be confusing. Homeowners should get quotes and information from at least three companies before they sign contracts for installation. During the interview process, homeowners should ask these 17 questions to help get the best upfront price while preventing unexpected costs in the future.  

1. Where is the company headquarters?
It is easier to get responsive service from locally owned and operated companies during the installation process. Ask staff from national companies how they handle out-of-state customers who need support after the system is installed.

2. Who completes the installation?
Some companies, whether local or national, use subcontractors who may not have specialty training for the on-site installation work. Homeowners who want high quality control over the installation process should ask for installers who are certified and full-time employees for the company.

3. How efficient are the panels to be installed?
Quality, high-efficiency panels will save the most money over time but may cost more up front. Low-efficiency panels may be cheaply made for a lower initial cost, but reduce the total potential savings of switching to solar.

4. How experienced is the company?
New companies who have not completed many installations will be less familiar with the laws and tax incentives for the local area. Find out how long the company has been operating and how many clients they have worked with.

5. How do they handle paperwork?
With all the tax breaks, grants, and other paperwork for renewable energy credits, there can be a lot of paperwork involved for installing solar. Ask if the company plans to prepare the documents before installation begins or can provide assistance for homeowners who attempt this on their own.  

6. Is the company NABCEP certified?
Most states hold licensing requirements for PV installations professionals as a minimum required certification. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) offer an additional voluntary certification that demonstrates an installer has completed additional training and testing. Certified companies should be able to show proof that their workers hold this higher standard of expertise.

7. Will any subcontractors be involved?
It’s not unusual for a company to use some subcontracted labor for various parts of the job, but they should be able to name the companies or individuals they hire and describe the qualifications and credentials for everyone working on the installation.

8. What fire codes are involved for this job?
Fire code is different in each state, but reputable companies should have this information ready for each individual job. Homeowners should do their own research on local codes and double check that the company has a plan to adhere to their state specific requirements.

9. Who manufactures the inverters and what warrantees are offered?
Online reviews are available for solar module manufacturers. Take notes on which manufactures a company uses and make sure the quality and warrantee service experience is acceptable to you.

10. What licenses are required for this installation?
Licensing requirements vary by state and municipality: a quality company should have this information prepared to discuss. The company will need a business license and may also need general contracting or home improvement licenses as well. A licensed electrician may be needed for the installation. Question the insurance policies for how injuries to workers or damages to the home would be handled if an accident arises during installation.

11. What other certifications do they hold?
Beyond the required licenses, the NABCEP certification can be granted by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners' for installers who have completed at least three installations and a full week of extra training on the codes and safety issues for electrical, fire, and construction involved on the job. There is an entry-level NABCEP program, but look for companies and installers that have the full certification. This is the "gold standard" for companies because it recognizes a higher level of standards for safety, training, and customer service, as well as a commitment to keeping certified installers on staff. Ask for at least one NABCEP certified installer to be on the crew during the job.

12. Who will come to the house?
Particularly if when using a company that employs subcontractors for some or all of the labor, get a list of all the installation companies and individuals the solar company expects to arrive on site. Find out if the solar company will be providing a supervisor to coordinate and ensure quality checks are being done for all installation procedures.

13. What is the warranty on the installation?
Solar panel manufacturer and inverter technology companies cover their hardware through manufacturer warranties that do not vary too much across the industry. The installation labor is not covered under these warranties so a solar company should provide some guarantees to cover any damage or malfunction related to the installation. At minimum, they should offer a one year warrantee, but since the life of the solar energy system is 25+ years, many consumers ask for a 10-year warrantee to protect their expensive investment.  

14. What incentive programs can the company offer?
There are many incentives at the national, state, and local level available to homeowners who switch to solar energy. A generous tax credit of up to 30% of the solar system can be applied and rebates on new systems can be awarded by states or cities. Thanks to forward thinking utility companies, cash programs also exist in some areas to help homeowners acquire arrays. A good company will be able to find the most applicable incentives for each specific installation.

15. Are the company’s systems made in the USA?
Because warrantees on the solar energy system equipment is linked to the manufacturer, and not the installation company, it is possible to make a warranty claim on panels or inverters that malfunction even if the solar company is no longer in business. However, shipping damaged panels overseas to the original supplier as part of the warranty process is prohibitively expensive and inconvenient. Having domestically produced materials gives homeowners better access to ongoing customer service and the option for more efficient warranty repairs or replacements over the 25+ year life of the energy system.  

16.  How much energy will the system produce?
There are two ways to measure solar power system performance: kilowatts per hour (kWh) and peak kilowatt (kW) output. KWh is more accurate measure, but only if it is graphed over time. An estimate from a solar company that includes the peak kW production, or a daily average kWh figure won’t be giving the consumer a full picture of the natural ebb and flow of electricity the solar system generates over a day or throughout the year. Before committing to a solar energy company, ask for a month by month graph showing how the energy production will change through the year.

17. What upgrade options are available?
Find out if there are upgrade options if the energy needs for the family change due to increased energy use. Companies should be able to help customers make a realistic plan for future energy needs that accommodate typical use changes. Honest companies should be up front about whether the house structure and roof could accommodate adding panels to increase the capacity of the system if the output no longer meets the homeowner’s needs.

Making an investment in solar energy systems is an expensive decision that will affect a home’s value and efficiency for decades to come. These questions can help homeowners choose a company that is qualified and knowledgeable and get the best value with the best service on a new solar installation.