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SolarTown Learning

What You Need to Know When Selecting a Solar PV Installer

09-30-2009
Category: Solar Panels

Asking the Right Questions for a Hassle-Free Installation

Finding the right installer to complete your home solar energy system can mean the difference between an exciting journey into renewable energy and an endless stream of problems with your new system. Knowing what questions to ask will put you on the right track to getting your solar electric system installed with as little hassle as possible.

Professionally-Certified Solar Installers

First and foremost, you will want to ensure that the prospective solar PV installer has received training and a professional certification to prove their knowledge and competence. At the time of this writing, 10 states required solar contractors to meet some type of licensing requirements, including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Perhaps the best seal of approval comes from The North America Board of Certified Energy Professionals (NABCEP) that now certifies solar PV installers across the country. This is a relatively new certification process so the numbers in their ranks are somewhat small, but you can use their Installer Locator to find professionals in your area who have received their certification. Many states now require that you use an NABCEP-certified installer in order to participate in any incentive programs.

However, if you're not able to find an installer with an NABCEP certification, there are other certifications you may seek out to ensure a professional installation of your solar electric system. Most states require that a licensed electrician be on your installation team. Not all licensed electricians are familiar with PV systems, so be sure to ask whether they have received solar-specific training and/or possess experience installing solar systems.

Additionally, if your solar photovoltaic system will be installed on your roof, contracting a licensed roofer to monitor the stress your new system will place on your home's structure would be a prudent move. The size and type of your home solar energy system will determine the weight of the installation and will play a significant role in determining how to safely and securely fasten the unit to the external surface of your home.

Your state should have a contractor's license board through which you can verify the credentials of the potential solar PV installer and you'd do well to contact them before signing any contracts. The board should be able to alert you to any serious complaints against the installer. Finally, be sure to verify the presence of sufficient liability insurance by asking to see insurance papers.

Well-Trained, Experienced Solar PV Installers

A good solar power system installer will be one that has received extensive training. This can take many forms. For instance, you might want to ask whether the potential installer has received formal training installing the particular brand of solar equipment you hope to buy. Many manufacturers offer continuing education to solar installers to ensure they are familiar with the intricacies of their unique systems.

Having an installer who is up-to-date on all of the latest advances in the ever-evolving world of solar photovoltaics is also a major plus. This industry changes almost daily, with new technologies for improving efficiencies and boosting performance launching on a regular basis. The more current your installer's knowledge is, the more likely they will be able to provide the highest-efficiency system for your unique situation, while averting any potential problems.

In many cases, experience will be just as important as formal training. Since structured certification and training programs are just now becoming conventional, there are many installers who have been apprenticed into their current positions, and their experience can be highly valuable. Here are some of the queries you should consider to ascertain whether an installer is well-seasoned or fairly green (as in new):

  • Do they have experience with both grid-tied and off-grid systems?
  • Enquire how long they have been in business and how many solar energy installations they've completed. Installers who have completed a large number of installations over many years will likely have extensive experience.
  • Determine whether they have both commercial and residential experience.
  • Ask them to describe their last installation-was it recent or some time ago?
  • What types of add-on technologies have they installed to improve monitoring and system efficiency?

As you walk through these questions, you should get a fairly clear answer as to a solar installer's level of experience and comfort dealing with a variety of installation settings and systems.

Good Solar Installers Have Excellent References

If you want to really test the reputation of a solar installer, consider asking them for references from previous clients. Contacting past customers to ascertain their satisfaction with their new system is a sure way to determine whether a company's claims of customer service ring true. Here are some questions you may choose to ask references:

  • How long did it take to complete the installation, from initial site visit through completion of the project?
  • Were there any challenges involved in the installation of their solar system? If so, how did the installer cope with these challenges?
  • How has the system performed since it was installed? Has it met their expectations for efficiency?
  • How have requests for maintenance been handled by the installer? How long did it take to reach a resolution?

Contacting clients of both recent and older installations is a good idea to get a feel for how the company performs over both the short- and long-term course of a solar project.

Long-Term Customer Service is Key When Choosing a Solar Installer

Your final point of query for any solar installer should be how they plan to treat you over the long-term. In all likelihood, you should consider choosing an installer with warranties and service agreements that will make your solar installation a hassle-free investment over the life of the system.

If your solar energy products don't come with their own warranties from the manufacturer, you should ask whether the installer will warranty the equipment. Whether it comes from the maker or the installer, you should seek coverage for the greatest number of conditions over the longest period of time to ensure you're not left with the bill for a non-functioning system.

Teasing out what is included in the service agreement offered by a solar installer can be tricky, especially if the agreement is full of legalize and technical information. Here are a few questions that you should definitely consider asking:

  • How many years will service be provided?
  • Are the installers certified to provide maintenance to the home solar energy system?
  • Will you receive any training in how to properly maintain your solar system for maximum energy production?
  • Will a yearly check-up be performed on your system to determine whether it is performing as expected?
  • Are web-based performance monitoring systems available to track system performance?
  • What types of repairs and replacements does the service agreement cover?
  • Do they have a guarantee for length of time between service request and service call?
  • What happens when the equipment doesn't perform as efficiently as promised? Are adjustments to improve efficiency included in the service agreement?
  • Once the service agreement expires, how much will you be charged for repairs or service?

As with all other enquiries during your evaluation of potential installers, the answers from potential vendors will give you a very clear idea of how you will be treated as a customer over the long-term.

Getting Promises in Writing

Once you've asked all of your questions and determined that you've found the right installer, you'll want to get all of the installer's commitments in writing to ensure you receive exactly the service you've been promised. A contract with straightforward information that you can understand is a must here and is your guarantee that you will receive the home solar energy system you've been looking for and long-term, problem-free clean energy generation.


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