Hiring a solar panel installer? Here are some tips
Updated: Jun 19
Adding solar panels to your home or business requires a large investment. People rightly want to trust the people they’re hiring as the solar panel installer.
That’s why it’s important to take a few steps to protect yourself and your investment. Recently there’s been some unfortunate instances of companies that allegedly didn’t install systems correctly or oversold the benefits of going solar.
We believe solar can be a great investment. We’ve seen many people significantly reduce their power bills while investing in renewable energy. Part of our mission is to give people the best advice and the most accurate information we can so that they can make the right decision for themselves.
As CNET writes, “there’s no real reason to believe unethical sales tactics are widespread, but they do occur.”
“Avoiding a solar panel purchase that can’t deliver doesn’t take an industry expert. It does take doing a bit of homework, knowing what to look for and relying on experts and advocates when you need them.”
To that end, here’s a guide to help you shop confidently for a solar panel installer.
A company installing solar panels needs to be a licensed electrical contractor in Minnesota. That’s not optional – state law requires it. So it’s a good idea to make sure whomever you hire is licensed to do electrical work.
And in some cases, the contractor will need to be a residential building contractor in Minnesota. You can check the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to verify contractor licenses.
Make sure that whatever contractor you hire will get the required permits to do the work at your home. The installer is also required to arrange for an inspector to survey the project after it has been finished.
Industry certifications can also help prove the installer has done their homework and understands how solar works. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, known as NABCEP, provides solar installer credentials. Our president, sales consultant and master electrician have NABCEP certifications.
These days, there are many companies in the solar energy field, including in the Duluth area. Just like you’d do for any other home improvement project, it’s in your interest to get multiple bids to see how each company stacks up.
After all, solar energy systems can cost $15,000 or more. You’ll want to feel comfortable with whoever is installing your system.
A solar installation sales proposal will include more than the contract price. You’ll likely find information about system’s expected production and how long it’ll take to pay for itself.
Each solar company has their own processes for drafting sales proposals, and the assumptions they make can have a big impact on the final product. For instance, solar companies usually account for some degree of utility rate inflation in the future, but that figure is up to them. They’ll also factor in shade at your home, which will affect your production and return on investment.
If you get multiple proposals with wildly different projections, it’s maybe worth investigating further to understand how the installers came up with their figures.
You can find a list of installers in Minnesota by checking in with the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association.
Bobby King, state director for Solar United Neighbors, told MPR that he recommends people only sign paperwork after someone has visited their home.
While there is plenty of information we can glean from satellite images, it always helps to see the property in person. That way, we can account for any extra work that may need to be done to accommodate the solar panels.
Do your research
You don’t have to be an expert to invest in solar energy. After all, that’s what you’re paying the solar panel installer for!
But it doesn’t hurt to have a basic understanding of what solar does and doesn’t do. That can help you ask better questions and shop confidently when you’re getting bids for your project.
For instance, you’ll probably find out quickly that it’s best to install panels that face south. If an installer proposes putting them on a north-facing roof, you’ll know to ask why. The installer should be able to produce a shade analysis for the project site.
As Minnesota Power points out, it’s a good idea to ask the installer to explain how to operate the solar system, including monitoring software.
It’s also a good idea to understand the incentives for going solar. The biggest one right now is the federal tax credit. For installations occurring in 2022, that tax credit is 26% of the project cost.
But as CNET points out, the money doesn’t come in the form of a check from Uncle Sam.
“Instead, it’s a credit you can count against the taxes you need to pay each year. In order to take full advantage, you’ll need to pay federal income tax and pay enough of it to match 26% of your system’s cost.”
We tell people to check with a tax professional about their eligibility for the tax credit.
Ask about references and warranties
While you’re asking questions, inquire about references as well. Hearing from previous customer is one way to ensure you’re working with a reputable company. It also can’t hurt to check online reviews, including from the Better Business Bureau.
Finally, inquire about warranties offered by the installer and the manufacturer of your system’s components. The Minnesota Department of Commerce suggests making sure the installer warranty lasts at least two years. (Ours is for five years.)
Manufacturer warranties generally fall into two categories: product and performance. For a solar panel, the product warranty ensures it’s free from physical defects for a certain amount of time. The performance warranty promises the panel will produce a certain amount of power for the warranty period, which is usually 25 years.
Feel free to ask your installer for information on the products they’re using. There should be a “spec sheet” that you can reference that will describe the warranty.
Read the fine print
As with any big investment, you want to make sure you know what you’re getting into.
After you’ve done your research and selected a solar panel installer, you’re ready to sign a contract for the installation. Be sure to read through the contract thoroughly because it describes what the installer is required to do.
A typical contract includes a description of the work the contractor will perform, project timeframes, price, the change order process, payment procedures and more. Reading and understanding this document will help you prevent unwelcome surprises down the line.
The same goes for any financing arrangement you use to pay for your system. There are plenty of solar-focused loan options out there, but it’s important to understand the terms of the loan and how it will affect your investment. While it’s not always possible, buying the system outright is usually the best option, Consumer Reports says.
Investing in a solar energy system is not like making an impulse purchase while online shopping. It should take a bit of research and due diligence.
We strive to ensure people feel comfortable and confident when they hire us. Hopefully you’ll feel the same way when using these solar shopping tips.