The quality of work put forth by your solar installer is the most important aspect of your solar installation. An inverter malfunction or dirty panels will be the least of your worries if your roof starts leaking or if you have poorly installed wiring. Poor quality work can leave you with headaches for years to come. Here are the Top 4 reasons your installer selection is of vital importance.
- Quality of Work – Having the same solar system equipment does not mean that one installer’s installation is equal to another. The manner in which the system is installed is extremely important on many levels. In fact, there have been cases found where one installation crew installed an identical system to another crew, within the same company, but produced 15% less kilowatt-hours. Large national installers are the biggest culprits of this offense due to the lack of quality assurance. Proper oversight unfortunately gets lost when customers turn into numbers and installers begin subcontracting. There are set certifications in place such as NABCEP to “raise [solar] industry standards and promote consumer confidence”, however most companies do not have this certification. In many cases the owner or a high-level manager will receive an individual cert., but this education rarely trickles down to the guys in the boots. Poor quality of work ranges from wrong type of footings, perforated wires, flashings that don’t sit flush, roof holes, broken tiles, wire mismatch, to blatant circumstances of QA officers signing off on poorly installed systems to save costs on correcting mistakes. You can see a complete firsthand horror story here.
- Workmanship Warranty – What your installer offers under their workmanship warranty policy should be an essential aspect in choosing your installer. Does it cover all equipment, labor, and roof leakage, or does it just cover flagrant malpractices? Is it for 10, 20, or 25 years? The industry standard in California is 10 years and the rest of the country is slowly following suit. However some installers choose to extend it to make them stand apart. What you really need to look at though is the fine print. Some National Installers, including SolarCity, only warranty your roof for one year after installation if there’s no preexisting roof warranty in place (otherwise they’ll match the warranty). If you live in drought areas, by the time it actually rains your warranty may be expired.
- Bankability – Basically this term refers to how likely a company will be around in the future. If your installer goes bankrupt, there goes your workmanship warranty and a point of contact to call if something goes wrong. Large established installers are considered more bankable than smaller ones. It is typically advised not to go with the guy-and-a-truck type installers for exactly this point – they are not likely to be around in 10 years. Regional installers mitigate the risk some, and you can layer your warranty protection by using equipment from quality manufacturers.
- Dishonesty – As a homeowner who’s looking into solar, will you have any clue if the installer tells you the system he’s selling you will produce 7,000 kWhs for the year or 9,000 kWhs? Probably not. Production estimates are an easy thing to exaggerate for an installer to make their system look better than another, when there is actually nothing backing up the estimates. A lot of solar salesmen will do whatever it takes to get a sale. A roof in desperate need of repair, or placing panels in sub-optimal places will not stand in the way of making sure you sign on the dotted line.
All this leaves you with quite the mess. The big company might be bankable, but there’s no way to tell if they’ll do it right. If your salesman convinces you to go with a PPA or Lease model, you may get the guaranteed production but you’ll end up paying close to double what you would have for a purchase. The guy-and-a-truck type companies should not even be considered. Mid-size installers can be excellent – or terrible. So who’s left? The truth of the matter is that there are a lot of very high quality companies in the solar industry. Using a professional service that stakes its reputation on finding you the best installers might be something to consider.