Choosing the Right Solar Installer – More Frequently Asked Questions

Since choosing the right solar installer is probably the next most important decision to be made after deciding to invest in solar energy, you’ll need to do your homework and ask the right questions to get the answers you need to feel comfortable with this most important of decisions.

Here we’ll look at some more frequently asked questions and the answers to those questions that should help with your decision.

What should I look for in a good installer?

The first thing you should do is ask for the installer’s credentials. Since certification’s not required, the installer may not have anything concrete to show you. But, many serious installer’s these days often come from an electrical background, which means they usually are NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) certified at least, and may also be certified in solar energy.

Failing that, find out what kind of training they’ve had and also how much installation experience. If they’ve been working in the solar energy business for a number of years and have a record of successful installations, that may be worth more in the long run than any number of degrees or certificates.

How can I verify an installer’s background?

One of the most important parts in the process of choosing the right solar installer is conducting an in-person interview with each candidate. For this reason, it’s best to choose an installer that operates locally, so that they can come to your home and conduct an on-site analysis of your needs, at which time you can ask whatever questions you have about the installer’s experience, background, how they propose to handle your project, time estimate, the type of experience his employees have, etc. You need to feel comfortable with the installer in order to make a decision, so make sure you’re armed with every question you need answers to.

Always ask for and check references. If an installer is as good as they may claim to be, they’ll have nothing to hide and should be happy to provide you with several references you can check. But, don’t just get the references and assume the people are happy with the work done. Make sure to contact these previous customers to find out what their results and experience were with the installer. If possible, ask one or two if you can visit their home to see and chat about the work done.

What else should I look for?

Ask the installer what products he uses, and check with local solar companies or online to make sure these are quality products.

The installer should be able to offer a warranty for the work done, and enquire as to what type of service contracts they offer for post-installation maintenance work.

The installer must at least provide liability insurance to cover potential property damage, and they should, ideally, be bonded, although this may cost more as it’s not required.

They should advise you on energy-saving tips and techniques you can follow to ensure you get the most benefit from your new system.

If you’ve reviewed all the frequently asked questions we’ve provided and got the answers you need to these questions and are comfortable with the person interested in doing the installation, then you should be in a position to make a decision and to choose the right solar installer for your project.

The Beginners’ Guide to DIY Home Solar Installation

You may think that DIY home solar installation is too hard for you.

Perhaps you think it’s too technical or too big of a job for a do-it-yourselfer. The truth is that a DIY solar kit installation is possible for almost anyone. Besides, the long-term financial benefits and energy independence a photovoltaic system provides is more than worth the effort.

Why Switch to Solar Energy?

Homeowners have much to consider when evaluating the potential benefits of installing a solar system.

The biggest reason to adopt PV energy is the exceptional level of cost savings. Once your system is up and running, you will save on energy costs throughout the life of the system. And you can expect your PV panels to function at or near full capacity for 30 years or more!

But the benefits don’t just stop at the savings. Adding a solar panel array also:

  • Increases property values
  • Creates energy independence
  • Protects the environment
  • Sets a good example for your friends and neighbors

So, are you ready to get started?

Where to Begin with DIY Solar

A DIY solar installation requires a bit of planning. Find out:

  • Is there enough room on your roof or elsewhere on your property for an array?
  • Where is the most convenient place for you to place the array?
  • Does your roof or property have sun for most of the daylight hours?
  • Are there any obstructions such as trees or buildings that would block the sun?
  • Is your roof structurally sound? Can it handle the added weight of panels?

Once you’ve answered these questions and decided that solar energy will work for you, you’re ready to keep going. And don’t give up if you can’t unequivocally answer yes to every question. You can find any number of ways to work around shade or even a small roof.

Look at Your Electric Bills

Now, gather up your electric bills from the last 12 months to determine how much electricity you use during your highest months of usage.

Look for the kWh (kilowatt-hours) consumption numbers, and total them up for the year. Keep this number in mind so that you can refer back to it during the rest of your planning.

The size of the system you need will be determined by your highest monthly level of power use.

Select Your DIY Solar Kit Components

To build your own system you will need, at minimum:

  • Solar panels
  • A mounting system
  • An inverter

It’s important to note that an off-grid system requires a battery backup. This adds a level of complexity to the DIY process that most experts don’t recommend you attempt, unless you have direct experience.

The DIY Solar Installation Process

Professional installation is a large portion of the cost of a solar panel system, so doing the work yourself saves you big bucks.

It is extremely important, however, that you bring in a licensed electrician for the electrical connections. This costs more than doing the wiring yourself, but it isn’t an option in most states, unless you’re an electrician.

When it’s time to mount the panels, you must first prepare the mounting and racking system. These systems, especially SnapNrack products, are plug-and-play systems and are very easy to assemple.

The panels themselves are quite easy to mount, once the racking is attached to the roof. You simply need to lay the panels in play, connect together as you go, and ratchet them into place.

Now, have the electrician wire in the panel and voila! You should be ready to go!

Be sure that you purchase your DIY solar kit from a reputable and established source. This is the only way to ensure that your components come with a full warranty. Plus, a solar kit provider can be an invaluable resource for helping you design your system and for answering any questions you have throughout the DIY home solar installation process.

Buy Local When Choosing a Solar Installer Or Contractor

I am sure you have heard the words, “buy local,” when referring to locally grown food.  This motto is transferable to all other goods and services.  A locally owned business is more likely to produce income, jobs and tax receipts for a given community over many generations. 

As adoption for solar energy systems grows, your options for choosing a solar panel installer are increasing.  I want to first describe the major types of solar installers and then talk about why it makes sense to contract from a local solar panel installer. 

1. Solar Panel Manufacturers – Their business is primarily manufacturing panels, but they also bid on utility-scale photovoltaic projects. Solar Panel Manufacturers are well suited for larger projects since they can supply the panels directly and eliminate the middleman, reducing overall system costs.

2. National Solar Installers – National players usually operate in multiple states across the country, with many having their national headquarters in California.  National Solar Installers tend to handle the largest volume of installations per year.

3. Regional or Locally-owned Solar Installers – This group specializes in only solar installations for a certain local area usually designated by state. 

4. Other Contractors – The largest group of solar contractors are those that offer solar panel installations as  part of their portfolio, but specialize in something else – many are electricians, roofers, door and window contractors, or general contractors.

Why Buy Local?

  • Local contractors are better acquainted with the local weather conditions and how to design a system to fit those requirements.
  • A PV installer that is based in your area will be more familiar with regional permitting rules and electric codes reducing design errors, speeding up time to installation, and providing the best overall service.
  • Statistics show that buying from independent, locally owned business, rather than a nationally owned business,  will infuse three times as much money in your region’s economy, strengthening the economic foundation of your community.
  • Locally owned contractors tend to make more local purchases requiring less transportation.  This reduces congestion and transportation-related emissions.
  • Small businesses hire locally and will support green jobs where you live.
  • A local installer will help you maximize the incentives for your solar projects because they have a greater awareness of different rebates, tax credits and exemptions, loan programs, SRECs, etc.