The solar energy industry is a fast-growing industry. It is estimated that there are nearly 2 million solar installations across the United States, accounting for approximately 9% of all renewable energy consumption in the country as of 2019.
Solar installation is a somewhat complex and risky job that combines the hazards of electrical work, roofing, and carpentry. Over 5,300 fatal occupational injuries were recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2019. 880 of these fatalities were caused by falls, slips, and trips, and 166 were caused by exposure to electricity. Due to the high risks involved, it is important that you employ the services of a professional solar installer near you when you decide to switch to solar energy. This ensures that your installation is done in compliance with all relevant occupational safety and health standards.
Before hiring a "solar installer near me", you should ask the following questions:
Are You a Licensed Solar Installer?
Solar installation licensing requirements vary from state to state. Generally, many states require an electrician's license for solar panel installations and a plumber's license for solar thermal installations. However, some states like Florida, California, New York, and Idaho issue solar-specific licenses. Before you hire a solar installer near you, find out the specific licensing requirements of your area of residence by contacting your local consumer protection agency. You can utilize the Solar Energy Industries Association's member directory to locate professional solar installers close to you and the National Association of Contractors Licensing Agencies licensing information webpage to verify the license that a solar installer presents to you.
Are You a Bonded and Insured Solar Installer?
With every job, there is always the possibility of an on-the-job injury occurring. According to a report published by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by private industry employers in 2019, with 80 nonfatal injuries and illnesses recorded amongst solar photovoltaic installers. When you want to hire a solar installer, always hire an installer that is insured and bonded. Insurance absolves you from any financial liabilities if an on-the-job injury occurs during your installation, while bonding ensures that you are duly compensated if your installation is not done properly or completely.
While many professional solar installers near you may be licensed, insured, and bonded, do not take it for granted to confirm these documents yourself. Find out the bonding requirements for your state of residence by contacting your local consumer protection agency. Always ask for copies of your installer's insurance certificates and make sure that the insurance premiums are paid up. You should also make sure that the insurance policy covers both general liability and workers' compensation.
What Kind of Work Are You Specialized In?
Solar energy is converted into electricity through two primary means, photovoltaics and concentrating solar power. Photovoltaics are mostly used for residential homes while concentrating solar power is used for utility-scale projects like power plants.
When you want to install solar panels, it is important that you hire a professional near you that can determine the system best suited for your home and is capable of installing the type of system you need. Solar installations can be broken down into three systems; Grid-tied, Off-grid, and Hybrid.
Grid-tied solar power systems are connected directly to an electric utility grid and they allow you to switch from the grid to your solar system seamlessly. This system is relatively cheaper than the other solar power systems. You can also sell back any excess power you generate. The main disadvantage of installing a grid-tied system is that it cannot be used during a blackout.
With off-grid solar power systems, your house is completely disconnected from the electric utility grid and is run solely on batteries. Some off-grid solar systems also include a generator that can be used to charge the batteries when there is not enough solar energy.
Hybrid solar power systems are grid-tied systems that have a battery back-up system. This provides more flexibility and also ensures that you still have power during a blackout, as long as your batteries are adequately charged. Hybrid solar power systems are usually more difficult to install and therefore are generally more expensive than the other systems.
Who Will Do the Work?
It is always important to know who exactly will be working on your installation project. This is necessary, not only for security purposes but to also ensure that these workers are qualified to handle the job. When you hire a solar installer, make sure that you are duly informed of how many workers will be on-site for the job. Also insist on seeing proof of licensing, insurance, and bonding for each of these workers.
Do You Offer a Warranty?
A warranty is a written, oral, or implied guarantee that is given to a person that pays for a product, good, or service to assure them that the item or service they purchased will serve its intended purpose.
When you hire a professional solar installer, you are usually offered manufacturers' warranties and a workmanship warranty. The workmanship warranty covers the installation process itself and assures you that it was done professionally, while the manufacturers' warranties cover the materials that were installed. This includes solar panels, batteries, and inverters. Most manufacturers' warranties make provisions for repairs or replacements if the installed items malfunction within a specified timeframe, provided that the malfunction was not a result of negligence on the user's end.
It is always a good idea to obtain copies of these warranties in writing. This helps you properly study it to find out all the conditions and requirements that may come with it. A good professional solar installer near you would not hesitate to provide you the necessary warranties.
Will This Job Require a Permit?
Although the specific requirements vary from state to state, a permit is generally needed for solar installations. Permits are government approvals that are issued to individuals that wish to undertake a construction, remodeling, or renovation project on their homes and properties. These permits are usually required for projects that can significantly alter the footprint or structure of a house.
Professional solar installers near you usually know the requirements and procedure for obtaining all necessary permits needed for an installation project in your locality. Most times, the cost of obtaining these permits is included in their bills. That being said, it is always a good idea to find out these requirements for yourself. You can do this by contacting the local building office in your area of residence.
Will You Provide References?
The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you ask for, and verify, at least three references before hiring a contractor. You can also independently look up online reviews on any solar installer you wish to hire through websites like Better Business Bureau and Google Reviews. You should consider it a red flag if a contractor cannot or refuses to provide you with references of clients near you, or if a contractor has too many negative reviews online.
Do You Have a Business License?
A business license is different from a professional or contractor's license. Professional licenses are issued to individuals as proof of proficiency in their occupation or trade, while business licenses are issued to companies or firms as authorization to conduct business in a particular area.
Most solar installation companies belong to a class of businesses that are referred to as small businesses. These types of businesses make up over 99% of all businesses in the United States. Before hiring a solar installer, ensure that the company the installer works for is properly registered and therefore legally allowed to conduct business in the area. You can do this by contacting the Office of the Secretary of State in your area of residence.
What Are Common Solar Installation Problems?
The most common problems associated with solar installation are:
- Roof issues
- Inverter problems
- Inaccurate installation
- Wind and bird exposure
- Hot spots on panels
- Potential induced degradation (PID)
- Snail trail contamination
- Internal corrosion and delamination
Employing the services of a professional solar installer greatly reduces the chances of some of these problems occurring.
How Much Does Solar Installation Cost?
The average cost for installing a solar panel system in the United States is $18,000 - $22,000. This figure is affected by several factors that include the type of solar panel system installed and its intended use. As such, you can pay as low as $15,000 or as high as $35,000 for a solar installation.
Listed below are some solar installation cost estimates:
Note that the Federal Solar Tax Credit incentive allows homeowners and commercial establishments to deduct a percentage of the total amount paid for the purchase and installation of a solar panel system.
What Are the Factors That Affect the Cost of Solar Installation?
The cost of solar installation is mainly affected by your average utility costs and energy usage. This determines the type and size of the solar panel system that you have to install, including the number of panels and batteries you may need. It also affects the amount of labor required for the installation. Another factor that affects the cost of solar installation is the location of your house and the amount of sunlight your roof receives. Areas and rooftops that do not receive adequate sunlight may need to install flexible or tracking solar panel mounts. This automatically increases the total cost of the installation.
What Qualifications Should Solar Installers Have?
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are approximately 11,000 employed solar photovoltaic installers in the country. The minimum educational requirement for these solar installers is typically a high school diploma or a recognized equivalent. Some solar installers also attend technical schools and community colleges, and most of them receive on-the-job training.
In addition, professional solar installers undergo training and certification by internationally recognized bodies like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners and the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Do You Need a Handyman or a Solar Installer?
The United States Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy recommends that all solar installation projects should be handled by a qualified and certified professional. It is always in your best interest to do this. Employing a professional solar installer near you ensures that the installation is done properly and per industry standards. In addition, certified solar installers are usually licensed, insured, and bonded. This guarantees that you get your money's worth, while also protecting you from any installation-related financial liabilities.
What Are Common Post Solar Installation Expenses?
The most common post solar installation expense is the cost of maintaining the solar panel system. This usually involves an inspection and cleaning of the solar panels, as well and the repair or replacement of any defective parts of the system. Solar panel inspections and cleanings typically cost $150 - $300. Note that some professional solar installers include this service in their warranties.
Another post-installation expense is the inclusion of a protective add-on to your system. For example, if your roof is a prime nesting site for birds, you may have to install a bird-mesh to prevent these birds from damaging your solar panels. Bird meshes typically cost $60 - $150.
Does Homeowner Insurance Cover Solar Installation Expenses?
A standard homeowner's insurance policy will not cover the cost of a new solar installation. However, many homeowners' insurance policies will cover the cost of repairing or replacing roof-mounted solar panels that are damaged by a covered peril. You should contact your insurance provider to find out the specific perils that are covered by your policy. In 2018, over 67% of all homeowners' insurance losses were due to property damage caused by wind, hail, fire, and lightning. Note that most insurance policies do not cover damages that were caused by normal wear and tear or as a direct result of negligence and lack of maintenance.
Can I Use Digital Payment to Pay My Solar Installer?
Like most small businesses in the US today, many professional solar installers near you do accept payment via digital methods. Digital payments are considered faster and more secure than traditional payment methods. They also have the added advantage of providing instant receipts, making them easier to use for record-keeping purposes. However, it is always a good idea to ask contractors their preferred method of receiving payment before you begin any project. If you have to pay your solar installer via a traditional payment method like cash, you should always collect a receipt of payment for record-keeping purposes.