What does it take to be the best solar contractor? Cue Rocky Balboa theme song
It takes experience. It takes dedication. It takes persistence. It takes the ability to get hit hard and to keep moving forward!
… Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.
We consider ten factors that every property owner should consider before choosing their solar panel installer. Each one will play an important part in the solar ownership experience. Some are before the sell and others may appear only after five or twenty years. Either way, they are factors that you will one day experience as a pro or a con.
First off, you may ask yourself, who is Solar Edge Pros to be deciding the top ten factors? We are clearly biased on who the best is (If you haven’t figured it out, click here to find out!), but these characters are general to the profession of solar installation and we have not been bought out by big, corporate sponsorships like some media sources that tailor the factors to fit their sponsors. Instead, we consider what has been the biggest headaches for our clients, both installs and repairs, as well as our own 20+ years installing solar panels.
1. Solar Design
First off, the best solar company’s solar consultants will show up prepared for the consultation. By this I mean, they will have collected your electric bill and address, and will have designed a solar proposal for your property. A great design can take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour for the more complex rooftops. Complexity does not effect energy production, but it may affect cost due to more conduit and wiring required. If you don’t know if your roof is “complicated” go into Google Earth, type in your address and see what your roof looks like. The fewer “faces” or sides to the roof, the simpler and easier to design a solar panel layout.
He/she will use the information from your bill to determine how many solar panels you need to offset your electric bill as much as your rooftop will provide. Oftentimes, a person’s energy usage will surpass the roof space for total production, but that doesn’t mean solar is no longer worth it. In fact, reducing your electricity usage with solar by even 30% can significantly reduce your electric bill due to tier rates and fees for usage past 600 kWh.
A great solar design requires a third-party software that regularly updates. In order to be the best solar company, the design software used needs to be done by non-affiliated company. This keeps the proposed design credible and non-bias. At Solar Edge Pros, we use Aurora – a solar PV design software tested by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for accuracy in solar production estimation and ranked in the top five solar PV design software tools available.
Meeting someone new face-to-face can be awkward in today’s high-tech world, but that doesn’t mean the best solar company can afford to skimp out on a high standard of appearance and courtesies. Your consultant should arrive for the solar evaluation on time in the appropriate work attire. The consultation should not only be a sales pitch, but also an evaluation of your property. Not every property is capable of going solar. As a consultant, they need to give your property’s electric equipment a thorough inspection along with potential upgrade recommendations for safety and performance purposes to ensure it meets the necessary requirements for a solar panel system.
The consultant should also be informative first, sales second. Their intent should be to educate you on solar and how it pertains to you and your property, and to help you along the installation process. If you live in New Braunfels or San Antonio, they should be aware of rebates you may qualify for as well as the 26% federal tax credit. The best solar company is not pushy nor try tacky sales tactics like “this price is only good for today.” Unless there are factors outside of the company’s control, the price will still be good tomorrow.
3. Payment Options
During the consultation, your agent should discuss various payment options with you. Most people cannot afford to pay for an entire solar panel system upfront, so they should have multiple alternatives. Most people finance their solar panels with solar financing company such as LoanPal, Credit Human, or Mosaic, just depending on their circumstances.
One financing approach to look out for is power purchasing agreements (PPA). A solar company may promote the idea of a PPA so that, instead of buying and owning the solar panels, your property is used to generate electricity at no cost to you. The catch is you have to purchase the electricity produced from those panels. The only way you, the property owner, can win in this agreement is if the electricity rate is less than your utility company and the panels come with battery backups or net-metering.
4. Who Does the Work?
Make sure during the consultation to determine who does the literal installation. Is it the company the consultant works for? Is it subcontracted? Or is it the consultant with duct tape and few panels in the back of his truck? The installation quality will definitely impact your system’s performance. Subcontract work is not always bad and shouldn’t necessarily be a dealbreaker in terms of installation quality. However, if there is an issue, wouldn’t you rather speak to the same person and company you spoke to when you purchased the panels? Generally speaking, it’s easier to have the best customer service when everything is done in-house versus sub-contracted work.
5. Equipment Quality
During the consultation, pay special attention to the equipment they propose using. The best solar company’s consultant will provide spec sheets and inform you on multiple solar panel options. When a company wants to only install their particular brand their own biases could get in the way of a high performing solar panel system. More options available with expert support will help you choose the panel that best suits your needs in terms of efficiency, affordability, warranties, etc.
6. Longevity of the Business
Perhaps no one in the Texas solar community understands the value of the entrepreneur’s spirit than Solar Edge Pros. We’re a family-owned and operated company. But the amount of time in the business is an important factor not to be overlooked. Every week we get phone calls from people who went with a solar company that went out of business after a few years and now their panels need servicing and those great warranties they have no longer hold value. That is not to say solar companies that have been in the business the longest are more likely to help. That’s where reviews come into play.
Reviews can help shine light on company that’s been in the business for awhile. The most important things to look for are responses from the company as well as signs of improvement if they had a rough few years.
Hopefully you’ve done your research on reviews before even meeting with your solar consultant. The consequences of choosing a bad solar company can hurt for a long time, so people will definitely write about their experiences. Take note of the reviews as well as where you are reading them. BBB and Google tend to be the most credible from what we’ve found. Many sites can get bloated with scam and paid reviews. For example, any solar company with hundreds or thousands of five star reviews most likely has paid reviews. Fortunately, we have not come across any in the solar industry yet. If you know of another trusted review source, let us know.
One thing property owners need to understand about going solar is that the vast majority of those that go solar will pay their installer only once or twice despite relying on them to honor their warranties for 20+ years. That’s almost like a marriage. So the best solar company will not offer the lowest price, they will not offer the fastest installs, and they will not be a large corporation.
A dependable installer cannot weather the slow months by offering extremely cheap prices. We see it all the time. Companies will outbid us on a ton of deals, then the next year – they’re out of business. Their clients get poor quality installations and those great 30-year warranties do not mean anything because their installer is no longer in business. Solar Edge Pros knows all this because we hear this story all of the time.
Another line we’ve heard is fast installs. Every solar panel installation requires third-party approvals and inspections. This helps protects you, the property owner, from being fined by your HOA and a shoddy installation that damages your roof. Once they have your money and successfully installed your system fast, they’re no where to be found when you request them to honor their warranties. Why is this? Because they are busy preparing to install solar panels for new clients and can’t spend extra time helping you.
Lastly, while not all corporations have a narrow view of success, many are just interested in satisfying their board of directors, which requires more growth. Again, honoring a 19 year-old agreement for free will take up time and resources that does not involve growth. Delaying the work allows more time for growing the company.
Instead, the best solar company will have an invested reason to honor warranties. They will charge a rate somewhere in the middle range, provide a realistic install time of eight to ten weeks, and have an office located near you.
9. Quality Assurance Calls
The best solar company checks in every now and then to ensure you’re still happy with your solar panel system and offer to resolve any issue that may have arisen. From our experience, clients often forget how to log in to the monitoring portal, so we use that time on the phone to reeducate them how to access it. It’s important that clients access to their production to know at anytime whether or not their energy production is consistent.
10. Continuous Monitoring
Last, but certainly not least, the best solar company continues to monitor your solar panels long after installation. Here’s a great indicator you chose the right company: the company calls to let you know they will be on site this week to fix an issue with one of your panels before you even knew the issue existed.
No other purchase compares to going solar, so doing your research beforehand can save you a big headache. Solar isn’t for everyone. By getting a solar evaluation from a trusted and local installer, you can come to the right decision for your property, ultimately saving you money.
Best Solar Company FAQs
While the question is subjective, there are key factors property owners should use to evaluate solar companies before installation, during installation, and twenty years in the future.
The key factors we recommend considering when going solar include: (1) solar design, (2) consultation, (3) payment methods, (4) in-house or subcontracted, (5) equipment quality, (6) business longevity, (7) reviews, (8) warranties, (9) quality assurance calls, and (10) continuous monitoring
No other purchase compares to going solar, so doing your research beforehand can save you a big headache. We recommend avoiding subcontracted work, extremely low prices (if it seems too good to be true, it probably is), and solar companies that have been around for under five years.