The first step to saving money on your electricity bills is making sure you have a solar system installed by an experienced, professional contractor. While the market for residential solar has boomed since 2010, putting the industry into overdrive, some homeowners are finding that their panels aren’t producing as much energy as advertised or they are having installation problems that come up years after they bought their systems. Other homeowners have gone solar and then had trouble selling their homes, since buyers don’t always consider a house with panels to be as desirable as one without them because of the added maintenance cost or the perceived high price of a system.
When do I Hire a Contractor?
The best time to hire a qualified solar contractor is before you invest in a photovoltaic system. “Get a referral from a friend or relative who had a good experience with a contractor, and if possible ask the contractor to recommend additional firms,” said Adam Gerza, spokesman for EnergySage, an online solar marketplace. There are also databases on the websites of national organizations such as the Solar Energy Industries Association and government agencies that list state-licensed contractors.
Most solar systems will come with a 20- to 25-year warranty , but some states require less; in New York, for example, there is no minimum. If the system is properly installed by an experienced contractor, it’s unlikely you’ll need to file a claim under the warranty. But if something does go wrong, the installer will often handle it as part of his warranty. If not, you can file a claim with your insurance company or hire a contractor yourself to fix any problems that might arise.
Reputation Means a Lot
And be sure to use a reputable installer. Reputable companies test their technicians and make sure they have the proper licenses and training. They also protect against shoddy installation by offering a written warranty. Good installers will have an Energy Star logo on their website, since the Environmental Protection Agency requires any solar company that wants to use Energy Star in its marketing to be certified, which means it has been found via testing and auditing to meet strict energy efficiency standards for both products and installations.
In part because of the low cost of the panels, which have fallen sharply in price over the last few years, you can expect to pay about $30,000 to $35,000 for a typical system that will power most or all of your electricity. That price includes installation and assumes that you are putting it on a south-facing roof with little shading that is perpendicular to the roof. If those criteria don’t hold, it will cost more.
You can negotiate a price with an installer, but it’s usually not as simple as getting a discount for buying several panels or agreeing to have the installation done by a certain date. And be aware that putting solar panels on your house involves permitting and inspection fees, which will add to the total installation costs.
A typical photovoltaic solar system includes panels, wiring, inverters (which change direct current into alternating current), racking to hold the panels in place and other equipment needed for installation. Most systems also come with monitoring devices that tell you how much energy is being produced at any given time and how much remains in the battery bank. If you want the system to supply all your electricity, you will need large-capacity batteries that can handle storing enough power for several days of no sun or cloudy skies.