Tips For Picking The Best Solar Company

Picking the best solar company is harder than choosing the best solar panels for your solar project. A good starting point is to choose a solar contractor that meets the minimum requirements of the State Licensing Board: Licensed, Insured, and Bonded, with no negative marks on their record.

Don’t base your purchase solely on Yelp reviews or customer ratings — a solar installation company may have given incentives for those reviews. Having professional certifications like NABCEP is nice, but they don’t guarantee a great installation. You need to do a little research to find the best solar energy company.

Solar installer fastens a mid clamp to a solar panel on a comp-shingle roof

Investigate solar energy systems’ installation quality, equipment options, and warranty. Before signing a solar energy agreement, verify that the contract contains everything the sales rep promised you about upfront costs, the warranty, and the solar equipment. Above all, the solar contract should guarantee energy production and warranty against any installation defects of your residential solar project.

Questions to Ask Solar Installers

How to pick the best solar company | California Solar Guide

What Should I Look For in Reviews?

Five-Star Yelp reviews may be great for picking a restaurant, but you need more than anecdotal stories for picking the best solar company or contractor. Check review sites, but search specifically for negative reviews and see how the solar installer responded to issues. This is one of the most important factors because how a contractor handles problems when something goes wrong speaks to their customer service style. One of the most common complaints in solar is the lack of communication, especially when problems arise, so look for red flags in the negative reviews on Yelp, Angie’s List, and BBB websites. Check installers on the Contractors State Licensing Board here.

speed vs quality with magnifying glass represents to look for quality over speed
Pro Tip: Speed is not always a good thing but quality is

Do I want the Fastest Installer?

Don’t be jazzed by promises of quick installations. Always pick a careful installation process over a race to the finish line, and pick quality solar over cheap solar. Conversely, avoid notoriously slow installers. Unwarranted delays happen when installers have a large pipeline of jobs and not enough staff to process them. However, the biggest factor is permitting, and jurisdictions issue permits at different speeds. Blanket timelines are meaningless because of this. Diligence throughout the process is a hallmark of the best solar companies.

Fast Never Equals Better

The super-fast install was introduced by a well-known, national solar company that never turned a profit and lost millions of dollars every year. Their work is shoddy and their customers disappointed. In spite of this, many small installers adopted this “selling point” of a super-fast installation to compete with bigger installation companies. The practice puts both the homeowner and installer at risk of mistakes due to rushing installations. Above all, don’t fall for this pitch.

Solar Conduit Is An Important Factor

A bad solar installation on a roof with rail showing and metal conduit
Don’t Ruin Your Home With An Ugly Installation

One of the differentiating factors of a quality solar provider is how they run the conduit. High-quality installers will run the conduit through the attic if possible, or they meticulously run the exposed conduit to minimize its visibility. Likewise, they use black rails and keep the panels very low to the roof.

Therefore, you need to drive by installations or review pictures of contractors’ work to see if they have sloppy conduit runs. Don’t let an ugly installation does not ruin your home. Above all, look at solar installs everywhere and you will start to see the difference.

Be Home for Your Site Evaluation

Great installers perform excellent site evaluations in person after you sign the contract, and this will reveal possible roofing or electrical issues. Certainly, be present for the site survey and talk to the technician about your project. Therefore, don’t choose a company that does a remote or satellite image-based survey. Similarly, drone-based surveys can be incomplete since they never physically examine your roof. A solid survey sets your project up for success, with no surprises at installation.

Solar crew Installing solar photovoltaic panel system on roof of house
Pro Tip: Ask if they use subcontractors

Subcontractors Are Common

Subcontractors are prevalent in the industry, not just for roofing and electrical, but for solar installations too. Since they aren’t employees of the contractor, project communication can be delayed. In-house is usually better, but that doesn’t mean a subcontracted crew can’t be excellent. Drive by or look at photos of installations. Check the CSLB to see if subcontractors are properly licensed.

Female customer looking at her computer is upset and on the phone trying to reach customer service
Pro Tip: Ask if they’re a solar broker or installer

Trend: Solar Brokers vs Solar Installers

The solar industry has broken into two distinct camps: Sales brokers and installers. Installers who only do installations and don’t have a sales force are called EPC: Engineering, Procurement, and Construction. Solar sales brokers make sales, then turn it over to a contractor, with little involvement after that. Fewer companies offer sales and installations under one umbrella. A broker may no longer be in the picture once you sign the contract. Ask the question directly: Are you a broker? Always check the company’s name on the contract against the name of the company that the salesman represents. They could be two different entities.

Do All Contractors Offer The Same Loans?

No, they don’t offer the same solar financing options. Contractors work with different solar financing companies. While most have the same loan options, some offer exclusive programs. Unless you’re paying cash, flexible financing options are critical to your solar investment.

Lease options are offered less these days but are a good choice for those who don’t owe taxes. Read more about solar financing and tax credits in our Solar Financing Guide.

Get A Minimum Of 3 Solar Proposals

The proposed solar panel installation should eliminate your monthly power bill based on your actual energy consumption. In addition, it should detail how much power will be produced, what the investment tax credit will be, and what the solar loan or lease payments are.

Most important of all, it should list all the solar products. Some proposals don’t even list the brand of the solar panels! Ask to see a copy of every warranty that’s included.

In addition, ask friends and neighbors who have solar if they recommend their solar provider and if their energy bills have been offset. Check review sites and the BBB, and pick the top quality installers to avoid installation disasters.

Sign up with an online quote service like EnergySage. You will get multiple competitive quotes from high-quality installers along with helpful articles. It may seem like work, but your diligent research will pay off during the entire process when you find the best solar company.

Follow the tips and ask the common questions outlined below.

Couple comparing solar quotes
Pro Tip: Use a worksheet to compare quotes

Tips For Getting Solar Quotes

  • Look for Solar Contractors with many years of experience and a solid track record
  • Choose authorized dealers of solar panel manufacturers for enhanced warranties
  • Check reviews for customer ratings and  quality service
  • View installed systems in person
  • Get genuine customer feedback from real referrals
  • Choose a local company or one in nearby locations (30-50 mile radius) for faster service calls
  • Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples, carefully comparing quotes
  • Get the datasheet of the solar panels they’re quoting
  • The upfront price and lowest cost per watt aren’t the only considerations. The warranties and the panel degradation rate are important as well
  • Beware of extremely low bids, as this is a red flag
  • Check CaliforniaDGStats for the average installation cost in your zip code
  • Contracts are legally binding and should be read carefully. Make sure you understand what your energy costs are, and what work is included
  • Don’t be pressured into a quick decision based on a limited time incentive
  • Get quotes from the biggest installers like Sunrun, Sunpower, and Tesla Energy
  • Collect 3-4 quotes from Mom & Pop Businesses to compare with the bigger installers
  • Get multiple quotes from a solar marketplace like EnergySage
The best solar company has excellent customer service and great installations
Pro Tip: Make a point to view their installations

Important Questions To Ask

Ask the following questions before going solar:

  1. How long have you been in business? (At least three years or more)
  2. Are you NABCEP Certified? (It’s like being a board-certified surgeon, and is a voluntary certification) See NABCEP information.
  3. Can I have a copy of your license and insurance? (Verify with license check at CSLB)
  4. Do you use subcontractors involved in any part of your installation?
  5. Do you have a 25-year warranty?
  6. What is the payment schedule?
  7. How much is the tax credit, and will I qualify?
  8. Do you offer solar leasing, and will it offset my energy usage by 100%?
  9. Is this a solar lease, a solar loan, or a power purchase agreement?
  10. Who is the solar panel manufacturer, and can I have the model’s spec sheet?
  11. Who is the solar inverter manufacturer, and can I have the model’s spec sheet?
  12. Do you guarantee the production of your solar power systems in writing, and for how long?
  13. Can I have a copy of all warranties?
  14. Is there a performance warranty for power output?
  15. What does my solar quote include, and what are the optional “adders”?
  16. Do you offer LG, Sunpower, or Panasonic panels, and are you an authorized installer?
  17. Can I see an example of the monitoring I’ll get?
  18. How long will the process take?
  19. Do you offer solar batteries in case of a power outage?

The Steps of Solar Installation

Solar panel installer with tools installing solar panels on roof on a sunny day

Here are the basic steps in a solar installation:

  1. Site Evaluation: Be home for this; grant access to the attic. The technician should check the shading and roof condition.
  2. Design and Engineering: Ask to approve the design before permitting and immediately submit the plans to your HOA.
  3. Permitting: Your contractor will submit the plans to your city/county for permitting, and approval can take 1 day to several months. Revisions will require additional time.
  4. Installation: When the permit is issued, the installer will schedule your installation. Be home if you can to meet with the lead installer about the conduit run and any concerns you have. Ask your installer how many days it will take. Standard installs are 1-2 days.
  5. Inspection: Once the installation is complete, your contractor will schedule your inspection based on the city’s availability. Be home if the inspector needs access to the garage or home.
  6. Interconnection/Permission to Operate: After Final Inspection is passed, the installer submits the interconnection docs to your utility company, and soon after, you will receive Permission to Operate, usually in 3-5 business days. Some utilities take longer.

Can You Recommend A Solar Company?

We compiled an unbiased list of the 7 Best Solar Contractors in California and the best solar companies in the national supply chain. Our research produced sound recommendations for our audience, free from sponsorship. And be sure to read our guide to EnergySage Solar Marketplace.

The Updated California Solar Consumer Protection Guide September 2020 designed to protect consumers going solar

Grab your copy of the updated California Solar Consumer Protection Guide and read our walkthrough here.

Check out the 7 biggest mistakes to avoid when going solar and EnergySage’s “How To Choose A Solar Installer” Decision Guide.