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 & Bonded, with no negative marks on their record.

Don’t base a 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 the installation quality of solar systems along with equipment options and warranty.  The solar contract warranty should guarantee energy production and provide a warranty against any installation defects of your residential solar project. 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.

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 if something goes wrong, how a contractor handles them 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, and most installers have a pipeline of jobs to process. The biggest factor is the permit, so blanket timelines are meaningless. 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. Ironically, many small installers adopted this “selling point” of a 4-6 week installation to compete with bigger installation companies. The practice puts both the homeowner and installer at risk of mistakes due to rushing installations. 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 installer is how they run the conduit. High-quality installers will run the conduit through the attic if possible. On the exterior, they meticulously run the exposed conduit to minimize its visibility. They use black rails and keep the panels very low to the roof. This is why you need to drive by installations or review pictures of contractors’ work. You can easily spot sloppy conduit runs. Be sure an ugly installation does not ruin your home. Look at solar installs everywhere you go, 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. Be present for the site survey and talk to the technician about your project. Don’t choose a company that does a remote or satellite image-based survey. 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 all the same 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, financing considerations are critical to your solar investment. Take a look at the possible benefits and concerns with financing and tax credits in our Solar Financing Guide.

Get A Minimum Of 3 Solar Proposals

Follow the tips and ask the common questions outlined below. The proposed solar system should reduce or eliminate your monthly power bill. 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 solar panel manufacturers! Ask to see a copy of every warranty that’s included.

Ask friends and neighbors who had solar installed if they recommend their solar provider and why. 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 when you find the best solar company.

Young couple picking the best solar financing and solar system for their home
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 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
  • 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
Happy solar installer on a ladder installing solar on your roof
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 3 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. Is this a solar lease, a solar loan, or a power purchase agreement?
  9. Who is the solar panel manufacturer and can I have the spec sheet of the model?
  10. Who is the solar inverter manufacturer and can I have the spec sheet of the model?
  11. Do you guarantee the production of your solar power systems in writing, and for how long?
  12. Can I have a copy of all warranties?
  13. What does my solar quote include and what are the optional “adders”?
  14. Do you offer LG, Sunpower, or Panasonic panels, and are you an authorized installer?
  15. Can I see an example of the monitoring I’ll get?
  16. How long will the process take?

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 submit the plans to your HOA immediately.
  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, your installation will be scheduled. Be home if you can so you can speak to the lead installer about 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 inspection will be scheduled based on the city’s availability. Be home in case the inspector needs access to the garage or home.
  6. Interconnection/Permission to Operate: After Final Inspection is passed, then 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.

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 EnergySage’s “How To Choose A Solar Installer” Decision Guide.