5 Home Solar Panel Installation Errors to Avoid
With the solar industry expanding at an unprecedented rate, there is a great deal of flexibility in how you choose to go solar. However, you will have a much more positive solar experience if you avoid the following 5 traps at all costs.
Don’t Ignore Warranties
Don’t Wait Too Long
“DIY” Could Be Dangerous
Don’t Skimp on Research
Risk #1: Don't Cost-Cut
In some purchasing situations, cost-cutting could make a lot of sense. Such is not the case with a solar energy investment. Here’s why:
In an attempt to make “going solar” more widespread, some producers of solar equipment have opted for the “low-cost” niche of the solar world.
However, these less expensive solar panels are often produced at the expense of quality and durability. In the world of solar, cutting costs often means cutting corners.
As logic would have it, this corner-cutting has increased the defective rates of solar panels produced with cost-cutting in mind. These defects can not only reduce the value of your investment and future pay-off but can also result in safety hazards such as home fires.
The New York Times mentioned that, notably, many of these types of cost-cutting companies manufacture their products in China.
This geographic trend has been highlighted in other articles such as, “Defective Chinese Solar Panels Are Derailing Green Energy Efforts”, and “Solar Crisis: Cheap Chinese Solar Panels Prove Defective.”
When going solar, look for high quality materials. Ask your installer about the panels they use and ask about failure rate. In addition, consider the following:
Look at the History of the Solar Manufacturer and Installer – Are They Reliable? Can You Find Happy Customers?
Ensure That Reliability Testing Is Done – High Quality Solar Panels Are Stringently Tested and Results Should Be Public
A Word on Inverters
Importantly, in the discussion about avoiding solar-equipment cost-cutting, we’re not just speaking of the actual solar panels themselves (although we mean those too).
Another important cost not to cut is on your inverter.Inverters are the most fragilepart of a solar array system and the part most likely to fail.
Sometimes —as explained by the solar energy newsletterSolarEnergy— some buyers and installers try to cut costs by purchasing inverters that don’t support the capacity of their solar panels.
In order to protect yourself and your investment, don’t cut costs on your inverter!
If you need to reduce your initial investment costs for your solar array, the general industry advice is to purchase fewer solar cells upfront rather than skimping on quality.
None of this is to say that there is a direct cause-effect relationship between cost and quality; just because a solar panel is more expensive does not inherently make it better than a slightly less expensive panel.
However, DO be wary of solar equipment that is significantly below the average going rate for similar products sold by other companies. Ask good questions and be sure you know exactly where you equipment is coming from.
Do: Invest in quality, long-lasting solar equipment.
Risk #2: Don't Ignore Warranties
Warranties protect your solar-equipment investment and hold the manufacturer accountable. Additionally, in order to be eligible for some incentive programs, such as Oregon’s Solar Electric Incentive Program, your equipment and installation must be protected under minimum warranties.
There are three types of recommended warranties: a solar panel warranty, an inverter warranty, and an installation warranty.
In today’s solar panel market, warranties typically protects your investment for 25-30 years. Be wary of warranties that are significantly shorter as the product could be manufactured at lower-than-industry standards.
What does a solar panel warranty actually cover?
The solar panel warranty has to do with a guaranteed minimum power output over the warranty period of the panel. The standard industry warranty promises at least an 80% energy output for the number of years the panels are under warranty.
The industry norm for inverter warranties varies.
For a “string inverter,” 5-10 years tends to be the minimum warranty period (a string inverter manages power from a “string” of solar panels, in other words, multiple solar panels at once).
Micro-inverters, on the other hand, can maintain warranties of 20-25 years. A micro-inverter is a small inverter attached directly to a single panel, such that each panel has its own inverter.
Ask your installer which is more appropriate for your solar installation. Micro-inverters are a bit more expensive upfront, but allow greater resilience and reliability down the road.
What Inverter Warranties Typically Cover:
Defects caused by material or manufacturing/workmanship flaws
What Inverter Warranties Typically Do NOT Cover:
Normal wear and tear or damage caused by exposure to extreme conditions (lightning, storms, etc.)
A third warranty to consider is the installation warranty. Even the best products won’t perform well if installed incorrectly. Additionally, a poor installation could cause expensive damage to your home and pose safety risks for you and your family.
The length of installation warranties is pretty vast, typically spanning from 2 to 10 years. Be sure to ask your installer about the length of their installation warranty. At Sunbridge, we offer a full 10-year warranty, for example.
What Is Covered in a Typical Installation Warranty:
Most warranties cover the miscellaneous parts and labor associated with replacing or repairing your system as well as roof penetrations made during installation. Some also include the cost of removing, shipping and re-installing, or replacing any defective part(s) that were the result of the solar contractor’s design or installation work.
Don’t: Skip the warranties!
Do: Get warranties on your solar panels (about 25 years), your inverters (about 5-10 years, unless they are micro-inverters), and a parts & labor warranty (ranges from 2-10 years).
Risk #3: Don't Wait Too Long to Go Solar
I know that sounds like a sales pitch.
But one great way to get your solar array system to “pay for itself” is through the use of state and federal incentives that promote renewable energy. However, some of these programs have expiration dates that are coming up. Here are some examples of great incentives that won’t be around forever…
These expenditures include: equipment, labor costs for site preparation and installation, and wiring to connect the system to the home. If the federal tax credit goes above tax liability, the excess amount may be carried into the succeeding taxable year.
Both the residential and commercial ITC are equal to 30 percent of the basis that is invested in eligible property which have commence construction through 2019. The ITC then steps down to 26 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2021. After 2023, the residential credit will drop to zero while the commercial and utility credit will drop to a permanent 10 percent (Source: SEIA)
Don’t: Wait too long before going solar.
Do: Wait long enough to understand your options and thoroughly understand the opportunity that solar might represent. But if it makes sense, reach out to a professional before incentives and tax breaks are reduced or end.
Risk #4: “DIY” Could Be a Dangerous Move
Although the “Do It Yourself” movement is fantastic for some projects, going solar may not be one of them. Solar installations require knowledge of electrical and roofing systems, so think carefully before you decide to go it alone. A single roof leak can cause thousands of dollars in damages, and electrical safety can be an issue as well.
Read More: A DIY solar installation may save money upfront, but it could be at a much larger cost down the road.
4 Risks to a DIY Installation
Leaky roofs. When you install a solar array system, you have to create holes in your roof. This step in and of itself can cause roof damage. Furthermore, if these holes are not sealed properly, they can result in leaky roofs and water damage to your home.
Wiring problems. Installing a solar system is an electrical job and can pose a threat of electricity shocks if done incorrectly. Furthermore, if the wiring isn’t done correctly, you could pose a risk for future home fires and electrical shorts. Use extreme caution if you decide to DIY, and always consult a licensed electrician.
Non-compliance with safety codes and standards. The building safety standards and electrical codes (at the local, state, and federal levels) are hard to navigate. Building and electrical codes can be challenging to decipher correctly. Permitting and fees, in addition to incentive paperwork, must all be completed correctly, so again, be cautious.
Voided Warranties. Some warranties require a professional installer in order to be valid. Some warranties stipulate that if the product under warranty is installed by anyone other than a licensed installer, the warranty is void.
Don’t: DIY (“Do It Yourself”) without extreme caution and experience. Stay focused. It's still electricity.
Do: Work with a professional to help you get the most out of your solar investment.
Risk 5: Don’t Skimp on the Research
It is a good idea to have at least a basic idea of how solar panels might work for you and what the basic incentives are prior to contacting a professional. This prevents “buyer’s remorse” and helps you stay comfortable and confident when discussing a solar investment.
Don’t: do little research
Do: request expert advice from local solar professionals.