Installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on your home or business offers many attractive benefits, including utility bill savings, carbon offsets, energy independence, and even property value increases. This explains why the US solar industry has enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 42% over the past decade. And not surprisingly, thousands of solar installation services have cropped up in recent years to satisfy this surging demand.
However, not all of these solar installation companies are created equally. And if you’re thinking about installing panels on your own residential or commercial property, this guide is for you.
The resource below explains:
- Whether going solar is still worth it
- Why you should avoid DIY installations
- How to find the right contractor for the job
Let’s dive in.
Is the Installation of Solar Panels Worth It?
In most cases, the answer is yes.
And here’s why.
Even a single PV panel can reduce your reliance on grid electricity, which instantly saves you money and shrinks your carbon footprint. Adding more solar capacity increases your total installation costs. But it also delivers more significant financial and environmental savings. If you have high utility bills and a property that receives much direct sunshine, solar is likely a worthwhile investment. However, you need to answer a few other questions before moving forward.
1. What Installation Costs Are Involved?
Higher-quality PV components installed by experienced solar contractors will usually cost more. But this approach potentially yields higher long-term savings and a shorter overall payback period.
By contrast, DIY solar installations are often the cheapest option – at least in the short term. However, installing the panels yourself is usually not a good idea (later on).
2. What Size Solar Panel System Do You Need?
The size of the PV system impacts both the installation cost and the total energy output, with the goal being to install enough solar capacity to cover current and projected energy needs. Remember that your savings begin with the first PV panel. As you add more solar modules, these benefits only increase.
3. What Solar Maintenance Costs Are Involved?
Many solar PV system owners overlook the importance of cleaning and maintenance, which carry certain costs. But regular servicing is a justifiable expense for a growing number of customers if their installations generate more power and deliver higher savings.
4. Should You Lease or Buy Your Solar Installation?
How you plan on financing your PV system can also determine whether solar is the right fit for your home or business.
Buying PV panels using cash or loans make solar an investment with a measurable ROI and payback period. Because you own the system, you can use the energy generated to reduce your monthly utility bills. And when you break even (in roughly 7 to 10 years), you have free solar electricity for the remaining lifetime of your system, with most PV panels being warrantied for 25 years or more.
Using cash to finance your solar installation offers the shortest payback period. However, most homeowners and businesses can’t cover the upfront cost of installing panels entirely out-of-pocket. Fortunately, solar loans and programs like Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing are 2 popular options that provide pathways to full PV system ownership. In both cases, you receive the upfront cash to pay for the installation (parts and labor):
- With a traditional solar loan, you use your monthly utility bill savings to pay down the balance over time.
- With PACE financing, you use your annual utility bill savings to pay off the balance through your yearly property tax bill.
Whether you choose a solar loan or PACE financing, all monthly (or annual) payments are structured so that they are less than what you used to pay the utility company. As a result, your savings are essentially guaranteed. But if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of taking on debt to go solar, there’s another option – i.e. leasing.
With a solar lease, you’re basically renting PV panels and paying for the clean solar electricity they generate. Again, all monthly solar leasing payments are structured to be less than what you used to pay to your utility provider – so you’re automatically saving. And because the PV panels are installed on your commercial or solar property, you also receive the environmental benefits of going solar as well.
However, leasing has several disadvantages:
- Most solar incentives like state-level net energy metering or the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit go to the PV system owner – and not to you, the lessee.
- Financing a PV system through leasing won’t necessarily boost your property value. In fact, it may even make your home harder to sell since there is technically a liability attached to your roof that the next buyer must be ready, willing, and able to take over.
- You will never break even with a solar lease. That’s because your PV installation isn’t an investment. Rather, you’re simply buying electricity from a cleaner and cheaper source.
Regardless of how you choose to finance your solar PV installation, you need to decide whether to install the panels yourself or hire a professional to do the job.
DIY vs. Professional Solar Installation Services
If you already know a little bit about electrical circuits and home renovation, you may be tempted to install your own solar PV panels. And there’s certainly no shortage of options, with many online stores and hardware shops now selling DIY solar modules that literally “plug & play” – with no experience required.
This approach is very appealing since you save on labor costs by handling the installation yourself. However, there are 3 critical reasons why hiring a professional solar installation service may be worth the extra expense.
1. Solar Installation Quality
All things being equal, an experienced solar contractor will be able to generate more power per square inch than a DIY installer can. And this translates to higher long-term savings – both for your pocketbook and for the environment.
This quality also extends to the PV components being used.
The types of consumer solar panels you might buy from a hardware store pale in comparison to what the professionals use. And even if you manage to source top panels from leading manufacturers, you’ll likely pay retail prices instead of the wholesale rates that professional solar installation services typically pay.
2. Solar Installation Compliance
Most states mandate that only licensed electricians are allowed to connect solar PV systems to the utility network. This requirement isn’t important when installing an off-grid solar installation meant to power a remote home or business. But if you plan on using solar electricity during the day and utility power at night, hiring a professional electrician may be required – at least for the final stages of the project.
Moreover, many solar incentive programs and financing agreements stipulate that the installation be done by certified professionals. And depending on the components being used, you may be restricted to working with authorized dealers or technicians – or risk voiding the manufacturer’s warranty.
3. Solar Installation Safety
Working with high-voltage electrical equipment is dangerous enough at ground level. The perils only grow once you’re high up on a roof. So unless you have sufficient training and proper safety gear, DIY solar installations simply aren’t worth the risk.
You’re better off hiring a professional.
How Much Do Solar Installation Services Cost?
According to EnergySage, a standard 10 kW residential PV system costs $20,498 – after factoring in the 26% Investment Tax Credit. However, your own solar installation might be above or below this average, depending on:
- The size, type, and quality of the solar system
- The PV installation team you use for the job
- What local, state, and federal incentives you qualify for
- Whether you’re adding batteries or electrical vehicle charging
- How you choose to finance your solar installation
- Whether you’re roof needs to be reinforced or upgraded
However, the real test isn’t what you’re paying – it’s what you’re receiving.
When done correctly, your PV system will deliver decades of lower utility bills and higher carbon savings. The next section outlines the steps that experienced solar installation teams use to achieve these goals.
What Services Will Solar Contractors Normally Provide?
Once you make initial contact, a typical installation team uses a mix of remote and in-person visits to do the following.
1. Review Your Electricity Bill
Historic energy consumption provides a baseline for how much solar capacity you’ll need. Your installer will likely want a year’s worth of utility bills to understand seasonal fluctuations in your energy usage.
2. Forecast Your Future Energy Needs
Historic energy consumption provides a baseline. However, buying more gadgets, switching to electric vehicles, or raising a family are all things that can increase this consumption over time. And your installer will need to add enough solar capacity to cover these projected energy needs.
3. Measure Your Property’s Solar Exposure
The more sunshine your roof receives, the more energy generation potential your property has. And thus, your installer will carefully analyze surrounding trees and buildings to check for shading. And they will probably also study the impact that vents, chimneys, and other roof obstacles might have on solar power production.
4. Evaluate Your Roof’s Structural Integrity
According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), modern PV panels weigh over 30 pounds, with some modules exceeding 70 pounds. As such, your commercial or residential roof must be strong enough to support this extra weight. If it isn’t, you may need to reinforce or even replace your current roof – both of which can add to the total cost of the installation.
5. Secure the Necessary Permits
Depending on where you live, you may need municipal approval before going solar. And if grid-connecting your PV system, you might also need permission from your local utility provider as well.
Fortunately, most installers will handle the permitting and approval processes for you.
6. Design, Install, and Test Your Solar PV System
The final steps involve building a bespoke solar PV system from the ground up, based on your property, local weather conditions, and energy and savings goals. Thereafter, the solar contractors will install, configure, and test the PV system – before bringing it online.
How Do You Choose the Right Solar Contractor?
There is no universal formula for choosing PV installers. But because going solar is a big investment, finding the right team for the job is essential. Below are 4 of the most important criteria when searching for reputable solar installation service.
The barrier to entry is very low in the solar industry, which is why there are so many “professional” installers. To avoid unnecessary surprises, look for a team with experience with the type, size, and location of whatever installation you are commissioning.
For example, a homeowner in Chicago would want someone who:
- Is familiar with regional weather and climate conditions
- Understands the local permitting and approval process
- Has done residential solar PV installations in the past
Although there are no official training requirements for solar installers, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) offers voluntary training and accreditation. So look for NABCEP-certified installers whenever possible. If they’ve taken the time to go through this program, they’re likely in solar for the long term.
Professional associations also matter. Being affiliated with organizations like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is another indication that the contractor takes their craft seriously.
Thanks to sites like Yelp and Angi, it’s never been easier to see what others have to say about the solar installation services on your list. And if you choose a truly local installer, you can see their workmanship in person simply by visiting recent jobs they’ve completed. You can even talk directly with previous customers to learn more about their experiences.
The installation process only takes a few days but permitting and financing can take many weeks (sometimes months). Since you’ll be working with this contractor for a while, it pays to find someone who is available, honest, and knowledgeable. This is very important given that the solar industry is notorious for using pushy or dishonest sales tactics in the field.
Fortunately, you can assess your rapport level with each installer during your initial consultations.
For most homeowners and businesses, going solar is a worthwhile investment since the long-term savings from their PV systems are more than enough to cover the upfront costs – usually many times over.
However, installing solar panels is only the beginning.
Over the 25+ years of your panels’ warrantied lifetimes, your system will likely need servicing, repairs, and even the occasional upgrade. And finding support for these areas is often challenging. This is particularly true if the original manufacturer or installer has gone out of business and can no longer honor their warranty or energy production agreements.
We’ve pioneered an innovative approach to this increasingly common problem. After analyzing relevant details about your own PV installation, our proprietary matching platform can instantly connect you with experienced solar technicians in your area who can provide both one-off repairs and ongoing preventive maintenance.
To discover how our solar matching technology can help you get the most out of your clean power investment, schedule a free demo with us today.