Read your solar contract first before you sign

This may seem like common sense but you would be surprised how many people don’t read nor understand what is in their solar contract.  They take their sales person’s word on what is in it.   Knowing what is in your solar contract is really important so here are a few things to keep in mind.  So, read your solar contract.

Everyone has a warranty. What is yours?

Every solar energy company out there has some kind of warranty on production, parts and labor.   What that looks like varies from one company to the next.   The standard for most companies is a 10-15 year parts and labor warranty.  It is then 20-25 years for the manufacturer production warranty.  Installation warranties can vary dramatically from one company to the next.  The trend is a 20-25 warranty for everything.

Parts and Labor Warranties

These cover the replacement of solar equipment (usually the panels) should any of them fail during that time.   The installing company will usually honor that warranty and send for the replacement on your behalf.

Sometimes, you can purchase an extended warranty on parts such as the inverters beyond the stated warranty period.  This period could be 10-12 years for optimized inverters and 5-10 years for micro-inverters.**  Whether or not you do that is up to you.  It is very likely that by the time your inverter dies, the technology will have advanced and costs may have come down quite a bit.  It may be more affordable to just replace the inverter with a new one rather than purchase an extended warranty on the device.

Production Warranties

These cover the system production of the panels.  These are usually illustrated in a graph on the solar module specifications sheet.  You should always request a copy for the modules used in your system.

The warranty is set by the manufacturer and covers a range of about 80-85% of the original system production at about the 20-25 year mark.   If at that time, the amount is less, you can make a claim against the manufacturer.   This is not something your solar company can guarantee nor has the ability to guarantee.  An important thing to remember is that panels usually perform better than that in the real world but are also affected by temperature, environment and other factors.

The “25 Year Bumper to Bumper Warranty”

This the common theme for most companies now.   The warranty claims to cover everything across the board.   What we have to concern ourselves with is whether or not the company offering that warranty has the ability to honor it.  How long have they been in business?  What is their customer service record?   I once heard a basic rule of thumb:  “If the warranty is longer than 2x the length of time a solar company has been in business, look for another solar company to do business with.”

**We have a very eye-opening article coming up that explains the differences between both types of inverters and what you should know.

There are several real cases here in Southern NM and El Paso County where what customers are told and what was in the contract are two different things.  The above image is an excerpt from the contract of another company in our area.  It basically reminds you that they cannot guarantee quality or performance, or are not on the hook to do so.

Misleading Warranties

Another example we have seen recently, is a company stating in their contract that they would only warranty equipment and labor for 1 and 5 years.   The equipment warranty was valid during the entire 25 years but the customer would be responsible for paying for labor out of pocket after year 5.  I am pretty sure that is not what the customer originally was told.   They heard only the warrantee for 25 years.

If your solar company promises you something as part of the sales consultation, get it in writing.   If you are promised a special loan APR, a free thermostat, big cash rebate, or other gimmick, make sure it is in your contract.

Transferring your warranty

This is real problem.   You should familiarize yourself with the language about this in your contract.   What happens when you sell your house?  Does the warranty of the solar system transfer to the new owner?  As it turns out, many companies say they transfer their warranty but if you read the fine print, you may see language to the contrary.

I sat down with someone recently where in their contract, it said in black and white, “the company will not be responsible for any warranties should the system owner sell their home [and] the new owner would be liable for any resulting labor costs for repairs and warranty claims.”

Predatory Solar Companies

Many of these companies are brokers that are not the actual installers.  The quantity of these types of solar companies outnumber installers about 10 to 1 (depending on your market).  There are definitely differences between the types of solar companies so do your research.   Solar companies that sell for other solar installers tend to be paid on commission only.   They also can sometimes make it difficult for you change your mind or cancel your contract.

Cancellation Language

Many companies add language to their contract that allows you 3 business days to cancel and sometimes a many as 10 days.  This is the norm.  Usually if you cancel, they don’t give you too much grief for doing so.

Cancellation Fees

Lately, there has been a rise of high-pressure commissioned sales that also try to push you through the process so you won’t cancel.   In addition, one particular case alleged charging as much as $6000 to cancel the contract.  Their claim was that a lot had already been invested in ordering materials and pulling permits and designs.  The reality is that is probably not the case and it was just an attempt is to scare the customer into staying with them.

Chasing Permit Pulls

Another scary tactic being used by predatory solar companies is to look at the public record for permits pulled by other solar installers.  These companies are then going to the address of the customer to “sell” them away from the company that they are going solar with.   Do you think that is ethical?    Do not fall victim to this tactic.  Do you really want to do business with a company that does that?

The Solar Smart Living Difference

Solar Smart Living is a local solar installer that owns the entire process.  We sell, design and install your solar energy system.  We also keep in touch with you beyond the sale to help ensure you continue to be satisfied with your investment and benefit from going solar.  We are in it for the long haul just like you.   We not only want to help you produce clean renewable energy but also help you use your energy efficiently.

Solar Smart Living is a NABCEP Board Certified Installer and has been serving our local area since 2007.  We provide residential and commercial solar energy system design and installation, heat pump heating and cooling systems for your home and pool, EV charging, home design and electrical services, and more.   Request a free quote if you would like to learn more.

Read this related blog post about How to Choose Your Solar Company.

About the author
Alan Morgan

Alan is a solar and sustainable energy advocate. He has served the renewables industry for over 5 years for companies such as Solar City and Tesla and now acts as the Director of Business and Market Development for Solar Smart Living.