Are you thinking about investing in a solar energy system for your home? How do you choose the right solar installer to do the work?
With solar energy installations, you get what you pay for!
A home solar energy system is a significant investment. If done correctly, it will add value to your home and provide you with free electricity. If done badly, it will bring you a world of hurt, endless hassles and additional expense!
The decision about which solar installer to use is probably more important than which brand of solar panel to buy. BUT you must hire an accredited solar installer.
In Australia, installers are certified or accredited by the Clean Energy Council (CEC). The CEC is Australia’s renewable energy association. It makes sure that solar installers have undergone the appropriate training and meet the required standards for designing and installing solar power systems.
TIP: The CEC only certifies individuals. There is no such thing as a CEC accredited business/company. There are accredited designers and installers.
To become a CEC accredited installer, the person must:
1. Undergo the appropriate training.
2. Obtain provisional accreditation. The individual must have the required training certification, current electrical licence and be certified to work at heights. They also need to have appropriate public liability insurance (min coverage of $5 million).
3. Have their work inspected before becoming a fully accredited member.
4. Maintain accreditation status: this involves undergoing specific training on new technology and other developments in the solar marketplace, as per CEC guidelines.
Designers ensure that solar systems comply with all current guidelines issued by the CEC. The system must also prioritise the safety of the homeowner and others living in the home.
They must also provide the necessary system documentation such as the estimated daily power output of the system throughout the year.
So, let’s find out what you should consider before signing any contract with a solar installation company. Here are our top tips for choosing a solar installer.
Understanding the Solar Installation Process
We can break down the process of installing a home solar energy system into two tasks:
- Mounting the racking system
- Installing the electrical wiring
You can install solar panel arrays in your backyard, on carports or your roof. Most people in Australia install the solar array on their roof.
Installing the racking on the roof to hold the solar panels involves drilling numerous mounting holes (approx: 50). The design of the racking should be adequate to withstand decades of extreme summer temperatures and cold winters. Each hole made in the roof should be sealed and waterproofed to protect your roof from further damage caused by the ingress of water.
It’s a good sign if your installer uses stainless steel mounting bolts fitted with rubber gaskets to prevent corrosion. Holes should also be protected by long-lasting aluminium flashing around the hole, and then finished with weatherproof sealant.
Only an accredited and certified solar installer should be hired to install the racking system on your roof or other location. In the process, they should cause minimal damage to the structure of your home. The installer should custom design the system for your home. It should be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. And it should require minimal maintenance over the coming years.
If done badly, you could end up dealing with solar panels falling off your roof. Or worse, poorly installed racking can lead to leaks in your roof, which eventually cause rot and long-term structural damage if not rectified.
Hiring an experienced professional to install the racking and solar panels will avoid such problems. You will have a well-designed, secure, installation which causes no issues over the years.
The panels in the solar array are interconnected with cables. The power output from the solar panels feeds into a solar inverter via cables. The inverter connects to the main electrical switchboard in your home. There’s a lot of electrical wiring in a solar panel installation!
Although it’s important to get the racking installation right, it’s critical that all electrical wiring is done correctly. There’s a lot at stake here! Solar technology (panels, inverters, etc.) are electronic devices. They require correct handling and installation to perform optimally over decades, and so as not to void the product warranty.
There are always risks with electricity in your home. Electrical work that is done incorrectly can cause fire or electric shock. We can’t stress enough that any electrical work carried out on your home solar system must be done by a CEC accredited solar installer.
Even if the solar company subcontracts the work on your system – they must be certified to work on solar energy installations.
An integral part of the electrical wiring installation is the conduit in which cables are run. There are two options for conduit:
- Plastic conduit
- Metal conduit
The Ugly Truth About Plastic Conduit
Plastic conduit is cheaper than metal conduit. Some installers choose to use plastic conduit to reduce costs. It’s also easier to work with than metal conduit. Fewer tools are required to bend and shape the conduit, especially if they use flexible plastic conduit for the installation.
The ugly truth is that plastic conduit degrades over time, especially when the Australian sun is beating down on it for years. We’ve seen plastic conduit split and crack due to brittleness in as few as five years after installation. Excessive exposure to UV rays causes this type of problem. Rectifying the problem is inconvenient and expensive. This is exactly the kind of problem you want to avoid.
Sure, it might save a few dollars initially. But you can be sure it will cost more than you thought at some point in the future when it needs replacing.
The Advantages of Metal Conduit
Experience is a great teacher! We’ve learned that metal conduit is the way to go for solar installations. Remember, it’s a significant investment in something that will be on your roof (or elsewhere) for decades to come. You want something that will last and require minimal maintenance or repairs over the years.
Metal conduit for wiring provides the best solution. Once it’s installed, you can basically forget about it. Yes, using metal conduit will add to the installation costs. The solar installer also needs to have the knowledge and experience to work with metal conduit, to shape and install it correctly.
But once it’s installed, you’ll have peace of mind. It won’t degrade in the same way as plastic conduit. And it provides maximum protection for the electrical wiring of your solar installation. It’s always smart to invest in the best quality materials for your solar system. You will have it for a long time.
Installing Conduit Correctly
The primary purpose of the conduit is to protect the electrical cables from damage. The integrity of the conduit installation will help guarantee the optimal performance of your solar system.
But, like the solar panels and other components, the conduit will affect the physical appearance of your home. A well-designed solar energy system will add value to your home. So it should not detract from the visual appeal of it.
Unsightly conduit and wiring should not be easily visible if the work is planned and executed correctly. If anything, your solar array should add to the aesthetic appeal of your home, not be an eyesore.
Yes, there’s no reason why your home solar energy system shouldn’t look great!
A good solar installer will take the time to understand the layout of your home. They will plan cable runs so as to cause minimal disruption and also hide any cabling whenever possible so that it’s not obtrusive.
Installers can run metal conduit along guttering and downpipes so that it’s less visible. The conduit can also be painted to blend in with the pipes, brickwork or siding of the home. Your solar installer should explain in detail the plan for where and how to run any electrical cabling for installing your solar energy system.
Why Is a Good Solar Installer Important?
Not every solar company employs a team of dedicated, highly-skilled, accredited professionals. You want a crew that is not overworked. They should follow health and safety regulations. And they shouldn’t rush your installation just to get to the next job on their schedule.
Remember, your solar energy system will be in place for decades. Do it right!
You want to ensure optimal performance and minimise potential problems in the future. The health and safety of all involved should also be a priority.
Trying to cut costs on the installation is just setting your solar system up for failure in the future. It isn’t worth it!
Take your time when choosing a solar installer. It’s easy to set up a solar company to make sales and entice customers to invest in solar energy systems. Many solar companies even offer their own financing platforms.
Do your research on accredited installers in your area. Get multiple quotes. Ask for referrals or recommendations from people you know. Make an appointment and go and see the previous work done by the installer.
Speak to previous customers and ask them about the workmanship of the installer and the installation process. Unless you get positive feedback, keep on looking.
Ask your installer about the warranty for the solar panels, inverter, and installation.
TIP: Make sure you ask at least a couple of customers who have had their solar installation for around 10 years. That’s normally when any potential issues from bad installation practices might be showing.
When speaking with past customers, try to find out the following:
- Has the power output of the system matched the estimated figures given by the installer?
- Was the original price quoted by the installer accurate? Or were there additional costs?
- Were there any problems experienced during the installation process?
- Have any repairs been required since the installation?
Get the right installer, and you’ll enjoy decades of free electricity, without problems!
Do you have questions about solar installers? Ask us; we’ll be happy to help!