You may have already discovered from experience that not all companies offer the same level of expertise, experience, customer service and price. You may have been let down in the past or may have had a really good experience with a company that you would go on to recommend. Choosing a solar panel installer is no different, you want o ensure that not only have you gotten the best price possible but that you have chosen a firm that will have installed a system that will give a lifetime of trouble free performance.
Obviously it is not all that easy to choose an installer without being able to research the facts. There is no point in just basing your decision on the lowest price, whilst we all want to get good value the lowest price does not always reflect the best value. To illustrate the point you just need to look at the cowboy builders that are always being found out on those shows on the tele. Sometimes the reason one company may be able to do the job a lot cheaper is because they are cutting corners, which may mean trouble in the form of faults with the equipment or a poor installation job.
It is important that you get more than one quote for the job, this is not just so that you get the best deal but also so you can compare companies and find an installer that you can trust. It is usually recommended that you get at least 3 quotes. The reason for this is that it guarantees you the lowest price, it would be very unlikely that 3 different companies are going to quote you the same price.
Make sure that you are comparing like for like, the reason that one installer may be cheaper is because they are using inferior products. To this end if you ask the solar company to send you an itemised quote so that you know what products they are using and how much the solar panels cost and what part of the quote is for the actual installation.
Some people claim that you can save up to 65% by getting separate quotes for a like for like solar installation. After doing a study on the charges that solar panel installers make I found the figure to be closer to 40%. You can see the actual quotes received comparing the prices for different sized systems with 361 different quotes in our review of solar panel costs in 2011.
The results showed that in every case for every size category you could have saved money. The lowest saving was only 1.79% but that was the exception rather than the rule. The largest saving was 65.76% again this is not a typical saving but instead we found the 40% mark to be a more realistic saving percentage for most people. The important point is that you will save money by getting a quote as to compared with not getting a quote.
Not all solar panel installations are the same, one solar panel kit may be very different from another. You can compare systems by their size, systems are measured by their output measured in kilowatt peak (kWp) which indicates the maximum potential of the system. The higher the kWp rating the more electricity it can produce.
Although each system should in theory produce the same amount of power over a year there will be some variation. You should get a SAP 2009 (Standard Assessment Procedure) figure that will estimate the output in kWh (kilowatt hours) of a particular system if it was installed on your roof. You can use these figures provided by each company to get an estimate of the performance of the different systems offered in their quotes. So a 2.16kWp system may produce 1,836kWh or electricity a year, you can get an idea of how much electricity different solar panel systems produce to get an idea of what to expect.
It will help compare your solar quotations if you get as much information about the system that is going to be installed. The two most important elements of any solar array is the panels and the inverter. The panels will turn the suns light into electricity at 12 volts, the inverter will then turn that 12 volt electricity into a voltage that can be used in the home.
There are many different solar panel manufacturers and even more models that are installed around the UK. Some panels are better at converting diffuse light and better at handling shading and so may perform better during the winter months. The two questions you will want to ask is how long the panels are guaranteed for by the manufacturer and at what levels of performance. Over the years solar panels become less efficient at converting light into electricity and so panels that perform better for longer will be better. Also check what warranty the installer offers on their work.
You should also ask what inverter is being installed, after the solar panels the inverter is the next most expensive piece of equipment. Not all inverters are the same and some are more efficient than others. The inverter itself will also drain power so ask how much this is, measured in watts. Ask how long the guarantee is on the inverter and how long that particular make and model will last for. If you may be planning to add extra panels to your system in the future ask how many panels the inverter can be connected to.
Whilst you can buy the best equipment in the world if the workmanship is not up to much then you are going to be fighting a losing battle. You should find out how long the company has been operating for. A company with a long history in solar installations is generally going to be a better bet than someone cashing in on the solar boom. You can check on the companies house site to find out how long a business has been operating in the UK.
For most people the whole point of getting solar is to be able to claim the government's feed-in tariff. To be eligible for the tariff the company needs to be MCS accredited, you can check this on the MCS website. This is also true for the solar panels and inverter which can also be checked on the same site.
As well as being registered in the MCS (microgeneration certification scheme) the electrical work needs to be completed by an electrician and needs to be reported to building control under part P of building regulations. The people working on your roof should be professional roofing contractors, this is to make sure that the panels are not only fitted correctly but also that the roof is left in a secure and watertight state.
There is no point in getting quotes for solar if you are not going to write down the specific details so that you can compare systems properly. If one company is a few hundred quid more expensive but they offer a longer and more comprehensive warranty that more expensive quote is going to be more attractive.
A useful way to make sure you get all the information that you need is to write all the questions down on paper so that you can write the answers next to each question. This will ensure that you do not forget anything.
To determine if you home is suitable for solar and is so what sized system can be installed a site survey will need to take place. Make sure that a competent surveyor or builder is doing the survey and not a salesman. They will need to make sure the roof is big enough, it is strong enough (to do this they will need access to the loft space) and be able to identify the roof angle and orientation and any potential solar panel shading factors. A salesman may be able to do the survey as long as they are trained and experienced.
Explain to the salesman that you are after a quote in order to compare the different systems on offer. The Which? investigation into the sales of solar panels is worth looking at before you start getting quotes. Remember that you are the one making the investment so you want to ensure that you not only get the best price by comparing quotes but also the best system and installation service.
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