Here’s how SolarReviews rates solar installers in your area

Published

aTradesman carries solar panel on roof
One of the things we check for is whether the solar installer has appropriate qualifications to perform installation jobs. Image source: NY Times

After launching the first-ever website dedicated exclusively to consumer reviews of solar companies, SolarReviews is proud to announce another first for the solar industry: a rigorous, data-based scoring system for rating solar installers

Our newly developed rating system is unprecedented in scope - we look at a broad range of different operational and reputational factors, covering everything from the installers’ profitability to employee satisfaction and safety - and everything in between.

When a company earns an Elite or Excellent rating from us, you can be assured that they represent the best of the best in the solar industry.  

On this page

    About the solar installer rating system

    Why did we develop this rating system? 

    With review scores becoming less reliable, we want to give consumers a better way to judge solar installers.  

    Here’s the background: we’ve been running the biggest consumer reviews website for solar for close to a decade. In recent years, we’ve observed a rising trend of review score manipulation. The problem is real: we’ve caught - red-handed - several solar installers trying to submit fake reviews to our site. We were also made aware of sales personnel incentivizing their customers to leave gushing reviews for their company. And while we make every effort to screen out illegitimate reviews, it’s inevitable that some will still make it through. 

    This gaming of review scores results in perverse outcomes: an unscrupulous installer with poor workmanship can match, or even beat, the reviews score of installers with flawless track records. (Reader, beware - this isn’t a problem just for the solar industry, but across review platforms in general). 

    This state of affairs is unacceptable to us. As solar industry veterans with decades of collective solar installation experience, we here at SolarReviews only want to see the best solar installers succeed. So, who do we consider to be the best? Those would be the installers who use high-quality products, demonstrate superior workmanship, have established track records, and deliver reliable after-sales support. 

    By the same token, we also want to weed out the bad solar installers: the companies that perform low-quality installations and disappear once the job is done. These shady individuals don’t just cause problems for individual consumers, but damage the reputation of the entire solar industry as a whole.     

    We use data to score installers on a wide range of objective criteria  

    Given the problem of manipulated reviews, we decided that we need to offer consumers a new way to judge solar installers - one based solely on objective criteria. This led us to develop the SolarReviews solar installation rating system, for which we collect over 50 data points on each company and use them to score companies across 13 different categories. 

    To make things easy, we’ve combined the scores from each category to assign installers an overall rating: Elite, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Average, or Poor

    The 13 categories we score on cover a wide range of operational and reputational factors, from how long they've been in business to the quality of their loan offers. Based on our collective experience - as solar installers, instructors, and consumer advocates - we believe that each rating metric we use provides a direct and valuable indication of the consumer experience you can expect from a particular installer.

    How our rating system helps homeowners

    Consumers looking to choose between our solar installers can refer to our rating system to select a company that has been rigorously assessed, based on objective criteria. By hiring a company that has earned one of our top ratings, you maximize your chances of receiving a high-quality solar panel installation that will deliver excellent performance and big financial savings over the next quarter-century and beyond. 

    Use our solar calculator to see if going solar is worth it in your area

    Major rating factors (10 points each)

    Let’s now look at all the rating factors we use to score solar installers - and why each of them is relevant to a homeowner who’s trying to choose a company to go solar with.

    Let’s begin with looking at the most important factors in determining whether a solar installer is worth entrusting with your hard-earned money: 

    • Years in business
    • Background and litigation check
    • Licenses and insurance
    • Profitability of installer
    • Quality of brands sold
    • Competitiveness of loan options

    1. Years in business 

    Scoring based on: Number of years the installer has been in business 

    The number of years your installer has been in business is a great way to predict how positive your solar installation experience will be. 

    Why? For a business to survive in the competitive solar industry, they have established a strong reputation and have happy customers who refer their friends and families to the installer. They will also have the experience to understand after-sales and warranty support requirements, and will ensure that they have adequate budget and staff resources to handle ongoing warranty claims. 

    Crucially, the fact that the installer has been around a while tells you what they are not. If they have been in business for a long time, then they are definitely not some fly-by-night operation that sells cheap equipment and performs shoddy installations, only to dissolve when warranty claims come through and legal problems pile up.

    In other words, the longer an installer has been in business, the more likely it is that they are the real deal. 

    2. Background and litigation check 

    Scoring based on: Absence of lawsuits and criminal records 

    Nobody wants to work with a company that has a long history of being litigated against, or where key players within the company have a shady past. 

    To mitigate this risk, we assign maximum points to companies that have remained litigation-free and where the directors have clean background checks. 

    Conversely, the higher the number of litigation suits - and the more serious they are - the lower the score the company will earn in this category. 

    3. Licenses and insurance 

    Scoring based on: Evidence of contractor’s license and insurance

    One of the things we check for is whether the solar installer has appropriate qualifications to perform installation jobs. We assess this in our ‘Licenses and insurance’ rating factor, where we assign points based on evidence that the company holds an appropriate license and they are properly insured. 

    There are many reasons why you’ll want a company that has been verified in this regard: 

    • Unless the installer is properly registered, you, the homeowner, run the risk of being liable for any workplace injuries; working on rooftops, and with high-voltage electricity, is, after all, hazardous work
    • Many state-based financial incentives require that you work with a registered solar installer
    • A company that isn’t properly insured risks being sunk by the costs of a workplace injury or damages claim - leaving you without any after-sales support 

    4. Company profitability 

    Scoring based on: Amount of net profit generated in last three years

    Our logic here is pretty simple: profitable companies are the most likely to stay in business. Companies in the red, meanwhile, face a much more uncertain future, and are likely to close down if they don’t turn things around. 

    With a product like solar panels, which have a lifespan of at least 25 years and often come with a warranty that’s equally as long, you want an installer who will be around for at least that amount of time so they can honor any warranty claims that may arise. Given their long life, opting for a profitable company is the best way to ensure this.  

    5. Consumer reviews performance 

    Scoring based on: Number of reviews and average scores on reputable reviews sites

    Reviews can be a great way to learn more about an installer. If an installer has a large number of reviews dating back a long time, that means that they’ve been in the business for a while. And if they have a high review score, it indicates that their customers are satisfied with the service provided. 

    Conversely, a company with none or very few reviews, is either new to the industry or has taken a new name to escape a poor reputation. A company with a large number of poor review scores and scathing reviews is a big red flag. 

    Now, as we warned in the beginning of this article, gaming of review scores is an increasing problem across review sites. To mitigate this, we also take into account the reliability of the consumer reviews we see; that means we dock points if we detect fake reviews for a company. 

    6. Quality of brands sold 

    Scoring based on: Do they use the best solar panel and inverter brands?

    Solar panels are warrantied to perform for 25-30 years and many will continue to perform well long after that. Given the long life of solar panels, it's been our longstanding editorial position that consumers should only buy the very best solar brands. 

    So how is one to know which brands are best? Lucky for you, here at SolarReviews, we’ve already put in the hard work and developed a rating system that ranks all of the top solar panel brands.

    We achieved this by developing a comprehensive data-based scoring system - much like this one here for solar installers. We’ve scored the brands on a broad range of different metrics, covering equipment performance, warranty, and strength and reputation of the manufacturer, among other factors. As such, we have a clear idea of which brands of solar equipment are worth buying, and which should be avoided. 

    Back to solar installers: since we have a solid grasp of what the best solar panel brands are, we’ve decided to assign maximum points to solar installers that exclusively offer the 10-highest rated solar panel brands and the top 5 inverter brands. Solar companies that use brands within the top 20 list for solar panels (and/or outside the top 10 for inverters) earn fewer points, while those that use brands outside that earn even fewer points.

    If you’re talking to a solar installer and you’re not sure about the brands they’re using, then either check their score on this category or look up the brand’s review page on our website. 

    7. Competitiveness of loan options 

    Scoring based on: Loan duration and interest rate

    Solar panels are a relatively big purchase, costing anywhere between $10,000-$25,000. Most people opt to buy solar panels through solar loans, and thanks to increasing options and historically-low interest rates, this is now a very attractive option. 

    It’s common to get a loan through your solar installers, most of whom offer one or more loan options through partner financing companies. The better the terms of the loan they offer - that is, longer loan terms and lower interest rates - the more points we award in this category.

    As a homeowner, getting a solar loan with easy terms makes remaining net cash flow-positive a cinch, since your monthly electricity bills will be lower than your monthly loan repayments. 

    Calculate your monthly savings when you install rooftop solar panels

    Minor rating factors (5 points each)

    Here are other factors that are worth considering when choosing a solar installer:

    • Transparency in pricing and sales
    • Company size and localization
    • Vertical integration
    • Transparency of reputation
    • Sustainable system pricing 
    • Employee satisfaction & safety 

    Transparency in pricing and sales 

    Scoring based on: Ease of access to pricing information

    We believe that comparison shopping is important, especially with a big purchase like solar. We therefore award most points to the companies that assist consumers by readily sharing information about system details and prices. 

    Companies that share this online earn the most points, followed by companies that disclose it over the phone, then finally companies that first require an in-home appointment before they divulge the pricing details. 

    Company size and localization 

    Scoring based on: Number of offices and staff

    When it comes to getting solar installed, we’ve consistently found higher satisfaction levels among homeowners who opt for small, local companies. Going small and local offers the following advantages: 

    • Lower costs: In the residential sector, small installers offer lower prices than big national installers, according to the National Rewnewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
    • Higher levels of accountability: If you have any problems with your solar system, you will be able to pick up the phone and talk to someone who worked on the installation. You could also easily just drive over to the installer’s office. That level of access is impossible with a large national corporation, where you will likely be stuck on hold with their call center
    • Greater ownership: Small installers work with full-time installation crews that are from the area. The person you’re talking to - as well as their boss, the company owner - will be members of your own community, and they’ll want to be able to hold their head up high when they run into you after the job is done

    Given the benefits of working with a small, local company - and the disadvantages of working with a big, national one - we dock points when companies exceed certain size thresholds or have too many offices. 

    Vertical integration 

    Scoring based on: Ratio of order-to-delivery process performed in-house 

    It’s best when the people making the sale are the same as the ones performing the installation and providing after-sales service. 

    This ensures that there is close and effective communication between the sales and design team, and the installation crew and the after-sales support team. When they all belong to the same company, you can also be sure that everyone is on the same page and they’re all equally invested in ensuring the satisfaction of you, the consumer. 

    The alternative - that is, a company that isn’t vertically integrated - means hiring an installation company that outsources either sales or the installation. In both cases, there are negative consequences for the consumer. With third-party sales reps, their sole incentive is to earn a commission on the sale, and they will make promises that can’t be fulfilled by the installation crew. 

    Where subcontractors are used for installation work, you face the risk of unqualified workers who aren’t really invested in their work since they won’t be on the hook for problems down the line. 

    Transparency of reputation 

    Scoring based on: The installer links to SolarReviews or other major review platforms

    When companies have a long list of satisfied customers, they’ll be the first to tell you. You should see links to independent review sites such as SolarReviews, as well as testimonials from happy homeowners. 

    In the case of bad installers, on the other hand, you can expect the opposite. They won't provide links to SolarReviews or other review platforms, since they want to hide the negative reviews they’ve received from angry customers. 

    As such, we believe that when a company is transparent about their reputation, it is a strong signal that as a company, they regularly meet and exceed customer expectations - and we award points accordingly. 

    Sustainable system pricing 

    Scoring based on: How close prices are to sustainable and competitive price range

    Everyone wants a good deal - especially when it comes to a big purchase like solar panels. You know that overpaying isn’t wise - why spend more when the same thing is available elsewhere for cheaper?

    Well, when it comes to solar, you don’t just want to avoid paying too much - you need to watch out for companies that will charge you too little, as well. 

    Let me explain. When you install solar panels, the cost of the equipment typically accounts for under 50% of total costs. The rest of the cost covers installation-related expenses (labor, equipment, licensing and insurance), a profit margin, and an outlay to cover after-sales service and warranty call-outs. 

    However, some installers, either out of naivete or poor decision making, ignore the need for that outlay, enabling them to quickly sell a large number of systems at cut-rate prices. This business model is unsustainable - once they’ve installed enough systems - and the warranty claims and support calls start coming in - they’re unable (or have no intention) of providing the promised after-sales service. The result: they close up shop, leaving their customers high and dry. 

    Our solar industry experience, combined with our extensive residential solar price data, allows us to know which solar system prices represent the best deal for both the consumer and the solar installation companies. Prices that are higher than that lose points, and prices that are lower than that also lose points. 

    Employee satisfaction & safety 

    Scoring based on: Reviews by employees and number of safety incidents

    A company with happy and healthy employees performs better work, is more pleasant to deal with, and is more likely to stay in business. A company that mistreats its employees and fails to safeguard their physical wellbeing is also unlikely to care much for their customers.

    We assess a solar installer’s employee satisfaction by measuring their review score on websites like GlassDoor, and wherever else necessary from other publicly available sources. We also check for any known significant safety incidents, and whether or not a company has provided us information about their safety protocols. 

    Use our rating system to go solar

    First off, hats off to you for reaching this far. If you took the time to read through all 13 different solar installer rating factors, then you deserve an Elite rating for your consumer knowledge! 

    You can now search for solar installers in your area and filter them based on their SolarReviews rating. This will ensure that you only talk to certified professionals that are great in every aspect of solar installation. And when you reach the point that you’re discussing quotes with a company, you can even use this blog as a checklist when to ask the right questions. 

    Now that you know how solar installers are rated, use our calculator below to calculate your costs, savings, payback period, and more.

     

    Loading

     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Zeeshan Hyder

    SolarReviews Blog Author

    Zeeshan is passionate about promoting renewable energy and tackling climate change. He developed these interests while studying at beautiful Middlebury College, Vermont, which has a strong focus on sustainability. He has previously worked in the humanitarian sector — for Doctors Without Borders — and in communications and journalism.

    Related solar news