Many Homeowners Struggle to Know If They Can Trust a Solar Company

A survey found many homeowners leery of solar installers because of scams and poor customer service. Here's how to be sure you're getting a good deal.

Solar installers put solar panels on top of a house.

Finding a good solar installer is difficult. To avoid problems down the road, be sure to shop around and read the fine print.

Jeremy Poland / Getty Images

Every solar company wants to paint the picture that getting solar panels is super simple. It's not. You'll hit roadblocks throughout the installation, permits are going to take longer than expected, and you're going to be frustrated at some point. 

Your choice of solar installer can make the difference between a positive experience and major headache -- or worse, a financial nightmare lasting for years

"A good solar installer will listen and understand your electricity needs," said Carina Brockl, the chief revenue officer at Aurora Solar, a company that produces software for solar installers. "A great solar installation grows with you. If you're a couple planning to expand your family, your energy needs will grow too."

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The struggle to find an installer you can trust is real. A survey of 1,000 homeowners conducted by Aurora found 44% said it's hard to know if an installation company is trustworthy. That figure has doubled since the company's 2023 Solar Snapshot.

Why has it gotten more difficult? For one, net metering changes in California, the nation's leading rooftop solar state, have caused a lot of confusion, Brockl said. "Customer education is important to help homeowners feel confident in their solar decisions. Another root cause of concern is the cost. When interest rates were low, homeowners would finance with a solar loan, but now it may be hard just to make the first payment."

So how do you find a solar company you know you can rely on?

How to choose a solar installer

Getting multiple quotes from solar companies in your area can help you decide on a solar installer. By getting quotes, you can compare the estimated costs of getting solar panels for your home and the installer's customer service. It also gives you a good chance to ask questions.

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If the solar company is difficult to work with when trying to make the sale, they will probably not communicate well throughout your installation. If the quoted price is significantly lower or higher than your other quotes, it could be a solar scam. If the company provides you with excellent service and educational resources, it could be a good choice. 

It's all about your preferences. If paying the lowest price is your goal, you might not have the best overall experience, but you'll save a few bucks. Take note throughout your solar journey of the companies who are most helpful and supportive to determine which best fits your needs. 

National vs. local solar installers

When narrowing down your installer options, the two main categories are national and local solar installers. CNET's picks for the best national solar companies include Palmetto Solar and SunPower. Each has pros and cons, so what you decide is ultimately based on your preference.

"National installers usually offer a benefit because of volume. They can source more panels in different ways and usually have bigger teams," Brockl said. "Smaller installers are usually more visionary. They may have a lot of expertise and knowledge about a specific region. Both models in the industry work well. It's more of a personal choice." 

If you chat with a neighbor or friend who has solar panels and learn about their experience, you might choose who they went with. If you're the first in your network to install solar panels on your home, be cautious of potential solar scams

How to identify a solar scam

Before choosing a solar company, channel your inner detective and do some independent research. Taking the time to review customer testimonials and checking for lawsuits can save you from a costly misstep. Here are a few things to watch out for. 

Lack of knowledge

If a company can't give straightforward answers to your questions, it shows a lack of professionalism. Especially for basic questions like: Is my home suited for solar? What is a good installation size for my home? Can you give me a cost breakdown? 

"Make sure that you're getting concrete answers. When you don't get answers fast, pay attention and maybe consider other options," Brockl said. "A professional will answer your questions quickly with an accurate proposal." 

Unrealistic savings 

The saying, "If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is," holds true for the solar industry. A major selling point for solar companies is how much you can save on your energy bills over time. Your savings may be higher than others depending on where you live and the cost of your energy bills. 

Be wary of extremely high savings promises or guaranteed performance outcomes before a technician has surveyed your property. Unrealistic savings claims could be an indicator of a potential scam.

Pressure tactics

Reputable solar companies don't resort to aggressive or pushy sales tactics. It could be a scam if you receive unsolicited calls, emails or door-to-door pitches rushing you to sign a contract. 

Legitimate solar installers understand the value of informed decisions and should give you time for research and comparison. You will likely receive phone calls and follow-ups from solar companies, but you should not be rushed or pressured to make a decision. 

The bottom line

Choosing the right solar installer can help smooth your journey and save you from future headaches down the road, but expect obstacles along the way. Selecting an installer with excellent customer service and clear communication is key. By gathering multiple quotes and avoiding potential scams, you can make an informed decision that suits your preferences. 

Article updated on March 30, 2024 at 6:14 AM PDT

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Faith Foushee
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Faith Foushee CNET Contributor
Faith Foushee is a CNET contributor and a writer for our sister publication SaveOnEnergy.com, covering energy-efficient products, renewables and other energy topics. She enjoys learning about new energy technology and helping others save money. Faith graduated from High Point University with a bachelor's degree in strategic communication.
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