Builder and Solar PV Installer Partnerships

Sustainability and Green Building
Contact: Sustainability and Green Building

Builders shaking hands over a table

If you’ve made the decision to begin incorporating solar photovoltaics (PV) into the homes you build but don’t have the capacity to add new crew members with solar expertise, partnering with a trusted solar PV installer will be a critical step for integrating solar design into your practice and business model. Establishing a long-term relationship with one or more solar PV installers is important for both parties — you as the builder will work closely with them to better understand their designs and have their work customized to provide the best solution for each of the homes you build, and they in turn will receive your business. Consider exploring the topics below to learn more about what to look for in a good solar partner.

Get Them Involved Early

A solar PV installer who is willing to put in the work during the design phase of your project will be essential to optimize the success of the project. He or she should be able to analyze the site and determine if it is viable for solar and work with your design team/architect to make any necessary changes if solar is feasible to obtain the most ideal design. Having these conversations early will eliminate extra labor for a re-design, ensure that the house is oriented optimally to maximize the solar energy captured, and will facilitate proper roof load design (so that additional unanticipated structural supports/added costs can be avoided at a later stage of the project). Collaborating during the design phase can also optimize solar output by moving, eliminating, or reducing potential shading obstructions (like chimneys, vent pipes, skylights) that are typical on roofs.

Communication early and often with a solar installer during design will also help the customer make an informed decision if solar is right for them. The solar PV contractor should be able to provide detailed cost breakdowns with potential payback period information and monthly/annual expected solar panel production estimates. If your customer decides not to move forward with solar based on those detailed proposals prepared by the installer, if it’s early in the design phase, the installer will be able to easily work with your architect to incorporate a solar-ready roof.

Questions and Considerations for Identifying Quality Solar Partners

When you begin talking to a few different installers to explore a potential new partnership, pay attention to what types of questions they ask. For instance, are they proposing the largest solar PV system possible based on the designed roof space? Or are they asking questions to learn more about the project in order to right-size the system? Some potential questions an installer might ask your design team that could indicate he or she is knowledgeable about right-sizing the solar system:

  • What measures are you taking to make the home more efficient?
  • What appliances are you using for space heating, water heating, cooking and clothes drying?
  • What is your target HERS rating for this project?
  • Are you designing for an electric vehicle (EV) charging station (which will in turn require a larger PV system if the customer is expected to charge their car at home)?
  • Will the home have a battery storage system? If so, what size (kW and kWh)?

Looking for companies that have expertise in navigating local utility regulations, rebates, and those who have relationships with local equipment distributors will be imperative for a successful working relationship, as that installer will help your company navigate the solar PV industry. Consider checking your state’s energy office to see if it has a list of solar PV installers that participate in any government-run solar programs. You may also be able to do a public records request with your state’s attorney general office to see if any complaints have been filed about the installer with whom you’re considering doing business. Additionally, any good installer will have references; talking with previous clients can help you get a sense of how the company was to work with throughout the installation process.

Aside from equipment manufacturer warranties, another key element to look for in a potential solar PV installer is what type and length of workmanship warranty he or she offers. If anything goes wrong with the PV system down the line, your customer will need to be able to communicate with and resolve any issue with that company. Having the peace of mind that your customers will receive quality service from a good workmanship warranty can help your company in the long run if they are satisfied with the overall product.