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We Listed The Prices For the Best Solar Providers Near You. Learn what to take into consideration before you hire a solar company, so you never overpay.
With the rising prices of fossil fuels it makes sense to start thinking about using renewable energy to heat your home. Many people would like to use ‘green’ energy to help protect the planet and if that can be combined with saving on energy costs too, then all the better. Solar power is just one of the sustainable, renewable energy sources in common use today. You probably are aware that using solar power is not a new phenomenon, and has been around for many years albeit not in such a high tech manner. For example, how many people have sunrooms attached to their homes specifically to use the rays of the sun to produce warm air currents for heating the house? Today we are going to talk about heated water and photovoltaic solar panels.
There are two main types of domestic solar panels currently in use. Photovoltaic cells which we will talk about first and solar water heating panels which we will talk about later.
Photovoltaic (PV) panels. This is an active solar heating design. The panels are made from solar cells which collect the energy from sunlight and convert it into electricity. The electricity is then used to power your home with any excess being sold to the national electricity grid. There are three common types of PV cells available for the domestic market and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. It is important to know these pros and cons when you come to choose which type you prefer.
|PV cell type||Efficiency||Area needed to produce 1 kW||Retail cost per Watt||Life expectancy of system|
|Monocrystalline||17% to 25%||65 to 100 sq. ft||$1.00 to $1.50||25 to 35 years|
|Polycrystalline||15% to 20%||85 to 100 sq. ft||$0.90 to $1.00||23 to 27 years|
|Thin-film||7% to 14%||100 to 215 sq. ft||$0.70 to $1.00||14 to 17 years|
Monocrystalline PV cells are the most energy efficient cell and need the least amount of area to produce a given amount of power. These cells are made from extremely pure silicon which is very efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. These have the longest working life expectancy and usually come with a warranty of 25 years. They are made by producing a sheet of silicon which is then cut to produce individual cells. These are then arranged to produce solar panels.
Polycrystalline PV cells have lower energy efficiency than monocrystalline but are better for smaller budgets and don’t take up much more space. Silicon crystals are heated to melting point and poured into a mould to form the solar cells. The silicon is therefore less pure than monocrystalline cells resulting in poorer efficiency. They are however cheaper and have lower production costs.
Thin film PV cells are a flexible and very versatile option. They are made by bonding photovoltaic material onto metal or glass sheet. They are very cheap but need a lot of area to produce the electricity required for a domestic building. They have a shorter working life and come with the shortest warranty. Amongst all the types thin film has the highest tolerance to high temperatures
Surprisingly it is possible to set up your PV solar panel system yourself. It is however a complex project that will need electrical skills, so if you don’t have those then it would be best to hire a professional. Let us assume you are experienced with electrical work, what happens next? Well, for a start even if you have electrical skills, you still need to have the work checked by a qualified and certified electrician so factor in that cost.
Most of the DIY kits are designed for properties that are or intend to be ‘off the grid’. A typical system designed for ‘off-grid’ use would cost around $2.50 per Watt.
DIY systems that intend to use the electricity grid as a back-up in times of low sunshine or at night range from $2 to $4 per Watt. If you intend being connected to the grid then you will need more equipment such as meters and specialist safety equipment as well as having the system connected to the grid by a licenced electrician. You will also need to contact your local electricity company and find out about any special permits or regulations that need to be dealt with.
If you are very skilled when working with electronics, it is possible to build your own PV panels. The silicon wafers can be bought individually and you would typically mount sixty of these onto a backing plate and wire each one into the circuit. You would then need to connect this to an inverter to be able to use the electricity. There are, however, some risks involved with building your own panels which need to be seriously considered before you choose this option:
Government tax credits and other incentives do not apply unless the panels are constructed using approved procedures and in approved manufacturing facilities.
DIY kits cost around $1.50 to $2.50 per Watt to buy, plus electrician’s costs to check the installation would be about $0.50 per Watt. This totals at about $2 to $3 per Watt for a DIY installation. Compare this to the $2.50 to $4.00 per Watt for professional installation and you can see that the difference is not too large. Ask yourself if the small saving for a DIY system is worth the hassle of doing it yourself, especially as hiring a professional company has many other benefits such as:
To compare the cost of DIY installation with professional for different sized systems the following table shows the small amount you will save by choosing the DIY option.
|System size||DIY cost||Professional cost|
|2kW||$4,000 to $6,000||$7,000|
|3kW||$6,000 to $8,000||$10,000|
|4kW||$8,000 to $11,000||$13,000|
|5kW||$10,000 to $14,000||$16,000|
|10kW||$20,000 to $27,000||$32,000|
If you want to fix the panels to your house then you need something to mount them on. There are three different types:
Fixed mount. These mounts are stationary and are fixed at a certain angle and inclination. They therefore cannot be adjusted to collect the maximum amount of sunlight depending on time of day and the season. Using this mount is suitable for areas where the amount of sunlight is expected to be continuous. The average cost of these is approximately $15 each.
Adjustable mount. This type is adjustable and can be tilted to harvest the maximum sunlight depending on the season. They are also useful if the area regularly experiences high winds as they can be laid flat to avoid wind damage. The average cost of these is about $50.
Tracking mount. This type follows the path of the sun during the day to harvest the maximum possible sunlight. Using one of these mounts can add up to 45% more energy production compared to the fixed mount. The average cost of these mounts is between $500 and $3,000 but can cost more depending on the extras.
If you buy solar panels you will also have to factor in the cost of maintaining the panels, mounts and servicing the electronics. The average costs of the panels will be from $150 to £1,000. The maintenance costs of the mounts will depend on what type you have bought. The simpler mounts will just need their nuts and bolts greased and tightened now and again whereas the tracking version will need far more regular attention and you could find yourself paying out up to $2,500 annually.
The costs to install photovoltaic solar panels will vary depending on the type you choose.
|Costs to install Photovoltaic solar panels|
|Typical range||$15,500 to $29,000|
The price to install PV cells is made up of not only the cost of the panels themselves but also labour and accessories. Typical installation costs can be broken down into percentage of the total cost to give you an idea of the figures we are talking about.
|Photovoltaic solar panel costs for installation.|
|Item||Cost (eg for 5kW at $3/kW)||Percentage breakdown|
|Marketing & overheads||$4,950||33.00%|
|Permit & inspection fees||$450||3.00%|
You can see that in this example a very significant fraction of the total costs are taken up with costs not directly related to the technology (Marketing & overheads 33%). This is a variable cost that the company has direct control over so it is therefore vital that when you are looking around for a contractor or company to install your PV cells, you get multiple quotes from a few different companies.
A with the initial installation of PV solar panels, the repairs are also best done by professionals. They will know the most obvious cause of a problem and know the best way to handle it, whether by repair or by replacement. As well as the knowledge and experience needed to do this job they will also have the correct equipment to be able to repair panels quickly, efficiently and safely.
Any professional repair work will probably be charged at the typical rate of $100 per hour. Common repairs that will always need fixing are:
Broken glass. The actual price for fixing broken glass could be as little as $20 if all that is needed is some epoxy or could be as much as $400 if you need a whole new panel. If the problem is a simple crack then check the electrical output of the panel and see how reduced the efficiency actually is. A panel can function if cracked; all that is required is to exclude water from the inside to prevent condensation. Special epoxy or tape can be used to seal a crack if that is all it is.
Cracked panel. Fixing cracks may just be a couple of hours which when charged at $100 per hour will probably cost just a couple of hundred dollars. If the crack is more severe, then a replacement may be needed which may cost $200 to $300 for materials plus labour. Sometimes, and depending on the severity of the crack, a professional may be able to solder the damage. Whatever remedial work you do it will be better to get it done sooner rather than later as the damage will continue to become worse.
Loose connection. A simple loose connection may only cost an hour of a professional’s time. Choose a professional because they have the troubleshooting experience and will know how to narrow down the options to find the faulty electrical connection and fix it.
The installation and repair cost for every job will be different as every domestic system setup is unique. The following factors will also have an effect on the cost.
Location. Ease of access to the system will have a big impact on the cost. Some systems are situated on a roof while some are located on the ground. If the system is difficult to get to, then the professional may need more and specialised equipment and may certainly need more labour to ensure safety.
Pitch of the roof. How steep your roof is will have an effect on the time needed to do a job and also on the equipment needed to gain safe access.
Type of system. Higher grade systems will cost more to repair than lower quality ones. This is because of the higher cost of good quality parts and the added skill needed to find your way around the high tech components.
Size of system. Larger systems will need more time for regular inspection and for troubleshooting when things go wrong.
Other factors which will affect the cost include the cost of spares and the quality of the product. If you have a professional visit the system for any reason it is always worth having the bolts checked and tightened and any corrosion sorted out. The inverter is the most likely spare part that will need replacement during regular maintenance visits.
Inverters. A solar PV inverter can cost up to $2,500 depending on the type. An inverter converts the DC current produced by the panel into AC current needed for the domestic appliances. There are two types:
Both types of inverter will have warranties but don’t expect the component’s lifespan to last much longer than the warranty. The terms of the warranty will almost always state that a certified technician must install these components so this is not a DIY job. A professional will charge anything from $200 to $500 to complete this job.
Solar panels are a very tough and durable item and will last for many years. The original models had an expected lifespan of twenty-five years while the newer models can continue for anything up to fifty years. While they do have a long expected lifespan, they will need to be replaced if they are not performing properly or losing efficiency as they near the end of their lifespan. You will also have to replace if the damage is so serious that the unit is broken beyond repair.
Now let us talk about the other type of solar panel, namely the solar water heating panel. Unlike the PV solar panels, these do not harvest energy and convert it into electricity; they harvest heat (infra-red) energy which is used to heat water.
Although cheaper than PV solar panels, these work out more expensive to buy than other types of water heater but the savings in their running costs over their lifespan will easily surpass the cost of installation. Like other types of solar panels these also will attract tax and other incentives, so the overall cost will not be as expensive as originally thought.
You will not be able to fit this yourself as most areas require professional installation. Permits and building codes are required as is the knowledge of which equipment is necessary for your specific application regarding average sun exposure and expected heating requirements.
These solar water heaters come as a passive and an active design. Passive designs are less expensive than active and are less efficient, but they are more reliable and have a longer lasting life. Active systems come as two types:
Direct circulation. These use pumps to circulate domestic heating water around the system and through heat exchangers in the house. These only work well if the house is in an area that does not freeze in the winter.
Indirect circulation. These pump a non-freezing heat transfer liquid around the system to a heat exchanger where it gives up its heat to a hot water tank. These are better to use in areas with low to freezing point temperatures.
The hot water produced from the harvested sunlight is then stored in a tank like any other hot water until needed.
Solar heat collectors are designed to be in operation from fifteen to thirty years but in practice the average life is about twenty years.
The water in flat plate collectors can reach up to 300°F (149°C) while in an evacuated tube collector the temperature can reach 370°F (188°C). This heat energy can raise the temperature of water stored in the tank to about 175°F (80°C).
Well that depends on how long the cloudy period is. Passive collector units can continue to supply warm water for several days but will need a back-up water heater to help out. An active system has a much larger thermal capacity and has back-up heaters so will be able to supply heated water for longer.
These panels can be installed in many locations within your property depending on which is more convenient. They can be installed on the roof, fitted to walls or arranged on the ground. The installation site will also have an impact on the cost of installation as well.
Roof installation will always take longer as more care must be taken when working at height. Another factor is how far the panels will be from the hot water storage tank. A shorter distance between them will mean less plumbing and less labour. Be aware that your contractor may recommend a specific location for the collector that is a long way from the tank. This may be to take advantage of a location with optimum sun exposure. Besides all this the most common location for solar collectors is on the house roof. This is for the following reasons:
The amount of sun exposure available to the panels can significantly affect the size and efficiency of the panels. For example, if you only receive three hours of usable sunlight per day, to get the same amount of hot water for your home, you will need a larger collector panel than someone who receives six hours of usable sunlight.
The only real disadvantages are:
The high up-front cost of purchase and professional installation. If you can get the funds together to have solar heating collectors installed then you will guarantee lower energy bills every month and usually a payback of three to six years.
Solar heat collectors will only harvest heat for use in the central heating and hot water systems, whereas the PV collectors collect electricity for use with all appliances.
It is possible to design your own heat collection system but seriously it is not a job I would recommend as a DIY project. You intend to pay a lot of money to get a system that will last many years and save you many thousands of dollars over its lifespan so doesn’t it make sense to have it designed and installed properly? The work will take too long if you do it yourself and involves multiple disciplines. If the installation is done without proper planning or suitable knowledge then the collectors will not be as efficient as they could be. Not only that but it is essential that the installation complies with the relevant building codes.
The costs to install a solar water heat collector system will vary depending on a few factors.
|Costs to install a solar water heater|
|Typical range||$2,000 to $5,500|
|Plumbers labour charge||$70 per hour (average)|
There are certain pieces of advice you should take on board when hiring any contractor and solar panel professionals are no exception.
Check with your family and friends to see if they can personally recommend someone. If possible ask to see a sample of the contractor’s work and talk about how satisfied the customer was with the contractor’s professionalism.
Look on websites you trust, social media and local business forums.
Find out how long they have been trading. Look for a business that has experience in solar panel installation and check out their reputation.
Check for licensing and qualifications. Most states require that a contractor be licensed and bonded. Check with your local building control offices to find out what is required in your area. If your area needs contractors to be licensed then check your contractor’s license is current.
When you have narrowed down your list of contractors to about two or three, get written estimates. Don’t automatically choose the company with the lowest price; ask them to give you a breakdown of their estimate so you can see what you are getting for your money and why one is a lot cheaper than the rest.
When you have the estimates, ask each company a few questions to narrow it down further.
Ask for a list of jobs similar to yours that they have done over the past year. This will allow you to see how familiar the contractor is with your type of job. Get the names and addresses of the customers and ask if you can visit to inspect the completed job.
Will my solar panels need a permit? Most states require permits before building projects can start and require inspections at specific stages through the duration of the job. A reputable contractor will know which permits are required and will be able to acquire them before the job starts.
What type of insurance policies does the contractor carry? A contractor should have:
Will the contractor be using subcontractors during this work? If so then check that they have insurance and licences as well.
Unfortunately there are a few shifty contractors out there just waiting to part you from your money. Sometimes they are obvious, but often it takes a practiced eye to spot one. The Federal Trade Commission provides some useful tips when dealing with dodgy contractors.
You wish to have a good fruitful relationship working with your chosen solar installation provider. This will not happen if you do not commit to making ground rules and determining terms of service upfront. This requires scheduling appointments and conducting interviews with the provider to establish their identity and expectations. Failing to ask these questions may lead to frustrations and strained work relationship as it makes the running of affairs rougher. Here are 10 questions you can ask to determine the credibility of the provider.
This question is essential as it helps you to determine the experience level of the solar installation provider. You will tell the credibility of the information from the way the provider responds to your questions. Nevertheless, you will need to countercheck this information from credible sources later on to avoid con artists.
Once more, you hope to understand the knowledge level of the person, as well as confirm the stated experience. An expert will have several satisfied clients, and he will describe the experience with confidence and clarity since he has nothing to hide. This confidence will help you to eliminate frauds by instinct. Moreover, since you visited their office, they should provide material regarding the project for support.
Once more, you are out to establish the credibility of the providers before making your choice. Talking to some of their previous clients is one way of ascertaining their credibility further. You will achieve this by possibly visiting the references to see the work of the provider before making your pick. If the provider lies about the references, you should eliminate him from the list of prospective providers.
The welfare of the workers that will be involved in the project will be your major responsibility if you do not ensure they have a working insurance policy cover. You need to ask the providers about their insurance policies for workers and determine what is covered in each case. This will guide you in choosing the right provider.
The solar installation process will affect the entire family as the works invade the home space. Therefore, you want the project to take as little time as possible for the sake of restoring convenience. It will also eliminate the anxiety of you having to wait too long for the completion of the project.
Find out if the contractor has direct employees or if he uses subcontractors. You will have to check that each of the subcontractors has the applicable licence to do their work and are suitably insured. Find out if the main contractor intends working on site or if he is just there in a supervisory role. How many other jobs is he working on at the same time as yours? Who will be supervising when he isn’t on site? You must have a competent supervisor at all times.
The service provider should be knowledgeable enough to give you good advice on the right materials to use for the project. This involves the durability and quality of materials as per your preferences, he should help you understand the long-term consequences of choosing certain aerials over the others. You will then have the obligation of making the right decision on the materials you need to use as per your preferences and budget according to the advice given.
Once you have identified the service providers, you may want to understand their warranty policy. This will ensure you do not get unpleasant surprises later on when you require their repair due to poor delivery of services and they refuse. You are paying highly for the service, and it should be your priority to ensure you will receive quality services.
This is the most crucial question. Although you might have been really impressed with the services of a given provider, their price may be out of range. This will give you the option of bargaining to get an accommodating price or to simply let go of the provider in favour of the one with cheap prices. This decision should be regarded carefully because most often, the best provider is likely to charge higher. If the difference in prices is not significant, you should choose the slightly expensive but quality provider.
You should also be clear on the costs needed to cover the entire project. The provider should be sure to point out additional costs before starting the work in order to avoid inconveniences. Moreover, you are most likely working on a budget, and the moment the prices change, you may be unable to shoulder the additional expense.
The availability of the provider for the duration you have set to conduct the project is another important aspect. Ask this question to avoid inconveniences. You might negotiate on this aspect if your schedule is flexible.
There will always be a day when you arrive on site and notice it looks like nothing has been done all day. Whatever you do, don’t say that to the contractor. Part of his job is to make difficult jobs look easy and make things look ‘pretty’. He may have spent all day wiring up a solar panel which would be a lot of work but not a lot to show for the time. Unfortunately that is what happens. It may help if you agreed with the contractor to keep a daily log of jobs achieved along with ‘before and after’ photographs.
Every construction job produces waste. Whether it is left-over materials surplus to the job or old materials and rubble ready to be thrown away. The big question you want answered is “What is going to happen to them?” If we are talking about rubble or true waste materials, will the contractor dispose of them in an environmentally aware manner complying with the national and local waste disposal regulations or is he just going to take it away in the back of his van and leave it on the side of the road somewhere? It is a good idea to get in touch with a waste disposal company (or better still, make sure the contractor does).
The waste company will leave a number of containers designed for the contractor to ‘stream’ the waste from the job. Scrap metal in one, lumber in another, brick, stone and concrete in another, hazardous waste in another. If waste is separated at source in this way then those things that can be recycled or reused will avoid being dumped in landfill.
If the waste is just surplus to the job (maybe it was bought as extra in case of wastage) then in truth, the customer (you) has paid for it so it is yours. You must then ask yourself whether you actually want it. If not then you have some options open to you.
Whichever option you decide is completely up to you. But don’t allow the contractor to remove anything from the site without your prior knowledge and approval.
In this article we have talked about solar water heating panels and photovoltaic solar cells. Both of them harvest the sun’s energy and convert it into a form that can be used by us. PV cells produce Direct Current (DC) electricity which needs to be converted into Alternating Current (AC) electricity before it can be used in household appliances. Solar water heating panels absorb the infra-red heat given off from the sun and transfer the energy into a stored water tank for use as domestic hot water and central heating. Both types of panel are completely different with different technologies and their own specific requirements.
We talked about what was involved in installing these collectors and the type of contractor needed to do the work. We briefly talked about whether the job is suitable for a DIY project and reluctantly came to the conclusion that it is probably better to have the work done professionally.
We lightly touched on the costs involved to install both types of panel. We looked through a few tips for hiring a contractor, looking out for a scam and finally ten questions to ask your contractor to ensure everything goes well.