Sometimes you get what you pay for

The cost of living crisis has had a knock on effect on how homeowners are choosing their solar energy installations. With a view to reducing energy bills, there is more pressure on consumers to make buying decisions based primarily on cost, which in turn has resulted in an increase in unscrupulous installation companies. We discuss the implications of trying to save money by choosing the wrong installer.

We have all experienced pressure on our household budgets within recent years. With wages not rising as much as the cost of essentials such as food and energy, the majority of us are looking at ways to keep our bills down, particularly with recent Government subsidies for gas and electricity coming to an end.

Investing in solar energy has a long-term benefit: Not only does it contribute to the decarbonisation of our houses by adopting ‘green’ energy, but it is a far cheaper way of paying to run our homes. The pay-back times are reducing, and installing solar (photovoltaic, or PV) panels, for example, requires little disruption. All in all, solar power is a very attractive option in the current climate.

Buyer beware

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous companies are taking advantage of the double whammy of an increase in demand for solar panels, and the pressure on domestic budgets, but a sub-standard installation can turn into an expensive nightmare. Consumers who are not fully aware of the pitfalls of a bad installation are falling victim to companies who are undercutting experienced, accredited installers. They can often find themselves on the receiving end of bad practice, which then has to be rectified – at the customer’s cost.

It is important to remember that domestic solar installation in the UK, requires specialist knowledge. It is not just a question of putting some panels on a roof, wiring them up and then leaving them to run. The consequences can be catastrophic if the installation is done in a rush or by the wrong company.

What to look out for

Firstly, a decent installer will do a roof check. This can only be done by a trained person who will assess, among other things, the structural integrity of the roof to ensure it can take the weight of the panels, and that no damage will be done by foot traffic during the installation. Older properties, in particular, were not built with solar panels in mind and it is crucial to know if the roof is suitable before anything else.

It is also important to remember that solar panels are run by a permanent electricity source, so your installer needs to ensure the wiring is done correctly, avoiding corners and sharp objects and minimising exposure to extreme elements. Sub-standard wiring could cause, and has caused, ruinous fire damage to a property. From an insurance point of view alone, notwithstanding the danger and the emotional and practical impact of a house fire, it is imperative that the installation company is fully accredited and has the skills and experience to handle solar wiring projects. Solar panels run off DC (direct current) so the installer needs to have the experience of working with DC rather than AC installations.

Another consideration that a good installer will consider is water flow. A bank of panels on a roof changes the way that rainwater drains and that needs to be assessed to predict the impact that the panels will have. Incorrect positioning of the panels can ultimately lead to water pooling and, in the long run, leakage problems.

Maintenance is required

It is a misconception that once solar panels are installed that they can just be left alone. Small problems can easily escalate to become more expensive problems over time so a good installer should at least be able to advise about what maintenance is required and may even offer it as part of their after-sales service. Like servicing a boiler, regular checks extend the life of the product and ensure that the financial benefits of having lower energy bills are not wiped out by fixing avoidable problems. PV panels also need cleaning to avoid the build-up of dust and debris in order to optimise the way they work, so being able to access the panels is a key consideration.

Go forward with confidence

HIES has a number of vetted and accredited installers who are experts in the field of installing solar power solutions. Not only that, but consumers benefit from deposit and stage payment protection, insurance backed guarantees on completion of the project, alternative dispute resolution and a consumer advice line.

Our best advice to any consumer is to find an installer through HIES to protect against poor quality, dangerous and potentially expensive mistakes, and to invest in the right company.

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