How to be an Educated Customer

Homeowners looking to invest in renewable energy systems in their houses can take steps to ensure they know what to look out for before, during and after installation. There are several things to consider, whether for solar or heat pump installations, and being an educated customer can help identify potential pitfalls before they happen.

We all know that solar power and heat pumps can reduce our energy bills, enable us to generate our own electricity therefore reducing our reliance on the grid, and contribute towards net zero. If you are looking to install a renewable energy system, spending some time researching the ins and outs of how to find an installer, the facts about certification and compliance, funding and other issues saves potential headaches further down the line.

Finding an installer

As with any installation that requires an external supplier, it is often recommended to get at least three quotes. A reputable installer will talk to you in depth about your requirements and therefore the type of system that you need. It is vital that you only approach installation companies who are registered with a Consumer Code, such as HIES. Consumer Codes ensure that an installation business meets high standards of consumer protection.

Be aware that the cheapest quote might not be the best. When installing renewable energy systems into a home, there are many factors to consider, and the right installer will be able to ensure they are quoting on the right system for your particular circumstances and property type. Buying on price is not always advisable in this sector.

What are the installer’s responsibilities?

When talking to an installer, there are some questions that should be asked to avoid surprises further into the project. It is essential that each party understands what is and is not included in the quote. For example, if other trades such as electricians and groundworks are required, will the installer project manage that, or do you need to find and hire each trade? It is worth clarifying as well if the installer’s price includes the removal and safe disposal of any old equipment that is taken out. It is also vital to understand the system’s output, how to work with it on installation and what options you may have should remedial or maintenance work be required post-installation.

Check planning and building regulations

Most domestic installations don’t require planning permission, but some do, such as listed buildings. It pays to know in advance if planning permission is needed, and to be aware of what building regulations your installer will need to comply with. It is worth noting as well that a call to your insurance company is advisable to check whether your new installation is already covered, or if you need to change your cover to include it.

Find out about funding

Each quote is different depending on a wide range of factors, so it is worth knowing what financial help is available beforehand. You may have to retrofit wall, cavity or loft insulation before other funding can be agreed, but the Government has some schemes that homeowners can access. Eligibility for grants may vary depending on the type of property, its energy rating, and personal circumstances, and can also vary between the different UK countries, so do check with your local authority for the latest information, as the eligibility rules are changing from May 2024.

Protect your payment

One of the key questions to ask a potential installer is about payment protection. A company should be able to offer payment protection for your deposit, which should be no more than 25% of the total quote. HIES offers protection for exactly this, which you can find out more about by clicking here.  

Evidence any retrofitting

Some retrofitting work may be needed to your home depending on the system being installed and the type of property. It is important to have evidence of any work that is carried out through installation photos, supplier invoices and warranty documents in order to get any funding or an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). If an EPC assessor cannot access or see any improvements made, such as cavity wall insulation, it is excluded from the assessment and can negatively affect the final rating. You can find out more on the Government website or contact your local authority.

Post-installation care

Part of installing a renewable energy system at home is knowing how to get the best from it, minimising your reliance on the grid and capitalising on the ‘free’ energy that the system produces. Ask your installer to talk you through how best to work with your new system based on your circumstances. They should also advise you about what maintenance or care you will need to maintain the system. For example, solar panels do need to be kept clean in order to work properly.

On completion of the installation, and once it has been registered, customers of HIES installers and other schemes should benefit from Insurance Backed Guarantees. This is important if the installer stops trading and cannot fulfil the terms of the written guarantee they supplied.

Just in case…

No one expects a job to go awry but sometimes it can happen. If you find yourself in a dispute with your installer, customers of HIES members get additional protection through a consumer advice line, an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service (HIES is a Chartered Trading Standards Institute ADR Competent Authority) and access to an Ombudsman if deemed necessary. Like home insurance, it is better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

It may seem a daunting list but by breaking it down into each part, there are steps that can be taken to ensure the smooth running of any renewable installation. Time taken to educate yourself and ask the right questions is often time and money saved later.