By Solar Today Magazine October 18, 2016
Adding a photovoltaic system to one’s home is a long-term commitment; systems can last 30 years or more. Manufacturers’ warranties on the equipment can vary a lot, and that makes some deals a lot better than others. How can we tell which warranty is better? What should we look for in the confusing, legally-binding fine print? Here are some of the top things to check before passing judgment on the quality of a warranty.
Addressing the Elephant in the Room
Before discussing any specific warranty terms, one has to address time as the ever-present elephant in the room. Most PV module warranties last 20-25 years, and we’ve already seen companies lasting less than that. Big or small, any solar manufacturer can go bankrupt and with its fall, your warranty can become void.
Extend for Safety
There is a way to lower the risk of your warranty becoming void. Purchasing an extended warranty, which is a contractual agreement between you and your solar equipment retailer, gives you extra security. This way, two companies are responsible for your system in the guaranteed period. Should the manufacturer go out of business, your retailer would have to cover all repairs and replacements mentioned in the warranty.
Insure your Insurance
Manufacturers are also aware of the risk, so some of them offer insured warranties. This type of warranty transfers liability to an insurer in case of bankruptcy, so customers can get proper care for their systems even if the company is not around to provide it. However, this practice is not that popular – only a handful of installers practice it.
Read the Fine Print
Even after insuring that you have a warranty and someone to service it, reading the fine print is advisable. The devil’s in the details, and every warranty has a huge number of details. It’s true that you cannot expect all details to work in your favor, but make sure that at least the important ones insure smooth sailing in the future.
Who Pays the Shipping on Replacement Equipment?
Shipping costs are nothing to sneeze at, so check who’s responsible for them in case of a defect. The manufacturer will always repair or replace a module as guaranteed, but if the shipping is not covered, that can cost you a pretty penny. Take into account that panels on average weigh about 23 pounds and an inverter can weigh more than 50, incurring significant costs in transportation. Make sure that the manufacturer covers shipping and all aspects of replacing defective equipment.
Who Pays for Diagnostics and Interventions?
When some part of a PV system fails, someone has to diagnose and intervene, and that someone in most cases is a licensed solar installer. Unless the warranty covers this cost, you will end up paying. Warranties that include on-site assistance as well as repairs usually don’t charge you for it. However, read the warranty details (in advance!) and determine if more than equipment repair is guaranteed.
Which Defects are Eligible for Coverage?
One of the most important questions the warranty has to answer is, “What qualifies as a defect eligible for coverage?” A warranty may last a quarter of a human lifetime, but it does not cover all possible defects and damage scenarios. For example, PV modules might be resistant to rough weather conditions, but most manufacturers won’t cover damage that occurs during a hailstorm. These kinds of situations can usually be covered by homeowners’ insurance, so check what’s covered in the manufacturer’s warranty and extend your homeowner’s insurance to cover the rest.
What’s the Guaranteed Repair Time?
In the end, we circle back to time as a crucial factor. Whenever a defect has been noticed and reported, it takes solar companies time to act, and that time can vary a lot. A good warranty always notes the time to complete repairs. This is especially important in cases of inverter failure, as without the inverter, the whole system goes offline.
It’s quite hard to determine which one of the questions raised above is most important for the average consumer. All of them are quite serious, and it’s almost impossible to quantify their value. As a consultant, I usually make the recommendation based on what the customer values the most. After all, there is no perfect warranty, just one that makes the customer feel safest.
About the author
Jacob Bayer is an entrepreneur, startup enthusiast and father. He is founder and CEO of the energy consultancy Luminext Incorporated. He consults nationwide in the residential and commercial sectors in energy efficiency and renewable energy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and through his website www.energyserviceforless.com.