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Tired of high electric bills? Worried about the impact of CO2 emissions on our environment? Look no further than that big ball of energy in the sky. Did you know homeowners save an average of $1,000 per year on electricity by installing rooftop solar panels? With multiple financing options and the cost of utilizing solar energy continuing to decline, your choices for an affordable switch-over to solar are better than ever. But before you just go with our recommendations, be sure to get free quotes from multiple companies to find the best price and provider in your geographic location.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
First, it helps to understand how solar panels work. Solar panels contain silicon or other photovoltaic (PV) materials that absorb the sunlight’s energy. Typically when sunlight hits an object, its energy creates heat. But when sunlight hits PV materials, their atoms release electrons that bind together to create an accelerated level of energy. It’s this higher level of energy that provides electricity for your home. Learn more in our How Does a Solar Panel Work article.
What Should You Consider Before Going Solar?
- Are you a good candidate? Most likely if the expanse of your roof gets at least five hours of direct sunlight each day and you have high electricity bills. Most sun-powered companies give you a free consultation to see if you’re a good fit.
- Get estimates and consultations from several different companies to compare your options and gauge their customer service. Ask for their residential project references.
- Solar lease vs buy? Solar panel cost is a major consideration. Many companies give you the option of leasing panels rather than purchasing them outright. A solar panel lease is a good option for people who don’t want a lot of upfront costs and want to break even much sooner than you would by purchasing solar panels. Most leases require at least a 10-year commitment.
- Know the difference between leasing and power purchase agreements (PPAs). In many ways, leasing and PPAs are the same, but when you lease a sun-powered system, you pay a fixed monthly fee as you would if you’re leasing a car. With PPAs, however, you pay by kilowatt-per-hour similar to your electricity bill, but typically the solar rates are lower.
- Look into local, state and federal solar rebates and tax incentives that can help you save even more money when you’re considering solar panels for your home.
Our Top Picks for Best Residential Solar Companies
We researched dozens of companies and consumer reviews to help you narrow down the playing field. Here we present our top picks for best solar companies, including locations, financing options, features, customer service and more. But how much do solar panels cost? We don’t include actual pricing due to the wide variety of financing options and the custom-design aspect of installing solar cells for your home. Use the quote form below to get started or read on for individual solar company reviews.
Our pick for the best residential solar panels, SolarCity, holds an estimated 30% of the U.S. market share, making them the one to beat in the residential solar industry. An all-service company, SolarCity is a one-stop shop for financing, designing, obtaining permits and installation with several financing options, including purchasing, loan financing, leasing and PPA. In addition to solar panels, SolarCity and its sister company, Tesla, now offer a solar roof (attractive roof tiles with solar cells) and a Powerwall, a clean energy backup power supply for utility outages. SolarCity gives you one team that takes care of it all, with locations in the District of Columbia and 22 states (AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, HI, MD, MA, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, RI, SC, TX, UT, VT and VA).
Discuss SolarCity promotions in our dedicated SolarCity coupon page.
Vivint Solar, an offshoot of the well-established home security company, Vivint, wins our number two spot. The parent company seems to know what they’re doing — they currently hold the number two spot in solar residential market share, just behind our top pick SolarCity after only seven years in business. Vivint also sells a clean energy battery backup option in select locations. Vivint Solar offers four financing options in the 20 states it serves (AZ, CA, CT, CO, FL, HI, MD, MA, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, PA, RI, SC, TX, UT, VT, and VA). Vivint Solar is a worthy and quickly expanding option for the areas they serve.
VivintSolar occasionally has promotions, find them and discuss on our dedicated VivintSolar coupon page.
Established in 2013, Dividend Solar is a relative newcomer to the solar industry but has made a name for itself for its excellent service reputation. The major catch with this company is that it only offers loan financing and no leasing or PPA options. But Dividend is an excellent option if you’re considering a loan (with no money down). All customers get a performance guarantee, a 5-year roof warranty and 20-year equipment and workmanship warranty. And although they outsource their installations, they have strict requirements that their contractors must hold professional licensing and be certified. Dividend Solar services 25 states, including AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, IL, MD, MA, MI, MO, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OH, OR, RI, SC, TX, UT and VA.
Other Best Solar Panels for Your Home
Below are a couple more solar panel reviews that didn’t make our top three. We suggest reading them as well, so you are even more informed about getting your energy from the sun. One of these companies may be a good fit for you if our top three picks aren’t available in your area.
Utah-based ION Solar is a new company resulting from the merger of Vision Solar and Zing Solar in early 2017. It’s too soon to give this company a thorough review, but ION has some good things going for it. They hire their own installers, rather than contracting out locally, and they offer solid warranties for all of their financing plans. These include a 25-year equipment warranty, 10-year labor warranty and 10-year roof warranty. Unfortunately, ION’s website is pretty bare bones, and you must contact them for many details. ION Solar services eight states, including CA, CO, CT, NJ, NM, SC, TX and UT.
Modern Energy is an Ohio-based, family-owned solar company that specializes in residential and corporate solar roof panels. Like other companies in our reviews, they guide you through the process from start to finish with accredited engineers and solar professionals. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any information on their website about financing options, their installers and other important information. You have to call or email them to learn more and obtain a proposal. We also couldn’t find any customer reviews online about their services. Modern Energy services five states, including IN, OH, PA, NY and NC.
As of early Fall 2017, NRG is not taking orders for new residential solar installations. It’s unclear if this is temporary or permanent. NRG Home Solar has some of the most weather resistant panels on the market, and when they offered residential installation they offered a free in-person rooftop assessment and free installation. We found many customer complaints about long installation delays and non-responsive customer service, especially post-installation. NRG Home Solar is only available in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
PetersenDean has a long history of being an expert roofing and solar panel company, but they only offer outright purchase or loan options. However, we recommend you get a quote if you’re considering owning your solar panels. Their Freedom Flex payment plan offers $0 down with no payments for 12 months and no pre-payment penalties. And their warranty of 25 years is a plus. PetersenDean currently services five states (AZ, CA, FL, NV, TX) and plans to expand to eight additional states within the next year.
Solar Spectrum, a new solar company, acquired our previous number two winner, Sungevity, in Spring 2017. And more recently, Solar Spectrum merged with California’s Horizon Solar Power company on their quest to become a major player in the solar industry (the two companies will retain their brand names). Solar Spectrum offers several financing options and a dedicated account representative. So far, Solar Spectrum gets good customer reviews for their sales and customer service, but it’s too early to get a clear picture of their installation process, system performance and other business practices. But we’re keeping an eye on them. Solar Spectrum currently services seven states, including CA, CO, MD, MA, NJ, NY, and RI.
Houston-based Sunnova currently ranks as the third largest residential solar company in the U.S. They offer four financing options, including EZ Own (loan), leasing and two different PPA agreements. It’s worth noting that their EZ Pay PPA has a fixed monthly cost (annual adjustment) and a production guarantee. Their regular PPA agreement has a variable monthly cost based on your energy use but no production guarantee. We’re hesitant to recommend this company, even though they’re a big player — far too many consumer complaints about bad customer service, installation issues, repairs and more. Sunnova services 17 states, including AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IN, LA, MA, MD, MO, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, and TX, as well as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virginia Islands, Guam and Saipan.
SunPower is one of the oldest manufacturers and providers of residential solar panels in the U.S. Their claims to fame today? Their X Series solar panels deliver 44% more power per panel than most competitors, and their roof panels are more aesthetically pleasing than what other manufacturers offer. Regarding purchasing options and installation, however, SunPower doesn’t quite make the grade. They don’t offer a PPA, which is quickly becoming an industry norm these days. And they outsource most of their installations to local companies that may not meet your customer service expectations. The bottom line with SunPower? Their panels and solar technology are top-rate, but you’re not assured an easy installation process. SunPower used to service seven states, but they’re now only doing new residential installations in California to focus on their corporate arm.
Sunrun is a large player in the residential solar industry. In fact, Sunrun pioneered the business model of leasing panels, taking away the high upfront costs incurred if you purchase. Now, they offer solar panels for purchase, loans, leases and PPAs. And they also offer their Brightbox smart, clean-energy battery backup solution (for an added cost, either via purchase or lease). They partner with local market installers to encourage community-wide job growth and to provide local customer support. You can find Sun Run in 22 states: AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, HI, MA, MD, NH, NV, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, RI, SC, TX, UT, VT and WI, as well as the District of Columbia.
Editor’s Note: Verengo Solar filed for bankruptcy in 2016, we will be updated our article with this info soon.
Verengo Solar has been around since 2009 and currently only focuses in California. This company offers purchase options for its customers, as well as loan financing and PPA’s. If you live in California, it’s worth reaching out to get a quote to compare to our top picks.
How Does the Installation Process Work?
Wondering how the whole process works from the design phase to installation? Watch this helpful video by Vivint to give you a better idea of what to expect when they transition your home from standard electricity to sub-generated power.
A Bright Future for Solar Panel Consumers
The use of residential solar panels in the U.S. continues to increase, in part, because residential costs keep dropping (by a whopping 45% since 2010), according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. That’s great news for anyone considering making the switch to solar. Energy costs aside, when you install sun-powered panels for your home you’re investing in the equity of your home. In hot markets, like California, you can increase the value of your home by $10,000 or more. You’re also helping to offset tens of thousands of pounds of CO2 emissions. If you’re committed to being Earth’s friend, that’s an impact you can feel good about.
Can You Go the DIY Route?
A number of home supply stores, like Lowe’s and Costco, sell solar panel kits that include most of what you need to install them yourself. But you need to make sure you acquire all the necessary permits — and verify that your state doesn’t require a certified company to install the panels for you (some states do). Learn more in our Solar 101 article and be sure to look into small travel kits, solar attic fans and solar pool heaters.
Why are you considering solar energy for your home?