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Solar Panel Installation 101

Solar Installation in California at a Glance

Key Facts

  • California has one of the largest solar markets in the United States
  • The solar installation process takes an average of three months from signing a contract to installation
  • Homeowners must consult credible installers for best information on installation layout
  • All solar systems come with warranties including performance warranty

According to a Berkeley Lab report, California has one of the largest solar markets in the United States. As of 2022, solar energy provides over 20% of California's electricity.

California is also big on renewable energy, with over 1,970 solar companies and 75,700 jobs in 2021. California operates with two types of solar power generation: thermal and photovoltaic (PV).

Solar panel installation.jpg

Solar thermal generates electricity by heating a liquid with concentrated sunlight to make steam. The steam then turns a traditional turbine to create electricity. In contrast, solar photovoltaic systems directly convert sunlight into electricity.

Califonia's solar thermal facilities are in the Mojave region.

How Long Does It Take to Install a Solar System in California?

On average, the process of installing a solar system—from signing a contract with a California solar company to the final installation—may take up to three-months. However, the exact installation time takes less than 6 hours.

The exact time depends on factors such as the type of roof, permission requirements, the speed of installation, the size of panels, and the energy supplier.

The Shape of the House Roof

When it comes to roofing and electrical applications, every property is different. Solar contractors design each system to suit the housetop and other energy requirements. The contractor will test the roof for.

  • Its age (new or less than ten years)
  • The capability of supporting the weight of the solar panels
  • Strength of the roof support.
  • Direction for the most sunlight (the roof should face between the southeast and southwest)
  • Obstructions from trees or other structures.
  • Roof damages

Any upgrades will delay installation. Creating an application that suits the roof of the house is necessary before a solar firm can install the panels. This phase would take one to four weeks.

The Solar Power Installation Company,

The speed at which a solar firm may schedule the installation after receiving a signed contract from homeowners can affect the time frame for fixing the panels. The installation period depends on the schedule of the company. Companies with a tight schedule can delay the entire process.

Local Inspection and Permission Requirements

Solar companies must apply for a permit from the local government before installing solar panels. Permission to install solar varies by location but often includes

  • Construction permit
  • General electrical license
  • Photovoltaic (PV) systems permit.

This procedure could take a week or more to complete, depending on the town, the number of permits needed, and how busy the permitting office is. The local government will send someone to check a week after the request and after the system installation to ensure it complies with the law. Like the permitting procedure, the inspection process will vary in speed depending on the location and how busy the local government offices are.

Size and Type of Solar Panel System

Depending on the number of panels and the installation's complexity, most solar companies can install a rooftop residential solar panel in one to three days. However, installing an extensive industrial solar panel system can take weeks to months.

Energy Supplier and Connection

The installer must apply to the utility provider if installing a grid-tied solar panel system. "Grid-tied systems" are solar power systems connected to the electrical grid and don't need backup batteries or storage. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), getting official approval to operate takes about one to two weeks after the installation dates.

What Should I Look for When Searching for A Solar Installer?

Professional installers are crucial in residential and commercial solar installations. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), homeowners should seek qualified and experienced professional solar installers. EERE does not permit a solar panel DIY installation.

A factor that affects a solar system's lifespan is its setup. The wrong layout might reduce the system efficiency by 10 to 25%. Hence homeowners must consult credible installation companies to inspect their homes and provide the best information. Homeowners must also consider the solar system's maintenance when choosing a solar technician.

The first thing to do when searching for solar installation companies is to search online. Online resources often provide information on companies, costs, and panels. Residents could look for exact company locations in their area. E.g., “Energypal solar panel installation near me.” Also, search for specific company fees online with keywords like “Energypal costs of solar panels and installation.”

When looking for an installer, keep the following points in mind:


Any good solar installer must have a certificate from recognized bodies like NABCEP. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) issues the industry standard certification among installers of renewable energy systems.

Also, ensure the installer has insurance, bonding, and licenses to complete the home solar installations. Bonding is a form of insurance that guarantees money back when the installer fails the contract terms. Confirm that any subcontractors on the project must have viable credentials.

Credibility and Knowledge

Look for installers with at least three years of experience. Ask helpful questions such as

  • The number of solar energy systems the company has installed.
  • The type of solar panel do they use, and why?
  • Can they spell out the solar incentives customers qualify for and how they operate?
  • What information can they provide on warranty coverage if an issue arises after installation?


An installer must be honest and available to answer any customer questions. There should be no mystery surrounding the work on the house. Also, if the installer employs subcontractors, know the parts of their job and their level of supervision.


Solar panel installation cost differs and installers charge varying prices for the same job. So, it is crucial to compare quotations from many installers. Companies with widespread credibility might charge higher than new or less popular ones. Besides, most installers will visit the house to assess it before making a price recommendation based on its size, energy needs, roof shape, and other elements.

Handling Roof Issues

The roof is an essential aspect of the installation process. Solar installers should be able to advise on any roofing issues that can occur during installation. The contractor must apply to the utility company if installing a grid-tied solar panel system.

Ask a professional roofer about installing low-profile vent holes instead of protruding ones if they cannot fit underneath solar panels.

Use Locals

Locate a full-service solar business nearest to the house. Local companies are well-known in the community, making them credible. They will also know the permits and building code requirements of the place, which vary across municipalities and change over time. Local businesses have a community-oriented mindset when compared to big national installers.

Reviews and Reputation

Read reviews online from previous clients. The installers should be able to recommend former customers who can give honest feedback about their installation experience or post their customer reviews. The installers should also display their capacity to help customers understand how the system will function.

Get Recommendations from Friends and Family

With over a thousand solar companies in California, it is a daunting task when selecting a solar installation company. Thus, residents should speak to friends and families that transitioned to solar for good recommendations. Reading reviews online lacks the authenticity that feedback from relatives or friends does.

Do Solar Systems Come with Warranties?

According to the California Solar Initiative (CSI), solar energy systems must have at least a ten-year manufacturer's warranty on the panels, a one-year manufacturer's warranty on each of the other system components, and a one-year warranty on labor and handwork during installation.

A warranty is a commitment made in writing by a product's creators to the consumer to repair or replace the item, as needed, within a timeframe. Warranties cover the solar panel's integrity, which shields customers from issues, including manufacturing faults, environmental problems, and premature wear and tear.

If the system fails earlier than the warranty permits, manufacturers may repair or replace them. They sometimes even cover shipping and labor costs

Solar panel warranties may differ between products and solar companies. Warranties from solar brands range from ten to twenty years. Homeowners should consider two main elements when assessing a solar panel warranty from manufacturers: performance and product warranty.

Performance Warranty

The performance warranty covers consumers against panels that damage fast. It guarantees that the system will continue to operate or at least function at 80% for twenty-five years and 90% capacity for ten years.

Product Warranty

Solar panel manufacturers offer a ten to fifteen years product warranty, depending on the module. This warranty protects buyers if the system performance drops because of malfunctioning panels.

Solar panel manufacturers in the US and their topmost warranty for product and performance

Amerisolar 12 years 80.6%
Canadian Solar 12 years 84.95%
CertainTeed Solar 25 years 80%
First Solar 12 years 83.5%
Grape Solar 10 years 80%
Green Brilliance 5 years 80%
Heliene 10 years 80%
Mission Solar Energy 25 years 80.2%
Phono Solar 12 years 82.5%
Q-CELLS 25 years 85%
Renogy Solar 10 years 80%
Risen 12 years 80.2%
S-Energy 12 years 80.7%
Silfab 25 years 82.6%
Solaria 25 years 86%
Solartech Universal 15 years 80%
Suniva Inc 10 years 80.2%
SunPower 25 years 94%
SunSpark Technology 12 years 82.5%
Upsolar 12 years 80.2%
Vikram Solar 10 years 80.1%

Other forms of warranty for solar systems

Inverter Warranties

Solar applications with batteries use inverters, which help convert and store energy into batteries for future use. Thus, the inverter warranty is as important as the product warranty. Frequent use in hot environments reduces the panels' efficiency, and inverters can malfunction too.

The standard warranty period for inverters is five to fifteen years, with an option to extend.

Installation Warranty

The solar supplier can offer residents a guarantee for installing solar panels, but installation promises must be clear to get this benefit from these companies. The length of installation warranties might range from 12 months to 10 years.

What Do I Do If My Solar System Develops a Problem?

Although solar panels need little maintenance, issues can sometimes arise. One or more of the system's components, such as the solar inverter, charge controller, wiring, or batteries, may develop defects that cause a problem.

Examples of issues that can occur in a solar system:

  • Cracks on the solar panels
  • Electrical wiring issues due to rust, oxidation, and loose connections
  • Overloaded inverters
  • Panel degradation because of moisture buildup
  • No power output
  • Low voltage problem
  • Filth, dust, mold, leaves, or bird droppings accumulation
  • Orientation and tilt angle of solar panels
  • Issues with shade, even incomplete shading, can have a significant influence
  • Seasons, climate, and weather in the area.

Steps To Take When Faced With Solar System Issues

When faced with any solar problem, homeowners are advised to call a professional to check and make adequate repairs. However, if the solar system malfunctions, here are some guides on what to do.


Check for problems. Look for any noticeable dirt, leaves, mold, or shading issues on the solar panels. Also, look for errors or warnings on the solar inverter.


Check the grid voltage on the inverter's display or app for issues with over-voltage.


Call a certified electrician. Avoid trying a DIY repair; it is unsafe.


Contact the manufacturers or installation firm for repair, replacement, or other warranty benefits.


Schedule regular maintenance

Can Solar Panels Be Installed on A Mobile, Manufactured, Or Modular Home in California?

Mobile, manufactured, and modular homes allow the installation of solar panels, though with some challenges. These challenges include local building codes, the design of the home, and its foundation. In contrast to site-built dwellings, mobile homes might not support the attachment of PV panels. For example, these homes have weaker roof joints and cannot bear the weight of a solar system.

Also, manufactured homes might lack permanent concrete foundations that enhance structural integrity. In these cases, homeowners can choose a nearby building to install the panels and connect them to the house. E.g., a shed, patio, or garage. Using a ground-mounted PV is another option. These systems support large applications on the floor and not rooftops. It is best that a professional installer assesses the home for good recommendations.

Can I Put Solar on An RV Camper Or Van?

On Recreational Vehicles (RV), solar panels function like solar panels for houses and businesses, although they are more compact and portable. The quantity of solar panels needed for an RV depends on various factors, including energy consumption habits, the rooftop space, the efficiency of the panels, and the amount of daily sunlight that enters the house.

To calculate how much electricity the system will produce each day, multiply the size of the system by the amount of direct sunlight the panels will receive each day. To get competent RV solar installers, check “RV solar installation near me” online.

What Should I Do If I'm A California Homeowners Association Member?

The California Homeowners Association (HOA) enforces the laws of planned communities, gated communities, and houses. Locals make up the board of directors and maintain the neighborhood's residences or structures in immaculate condition. Also, communities often use an HOA to care for common areas, amenities, social places, and facilities.

In California, HOAs can no longer impose restrictions on solar installation. However, the HOA needs the approval of 67 percent of property owners in a shared area before allowing a member to install a solar system.

According to New Civil Code 4746, solar applicants in multi-family homes with shared roof areas will need the consent of other owners in the building. Members owing at least 67% interest in the building must approve any activity that grants exclusive use of a portion of the common area. A solar installation is an example of such an activity. The new regulation partially exempts homeowners in condominium communities from answering to their dissenting neighbors as long as they secure the needed votes.

What If I Live in A California Historic District?

California has many historic districts and twelve certified local historic districts. Certified historic districts are neighborhoods the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) approves as meeting the National Park Services (NPS)'s guidelines.

The NPS lists qualified districts in the National Register of Historic Places for taxes in line with the Tax Reform Act of 1986. It is vital to observe strict regulations in such places. Some historic districts in California are the Old Pasadena Historic District in Pasadena, Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, and Santa Cruz Downtown Historic District in Santa Cruz.

Renovations and solar installations can have a negative effect on buildings in historic areas. They affect the accuracy and face of the neighborhood when residents use the wrong materials. Materials must match those used in the place.

Solar panels may also affect structures with tiled or slate roofs because the installer needs to remove them. The installer then replaces them with materials that are not historical and appropriate for the area. After each installation, the resident must get a certificate of appropriateness. The certificate of appropriateness confirms that the fixtures met the standards.

Even with firm regulations, making room for solar energy systems while maintaining famous landmarks and other structures is achievable. California constrains the city's power to regulate solar panel installations. However, Pomona, one of California's historic cities, has a guide to installing solar panels on historic buildings, especially when reroofing is part of the solar panel installation.

Some of Pomona’s policies on solar installations are:

  • Residents should get a Minor Certificate of Appropriateness for all installations
  • The new roofing must align in appearance and material with the existing building and the neighborhood's character
  • Changes must be consistent with the architectural style of the building, along with existing structures in the historic district
  • The installation should not displace historical roofing materials
  • Installers must get a "reroof permit" before replacing it
  • The panels should be easy to remove in the future without removing the historic roof materials
  • The panels should not affect the historic character of the building.

If the structure's integrity does not permit an installation, applicants may be able to set up the panels on other buildings or on parts of the house, away from the front of the street. When this is impossible, the resident should apply for a Major Certificate of Appropriateness, which the Historic Preservation Commission has to approve.

What Is the Process to Get My System Permitted?

California's counties and cities each have their own unique permitting policies. Thus, applicants can provide a complete and correct application package for the first time if they thoroughly understand all local requirements listed in the California Solar Permitting Guidebook. Local electric utilities also go through a different approval procedure. Hence, the solar PV system can begin operating as soon as possible by requesting utility clearance early in the permit process.

Should I Repair or Replace My Roof Before Going Solar in California?

A suitable roof is a criterion for installing a new solar system which includes; the top should be recent or less than three years and without damage. So, depending on how badly damaged a roof is, homeowners can choose to rebuild or fix it.

The following problems show that the roof needs repairing or replacement.

  • Loose, fractured, or cracked tiles
  • Broken, loose, or curling Shingles
  • Branches of trees leaning on the roof
  • Wood decay in the overhangs or eaves
  • Malfunctioning gutters.

Although there are certain advantages to building a new roof combined with a solar system, the decision to repair the roof remains with the homeowner:

Save money

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that building a home rooftop solar array will cost an average of $19,000. The installation and a roof replacement can cost close to $30,000. NREL researchers estimate the average amount as $25,000 when done together, saving households $4,000 on average.

A roof's lifespan can last twenty to thirty years, comparable to that of solar panels. Thus, homeowners can save money long-term by installing both at once and avoiding having the solar panels replaced after replacing the roof. It makes sense to install a solar energy system before replacing the roof because the solar savings on the electric costs will help pay for the roof.

Aligned Life Span

Solar panels have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years, similar to a roof. Hence, by fixing both at once, homeowners can save money in the long run by avoiding having the solar panels reinstalled in times of damage.


Savings from solar electricity can help pay for a new roof in part. It is like getting the sun to give people a free roof. Solar owners know that using their solar electricity instead of the more expensive electricity the utility provides results in long-term electricity savings.

These savings will exceed the cost of the solar panels, and since they reoccur, they can also cover the cost of the new roof. Plus, combining a solar energy system and a new roof into one home improvement job is better.

One-Time Project

Homeowners often call solar contractors to reinstall solar energy systems due to structural damage. This takes time and extra money. A new roof will make installation less likely to reoccur, making it a one-time job.