In addition to understanding what your insurance does and does not cover, it’s a good idea to understand what your warranties cover—and for how long.
“Warranties cover problems with either work that the installer did or equipment from the manufacturer. Insurance is for everything else—acts of God, theft, vandalism, things you don’t expect,” explains Mike Hall, president of Borrego Solar Systems in Berkeley, California.
Warranties vary by state, manufacturer, installer, and the type of system. Most RE systems come standard with a one-, two‑, or five-year warranty on workmanship and parts. Some installers offer extended warranties for an added cost.
PV consultant Joel Davidson advises people to shop for warranties like they would for insurance. “Warranties have become fairly standardized, but there are better and worse ones out there,” he says. “It’s important to ask questions and do your research from the beginning.”
Most PV manufacturers guarantee that their modules will produce 80% of their initial production rating after 20 years. Wind turbines and their controllers usually come with a two-year warranty, but the expected lifetime of most turbines is 20 years. Inverters for both wind and solar-electric systems normally have two- or five-year warranties. In general, glazed collectors for solar hot water systems come with five- or 10-year limited warranties, while unglazed collectors—typically used for swimming pool heating—come with 10-year or limited lifetime warranties.
Many states that offer RE incentives and rebates require PV installers to offer longer warranties on equipment. In California, a 10-year warranty is mandatory, largely because the state wants to ensure that it gets a good return on its subsidies.
“Warranties have helped the RE energy movement grow. They were designed to instill confidence and ensure that the system is high quality,” Davidson says. “The most important step when dealing with warranties is to choose your installer wisely. You need to work with a reputable and experienced installer who understands the warranty requirements for the incentives and can help you enforce your equipment warranties if a problem arises.”
Even if you have homeowner’s insurance that would cover a repair or replacement, it is best to rely on your warranty as much as possible. Only involve your insurance company when absolutely necessary—filing an insurance claim may result in higher premiums down the line, but taking advantage of your warranty is your right and does not cost a thing.