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What warranty does your solar system have?

Warranties on solar panels are a somewhat complicated subject, but it’s also a grossly misunderstood concept across the entire solar industry. #

I will attempt to break this down conceptually by highlighting situations in other construction industries that might be easier to visualize conceptually. For example, all solar panels being marketed in the US, including through all Net Meter Programs and all Federal Tax Credit programs, have a minimum of a 20-year manufacturer warranty. Twenty-five years is the most common, but 30-year warranties on the panels are becoming common nowadays. All the more reason to dig in and try to understand what precisely each contract includes and what it might exclude.
Most of the confusion stems from the concept of a labor warranty and a manufacturer’s warranty. Throw in the old faithful “production guarantee,” and we were guaranteed to get your head spinning.
The Labor warranties offered are all across the map, anywhere from 2 years to 20 years. I have heard more often than I would like to admit, sales reps say, “If they don’t ask, I don’t bring it up.” Why such the wide range on the Labor? Well, what exactly is a labor warranty? What exactly is a manufacturer’s warranty? I will try to clarify using generic construction products and practices. Let’s start with a fairly simple concept. This concrete roofing tile below was manufactured until 2014.

What warranty does your solar system have?

This is a discontinued roofing tile from a job we did a few years back. The insurance company approved some repairs because these big thick tiles are hail resistant, but they still had some damage. How do you perform a repair on a roofing system when the product isn’t available? This customer would have devalued his million-dollar home by a wide margin. The original warranty was limited to concrete roof tile. So if bought, It should be covered. What about the installer? Will the installer cover it? Well, let’s start by establishing why it failed. Did the installer build everything according to the Manufacturer’s Guidelines?

Have the manufacturer’s Install Guidelines been met by the Installer?
Okay, now let’s assume the guidelines were applied, and the installer did everything just as he was supposed to. He presents a storm swath when you get on the phone with him and start discussing possible reasons this product failed. Then he drops the bomb on you. “I don’t think those tiles were built to withstand that size of hail.” I will check and see how bad that storm was. Then he emails you this.

What warranty does your solar system have? #

You cross reference the address and determine that 4-inch hail fell at this location a week before the issues started. So what do we have? A Manufacturer’s Warranty Claim? A Labor Warranty Claim? Or an Insurance Claim? The short answer… “Well, it depends.”
A labor warranty should have no reference to time whatsoever. If the Labor was performed correctly, it should successfully shift all of the liability to the manufacturer. It was built to spec, or it wasn’t. 10 days or ten years later doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters in the case of a labor warranty is “Was it built to spec?”

On the tile failure claim, who knows? We have more work to do first. This one should be easy. This photo shows a recently replaced roof due to hail damage. Notice the Drip edge is notched. This occurs when an insurance adjuster approves and pays for the roof replacement. The contractor said, “The drip edge needs to be replaced because its code required.” So the adjuster checked the codes and approved all drip edges to be replaced. The contractor forgot to consider what to do with the drip edge when the gutters are in the way. So his crew went out there to do the work; they didn’t want to wait or even talk to the insurance adjusters, so they notched the drip. makes perfect sense; it’s pretty unlikely that the roof will leak. Right?

What warranty does your solar system have?

The Installers have no chance of enduring any massive system failures of any manufactured product if that install company had the burden of liability of warrantying product failures. Not to say there has never been a manufacturing company that has successfully done installs in-house. I’m simply highlighting the added risk associated with “double dipping.” The “build and install” business model is much rarer than its counterpart. This also works both ways; A consumer should be able to vet any install company, check references and pick the company based on the Labor they have performed in the past. finally, the consumer should feel safe that the installation company is responsible if the work isn’t performed correctly.

Notice there is no recommended notch.

The installer has one job, build it to spec. If an installer can’t follow the guidelines set by the engineers who designed and built the product, then all the liability when anything goes wrong sits squarely on the shoulders of the installer. It works both ways here again, though. If an installer looks at the manufacturer’s specs and says, “I have installed solar panels for 30 years, I know this wiring diagram is wrong. But I’m going to install it there as a way to cover myself.” Then something goes wrong, and it doesn’t work. The installer did their job, and the liability sits squarely on the manufacturer. Make sense? Good!

Another way to think about a labor warranty on a roof install is to wait for the first rain. After that big heavy rain, you have most of the necessary information. This means once it rains hard, the installation company will see if it leaks and cover any issues related to the leaks. So, wait a minute. That doesn’t make any sense. A roof with a 10-year labor warranty should be covered for ten years. Right? Well, not exactly.

“So, if a roof leak caused by poor workmanship is discovered five years after the roof is installed, the owner has an additional 3–10 years from that date to file a claim, depending on the law. Even if the roof leak was discovered 10 years after installation, the owner still has 3–10 years to file a claim. The limit of this warranty is set by statute, so state timelines vary.” from an article on Levelset.

See if a roof is installed correctly and built to the manufacturer’s specs; it SHOULDN’T leak in 10 years. For the leak to occur, something most likely has changed. The weather could be the culprit. Strong winds can cause damage; if your roof leaks after ten years and you happened to have some powerful winds or hail the week before, it would be hard to believe that any damages would be covered under a Labor warranty. So now we have some clarity, but this is still confusing. Could you get a labor portion of the work inspected? Or, if it’s a vast building, Could you have the manufacturer check that it’s done right? Hopefully, before you make the final payment? Yes, yes, you can, and you should.

What warranty does your solar system have?

Let’s talk about time frames as far as warranties go. A pretty standard manufacturer warranty for a solar panel is 25 years. Is that a production guarantee? Or is that just saying they will still turn on after 25 years? According to Blank Rome Publications,

“The duration of the warranty will sometimes be designated in the contract or design specifications, but if it is not, the statute of limitations period for contract breaches will constitute the time frame for enforcement (in New York, for example, the period is six years from the accrual of the cause of action).”

Most manufacturer’s warranties only cover the material itself, though. The labor can be a lot of money on even small jobs. While Global Roofing states, “While a manufacturer’s warranty covers defects in their product(s), it usually does not cover problems caused by improper or erroneous installation and workmanship. Moreover, most manufacturers have very specific instructions regarding installation and maintenance, and in the case that they are not followed, their warranty often becomes void.”