Thinking about buying a solar system from Vivint Solar? Before you do, check out this in-depth review to learn more about who they are, what they do, and whether they're the right choice for your needs.
Since its founding in 2011 as a part of Vivint Smart Home, Vivint Solar has been designing and installing solar panels for residential companies. However, popularity isn't always the same thing as quality - so to help you with your research, we decided to write this in-depth review of the company.
Coverage Note: At the time of this review, Vivint Solar only operated in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.
If you're not in one of those states, check the current coverage map on Vivint Solar's website. The company is aggressively expanding, but can't provide coverage everywhere. Be sure to contact them even if you're out of their coverage area since they might be expanding to your area soon. We are not affiliates of Vivint Solar, and we will not profit if you choose to get an installation from them.
We take this stance to ensure you can trust each of our reviews to be fair and unbiased. (It's true that we love solar energy, but we don't like companies that install panels poorly or make them hard for people to get!)
What Is Vivint Solar And How Does It Work?
Vivint Solar is a manufacturer and installer focused on bringing solar energy to residential areas. They use a five-step process to answer questions and determine whether or not solar power is the right choice for you. Here are the steps they use.
Step 1: Consultation
This is the initial examination of your home. At this stage, one of Vivint Solar's employees will review your energy needs and show what you're likely to save (or not) by switching to solar energy. It's important to remember that different homes have different production for solar power, based on factors like where you're located and how many trees are in the area.
This is why it's never a good idea to accept online estimates for solar power. Without considering the factors unique to your home, there's no way for such a system to be accurate. Vivint Solar's consultations are free.
Step 2: Design
If you decide you're still interested after the initial consultation, Vivint Solar moves on to the design phase. They'll take a second look at your roof, gathering information (and pictures) needed for their design software. The system can calculate factors like which parts of the roof are good for panels and where to get the most light throughout the year.
Each system is uniquely designed to shrink your energy bill and provide a positive return on your investment. If they can't create a system capable of that, they won't install it.
Step 3: Permitting
It doesn't matter how good a plan is if you're not allowed to proceed! Vivint Solar uses Customer Success Managers who will file all the relevant paperwork and get all the necessary permits for your installation. The exact actions needed by the homeowner vary by area, but you shouldn't need to do much more than signing a few papers.
Unfortunately, Vivint Solar has little influence over the permitting process. Most areas process these promptly, but if your region is slow, you may have to wait a few days (or even weeks) to get approval.
Vivint Solar knows how long most areas take and can provide you with a reasonable estimate. Note that permits usually can't be applied for until the system is designed - that is, they have to explain what they're seeking a permit for. There's no practical way to speed up; this process by applying for permits early.
Step 4: Installation
Once all of the permits have been received, Vivint Solar will set up your system. Most of their systems take 4-8 hours, depending on factors like the complexity of the system and how easy it is to get things onto your roof. Expect that you'll need to be home for at least some of this - most solar systems need to be connected to something inside the house, so they'll need you to let them into that area.
When the installation is done, the team will demonstrate how to turn the system on and off. They will not activate it, and there's a reason for that.
Step 5: Permission To Operate
The final step in most installations is the Permission To Operate, or PTO. This is a final requirement from your municipality and utility companies, and without it, you can't connect a system to the electrical grid. As with the permits, this is usually given quickly, but each location differs. Vivint Solar will tell you what to expect.
What Makes Vivint Solar Unique?
Vivint Solar sticks out from the crowd thanks to its flexible purchasing plans. These are important, so here's what you should know about the four plans.
Plan #1: Solar Purchase
The simplest plan. With a Solar Purchase, you pay an upfront cost to buy the solar panels and get immediate savings on your power bill. The prices of solar panels have come down in recent years, but remember that a large system is still fairly expensive - you'll need a lot socked away for this. If you can't pay for everything up front, chances are you'll want to look at the other plans instead.
Plan #2: Solar Loan
Many people choose to get a loan from their bank to pay for solar panels, and as long as you're saving more on your electricity bill than you're repaying each month, you're coming out ahead. Maintenance options are available. The exact savings will depend on the terms given by your bank - be sure to ask around and see if any special plans or incentives being offered.
Plan #3: Solar Power Purchasing Agreement
In this plan, Vivint Solar retains ownership of the system - and they can lock in lower energy rates. You'll give them a flexible monthly payment for the electricity generated, which helps to manage your expenses. The highlight of this plan is that there's no upfront cost for the system. The average buyer saves 20% off of their existing utility rate.
Plan #4: Solar Lease
The Solar Lease plan is similar to the Solar Power Purchasing Agreement. Rather than flexibly adjusting, this plan offers a fixed monthly rate based on the predicted production (and accounting for the loss of efficiency over time). Like the PPA, this has no up-front cost - just immediate savings. Most areas have a guaranteed production amount.
Varies. The cost of installation depends on factors like how many panels you need, how long they expect it to take, and what sort of other systems are being set up. This is further affected by things like tax credits and tax incentives, many of which are limited to certain areas, and that's not considering their pricing plans (described in the previous section).
As much as we'd like to say "here's what you can expect to pay," there are so many factors involved that we can't provide a reasonable estimate.
Public Perception (Other Vivint Solar Reviews)
Public perception of Vivint Solar is good, but not great. We visited several sites to try and get a broader view of what actual customers think about this company, and we were pleased to find enough reviews to base an opinion on. All scores mentioned below are accurate as of 10/17/18, the day we wrote this review.
The first site we visited was Consumer Affairs, which gave Vivint Solar a score of 3.8/5 after 557 ratings from the last year. Interestingly, we found that Vivint responds to most reviews on the site - usually just thanks to each person for their review, but it's good to see a company actively engaged on social media. Most of the reviews we looked at cited things like how easy it was to work with the company and how friendly the staff was. A significant number of the reviews we checked had five stars (always a positive - we weren't sure if they'd be 4 or 5 when we saw the overall score).
A few reviews did cite issues with billing and permitting - though, as we mentioned above, Vivint can't control how fast a region processes paperwork. Even for these reviews, they asked each person citing a problem to contact them for a resolution. While the negative reviews are a bit troublesome, far more people mentioned having a great experience with the company.
Solar Reviews has a lower opinion of the company, with a score of 3.00/5 after 439 reviews. This is an interesting discrepancy - most companies with a lot of reviews have similar scores on multiple sites - and we wanted to see what people are saying. The ratings on this site are almost evenly split between 5 stars and 1 star, with only a tiny number of reviews in the 2-4 range.
That's an issue - and one that made us reconsider our final recommendation. Numerous reviewers cited problems with installations, including some rude customer service and problems getting information. This is entirely different from the reviews on the first site we checked, so we decided to dig a little deeper.
What we think is happening is that customer service is handled on something of a regional basis, and some of the facilities are much friendlier than others. There's no excuse for that - every company should try to maintain high standards for service and support. If they don't, that's a significant issue. Positive reviews on this site mentioned things like great professionalism and top-notch communication (a split from the low reviews). Several of the positive reviews mentioned long delays on the city's part - one review we saw indicated that it took about three months to get the system going because of how long they had to wait for their municipality.
Ultimately, however, what we've learned from this site is that most people either have a great or an awful experience with Vivint Solar. Even on other review sites, there's not a lot of people who see them as merely average. For that reason, we suggest getting written contracts if there are any areas you're particularly worried about - a little extra security never hurts.
How It Compares
Vivint Solar compares well to other solar installation companies. Between their flexible installation plans and their willingness to offer add-ons like the ChargePoint electric vehicle charging system, they have more options for consumers at a reasonable price point.
What We Think
We believe it's worth getting a free consultation from Vivint Solar. Unlike some other sites, we're not going to say you should get a solar system from them (or anyone else) - after all, factors unique to your property could prevent this from being a cost-effective plan. That said, it never hurts to get more information about what could happen and how much you might be able to save. If a solar system isn't right for you, then all you've lost is a little time. If an array makes sense - backed by information to break down all of the costs and rewards - then solar panels are a great way to save money. Also, be sure to look of reviews of your local service before you do anything else. Some areas seem to have better personnel than others.
Coupons And Deals
Vivint Solar rarely offers deals and discounts for their services. One of their main goals is demonstrating that their service will save you money on your monthly bills - and when customers are already coming out ahead, extra incentives aren't necessary. That said, different areas offer special tax credits and incentives for the use of solar systems, and Vivint Solar can help ensure you get every bonus you qualify for.