BALTIMORE — Solar panels can save homeowners money, but customers of two companies say poor workmanship cost them way more than expected.
Larry Warble and Mark Ruggiero had Vivint Solar panels for several years and were happy with them.
“When I first got them, they were great, my energy bill was fantastic,” said Warble.
“Help the grid, try to do your part [with] something environmentally sound. I thought it was a good idea,” Ruggiero said.
But in the last year, their feelings suddenly flip-flopped.
“It’s been a disaster,” said Warble.
“We had some leaks in the attic, which was a problem,” said Ruggiero.
Last November, Ruggiero and his wife reported the leaks to Vivint Solar, which was recently acquired by Sunrun.
“We kept calling them and they would not respond,” Ruggiero said. “In the meantime, it’s going to rain, and when it rains bad, every rainstorm is a different story with how much water would come in. We had buckets and pans.”
In April, the company removed the panels and ALP Advanced Logistics Partners, Inc., a local roofer, did an inspection. They found deteriorated and rotten plywood, which they attributed to improper installation of solar panel brackets and recommended a full roof replacement.
“I took about a $20,000 loss,” Ruggiero said.
A Sunrun spokesperson said they fell short in their communications with Ruggiero, but believe there was no justification or need for a full re-roof.
“Mr. Ruggiero has had this system on his roof for nearly six years before reporting his first and only leak-related issue to Sunrun. It's reasonable to think that an improper installation would have manifested issues well before the six year mark. Also, while reviewing the photos shared by ALP, it's clear that along and in front of the chimney -- an area where solar was not installed -- has severe water penetration and rot, requiring new supports to be put in place,” a Sunrun spokesperson wrote in an email to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii.
“Some of the issues around the chimney could’ve been related to the flashing and not the solar but some of them are definitely related to the solar,” said Brenden Ring, owner of ALP.
Ring’s company inspected Ruggiero's roof as well as Warble’s.
“The new roof I think was about $15,000-20,000,” said Warble.
Warble had his roof replaced due to damage unrelated to the panels, but said the problems began when Vivint Solar re-installed them.
“They just did sloppy work. There was caulk everywhere. They drilled unnecessary holes in the brand new roof. I mean, that roof was two days old,” Warble said.
Vivint Solar agreed to pay ALP for the repairs.
Sofastaii was also contacted by a third customer who described similar damage. She brought this to the attention of Sunrun.
A spokesperson said there are some details they disagree on, but they will cover the costs of the customer’s re-roof as well as part of the insulation costs. The customer signed a settlement agreement and said she's no longer able to speak with WMAR-2 News. She did, however, hire ALP to replace her roof, who shared photos of the damage.
“Somebody drills in the wrong spot and just caulks it and then the crew leaves. It’s really frustrating from a roofer’s standpoint because it’s something that can be fixed pretty quickly and pretty cost effective if it’s fixed that day versus if it waits years and messes up the drywall and insulation and all kinds of stuff,” said Ring.
In the last four years, the Maryland Office of the Attorney General has received 122 complaints for Vivint Solar and Sunrun. Of those, 11 complaints were for unsatisfactory workmanship.
According to an Attorney General spokesperson, 26 complaints remain open.
A Sunrun spokesperson said their open case count is significantly lower. And there may be complaints the the AG hasn't made the company aware of.
"Regardless of how complaints reach our teams, it is in our best interest that we be an honest, transparent partner and take care of our customers and their homes. As soon as we are made aware of an issue or concern, we make every effort to deliver an exceptional experience and do right by the customer in a timely manner," he wrote to Sofastaii.
“You can see this is where one of the bolts to hold the solar panel was put in and it’s clearly leaked around that area and caused the wood to rot there,” said Ring.
Ring doesn’t want installation issues to scare people aware from solar panels.
“Solar panels are super popular. They’re here to stay and when installed correctly, they’re great,” Ring said.
He added that an inspection by an independent roofer can help protect your major investment.
“Have a roofer inspect after it’s done just to give you that peace of mind, make sure there’s no issues,” said Ring.
A Sunrun spokesperson told WMAR-2 News that they’ve offered Ruggiero a $9,000 check to help with repairs as well as other incentives. Sunrun has also agreed to pay ALP to visit and review the system re-installation. The proposed resolution is contingent on the company re-installing its solar panels.
Ruggiero and Warble both entered into 20-year contracts with Vivint Solar, which is something else to keep in mind before going solar.
Make sure you understand the potential savings, cost comparisons of buying versus leasing, and who's responsible if there's damage to your home or the panels.
The Maryland Office of the Attorney General has published a guide for consumers considering going solar, click here to view it.
The Maryland Energy Administration has outlined incentives for homeowners who get solar panels.
The MEA has also created a comprehensive guide to help consumer’s understand the potential savings, different solar systems, financing options, and how to choose a solar contractor.
Click here to view the “Maryland Consumer’s Guide to Solar.”