Ten Questions to Ask Before You Select a Solar Installer

What You Need to Know When Selecting a Solar Installer

With the summer fast approaching, now is the perfect time to start looking for a home solar energy system. Before you scroll through the phone book to find the number of a local solar professional, there are a number of important considerations that you have to take into account to find the right solar installer for your solar power system project. Knowing what questions to ask can make the difference between an exciting journey into renewable energy and an endless stream of problems with your new solar energy system.

  • How many solar energy systems have you installed?

Ask if the professional has experience with grid tie or off grid solar energy systems. Also, ask if the installer does mostly solar panel residential or commercial systems. This would indicate that the contractor has a history of involvement with the industry and is familiar with many different brands and components.

  • What do you recommend for my property?

As a potential solar client, keep your interests up front. If a solar contractor arrives at your door, communicate your interest in going solar, and find out what they recommend for a solar power system on your property. Chances are you already have a site selected – but find out what your contractor recommends before showing your hand. In this manner, you’ll confirm that the installer recognizes the importance of site selection. If they show up without a solar pathfinder or SunEye in hand – try someone else! The most important decision of a solar energy system is selection of a site.

  • Do you have any formal training in home solar energy installations?

A good installer will be one that has received extensive training. For instance, many solar panel manufacturers offer continuing education classes to solar contractors. These classes help familiarize the contractors with the intricacies of their unique solar energy systems. You might want to ask a potential installer whether they received formal training with the particular brand of solar equipment you hope to buy.

  • Do you have any certifications?

A number of national and state organizations, like the North America Board of Certified Energy Professionals (NABCEP), offer certification programs to help distinguish capable professionals. The NABCEP board in particular holds its installers to some of the highest standards, and many states now require homeowners to use a NABCEP-certified installer before they can participate in financial incentive programs. NABCEP’s on-line Installer Locator makes it easy to find a certified professional in your area.

  • Do you have references?

To really test the reputation of a solar installer, consider asking them for references from previous clients. Contacting past customers is a great way to determine whether a company’s claims of customer service ring true. Many installers will be happy to show you pictures of completed solar power installations – it’s a sign of a job well done!

  • Does your installation team include an experienced electrician?

Many solar energy systems require complex electrical components and unfamiliar hardware, so an electrician’s expertise is very important. However, not all licensed electricians are familiar with solar energy systems, so it’s important to ask whether the electrician working on your system has received solar-specific training and possesses experience installing photovoltaic energy systems.

  • Do you work with a licensed roofer?

If your solar photovoltaic system will be installed on your roof, contracting a licensed roofer to monitor the stress your new solar energy system will place on your home’s structure would be a prudent consideration.

  • Are you insured and bonded?

Be sure to verify that your installers have sufficient liability insurance by asking to see insurance papers. If the technicians encounter problems, you want to be confident that the installer can cover the cost of repairs and damages.

  • Do you warranty parts and components?

Some solar accessories may not come with warranties from the manufacturers. If this is the case with the specific brand that you’re looking to implement, you should ask the installer if they will warranty the equipment. Whether it comes from the maker or the installer, you should seek coverage for the greatest number of conditions and components over the longest period of time.

  • What is your long-term service policy?

Teasing out the long-term provisions of an installer’s service agreement can be tricky, especially if the agreement is full of legal and technical information. Here are a few points to consider: 1) How many years will service be provided on the unit? 2) What types of repairs and replacements does the service agreement cover? 3) What happens when the equipment doesn’t perform as efficiently as promised?

If you have more questions about home solar energy systems, please visit the SolarTown Learning Center.

4 Steps to Choosing the Right Solar Installer

You’ve had enough of over-priced utility bills and decided to take control of your own energy destiny by installing a solar electric system, so now comes the next major decision – choosing the right solar installer.

This can be an arduous, time-consuming process, but one that’s extremely necessary if you’re to reap the full benefits of your new system.

Following this 4 step process will hopefully make things go more smoothly for you.

1. Support Your Local Installer

One of the most important steps in choosing the right solar installer is to conduct an interview with each prospective candidate, preferably in person. An installer located nearby would generally be best. There are several reasons why this is so important.

First of all, thanks to their relative proximity, a local installer should be able to visit your home or site to perform a site inspection and analysis in order to provide a reliable estimate of exactly what equipment you’ll need and where that equipment should be installed, particularly the solar panels, since these will need to be placed where they will receive the maximum isolation possible.

Secondly, this will provide you with the ideal opportunity to conduct the all-important interview, where you can and should ask every conceivable question you may have regarding not only the system you need (asking these questions and the answers the candidate gives should give you a good feel for whether or not the person knows his stuff) but also the kind of training and background the candidate has, their experience, how many installations they’ve completed successfully, etc.

Thirdly, you’ll get the chance to know the person behind the company and whether or not you feel comfortable with them on a personal level. You may wonder why this is important. Well, the reason is that, since you and your installer should be working together as a team to get your project completed, you’ll want to feel that you’re able to communicate well and that the installer is open and honest in his dealings with you.

2. Check The Credentials

A prospective candidate may not carry any certification, since that is not a requirement for a person to become a qualified installer, so this may be a matter of checking more intangible qualifications such as what type of training the installer’s completed, along with any courses they may have attended. Any installer worth their salt should be open and above board about their background and experience, and any reticence or uncertainty in this area on the candidate’s behalf should be cause for concern. After all, you don’t want to find out you’re this installer’s guinea pig, otherwise known as their first installation!

It’s not unusual for installers to have had an electrical background, which probably means they carry a NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) certification. If they’re also certified in solar energy, even better.

Be sure to ask for and check references. You should make a point to call each reference and ask about their experience, good or bad, with the installer, and, if possible, ask permission to visit the site of the installation to see the work done firsthand.

You should also make sure the candidate has liability insurance, uses top-quality products and can offer written guarantees, along with service contracts.

3. Find Out How Much The Labour Will Cost

What does a good installer cost? Ah, yes, the $64,000 question. Well, hopefully, not that much! Actually, this is hard to quantify, because it all depends on the size of the job, and most quotes given cover the entire job with the cost of installation being factored into the total cost.

But, as a rule of thumb, the amount that covers installation should be around 15% of the total cost. But, since the installation can make the difference between a PV system that performs at the peak of efficiency and one that causes you constant headaches, this is an item you should not skimp on, all other things being equal.

4. Get Several Bids

If you’ve managed to find a few installers you think might be suitable for your project, you should request bids from them, 3 or 4 at least would be good. Take a look at the various bids and make sure that everything you’ve requested and that the installer promised is included. Be sure to negotiate to get the best price possible. There’s plenty of competition out there these days, so don’t be afraid to make a counter-offer, provided that it’s reasonable, of course.

If you follow these steps, you should have done your due diligence and be in a position to make a decision and choose the right solar installer for your system. But, if you’re still not comfortable with any of the candidates, there’s sure to be one out there that can fill your needs, so repeat these steps until you’re successful.

How to Choose a Professional Solar Installer

Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations are becoming more common due to the 30% federal tax incentives and government grants from States and other funding agencies. Unfortunately, this has also led to a number of new and inexperienced solar companies in the marketplace. Some of these companies may be out to deliberately take advantage of customers. When considering the addition of a solar system to your home, it is very important to choose a reputable, professionally-trained installer. You can decrease your chances of entering into a “bad deal” by doing a little research and asking a few simple questions. After all, you are considering spending and investing in a renewable system that can range from $10,000 on up for a solar photovoltaic array.

In choosing an installer, there are several key things to be aware of. Like most professional fields, the solar field has a national board that grants certification to those individuals who have passed a professional test. The North American Board of Energy Practitioners, also referred to as NABCEP, is responsible for certifying solar professionals. Ask the installer you are considering if they are NABCEP certified. Don’t just take his/her word for it, but go to the NABCEP website to confirm it. You can also ask the installer for references, but keep in mind that these can be false. It is better if you can visit a solar installation and ask the owner his/her experience in dealing with the renewable energy company you are considering. Google the company name and see what additional information, other than what the company has posted on their website, you can find.

What type of background does your installer have? Is previous work experience in a related industry or is their previous experience in an industry that is totally unrelated to solar, electrical, engineering, or roofing trades? For example, in a down economy, companies that might have been installing windows, siding, gutters, heating and air- conditioning systems or any other such home improvements might decide to become a “solar company” and jump on the “solar bandwagon”. In this case, you should wonder how such previous experience translates to a technical industry such as solar. A qualified solar company has the necessary skills to deal with high voltage DC electricity, roof waterproofing, structural integrity and safety of your home.

Is the potential installer making production claims without a proper site-visit or without appropriate information? One such local company is known to promise customers a 54% reduction in energy bills without even doing a proper site assessment or knowing the homeowner’s electric bills and level of energy efficiency. Is the installer pressuring you for a quick sale? These type of systems are not usually sold on a single interaction with a company. It usually takes time to perform the proper site assessment and to design a system that is efficient and optimized to your particular situation and needs.

Is the company playing price games with you? Have they reduced cost considerably on several occasions to make a quick sale when you indicate that you cannot afford it? This only indicates that the initial price was too high and they were trying to gouge you. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Finally, is the installer trying to sell you on unproven new technology? Standard solar panels are either mono-crystalline or poly-crystalline. These technologies have a history of proven track records with life expectancies of 40 or more years. The relatively newer technologies do not have enough time to have an established performance record. This may be reflected in a shorter warranty offered by the manufacturer of the technology. Most standard panels have a warranty of 20 or more years. You should be careful of newer technology and do your research before committing.

Asking these basic questions, may help keep you from being taken advantage of. Remember: solar photovoltaic systems have been around for a long time and have a proven history for performance in the proper circumstances as well as a long life expectancy. Don’t let unprofessional solar installers reduce the value of your solar investment.