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Nine Crucial Solar Installer Considerations

Confused about Solar Power?

So you want to get solar, but how do you pick a company to give you a quote? Once you have a quote or two, how do you pick the company? Well, here are 9 questions you should definitely consider before you sign any installation contracts.

#1. Where’s your contractor’s license number? Once you find it, look it up. All states will have a website to look up any contractor’s license and give you contractor tenure and standing. Your installer NEEDS to have a contractor’s license, period… Check it out and see how long they’ve been in the game and if they have any dings on their record.

#2. Where’s a second quote? If you get another quote, issues can come to the forefront which previously were unexamined: “Why didn’t other guy offer that?” Moreover, additional quotes will ensure cost competitiveness across installers. I hate to recommend this tactic as I work for an installer myself in San Francisco, but it’s really the best way. Don’t simply go with the cheaper one; Give them both a chance to explain where that extra value is. The more expensive quote could be advantageous if that contractor uses better installation procedures, higher quality parts, or extends greater warranty coverage.

#3. Does your contractor outsource their crew? This is a big deal. Many companies outsource their installations to other contractors. Consequently, the company quoting your project may not know anything about their installation crew or how they’re trained. If you have contractors installing solar power on your roof, they are going to be walking around up there, drilling holes in your roof… it’s serious stuff and you need to know they were trained properly. Ask your installer for specifics about their relationship with their contractors.  Look for terms like “installation partners,” in the contract.

#4. Get referrals. If the installer is doing a good job, it will show in the words of their past customers.  Get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the latest two or three installations they have performed.  Call the customers and ask about their experience with the installer, and drive by and take a look at the work they did.

#5. Whose inverters are used? Solar power requires two things: Solar Panels and Inverters. Inverters turn the direct current (DC) your panels produce into usable alternating current (AC) to run your blender, microwave, tv, or whatever you want to run in your house. Some inverters are cheaper than others – some suck while others rock. To see what is the story here, avail yourself of a product review site. Personally (although I am biased), I like Sun Power’s products because there is no chance for confusion with warranty issues. You get Sun Power Panels AND Sun Power Inverters, you’re all good. For instance, our company has installed inverters 20 years ago that are still functioning beautifully. So, good ones are important. Just FYI, we found some problems with Xantrax inverters so we stopped using them (Might want to check to ensure installers in your area are not having similar problems). Finally, if the inverter is not large enough to handle the system, you could have problems. If you’ve done #1 above, this shouldn’t be an issue!

#6. What panels do they use? Do some research on panels! Again, I prefer Sun Power panels. They’re the prettiest and the most efficient I’ve found.

#7. What about turnaround time? Different installers will have different backlogs… Ranging from a few weeks to 8 months… get that up front so you can plan ahead and won’t be disappointed.

#8. Warranties? What are the warranty specifics? Has that solar contractor been around long enough for you to be confident they’ll still be there when it’s time to honor those warranties? Solar lasts a damn long time, the company installing this technology needs be able to outlive the systems they install.

#9. Are the quoted prices for my solar system reasonable? This is the tricky part. Pricing should be close to the same across the country, but solar incentives vary widely by state (Just look to the right hand column of your screen for visual comparisons). A nice round number is somewhere around $4,000 per kilowatt capacity of your system (gross cost, before rebates and credits).

The key to this part is that second (or third) quote.  It will create price competition between installers to get the deal, at the same time time bring to light issues you may not have thought of.  Unfortunately, the things brought to light often confuse and frustrate you.  DO NOT GIVE UP.  The last thing I would ever want is advice from this site to stop you from getting solar.  Yikes.  Hang in there, and ask for answers to questions you have.  If they don’t give them to you, find someone who can, but don’t get frustrated and give up!

Last modified: December 30, 2014

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martin
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martin

Most people are installing a solar energy system for the first time. If not all people? Simply, would suggest a criteria matrix of what’s include and not included from each proposal. You may wish to compare energy estimates with actuals. Energy is asymptotic over time. The modules are typically clean when first installed, some may choose to use a water hose ~once or ~twice a year at specific times. Estimates on Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) of various components may be discuss including any service level agreements, shading, … and degradation projections. Suggest purchasing a system you are able to… Read more »

CEric
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CEric

On Point 1 Above: Each state deals with licensing differently. Some states leave it entirely to local jurisdictions. Having a blanket statement out there that says “all contractors must be licensed” is determent to those contractors that live in states that don’t license contractors.

Steve
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Steve

Am I correct that there are programs under which you can sell “excess” solar power-generated electricity BACK to the utility company? If so, does CL&P (CT) participate?

Dan Hahn
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Dan Hahn

Hi Steve,

You are indeed correct there are programs where you can sell excess electricity back to the utility. That’s called “net-metering”. CL&P and UI are both required to buy back excess energy you produce with solar. This law was in effect in 1998 and is still in force today.

Rayna
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Rayna

Read all the info on weather, but haven’t seen a question on hurricanes. Our roof is “hurricane proof”, but what about panels? They would fly if the roof flies, but on their own?

Bob M
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Bob M

I am just now interested in a very small system to power my “cottage” which is an travel trailer in a semi-permanent installation in a condominium RV park in Michigan. Are there any options for this small of an application?

Kelly
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Kelly

I am the manager of a small business which operates in a small ranch style builing. Wondering the effectiveness of solar panels for powering a business with 7 work stations and a couple of servers. Your input would be greatly appreciated, as I would like to take our company as “green” as possible! Thanks!

Shree
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Shree

Hi. My husband and I are building a home in TN and moving out from CA. As you rightly pointed out, there is little/NO support for solar-sensitivity in TN. But we are going to do it. What options are there for: 1) heating an in-ground pool; 2) leasing or purchasing from a solar company that would install the solar on our home (I heard about this, but don’t know anything about it). Thanks.

Kristal G.
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Kristal G.

I am still a bit confused on where to find tax incentive/gov.-funding info? Is there a site that lists this for various states? Or one for VA at least?

Stephanie K.
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Stephanie K.

I am wondering how the solar panels deal with Midwestern weather – mainly snow and the winter months. Just curious if you have had any success stories from Wisconsin.

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