Deciding which solar installation company to work with is like choosing a remodeling company or realtor. Do your research to find the right installer for your home’s solar system. Start by getting the answers to four basic questions:
Are they certified?
Find out what their certifications mean and what they did to earn them. Look for certifications showing the company employees have worked to meet a higher standard. NABCEP and IBEW certifications are signs of a “gold standard” solar installation company.
Do they have a good reputation?
Good installers have working relationships with your local utilities and permitting departments. Many utilities have a prefered contractor list. An installer on this list meets the utility’s expectations of professionalism, expertise and customer service.
Are they local?
Local installers are more likely to carry products that work best in our corner of the world. They are also able to respond more quickly and provide personalized service.
Are they registered, licensed, bonded and do they have any unaddressed infractions?
This information is on the Department of Labor and Industries website.
Once you find two or three likely installers, give each of them a call. Here is what you should learn from talking to them:
Do they ask about your site and your energy goals?
A good installer will give you choices to help match your goals to your budget. They will also tell you if solar isn’t an option for your home. Some sites just won’t work.
Do they sound like they know what they’re talking about?
Pay attention to what the installer thinks is important for you to know.
Do they know what rebates, tax credits and incentives are available to you?
Do they do all the work themselves or hire out sub-contractors?
If they sub-contract, ask why. Sub-contracting to deal with unusual or specialty issues, like tile roofing, is wise. Sub-contracting out for basic installation should raise a red flag.
Do they address their companies’ warranties and the manufacturers’?
Each warranty covers different things.
Do their customers like them?
Contact the installers’ references before making an appointment for a site evaluation.
When the installer comes to evaluate your property, you should expect:
Absolutely no pressure to sign a contract immediately.
Good installers don’t do that; it’s another red flag.
The installer to get on the roof (or not, if it’s a simple roof) and take measurements.
They should check the exposure and take the shading analysis on site.
An idea of where the system components will likely be located and how the wiring will be run from the roof to the electrical panel.
At the end you’ll get an estimate. This should include:
At least two choices for systems.
Each option should be presented with costs, amount of energy it’s expected to produce and about how long it will take for the system to earn back its cost through savings.
A timeline for permitting, installation and inspections.
A good installer gives you reasonable expectations.
What fees there may be that aren’t included in your estimate.
The most comfortable way to begin the process is to meet solar installers at fairs, home shows and expos. You can ask questions and learn without worrying about pressure or privacy.
An upcoming opportunity to meet several Western Washington installers in one place is at the Mother Earth News Fair. It is May 31 and June 1 at the Washington State Fair and Events Center in Puyallup.
Olympia’s local installer, South Sound Solar, will be at Wooden Boat Fest in Olympia May 10th and 11th. They will also be at The Grays Harbor Home & Garden Show May 17 and 18.
This article originally ran in the real estate section of The Olympian Sunday, May 4, 2014