With so many solar installers out there, it can be hard to determine which one is the best fit. Here are the top questions to ask solar contractors before hiring!
You’ve done some research, decided that going solar is right for you, and now you’re ready to talk to solar companies about installing a solar electric system at your home. What many people don’t realize is that choosing a solar installer can be one of the most challenging parts of your solar journey. While solar equipment is categorized by product specifications and solar itself has costs and benefits that can be easily calculated and compared, solar installer reviews with standard metrics are difficult to find.
What to look for in a solar installer
What differentiates one solar company from another comes down to aspects like responsiveness, reliability, quality of work, service, and warranty. An installer that customizes design options, with high-quality solar products, to match your energy goals and meet your budget, is essential.
Solar panels last for decades! The choice you make for the company that designs, installs, and services these panels will impact your satisfaction over the lifetime of your solar system (or, for that matter, over the lifetime of your home).
It is critical to ask installers the right questions to get the answers you need so that you can make an informed decision. As you go through the list of questions below, you’ll get a good idea of how to identify a reputable, qualified solar company that will meet your needs and ensure the success of your solar electric installation.
#1. Is it a reputable, qualified, and properly licensed company?
Solar is a fast-growing industry that attracts professionals from many backgrounds. When interviewing solar companies, make sure their employees include “folks” with solar experience and training. Also, confirm that the installation is performed by licensed electricians. While every business starts somewhere, find out how long each installer you meet with has been in business. A solar provider should be able to discuss and show you systems installed for previous customers.
Licensing: At its heart, a solar electric installation company is an electrical contractor specializing in designing and installing solar electric systems. In Maine, solar electric installation work is required by law to be performed by licensed electricians. Be clear to ask the companies you are considering if they have electricians licensed in the state of Maine. Solar installers are also trained to design and install solar arrays that maintain the structural integrity of your home’s roof. When installing on your roof, make sure they use and are familiar with materials and techniques that also ensure the waterproof integrity of your roof.
Solar Specific Training: Qualified solar designers and installers can pursue certification with The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), specifically as a PV Installation Professional. This certification requires Solar installers go through a rigorous series of classes and exams that verify their expertise on solar energy technology. Although NABCEP certification is not required to competently install or design solar electric systems, you may want to ask if the company has a certified NABCEP employee on staff. Also, check to see if the solar installer has other third-party partnerships they have formed over the years. These partnerships can also help verify their team’s experience and reputation as an installer and demonstrate their commitment to customer service.
Insured and Contracted: Lastly, the solar company you choose should also be adequately insured and detail the specifications of their work with an installation contract.
Maine consumer protection law requires that any home improvement project with a cost greater than $3,000 requires an installation contract. Verify that your contractor will provide a detailed contract as part of their installation process.
#2. Is it a Maine-based solar company?
Not only is choosing a locally owned solar company great for Maine’s economy but you will also be supporting the development and retention of a qualified workforce. Hiring a Maine-based business also offers substantial benefits to its customers too.
A local Maine company will be familiar with the state solar policy as well as local and state building and electrical codes. They will also have established relationships with Maine utilities to ensure the paperwork, permitting, and inspection will be performed correctly and in a timely fashion.
Additionally, a local solar installation company will be part of a community of Maine-based solar installers who are invested in Maine’s solar industry’s success and longevity. They have a stake in maintaining a high standard of quality and ethical business practices.
#3. Does this company design and install the solar array themselves?
It’s also a good idea to ask who will actually be installing the solar on your home. It might seem like an obvious question, but many solar companies subcontract their work to third parties. If so, they should make you aware of their plans to subcontract right from the start. It’s okay if your solar energy provider decides to subcontract the installation, BUT you’ll need to do the extra legwork to make sure the installation company or electrical contractor is licensed, insured, and experienced in the state of Maine, too! We recommend that the solar company you choose to work with should be able to do it all – design your system, project its performance, install your array, and provide you with what you’ll need to monitor and maintain your system for its lifetime.
#4. Is this solar installer going to customize your install to your specific site and energy goals?
It is also important to avoid companies that market a one-size-fits-all system. It is best to look for solar electric installers that take into account your renewable energy goals, your aesthetic concerns, and your current and future needs.
Relying solely on Google Maps is not the best option and should be used as a starting point only. Any installer should be willing to visit your site to learn the specifics of your home and particular needs, and then educate you about your options. A solar installer must design your system size based on your site and its surroundings. How much shading is present? What aesthetics do you have in mind for the array? What is the precise size and orientation of the roof? An onsite assessment is also the only way to get the best analysis of your roof structure, its overall condition, and age. With these details in mind, they can specifically design an appropriate solar electric system for you and your home.
Your installer should be looking at these and other factors to let you know, upfront, what equipment is necessary. A solar electric system designed for your unique site will maximize your system’s performance so you can get the greatest return on investment.
#5. What kind of solar panels do they use?
Next, ask about the solar panels they use. Not all solar panels are alike, so be wary if anyone tells you that solar panels are all the same or seem to be pushing only one option or manufacturer. Considerations such as durability, degradation rates, and efficiency matter if you want to make the most energy over time. Additionally the aesthetic of your home, preference for the country of manufacture, and budget are other important factors to regard when choosing your solar panels.
A professional solar installation company should be able to present you with a range of options for solar panels. Your solar system is going to be on your roof for a long time. As a baseline, expect to install solar panels that perform as promised and under warranty for the next 25 years.
#6. How do their solar warranties work?
When choosing a solar panel installation company, you have to consider both the companies’ installation warranty and the warranty of the solar electric components that they specify. A solar electric system is a long-term investment and you should expect that quality components installed by a qualified installer should provide decades of worry-free performance. In the event of a component failure, ensuring that the equipment and installation come with a long-term warranty is vital. Solar panels warranties usually include workmanship and power output assurances. These vary by manufacturer and your solar installer should review each with you. The warranty terms that we recommend you look for are a performance warranty of 25-year and an equipment warranty of 12 to 25-years.
A solar company should also offer an installation warranty to show that they stand behind their work. Ask your installer for the length of their warranty and, of course, make sure that your installer has a comprehensive liability policy (ask for a copy of their insurance certificate!).
#7. Can you see examples and testimonials of other solar customers?
Nothing beats a track record of success. Unhappy customers are sure to share their experiences so it’s essential to research the company online for reviews. You should also go to the company’s website and look for previous install photos. Reputable companies should be able to provide you with a list of referrals in your area. Many solar customers welcome drive-bys to show off their solar installations. If you aren’t able to drive by an install, ask for some photos of similar projects. Chances are if they can’t show you any photos, they haven’t done much actual work yet. Many customers are also willing to talk with you on the phone. It doesn’t hurt to ask the installer if they have any customers willing to talk with you about their experience.
Next Steps – Get Your Free Solar Consultation and Quote
As you can see, there is a lot to consider and your solar consultation should not take just 20 minutes. This is a significant discussion. While you should budget some extended time to ask these questions and understand the answers – the solar company should bring them up first. Also, it’s important to note that cost should not be the only factor for settling on a particular company. A “cheap” installation could end up costing you more money in the long term from low-quality products and installation. Every customer wants a company with caring and skilled staff who are quick to respond. The best solar installers have a collaborative team of caring and skilled staff who work together with customers during each step of the project.
At Maine Solar Solutions, our goal is to empower you to make an informed decision. Knowledge is power. If you’re considering solar energy for your home, sign up for one of our informative, free, no-obligation solar consultations.