There are several well-qualified and established solar companies in Maine, and new companies entering the market each year. Here are the top questions to ask solar contractors so you can be assured of a successful solar installation.
Choosing The Right Solar Company Is Important; Here’s Why:
As with any significant home upgrade decision, you should consider your contractor’s qualifications, experience, reputation, and knowledge.
A solar electric system is a significant, long-term investment for your home. It’s also a financially sound and rewarding investment, allowing you to eliminate your electric bill, fix your cost of electricity, and enjoy a quick payback period.
A solar installation project includes a site assessment, system design, permitting, interconnection agreements with your utility, installation by licensed electricians, and the availability of post-installation support.
Choosing and working with the right solar installer will ensure the success of your solar investment, both during the installation period and in the years that follow.
#1. Is The Company Qualified And Licensed To Perform Solar Installations In Maine?
Solar electric installations are required to meet the standards and requirements detailed in the National Electric Code.
In Maine, solar electric systems are required to be installed by licensed electricians. Members of a solar installation crew need to hold a helper electrician’s license and work under the direct supervision of a licensed electrician.
- Ask the companies if they employ electricians licensed in the state of Maine.
- Ask if their solar installers hold a helper electrician’s license.
- If they subcontract their electricians, ask if all of the work done by their installers is performed under the supervision of and inspected by the subcontracted electricians.
You can verify electrical licenses on the State of Maine’s website: https://www.pfr.maine.gov/almsonline/almsquery/SearchIndividual.aspx
Permitting & Inspections:
Most towns require an electrical permit for solar installations. Some towns also require a building permit. A competent installer will include the cost of permitting in their proposal and have staff capable of applying for all permits required by your jurisdiction.
- Ask if they include the cost of permitting and utility interconnection applications in their system price
An Installation Contract:
The solar company you choose should detail the specifications of their work and the details of their installation warranty with an installation contract. For home construction and home improvement projects over $3,000, Maine law requires a written contract with a specific provision that prohibits payment up front of more than one-third of the contract price.
- Ask for a copy of their installation contract to review as you assess installers.
The State of Maine requires that employers have workers’ compensation coverage. It is recommended (and standard practice) that contractors also carry general liability coverage in the event of property and personal damage to your home.
- Ask for a copy of their Certificate of Insurance (COI). If they use subcontractors to perform any portion of their work, they should be able to provide their COI’s as well.
#2. Are They Knowledgeable? Will They Take The Time To Educate You?
A competent solar consultant or salesperson will be able to communicate clearly and provide you with the detailed information you need to make an informed decision.
- How does Maine’s net metering policy work?
If you are considering installing solar on your home, it is critical that you have a thorough understanding of Maine’s net-metering solar policy and how it offsets your electric bill.
- What is the federal tax credit for renewable energy and do you qualify?
Solar electric systems qualify for a 30% federal tax credit. Your solar company should be able to help you understand how that credit works and give you guidance as to your eligibility.
- What size solar system will you need?
System size is based on your electricity consumption and on the specifics of your roof. Roof pitch, orientation and shade information gathered during an on-site visit to your home will inform the system design.
- What options are available for solar panels, inverters, and batteries?
There are many different types of solar panels, inverters, and battery systems. A qualified solar installation company will employ solar consultants who will explain available equipment and show you multiple design options.
- What is the direct purchase price of solar and what financing options are available?
Most solar customers choose between a direct purchase (cash) or a financed price. Insist on seeing both options. If you are considering financing, ask about the interest rate, loan term, early payment options, and how they calculate the 30% federal tax credit.
Information should be presented clearly, and your solar consultant should take the time to ensure that your questions have been answered to your satisfaction.
#3. Does The Installer Perform All Work In-house, Or Do They Subcontract Work To Another Company?
Most well-established solar installation contractors in Maine handle the entirety of your solar journey in-house. There are many stages to a solar installation: from initial contact to system design, sale, permitting, interconnection application, installation, and ongoing service. A company that manages the entirety of your solar project will ensure clear accountability and a focus on customer satisfaction.
Some solar companies outsource aspects of the solar journey. There are companies that just handle sales, outsource design and permitting, and use yet another subcontractor for installation services.
Ask your prospective installer:
- Do they handle all aspects of the solar project, or do they outsource design and/or installation services?
If they use subcontractors, they should be able to document the scope of work of each party, as well as what each party is liable for in terms of warranty and service. Ask them to provide license and insurance information for each contractor.
- Ask the solar company to clarify how progress and feedback will be communicated between the three parties (you, the solar designer, and the third-party installer). Who do you call with questions?
It should be clear and well-documented who is responsible for each aspect of the solar installation:
- Who will pull permits?
- Who will prepare and submit utility interconnection applications?
- Who will you call if you have performance or service questions?
- Who will handle installation and equipment warranty claims?
A solar system is a long-term investment. Ensure that your solar company is available to support your system.
#4. Does The Solar Installer Perform An On-site Assessment Of Your Home And Present A System Designed To Meet Your Specific Needs?
With solar, one size does not fit all and a solar system can’t be priced out and designed based off of your average monthly electric bill. Every home is different and each home’s electricity consumption is different.
An onsite assessment of your home allows a solar installer to gather accurate information that will inform system design. Critical information they should take into account when designing your system includes:
- The home’s orientation to the south
- Precise roof measurements
- The roof pitch or steepness
- Shade readings that account for trees and obstructions
Although Google Maps or satellite data may be useful for providing a preliminary estimate for a solar system, they should not be used as the basis for a finalized installation contract.
Be wary of solar contractors or sales organizations that are quick to provide a price and ask for a commitment based on remote data and your average monthly electricity cost. Insist on an on-site assessment of your home to avoid last-minute price increases and change orders.
A solar installation company that follows a clear and thorough process of assessing your home, designing your system, explaining your options, and presenting a finalized proposal will ensure that you know the actual system cost and won’t face any unnecessary last-minute changes.
#5. What Kinds Of Solar Panels Do They Recommend And Install?
Not all solar panels are alike, and one may be a better fit for your home than another. Be wary of companies that only offer one type of solar panel or tell you that all solar panels are the same.
A professional solar installation company will present you with systems designed with a variety of different solar panels.
- Ask the installer to show you different solar panels and to explain their differences.
- Ask about the panels’:
- Degradation rate
The aesthetics of your home may be a factor as you consider solar panel options. Solar panels come in different sizes and appearance. You may choose an all-black or a standard format panel to match your roof. You may prefer panels manufactured in one country over another. And, of course, different panels will have different price points.
#6. What Type Of Warranties Do They Offer? Will They Stand Behind Their Work In The Years To Come?
When choosing a solar panel installation company, you should consider both the solar company’s workmanship 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 an installer to specify quality components that will 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 typically include workmanship and power output warranties. 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 years and an equipment warranty of 12 to 25 years.
Solar companies should also offer an installation warranty that covers the cost of labor to address any workmanship issues.
- Ask installers to detail and explain manufacturers’ warranties.
- Ask installers for the length and terms of their workmanship warranty.
- Ask if their warranty includes labor for replacing equipment that may fail under the manufacturer’s warranty period.
This type of warranty is typically described in an installation contract.
#7. Can They Show You A Portfolio Of Completed Projects And Testimonials From Their Customers?
Nothing beats a track record of success. Solar customers are sure to share their positive and negative experiences, so it’s essential to research the company’s online reviews.
An established solar installer should have reviews available online. Websites such as Google Businesses, SolarReviews, and EnergySage are trusted sources for verified customer reviews.
Referrals provide great insight into how a company treats its customers.
- Ask your solar installer for customer referrals that you can contact.
Ask their customers:
- Did you have any issues with the installation process and how were they resolved?
- Have you had any issues with the equipment and how did the installer resolve those issues?
- When you had questions or needed support, were they responsive and timely?
- Was it easy to reach them during the project’s sales, pre-installation, and post-installation phases?
Are they a newer company? All companies start somewhere and experienced installers may start a new solar company, or an existing contractor may add solar systems to their offerings
- Ask your prospective installer how long they have been in business.
- Ask about their professional and technical experience prior to establishing a solar installation company.
Installers with a longer track record should be able to demonstrate that they have designed and installed plenty of systems like the ones you want. A solar provider should be able to explain options, discuss details, and show you a variety of systems installed for previous customers.
#8. Are They A Maine-based Solar Company?
Choosing a locally-owned solar company is great for Maine’s economy and supports developing and retaining a qualified local workforce. They have a stake in maintaining a high standard of quality and ethical business practices because they live here, too.
Hiring a Maine-based business offers substantial benefits to its customers, as well. A local Maine company will be familiar with the state solar policy and local building and electrical codes. More and more towns and cities in Maine are adopting unique sets of standards for solar installations; working with a Maine-based company will help you feel confident that your project will not be delayed or altered due to new developments. A Maine-based company will also have established relationships with Maine utilities to ensure the paperwork, permitting, and inspection will be performed correctly and in a timely fashion.
Finally, local Maine solar companies are part of a community of solar installers who are invested in the future of renewable energy and job creation in Maine. Maine-based solar companies are working with lawmakers and regulatory agencies to ensure that Maine continues to have a strong solar policy and that our utilities comply with established solar laws and rules.