So you have decided to join the renewable energy revolution and go solar for your home or business (or maybe you are just thinking about it). Excellent! This can reduce your electricity bills, earn you money in production incentives and tax credits, and offer the thrill of generating your own power. It also makes you a part of something much bigger.
When you go solar, you contribute to a movement that is having a measurable positive impact on people and the planet — reducing emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, feeding astounding green job growth, and creating energy independence. Our customers tell us being part of the solution feels amazing!
Once you have decided to install solar on your home or building — or to at least seriously investigate it — a major next step is to find someone to help you understand your options, choose your system, design it, and install it. As you have probably surmised, the contractor who can do all that is a fairly specialized one.
And, from design through installation (and ideally long after), this relationship is a bit of a marriage. After all, you are entrusting a major home electrical job to this contractor. You want to choose the right partner when you take this big step! That is why one of the most common questions we are asked is “What should I think about, and look for, when selecting a solar contractor?”
We are happy to answer this question, not only because it does give us a chance to share what is most important to us about solar and what constitutes a job well done but because we genuinely want to see solar succeed. So we want everyone who has an experience with solar to be delighted!
Well-installed, well-maintained solar that meets and exceeds expectations helps the entire industry shine and grow, and feeds the positive momentum in this world-changing field.
Here are some ways to find quality, competent solar system designers and installers and what to ask them when you do.
Finding Good Solar Contractor Candidates
Check reviews. As you probably know, people are pretty darn honest on Yelp. Google Plus is also a place you may find reviews for solar installers. Solarreviews.com is a goldmine for solar contractor reviews. Read the comments. One disgruntled review is nothing to worry about, but beware of solar companies that have a sizeable handful.
Ask your friends, neighbors, family and co-workers. If you know anyone who is already jumped in, find out who they worked with and if they were happy, and why.
Ask for references. Once you find two or three Washington solar companies to interview, ask if they will give you references to contact. They should!
Then, when you contact references or talk with friends or family, ask:
- How was the experience of decisionmaking with this contractor? Was the proposal clear, readable and easy to understand? Do you feel the contractor helped you make the right choice of system design and components? Were all your questions answered? Did you feel like you could make an informed decision?
- How was the experience of the installation on site? Was the project finished on schedule? Were the workers tidy, respectful of your home and privacy, and quiet, or was there loud music, trash, and cigarette butts? Were their work hours reasonable?
- What was the support like? If you had questions, were they answered promptly and helpfully? Were issues resolved in a timely and satisfactory manner?
- How is the system performing? Is it producing according to what the contractor projected? (Or less, or more?) Have there been any problems?
- What was the personal experience like? Were staff friendly, helpful, knowledgeable?
Evaluating Solar Contractor Candidates
You can ask questions directly of the local solar companies themselves, not just of your contacts or references. We will leave out the common-sense, buyer-beware shopping tips that apply generally. Instead, we will focus on some key points people often miss, beyond the obvious ones, when assessing the competence and quality of a solar contractor.
What kind of skills should you be looking for in a Solar Contractor?
- Does the solar contractor have certified journeyman electricians working for them? We do, we insist upon it, but many do not. In fact, believe it or not, some solar contractors bidding on solar design and installation actually subcontract the electrical work. Others have only one electrician on the job overseeing laborers who are responsible for building out the electrical system, which often leads to incorrectly installed systems.The fact is, you want the person messing with your electrical system to be a qualified electrician, and you want to be sure electrical work is included in the total bid! So, be sure to ask.
- Does your potential contractor have employees who know how to bend metal conduit (pipe that protect wires from exposure to weather and people)? This is a specialized skill that not every contractor has—and it is limiting if not. If they are unable to work with metal conduit, contractors may lead you toward a system that is easiest for them to install, because only certain kinds of systems can be installed without bending metal conduit. You may end up with a system that is more expensive and has far more parts than necessary.
- Is your potential contractor willing to design your conduit run to go through your attic space and be hidden from view? The conduit coming off the roof should not be in direct sunlight if possible. Conduit in direct sunlight heats up and causes resistance in the electrical flow, meaning you will not produce as much power. Keep the conduit in the shade, and you will produce more electricity, as well as have a better looking system.
- A remarkably little-known fact is that every solar module manufacturer has its own special method to attach its solar modules to the roof. Many contractors do not follow the warrantied recommendations. When the specified attachment protocol is not used, the warranty will not be honored. If you do not ask now, you might not find out until 5, 10 or more years down the road, when it is way too late. For more specific details on this issue, give us a call. Suffice to say you should ensure that the contractor is aware of this concern, and familiar/skilled with each module manufacturer’s attachment specifications.
What kind of knowledge should you be looking for?
Both the proposal and any follow-up discussion with your prospective solar contractor should demonstrate a thorough knowledge of everything from technology and construction to regulation and financing.
Tt is through comprehensive and in-depth knowledge that the contractor can help you not only maximize the production capacity of your site, but help you take optimal advantage of incentives and emerging technologies.
The proposal should be clear, complete, and extensive enough to cover all aspects of the project without overwhelming or mystifying jargon.
- Did the contractor perform a thorough site assessment that identifies the solar potential of your roof, and the needs of the system consistent with your goals?
- Did the contractor model your home for you to show you where the solar will be located, and designate its potential square footage?
- Can the contractor offer you — and explain — more than one option? Some clients understandably want us to suggest the best option based on our experience and expertise, but we always have five other scenarios at the ready. And we can show you why and how we arrived at those scenarios. Your contractor should be able to design to accommodate a range of budgets, site needs, desired returns on investment, and quality.
- Does the contractor clearly break down the return on investment (ROI) for you in time and dollars? Do they also explain in clear terms the price differences between options and why (based on equipment choices, etc.)?
What kind of service should you be looking for?
- Does the solar contractor offer a performance guarantee? If they do not, they have nothing holding them accountable for the numbers they are quoting you. Will they guarantee the production numbers and pay you the difference if you do not meet their numbers? (Artisan Electric offers a five-year production guarantee!)
- Does the contractor have a workmanship warrantee? Is there anything backing that warrantee if they go out of business? (Artisan has a five-year workmanship warrantee that is guaranteed by our International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union.)
- Will the Washington solar company file all the necessary paperwork on your behalf? A customer-oriented, full-service operation will render the process easy for your by making it a one-stop deal. At Artisan, we do just that. Of course, you still have to file your own taxes (sorry!). But we can refer you for qualified financing and tax help. In all other matters, we provide our clients a turn-key package that includes support with all state incentive paperwork and utility interconnection documents.
- Will the solar energy company conduct an exit interview or walk-through, personally showing you how to use and monitor your system, including all equipment and software? Are you left with a complete folder or binder containing contact information, warranty information, background in solar, instructions and more?
- What kind of aftermarket service is included? Does the solar company offer remote monitoring of your system to ensure immediate response if something is not working right or fails, and to help locate the source of any problems? Is this included? Will they perform checkups and/or a one-year cleaning and assessment?
- How available will the contractor be to answer any questions you have after installation? Is there a limit on this?
What kind of ethic should you be looking for?
In the world of environmentally and socially responsible business, we think this is important. Our customers tell us they think so, too. What is your contractor really about? What does it stand for?
At Artisan, for example, solar is more than just a business. We walk our talk. Our business vehicles (and for many of us, our personal ones) are electric or hybrid. We encourage use of public transportation and bike riding to work, and our employees actually do it! We have solar on our own homes. We mentor and hire local students and Veterans. We donate substantial time and money to worthy environmental projects and causes. And we are transparent; we are delighted to talk about any and all of these issues.
One last related point: you might ask your solar contractor WHY they do what they do. At Artisan, we are not just professional; we are passionate about solar—and about helping to preserve and restore our planet. We are super excited about solar’s role in doing just that. We LOVE solar, and we love sharing it. We think it shows, and we think you will know.
If you have any questions about solar electricity, solar systems and solar panel installation, or anything else solar, we are always happy to do our best to answer! Just call us at (206) 557-4215 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Modified: June 3, 2018