Solar is a whole new ballgame in home improvement. Like many projects, installing solar power often means trusting the safety of your home to a contractor who you’ve only gotten to know through a few brief meetings. Luckily, you don’t have to go into a solar installation blind. This list of questions will ensure that you find the most expert solar contractor, keeping your home protected and leak-free, with plenty of clean energy for years to come.
What are your credentials?
As a relatively new technology, not all states have implemented laws designating who can and can’t install solar energy systems, so you’ll need to check your contractor’s background yourself. Ideally, they should have a history with residential solar installations. But as a must, they should possess thorough experience with electrical work. To verify this, ask your contractor to provide you with at least three references that can confirm their solar energy credentials. If a solar certification is required in your state, ask the installer to show you copies of their certificate.
Will you acquire necessary permits?
Yes, your contractor should be in charge of acquiring the necessary permits for installing solar panels on your home.
Have you pulled permits for solar in my area before?
Many local municipalities require permits before a solar installation can begin. While every homeowner should have some involvement in the permitting process, your contractor should be there as well, to help you pull permits and complete the application process. If questions about permitting have your contractor drawing a big blank—or if they put the responsibility of pulling permits squarely on your shoulders alone—look elsewhere for your installation needs.
How many systems have you installed?
You want an experienced solar contractor, so be wary of someone just getting into the business. Newer contractors may offer lower prices to compensate for lack of experience, but don’t let that be the deciding factor when making this important decision. You may end up spending more money to fix their mistakes.
Do you subcontract the work?
Preferably they will be the ones installing your solar panels. If they do subcontract the work, make sure you know the company they use so you’re able to get references for them. If your contractor does subcontract the work, make sure you have a way to contact the subcontractor during the scope of the project.
Will there be a master electrician on-site?
In addition to experience with similar work, a contractor should either a) be a master electrician themselves or b) be supervised by a master electrician while they do the job. If there’s no one with this level of expertise hired to supervise your project, don’t sign that contract!
Does your company carry the proper liability insurance?
We’ve all heard the horror stories: a contractor made a shoddy repair and realized too late that he or she had let their insurance lapse. Save yourself from becoming a cautionary tale! Make sure your contractor carries liability insurance that will cover their work—and any subcontractors who work under them, as well.
Will you show me a plan before you install panels on my roof or on my property?
A good solar panel contractor will be up front with you about his or her plans, and will not only show you the plans for your solar project, but will explain in detail how they plan to approach the project.
Will solar even work for me?
This should be addressed during your consultation, since it depends on how much shade covers your home, the direction your home is facing, and the pitch of your roof.
Typically, a roof needs to have at least 10 years of life left to be considered solar-ready, so ask your solar installer how yours measures up. You should also find out if you’ll get an individual roof inspection before the installation to shore up any potential problems and make sure your roof is good to go—before you sign on the dotted line.
Do you have any references I can speak to?
Your solar contractor should not hesitate to hand over a list of former clients you’re able to contact for references. Take the time to contact more than one reference and ask about their experience installing solar.
Do you inspect my roof before installing solar panels? (roof should have at least 10 years of life left in it)
Your contractor should discuss this when he or she explains the process of the solar panel installation, and the answer should be yes, that they do inspect your roof before installing solar panels. Your roof should have at least 10 years of life left—if it looks like it will need to be replaced soon, they will advise you to do that before installing solar panels.
Will someone make repairs if my system is damaged?
When installed properly, solar panels can last up to 20 years or more. Of course, accidents do happen. Most systems come with a warranty that covers any manufacturing defects, at the very least. But you’ll also want to find out if your warranty extends to improper installations or acts of nature—and just what happens in the event of one or the other.
How do I remove panels or make roof repairs in the future?
Since you’ll likely have your panels for many years, there’s a chance that they’ll outlast your current roof. In that case, the system may need to be temporarily removed so that a new roof surface can be installed beneath. Who does the removal in this case? Can panels be taken to another location, in case you move? Find out now—and save yourself a massive headache down the line.
Will the system be inspected?
If your area requires you to file for a permit before you begin installation, you can bet they’ll ask you to have the work inspected after it’s completed. Your contractor should have experience interacting with inspectors and should know what must be done to request an appointment and prepare the site before the inspector arrives.
However, many solar companies also do internal quality inspections for themselves, and may send an emissary to your home to verify that the project was completed up to spec. Look for an installer that holds themselves to these kinds of high quality standards, even when it’s not required—it can definitely pay off in the long run.