Choosing a solar contractor for your home improvement project can be tough and its no different when hiring one for a solar project. Solar systems—both photovoltaic panels “PV” and solar water heaters—are complicated technologies. Hiring the right contractor with the proper credentials and experience is very important, as they will control the entire process including the design of the system and the quality of the installation as well as supervising the interconnection phase of the project.
Learn the Basics
Before engaging potential contractors, familiarize yourself with industry terminology and the installation process. An informed consumer is able to communicate more easily with the contractor regarding a solar project. While this is not to imply you should take courses in PV installation, reading up on solar panel installation will give you an idea of industry standards, ratings, energy efficiency and expectations during the course of the project.
Contacting Potential Solar Contractors
Finding a list of solar contractors willing to work on your solar project is the easy part. Selecting one that meets your requirements and with whom you are comfortable working with may be harder. Some contractors work through 3rd party solar leads companies while others do their own advertising. It’s a good idea to use a few different methods when searching for a solar contractor, starting with our cost calculator which will indicate which estimates are in the right ballpark for your home.
Upon meeting with the contractors on an individual basis during the estimate, you must interview each to gauge their level of experience—they know what they are talking about—and your comfort level working with them should you enlist their services. There are pointed questions you should ask yourself and the potential contractors before signing on the dotted line.
- How much experience does the solar contractor or company have installing PV systems? Prior experience is invaluable, as the installation requires processes unique to the technology. The contractor must size, design and install as well as oversee the interconnection phase with the local utility company. Since solar installation represents a sizable investment in your property, you want to hire the best and most experienced person for the job to ensure your system is installed correctly, safely and according to local building codes.
- Does the contractor possess the required license and certification? Only certified, licensed individuals should install a PV system. Most municipalities require that either the installer or subcontractor hold an electrical contractor’s license. Ask for a copy of their license and certifications and follow up with your state contracting board or attorney general’s office to verify their credentials. Many states maintain a website dedicated to contractor verification where you can search applicable contractor names and corresponding license numbers.
- Does the contractor possess the necessary insurance coverage? Most states require contractors to carry both liability insurance and Worker Compensation Insurance. The liability insurance covers you in the event of property damage during the installation. Worker’s Compensation Insurance protects you against potential legal action should a worker suffer an injury during the installation. Ask for insurance policy numbers and contact information, then verify coverage with a quick phone call to the insurance company.
- Does the contractor have pending legal actions or judgments against them? Legal actions, complaints and/or judgments represent a red flag indicating a problem on a previous job. Due diligence is recommended to ensure your contractor is not embroiled in a legal dispute, if so, you should move on to the next candidate. Contact the Better Business Bureau “BBB” or your Attorney General’s office to inquire about any legal actions against said contractor.
Understanding Solar Estimates
It is important that you compare and understand your estimates thoroughly before choosing a solar contractor. Aside from the bottom line figure, your estimates should state clearly the type of equipment, manufacturer, expected power output and a timeline for the project. Your estimate should also include both labor and materials for the project as well as job site cleanup. In addition, you want a clear picture of the equipment’s lifespan, durability and it’s warranty information such as who is responsible for equipment failure and installation as well as the applicable contact information.
As far as your comfort level working with the contractor, if you have done your due diligence in checking out their references and past work that’s all you can do aside from following your instincts on whether your personalities are a good match. If the contractor seems shady, does not convey the necessary confidence or simply gives you a bad vibe, it is in your best interest to move on to the next candidate.