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Contractors with significant experience will be less likely to cut corners on your installation which could cause roof leaks and other problems, says Hayward. (Photo courtesy of Maryland Solar Solutions Inc.)
It’s not surprising that with higher utility costs, the increased concern among the general public about the impact of fossil fuels on our planet, the existence of government incentives, lower installation costs and improved technology, that more people are going solar than ever before.
The financial savings, energy independence and return on investment combined with the added benefit of actually helping the environment offered by the solar alternative have made the decision to go solar for many Americans a no brainer.
But how do you choose the right contractor for an investment that will last 25-30 years? If not done right, your solar investment could end up costing you money instead of saving and making you money over the long haul.
Keeping these considerations in mind will help in your search for the right contractor:
1. Look for an expert.
This is by far the most important consideration. Make sure your installer is certified by theNorth American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners as a PV (Solar) Installer. The NABCEP is the most respected, well-established and widely recognized certification organization for North American solar professionals in the field of renewable energy.
This is the best way to avoid installation errors and future problems with your investment. It is also the best way to be sure that what you have been promised in terms of production and return are based on facts and not fiction.
2. Find a contractor with experience.
Find out how much solar they have installed and ask for names and contact numbers for previous customers. Find out how long they have been in business.
Contractors with significant experience will be less likely to cut corners on your installation which could cause roof leaks, electrical shorts or power losses in the system down the road.
3. Really vet the equipment and manufacturers your contractor is offering.
You wouldn’t buy a $30,000 car without checking out the make and model first or problems already discovered, would you? Many contractors, in an effort to just make sales at the cheapest price, are offering technology from the 1960s and cheap solar panels which are not standing the test of time.
Much of the equipment in these “bargain basement” priced systems are the least efficient available and will have a direct impact on your production and therefore long-term return on investment.
4. Don’t look for the lowest priced contractor.
The old adage “you get what you pay for” really applies in the solar industry. A highly efficient and reliable system that will last for 30 years, while also delivering a real return, does not come at the cheapest price. A $5000 savings today could cost you $10-20,000 over the next 25-30 years.
5. Beware of contractors making workmanship warranties that do not pass the “smell test”.
Some contractors will make warranties they have no intention of honoring or don’t plan to be around to honor. If you have to purchase a warranty exceeding two years for a new million-dollar home, how can a solar contractor warrant the workmanship on your solar installation for 10 or 20 years at no cost?
6. Make sure the contractor offers you monitoring for the system.
This is probably the most important part of your system for the purposes of transparency. Systems that allow panel level monitoring (you see individual production of each panel) enable you to confirm that your system and panels are producing as promised.
What good is a manufacturer’s production warranty on your panels if you can never see how they are producing? Contractor’s that do not (or will not) offer monitoring likely do not want you to see that your system is not producing as promised. Really good contractors monitor your system with you for at least a five-year period after installation.
7. Look for a contractor that will do all of your paperwork.
Permitting, interconnection with your utility and incentives paperwork processes can be very complicated and time-consuming.
8. Find a contractor that delivers great customer service.
Because this purchase will last 25-30 years, you want a contractor who will stand beside you for the duration and will deliver service, if and when needed, with a smile. Your contractor should be as invested in your solar array as you are.