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Nine Crucial Solar Installer Considerations

Confused about Solar Power?

So you want to get solar, but how do you pick a company to give you a quote? Once you have a quote or two, how do you pick the company? Well, here are 9 questions you should definitely consider before you sign any installation contracts.

#1. Where’s your contractor’s license number? Once you find it, look it up. All states will have a website to look up any contractor’s license and give you contractor tenure and standing. Your installer NEEDS to have a contractor’s license, period… Check it out and see how long they’ve been in the game and if they have any dings on their record.

#2. Where’s a second quote? If you get another quote, issues can come to the forefront which previously were unexamined: “Why didn’t other guy offer that?” Moreover, additional quotes will ensure cost competitiveness across installers. I hate to recommend this tactic as I work for an installer myself in San Francisco, but it’s really the best way. Don’t simply go with the cheaper one; Give them both a chance to explain where that extra value is. The more expensive quote could be advantageous if that contractor uses better installation procedures, higher quality parts, or extends greater warranty coverage.

#3. Does your contractor outsource their crew? This is a big deal. Many companies outsource their installations to other contractors. Consequently, the company quoting your project may not know anything about their installation crew or how they’re trained. If you have contractors installing solar power on your roof, they are going to be walking around up there, drilling holes in your roof… it’s serious stuff and you need to know they were trained properly. Ask your installer for specifics about their relationship with their contractors.  Look for terms like “installation partners,” in the contract.

#4. Get referrals. If the installer is doing a good job, it will show in the words of their past customers.  Get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the latest two or three installations they have performed.  Call the customers and ask about their experience with the installer, and drive by and take a look at the work they did.

#5. Whose inverters are used? Solar power requires two things: Solar Panels and Inverters. Inverters turn the direct current (DC) your panels produce into usable alternating current (AC) to run your blender, microwave, tv, or whatever you want to run in your house. Some inverters are cheaper than others – some suck while others rock. To see what is the story here, avail yourself of a product review site. Personally (although I am biased), I like Sun Power’s products because there is no chance for confusion with warranty issues. You get Sun Power Panels AND Sun Power Inverters, you’re all good. For instance, our company has installed inverters 20 years ago that are still functioning beautifully. So, good ones are important. Just FYI, we found some problems with Xantrax inverters so we stopped using them (Might want to check to ensure installers in your area are not having similar problems). Finally, if the inverter is not large enough to handle the system, you could have problems. If you’ve done #1 above, this shouldn’t be an issue!

#6. What panels do they use? Do some research on panels! Again, I prefer Sun Power panels. They’re the prettiest and the most efficient I’ve found.

#7. What about turnaround time? Different installers will have different backlogs… Ranging from a few weeks to 8 months… get that up front so you can plan ahead and won’t be disappointed.

#8. Warranties? What are the warranty specifics? Has that solar contractor been around long enough for you to be confident they’ll still be there when it’s time to honor those warranties? Solar lasts a damn long time, the company installing this technology needs be able to outlive the systems they install.

#9. Are the quoted prices for my solar system reasonable? This is the tricky part. Pricing should be close to the same across the country, but solar incentives vary widely by state (Just look to the right hand column of your screen for visual comparisons). A nice round number is somewhere around $4,000 per kilowatt capacity of your system (gross cost, before rebates and credits).

The key to this part is that second (or third) quote.  It will create price competition between installers to get the deal, at the same time time bring to light issues you may not have thought of.  Unfortunately, the things brought to light often confuse and frustrate you.  DO NOT GIVE UP.  The last thing I would ever want is advice from this site to stop you from getting solar.  Yikes.  Hang in there, and ask for answers to questions you have.  If they don’t give them to you, find someone who can, but don’t get frustrated and give up!

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24 thoughts on “Nine Crucial Solar Installer Considerations

  1. martin says:

    Most people are installing a solar energy system for the first time. If not all people?

    Simply, would suggest a criteria matrix of what’s include and not included from each proposal. You may wish to compare energy estimates with actuals. Energy is asymptotic over time. The modules are typically clean when first installed, some may choose to use a water hose ~once or ~twice a year at specific times. Estimates on Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) of various components may be discuss including any service level agreements, shading, … and degradation projections.

    Suggest purchasing a system you are able to afford. With the use of micro-inverters, smaller systems may be implemented. For string inverters, there are best practice with regards to string sizing based on the lowest ambient temperature and NEC 690.7 to maximize the photovoltaic source circuit. With derate factors, depending on location, one module may provide as much energy as one month of usage. Options for PV may be the roof, ground, … Some ground-mounted structures may be beautiful alternative, if the roof would not be a viable option.

    For some locations there are both requirements and issues:

    http://www.dsireusa.org/solar
    http://www.newenergychoices.org/uploads/FreeingTheGrid2009.pdf

    If California, a contractor requires “four (4) full years of journeyman-level or higher experience in the classification”

    For example, install and use PV systems ~5 years, with only one situation. A tree fell on and switched off the visible “readily accessible” AC disconnect means :) Switched back on.

    Sunlight, a “good and perfect gift is from above”

  2. CEric says:

    On Point 1 Above: Each state deals with licensing differently. Some states leave it entirely to local jurisdictions. Having a blanket statement out there that says “all contractors must be licensed” is determent to those contractors that live in states that don’t license contractors.

  3. Steve says:

    Am I correct that there are programs under which you can sell “excess” solar power-generated electricity BACK to the utility company? If so, does CL&P (CT) participate?

    1. Dan Hahn says:

      Hi Steve,

      You are indeed correct there are programs where you can sell excess electricity back to the utility. That’s called “net-metering”. CL&P and UI are both required to buy back excess energy you produce with solar. This law was in effect in 1998 and is still in force today.

  4. Rayna says:

    Read all the info on weather, but haven’t seen a question on hurricanes. Our roof is “hurricane proof”, but what about panels? They would fly if the roof flies, but on their own?

  5. Bob M says:

    I am just now interested in a very small system to power my “cottage” which is an travel trailer in a semi-permanent installation in a condominium RV park in Michigan. Are there any options for this small of an application?

  6. Kelly says:

    I am the manager of a small business which operates in a small ranch style builing. Wondering the effectiveness of solar panels for powering a business with 7 work stations and a couple of servers. Your input would be greatly appreciated, as I would like to take our company as “green” as possible! Thanks!

  7. Shree says:

    Hi. My husband and I are building a home in TN and moving out from CA. As you rightly pointed out, there is little/NO support for solar-sensitivity in TN. But we are going to do it. What options are there for: 1) heating an in-ground pool; 2) leasing or purchasing from a solar company that would install the solar on our home (I heard about this, but don’t know anything about it). Thanks.

  8. Kristal G. says:

    I am still a bit confused on where to find tax incentive/gov.-funding info? Is there a site that lists this for various states? Or one for VA at least?

  9. Stephanie K. says:

    I am wondering how the solar panels deal with Midwestern weather – mainly snow and the winter months. Just curious if you have had any success stories from Wisconsin.

  10. sara says:

    I called your favorite SunPower company to see about getting some solar power going at my house, and they told me that there was no way I could purchase their products because they only sell thru dealers and there are NO DEALERS in my state.
    Gee… how… how… Lehman Brothers.

  11. Mark says:

    I was just wondering if their are any other options on storing the energy other than batteries? has anyone experimented with using capacitors?

  12. Jeff says:

    I want to put a partial system on my home and business in GA. I have been in the Cell Tower Ind.
    for ten years so, I would like to look at self install.
    I am not really sure what suppliers to trust or really where to go, due to information overload on the net.
    Can you help?

  13. Nathan says:

    Great comments and questions! Thanks for all the info. Please recommend someone or sometwo in south east NC for an extimate.

  14. Mike says:

    There seems to be so much talk about drilling for oil in more places.
    Why does the Federal Government not increase the tax incentives or rebates for Solar??? They only give about $1500 for a complete system??

  15. Becky says:

    Hi – thanks for the info. I am working on a service project with the neighborhood church to improve their energy efficiency, and to become a green model for the community. My biggest task will be heading the project to get solar power installed. Do you happen to know of any resources for grants or rebates for religious institutions? Point me in a direction maybe?

  16. Hi Bob,

    fill this out and we’ll connect you with someone in your area.

    Thanks, Dave

  17. Bob Campbell says:

    Hello,
    I live in Michigan and my 9yr old (inground)swimming pool heater has stopped working. I am intereseted in going solar to heat the pool. Not sure where to start. Can you help me out.
    Bob

  18. Jan says:

    Wow! Hello from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I’ve gotten one estimate for a 5kw system, and a much cheaper one for a 2kw system. 1.) I swear I was told that if I do a really great job in my net metering here and have an overage at the end of the year….I LOSE IT!! 2.) There seem to be some roofing contractors getting into this on the ‘side’. Am somewhat concerned about that. I’ve been interested in this for 20 yrs. Let’s generate our own energy! Comments???

  19. RON says:

    Hey David..THANK YOU!!!! I’m in Kansas and I will be the one to put an extra dot next to my state! Thanks for all the info.

  20. Praveen:

    1. falling objects? Most panels can handle golf ball size hail. They are rated for it. Now, baseball size hail, which is a once in a lifetime thing, is unstoppable. They will break your panels, but honestly, they’re probably going to mess up your house too. Solar panels are STRONG. you can walk on them. As for other falling items… where the hell do you live that you have other things falling out of the sky?! haahahhhahaha

    2. Vandals? They are going to have a tough tough messing up your panels, they would have to be on the roof. they may throw a rock or two and be dissapointed. If they heave a giant rock up there they could crack one I suppose… but man, why, in that case, would they just not break your windows? The things they could vandalize are the wiring. Question here really is why would they go after that over your windows? Just check, again, with your home insurance.

    3. Good question. This is RARE, but it DOES HAPPEN. very rarely. Not much you can do about it really. Check your home insurance policy. It’s extremely unlikely they will steal solar panels off of your roof. Typically thieves don’t have that much planning and foresight. They would need a ladder and tools and patience and a WHOLE LOT OF KAJONES. Most thieves like low hanging fruit. But I suppose it’s possible and I have personally heard of only one case and those panels were not even attached yet. You could lojack them :-)

  21. praveen says:

    David:
    How do I protect the panels from falling objects, weather, Vandals or even a thief. Have you heard of Solar panel robberies. I would think that something that expensive should have a secondary underground market.

  22. Bob says:

    You have described solar energy very well. I understand now what is involved in evaluating, selecting and installing a solar power system. The financial benefits make solar energy an easy choice or the average household. Great for the earth too!!

    Can you help me with the next step….I would like to a get a solar energy system on my roof ASAP.

    Bob

    1. Hi Bob!

      Have we met? :-P

      Email me at dave AT solarpowerrocks DOT com and we’ll get things moving.

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