You’ve decided to get serious about going solar for your home or business. You’ve completed your initial homework, including the recommendations in the Solar Energy Industry Association’s handy consumer guide. You are ready to find an installer who will do a great job at the right price. Now what?
We asked solar consumers and experts what advice they would give to folks like you. Here are some of the most common tips we heard.
Get Three Bids
While there’s no silver bullet guarantee in life, getting three bids will increase the chances that you find the installer you trust. That’s more peace of mind for your big investment. A good place to start is to get one bid from your local installer, one from one that serves your whole area, and one from one of the big national installers.
Word of Mouth
As you might do when finding a mechanic or hiring a contractor, getting a strong referral from people you trust is a great place to start. If you don’t personally know anyone who has solar, consider walking around your neighborhood, look for homes with solar and knocking on that neighbor’s door. You might get a great recommendation -- and get to know your neighbors better, too!
Credentials to Look For
Solar installers who are members of the California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA) have to sign a code of ethics that commits them to good consumer-friendly practices and they stay up to date on all the changing codes & standards and regulations. In the past, CALSSA has kicked companies out of its association for violating the ethics code, according to CALSSA Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro. Find a CALSSA-member installer.
Make sure your installer is licensed to install in California by looking them up at the state licensing board.
Finally, another credential that signals good skills and integrity is the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). This is considered one of the most rigorous training and certification programs in the country. Not all great installers are NABCEP-certified, however, as it is quite expensive to obtain. Find a NABCEP-certified installer in your area.
We recommend you absolutely choose an installer that is also a CALSSA member and state-licensed, and consider a NABSEC certification if you want additional peace of mind.
Make Sure Someone Comes to Your House At No Cost
Some companies claim they can assess your home without sending a real person. Avoid them. Reputable solar installers will always send a trained professional, at no cost to you, to look at your roof, inspect your tree cover and other factors that could impact your solar system.
What About Online Bidding Services?
You may have come across online services, like EnergySage, that help consumers solicit solar bids for little time and no cost. In the case of EnergySage, users provide information about their home and energy bill through a website. EnergySage will send that information to installers in your area, and then send you back bids from interested installers for you to follow up with at your discretion.
We have not vetted any of these similar services in-depth. We can say that EnergySage is a reputable organization, and could be one way to drum up several installers for your consideration. Even if you use a service like this, we strongly recommend following the other recommendations in this article to ensure you hire the best possible installer.
What to Avoid
The biggest thing to avoid is sending your information to one of those fly-by-night solar lead sales companies. They are companies that set up dummy webpages with barely any information and then once you give them your information, they sell it to aggressive sales-tactics solar installers. If you’ve heard stories of someone getting tons of calls from a bunch of different installers, that is generally how it gets started. Look for photos of people that aren’t stock photos, a gallery of project photos of there’s, and a phone number and address on the website before giving them your information.
Other Advice and Checklists
With these big picture tips in mind, we recommend you carefully review the California Solar Consumer Protection Guide, published by the state energy regulator (CPUC). It includes a comprehensive checklist of questions to ask to ensure your peace of mind.
Got Other Tips? Don’t Be Shy...Share!
Post your hot tips for finding a great solar installer on Solar Rights Alliance’s Facebook page so others can learn from your experience. If Facebook isn’t your jam, just email us at email@example.com. We’ll update this post with the best additional ideas that come in.