Better Business Bytes: Don’t let solar installers take advantage of you

By Roseann Freitas
For The Cordova Times

Current Federal Tax Incentives for installing solar energy for your home will wind down in the coming years, so you may be looking to take advantage now and reap those benefits. But that doesn’t mean you should rush to hire a solar installer for your home.

When looking to install solar for your home the Better Business Bureau has a few words of advice to ensure your system is installed as clean as the energy it produces.

Identify Certified Contractors

Ethical, all-encompassing certifications are commonplace in the trades. Renewable energy is no different, and that’s why you should be asking prospective solar contractors if their technicians are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified.

The Colorado Solar & Storage Association (COSSA) says, “Installers should be ‘NABCEP Certified’, which is a ‘gold standard’ of certification. NABCEP certified practitioners have met the required levels of education and experience, passed a rigorous competency exam, and abide by a strict code of ethics. Many installers will also be licensed electricians.”

Consult with Multiple Installers

As the consumer, you will always want to secure multiple quotes from at least three vendors before deciding which to contract with. When speaking with different vendors, ensure each one understands exactly what you are looking to achieve, and all are quoting for the same size job to keep it consistent and fair. For example, if you opt to add a solar storage system when speaking with the second vendor, perhaps the first vendor did not quote appropriately for that.

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When requesting quotes, you will want to know how much energy your home needs to keep the lights on, keep the food chilled, and charge your myriad of devices. Look at the last twelve months of your energy bill, how many kilowatt-hours have been used each month? Analyzing a twelve-month period is important as the kilowatt-hours used will fluctuate depending on the seasons. If you are not able to install the required number of solar panels to power your home during those extremely hot or cold months, you may want to install a larger battery to store excess energy generated during low-demand periods throughout each day. Expanding your family soon? You should take this into account by projecting a percentage increase in energy needs.

Compare all quotes and understand your financing option for the long run.  Also, be sure to ask about warranties should there be any performance issues down the road. Solar panels can easily last decades, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a warranty. A reputable company will offer you an equipment warranty, usually lasting 10 to 12 years, and a performance warranty that should last up to 25 years.

How old is your roof?

Speaking of the future, how much more life does your roof have?  Solar panels covering the majority of your roof can make shingle replacement quite the undertaking. Howard Lamb, Founder of Sunergy Systems Inc in Seattle, WA, a BBB Accredited Business, says his team asks, “When was your roof last replaced?” during the initial phone consultation with a customer. This is to better understand if now is the right time to install solar for that customer. Mr. Lamb aims to be transparent and upfront with the consumer. This includes asking them to sign a document that breaks down the current condition of their roof before installation proceeds, so the consumer is aware of what work may be needed down the line.

Trusted Organizations are Here to Help

Lastly, always do your research. Solar installation is a pricy investment, so it is imperative you take the extra time in understanding the pros, cons, and exactly who you hire. You can visit websites like BBB.org and your state’s solar or renewable energy association to see if the solar company is a member of and aligns with those organizations’ ethical standards.

Roseann Freitas is the public relations and communications manager for the Better Business Bureau in Honolulu.