Sometimes more choices create more confusion. Choosing a solar company when there weren’t many around may not have been better, but it was easier. In 2018 solar installation companies starting popping up everywhere in North Carolina, where there are rebates available from Duke Energy.
Solar Rebate Chasers
National companies from states like California and Utah, among others, flooded into N.C. when the rebate was introduced. Their sales process is to hire canvassers, most of whom know very little about solar, and have had a couple of days of training. The canvassers walk a neighborhood, and either set an appointment for another salesperson or present an on-the-spot proposal for solar. This is usually a financed project, and it is sold as a monthly payment, much like buying a car based on what the payment would be and not what the car costs, creating a high price. Salespeople are commission only, which is incentive to close a deal even if the roof is not good for solar. Many homeowners, not having considered solar before, sign on the spot, persuaded by the rep that they will pay less for solar than the savings they will see on their electricity bill. These “savings” are often bundled with smart thermostats and LED lights, and do not represent the true value from the solar system they are buying.
But some customers realize, if they are interested in investing in solar, they could do a little more research. What they find is that some of these companies are in the market as long as there is an incentive available. And then they are gone. They may have a local sales team, but they do not have in-house installation crews, service departments or support personnel in the area. They often hire “solar cowboys” who are contractors paid by the panel installed, incenting speed over quality. These installers-for-hire may not have liability or workman’s compensation insurance, general contractor or electrical licenses. If a customer has a service issue, who is going to honor the warranties or come to the site to diagnose the problem? We heard that one company, when asked these questions by a potential customer, assured them that one of the local companies would do it. (But at a cost to the consumer, is what is unspoken.)
Yes Solar Solutions, a local owner-managed company in Cary, N.C., with eleven years of solar installation experience, is one that benefits from these national canvassing companies when a potential customer does decide to do some research. Local companies have a bigger investment in the community and in their reputation. But the lure of incentives also results in new local companies, a couple of people who decide solar is a good way to enhance a roofing or electrical business, or that it is a good time to start a solar business. Finding a stable, experienced, quality solar company can be daunting for someone that is considering a project of tens of thousands of dollars, whether it is cash or financed.
Questions to Ask a Solar Company
Here is our guide to choosing a quality company that has the experience, commitment to quality and safety, the infrastructure to support the project, and the technical expertise to do it right. Questions that can guide a conversation and decision create trust and confidence that the consumer is getting the best value for the best price.
- Does the company hold a general contractor license and an electrical license in the company name? Get the license numbers and check them on the state board of electricians and general contractors board. In N.C. the company must have both to install solar.
- Is the company accredited by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP)? The accreditation is the only one available for solar, and there are less than a dozen solar installers in the U.S. that are accredited (Yes Solar is one, and the only one in N.C.). Ask too if the salesperson is NABCEP certified for technical sales, if the Project Manager is certified for installation.
- How long has the company been in business? Get references, but also check online reviews. Check the Better Business Bureau listing for the headquarters if it is a national company. There are local reviews on the BBB but there are also reviews in the home state, which can tell you a great deal about how the company operates. Yes Solar Solutions engages Guild Quality, a third-party customer satisfaction surveyor for objective reviews. Check industry associations like the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) for membership in good standing.
- What other certifications does the company have? Yes Solar was the first company in N.C to be certified as a Tesla Powerwall installer, and EV charging. One of the leading solar panel manufacturers, REC, has certified Yes, which enables the extension of the defect warranty on the panels. Yes is certified by SolarEdge for the inverters we install.
- Are the people working on my project, the crews, the electricians, the project managers, full-time employees or contractors? (See Solar Cowboys above.)
- What support can I expect when the solar is installed? Yes Solar provides a complete package of warranty information at the walk-through and will answer any questions. A dedicated service department handles any warranty claims, troubleshooting, questions about production. If the local company is too small, a service department is handled on an ad-hoc basis, and if they have no in-house crews, how do they handle service.
- Is there a production guarantee? Yes Solar Solutions guarantees solar production within 10% of our estimate for five years and makes monitoring available so the customer can track it.
There are plenty of reputable solar companies to choose from. It just makes sense to do some research. If you need help, contact us or give us a call to see what your options are for solar for your home. That’s what we’re here for.