How to Know What You are Actually Paying for Solar
Solar installation companies are not all equal and do not all bring the same value. There are many ways to install solar, many different products, and different financial models. Yes Solar Solutions can share solar cost secrets for how a company prices its systems. Our years in the solar business, industry insider knowledge and feedback from the many customers we talk to have made us experts. We want you to go solar, but we want you to know how to do it for your best value.
What Should Solar Cost?
If you are shopping for solar, chances are you have talked to more than one solar company. The ideal situation is that you get a couple of “apples to apples” proposals and you only have to decide who you think is the most knowledgeable, reliable, and trustworthy. The reality is that you will probably get widely varying quotes, even if it is the same hardware. Frequently, a solar salesperson will have a strong recommendation for one kind of solar panel or inverter type that can sway you, but really, do you know what is the best option? The best option for the company recommending it may not be the best option for you.
Solar Cost Secrets of Sales
Solar companies have many different business and compensation models. National solar companies are the ones most likely to knock on your door, although local companies (out of necessity to compete for market share) may canvass in defense. Just ask where a company’s headquarters are located, (not their local office). The national companies typically have a cost the salesperson can sell for, a “floor”. That number is the lowest number the project can be sold for and the solar company still makes its profit. Whatever the door knocker can sell for over that number, he or she gets to keep the difference. The canvasser is responsible for all expenses: vehicle and gas, insurance, taxes, and time.
These salespeople are 1099 employees with no benefits and must generate all their own prospects. Training can be sporadic, and the requirements for the job can be low or non-existent. It is a hard job to knock on people’s doors and can be very discouraging getting no’s more often than not. So if a 1099 salesperson gets some attention from a prospect, they are very motivated to get a sale. There are companies that use questionable sales tactics in their training too. A quick search on Better Business Bureau (use the headquarters location for the search) can reveal trends in misrepresentation.
Solar Customer Complaints About Sales
In a recent search on BBB, one of the companies selling in Cary, NC, but headquartered in Utah, had 46 complaints in the last 12 months, most of them from customers that thought they were signing to authorize a credit check only to find out when they decided not to buy that they owed a “cancellation fee” of $1,215. Most of these companies only discuss a monthly fee that is the same or lower than the electricity bill, not disclosing the actual price of the system. The result is a significantly higher price than it would be from a more reputable company. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon.
Another sales compensation structure is one that uses in-house salespeople that are provided leads through the company’s marketing channels but are still commission only. The company sets the appointments and the commissions are generous but, again, may vary depending on what price per watt the salesperson sells the contract for. If you enjoy bargaining and negotiating, and have the time and confidence in your research before buying, you might even enjoy this scenario.
Local Solar Sales
Then there are companies, primarily local, that have built a business based on a presence in the community and that are committed to providing local jobs and living wages. Yes Solar Solutions is a good example of this, with 13 years of experience and thousands of projects installed. Yes Solar salespeople do earn commissions, but they also have a good salary, health insurance, matching 401(k) programs, company-provided leads, paid training, certifications and licensing, company vehicles, and marketing support. This naturally lends itself to a more consultative approach to helping a consumer go solar, instead of needing the sale to pay their health insurance premium or their rent.
Solar Cost Secrets of the Installation
To the uninitiated, it might seem simple. There are solar panels, they get connected to an inverter or micro-inverters, converting direct current to alternating current to use in the home. Yes, there are different brands, and they have different price points, but that is fairly easy to compare. What might not seem so obvious, and very few people ask, is how the company is installing the project the customer is spending tens of thousands of dollars on.
Too many solar installation companies do not use any in-house employees to install the solar system. This means subcontracted electrical services, often frequently changing depending on the price or availability of a sub-contractor. Most have a general contractor’s license, or one they work under, but many do not have an electrical license. You can check this yourself by going to the state electrical board website and searching the company name.
Harder to check is who is installing the system. Even companies that claim to have all in-house installation teams will subcontract the labor to “cowboys” that assemble a crew of paid by the day labor that may or may not be trained to install solar. If you get one very low price from a company, chances are they are going back to the sub-contractors to squeeze them for a lower price (trust us, it happens). What do you think the sub-contractor is going to do to lower the price, and what will it cost you in the long run?
Risk for the Solar Company and the Solar Worker
How does Yes Solar know this? Because we have had former employees hired by other solar companies to install panels. These crews do not have liability insurance or Workman’s Compensation and pay on a per panel installed per day basis. “Panel pay” gives the worker incentive to get as many panels per day installed at any cost. This is not only risking injury, it is risking quality. It is also another “feast or famine” issue for the worker, who may have a big week and then a week with little or no pay due to weather or other delays. If a worker is hurt, they have no recourse or pay while unable to work. The question of whether it is morally justifiable is still another issue.
Solar Roof Leaks
Many solar companies are using a “puck” style of attachment that is easily and quickly installed with just sealant and is, of course, cheaper. Solar pricing proposals rarely list the type of mounting used in the project. The use of sealant only and a small round “puck” can void the warranty on a roof, and over the years can lead to a much greater risk of leaking. Ask the solar installation company what kind of mounting they use and about the warranty. Even a “lifetime” warranty is small comfort if you do have leaks, especially if the company has no local service team. You might never think about it and most people don’t. It’s an easy way for the low-cost installer to cut costs. Yes Solar Solutions uses a galvanized steel flashing that is inserted under the shingle to divert water flow, and sealant is used as an extra precaution, not as the only attachment. SolarPowerWorld has a good comparison of different flashings.
Common Installation Complaints
Turning again to the BBB, one regional company has 416 complaints in the last 12 months. A business can be BBB Accredited with an A+ rating and still show this level of complaints. Another national company with 224 complaints in 12 months for products and services has a long complaint that reads in part, ” I should have STOPPED and checked with BBB at this point. I let them put panels on my home in July of 2021. Big mistake. As of 1/11/22 (6 months later), I still do not have a working solar system. I DO, however, have a leak in my roof, cracks in my ceiling, a very dangerous electric box at ground level with spliced wires!”
There are many reviews that cite customers waiting months for an inspection to pass, for the system to be operable, for service issues to be resolved. If a company does not have a dedicated service team because they are from out of state, the customer has little recourse when there is a problem. Yes Solar’s service team is comprised of full-time employees from our installation crew who are experienced in troubleshooting both roof and electrical issues, as well as battery backup systems and EV charging.
Should You Even Buy Solar?
Yes, yes and yes, (if your roof is appropriate for solar)! Yes Solar can help you determine that with a simple look on Google to check for shade, roof orientation and elevations.
This is not a blanket indictment of solar nor of most solar companies. It is a caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware”, to research solar companies, especially if they come to your door unsolicited. Read Google reviews, and (ideally) get advice from a friend or neighbor that has solar. And there are websites, like SolarReviews and Energy Sage, that are clearinghouses for solar quotes, and can get you started with your research. Keep in mind that those sites also charge solar installers for leads, or for a percentage of the contract, so smaller solar companies may not participate nor invest in placement. If a company is not buying leads its placement drops, even with good reviews.
Nationally Accredited Solar Companies
The most reliable method of assessing a solar company is through the only national accreditation program, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. NABCEP audits solar installation companies’ training programs, percentages of certifications, safety and risk assessment policies, employee benefits, and performs a physical audit of projects. Yes Solar Solutions is the only NABCEP accreditated company in NC, and one of only eight in the U.S.
Time for Solar
With all the new financing options for both solar and energy storage, lower prices on panels, and rising utility rates, there has never been a better time to invest in solar. Solar can increase the value of your home, freeze your electricity rate forever, enable you to store energy to use at night if you add battery backup, and let you sleep soundly knowing you have done your part for the environment. With all the caveats listed above, it should be obvious that choosing the right solar installation company is the key. We have stressed local businesses because they have a long-term commitment to the community they are part of, that their employees are part of, and that their reputation depends on. You can expect them to be around when the rebates and solar tax credits run out and national companies fold their tents and move on to the next state with good incentives.
Contact Yes Solar or give us a call at 919-804-1490 today for a free and accurate estimate for your own solar system. We’ve gotten you this far, we can get you the rest of the way to going solar!