How to Choose a Qualified Solar Installer
by Mike Nicolosi, Rethink Electric
As more Americans are switching to sun powered energy for their home, the solar energy installation industry is growing to keep pace. How are you supposed to differentiate the quality installer from the deceptive contractor?
Although there is no sign of rampant abuse in the industry, a few bad apples can spoil bushel! The BBB only receives a few hundred complaints about solar in the US each year. Which is a very small percentage of installers. In every industry there will be contractors that do shoddy craftsmanship to get the work done faster and cheaper for a fatter bottom line. The most important tool homeowners can utilize to protect themselves is education. As with any home improvement, the more you know about what is being done, the more you can watch for warning signs. Below is some initial information to help get you started.
Each state has its own requirements for solar installers.
In Illinois there is only one requirement to install solar. A solar installation company either needs to have a Distributed Generation Certification through the Illinois Commerce Commission or be working with a subcontractor who has this certification
In addition a certified electrician is required to pull permits for the work. This can also be the installer or a subcontractor.
Some additional credentials that may reinforce the quality of the installer are;
- ISEA Member - Member companies are committed to education and policy in Illinois and also offer homeowners a complaint resolution process.
- NABCEP certification - This is the gold standard for solar installers. NABCEP Certified installers have the experience and knowledge to design and build any system.
You are probably not a good candidate for solar on your home or business if your roof:
- is shaded by trees or surrounding structures
- is in need of replacement in the next 5-10 years
- is not owned by you (apartment buildings, condos)
Before picking an installer
Once you've chosen an installer
If your installer is not an electrical contractor or doing 100% of the work, then they will be subcontracting some of the work. You should find out who this is, what their craftsmanship warranties are, and possibly ask for referrals. If any of the work is subcontracted you should make sure to get a lien release before the final payment so that they can't hold payment against your house or building.
Items that should be in your contract:
- who is responsible for permits and fees (e.g. structural engineering stamp) and how much they are (each town has its own requirements)
- craftsmanship warranty (5 year labor warranty is standard in the solar industry)
- know the warranties on the equipment
- who is filing out the paperwork to sell your SREC’s
- who is handling quarterly SREC statements
- what are the fees involved for selling your SRECs
- fair payment schedule for both parties. We advise not to pay the contractor all of the money up front.
A more detailed checklist can be found on ISEA's site
Citizens Utility Board - nonprofit organization created by the Illinois state legislature to work for lower rates and better service from utility providers.
SEIA's Consumer Guide - SEIA is the parent organization to the ISEA. This insightful download will empower you with the education to make smart decisions from financing to contracting terminology.