Once you’ve made the smart decision to go solar, it’s easy to get excited and go with the first solar company you find. However, just like any investment, it’s best to do some research to make sure you are choosing the best company. You want to know that they will not only get the job done right but will be around to answer any questions or provide PV system maintenance. Haleakala Solar founder and CEO Jim Whitcomb discusses 10 questions you need to ask before choosing a solar company.
1. How long has your solar company been in business?
As solar energy has gained popularity within the last few years, many new solar companies have sprouted up due to the “little capital investment required, and few barriers to entry,” says Whitcomb. However, PV installation only pays off for the client over time if the system is durable and installed correctly. You’ll want to choose a firm with a long history of success, so you know they’ll be there if you need assistance after your system is up and running.
2. What licenses and insurance does your solar company have (ie: contractor’s license, contractor’s liability insurance, workers’ compensation)?
You, as the homeowner, could be liable for any on-the-job injuries if your chosen solar company does not have the right insurance policies. Some companies do not possess contractor’s licenses, which prevents them from getting contractor’s liability insurance and workers compensation policies. Jim’s advice: Ask to see these policies before making a decision.
3. How will your solar company handle any troubleshooting issues?
Investing in a solar system can set you back anywhere from $5,000 to over $50,000, so wouldn’t you want to know how each prospective solar company would help you keep the system in tip-top shape? Find out whether there will be trained technicians to repair or replace panels down the road and how much this might cost.
4. Will your solar company handle all the necessary work?
Some companies hire subcontractors which “can make it difficult to track accountability, should an issue arise.” Be aware of who will be doing the installation and maintenance, their quality of work, and any potential liability you have as the homeowner.
5. Who are some of your other clients?
Of course, most solar companies want you to see only their best reviews, but we all understand no company can be perfect. The true value of a company comes through when they give the same outstanding service to both new and existing customers alike. Ask for the name and phone number of a customer that experienced issues with their system, so you can get honest feedback about the response.
6. Do you operate out of a commercial facility?
Some manufacturers ship PV panels directly to customers, removing the need to store inventory, but Whitcomb discourages against buying from a company who cuts corners. Ideally, a solar dealer should operate an office with warehouse space and have a support staff with at least one factory-trained technician. Choose a solar company that has enough confidence to invest in themselves.
7. Where is the best place to install my solar panels?
A solar contractor should be able to show you the best location for installation by analyzing various factors including the direction the property is facing, the angle of the roof, the roof’s strength, type of weather, and any obstructions that cause shading.
8. Who deals with the electric company?
Choose a solar company that won’t leave you hanging as soon as the system is up. Licensed contractors should ensure the solar system passes inspection and should not expect payment until the solar system is approved.
9. What about credits on my electric bill?
With traditional electricity, your meter flows one-way, measuring the amount of electricity flowing into your house. During sunny times, when you are producing more energy than you consume, your meter will spin backward and you will receive a credit on your electric bill.
10. Can you explain solar tax credits?
Systems must be fully installed and functioning to apply for solar tax credits. The federal government offers a 30 percent solar tax credit on the cost and installation of each solar system, and Hawaii offers a 35 percent tax credit with a $5,000 cap. Because you can get a credit per each system installed, some solar companies will try to “maximize your tax credits” by dividing panels into multiple systems. It’s important to know the total number of panels as well as how many separate PV systems these panels will form. Tax authorities are taking note of how these credits can be abused. If panels are separated into different systems for no reason, and your tax return is audited, you will be fined with interest and may lose out on the tax credits altogether. Visit our Solar Tax Credit page for more information.