Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Solar Companies: How to Choose a Competent Solar Contractor

To any individual out there who's considering going solar and is evaluating their options while speaking to a few solar contractors... I feel your pain.

Believe it or not seven years ago, before Cosmic Solar had even installed its first solar electric system, Bahram and Judith Shadzi -- the owners of Cosmic Solar -- had a difficult choice...
"Which solar contractor is best suited for the important task of installing a solar electric system on our home?"

Being that it's an electrical system that will be producing energy on our roof for the next few decades, it's not unreasonable to stop and ask: Is the person performing work on my home a rational, experienced and well-intentioned contractor? It's certainly a great question and the answer to that question can be a difficult one to assess. We can't help but beg the question: How can I find someone I trust?

 Another great question... which brings us to our "tale of two solar companies."

Company A, let's call them "Cheesy Solar," is in the business of talking bad about their competition, cutting corners, using cheap materials, telling you what you want to hear and making a quick buck in order to secure the maximum amount of profit.

"You need to think about it? What is there to think about?"

Company B, let's call them "Competent Solar" is in the business of keeping their customer's best interest in mind, securing the best deal for their customer, growing their business by referrals and striving to uphold the standards they've sworn after acquiring their licenses for solar electric, electrical and general contracting work.

"Of course, we'd be happy to take care of that for you at no extra charge."

Which company would you rather go with...?

Sure, when put in that context, it's easy to decide who you're more comfortable with for your solar project. If every contractor was that transparent, it would be simple to choose Competent Solar from Cheesy Solar in a solar installer lineup. So how about some more subtle hints that the company you're choosing is competent?

Thought you'd never ask...

Tip number one: Make sure your solar contractor pays attention to the details.

Sure, the brick wall pictured above may look like one continuous wall of bricks of the same color to the untrained eye, but when you look closer, the difference in color is significant. The type of screws, grounding lugs and of sealants your solar contractor might choose for your job all look similar from the get-go, but are they really using the best quality materials they can find? Ask where they're securing their materials for their job. If they say "Home Depot," you may want to request another quote.

Tip number two: Make sure to ask how much experience their company has.

A solar contractor who has only installed a few systems in Southern California over the past 24 months is most likely not one you'll trust knowing the "ins and outs" of the county inspectors, solar and electrical system codes, and the long term integrity of your system. If a contractor who has been in the solar business for three months offers you a ten year warranty, it's not a bad idea to exercise the concept of "buyer beware."

Tip number three: Ask what licenses the solar company possesses.

If a company has been primarily a plumbing company for ten years and is now selling solar systems, that should raise a red flag. If a company does not devote 100% of their time to solar, how can you be sure they know everything they should know to successfully and safely install your system with no flaws or glitches?

Tip number four: How many references does your solar contractor provide?

If your bid for your solar electric system comes only with two or three names of past satisfied customers, that's not a good sign. One of the best ways to learn about a company is through their customers. A competent solar contractor should provide their customers with a list of not three, but over 50 installation references in order to ensure potential clients can make an educated decision. These installs range from extremely recent to years back for a good diverse mix. When proposals are given, contact a few past customers for confirmation because there is no better way to gain knowledge about who you're working with than speaking with customers who have gone through the process and are happy with their solar investment.
Tip number five: Choose a company who is local.

Sure, the company you're interested in may be giving you the deal of your lifetime, but if they're a three hour drive away from where you live, do you really think they'll be there in a 24 hour notice if your system is experiencing an issue?

Choosing a company which is in close proximity to your house is a very important thing to think about. If you were having a heart attack, would you be comfortable driving three hours to see your doctor? The reality is any issue with your solar system, though not as urgent, should be treated in the same respect.

When in doubt?

Contact the California Center for Sustainable Energy, a San Diego-based organization which helps homeowners learn more about solar and reliable ways to choose reputable companies for solar installations for their home. If a contractor has an ongoing positive relationship with the California Center for Sustainable Energy, this is a very good sign that the contractor is trustworthy and will likely keep your best interest in mind during your installation.

Pey Shadzi
Operations Manager, Cosmic Solar, Inc.



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