by Susan Brown
Have you ever bought a car without doing some comparison shopping? At least checking on the internet or visiting a few showrooms? I am shocked that some folks buy solar from the first person that crosses their threshold. Of course, there are quite a few that will take months to make a decision, checking out every last detail, including making sure they know exactly how solar panels are forged from sand. Somewhere in between is a happy medium.
Solar energy is still a fairly new industry and consumers need to protect themselves just like with any other big ticket purchase.
1. Start with asking for references. Not just one, but three. And those should ideally come from businesses with systems that have been chugging out electricity for at least a year. Sometimes it takes that long to figure out your system doesn’t work. Ask the solar company how long they have been in business and how many installations they have done. It doesn’t hurt to make sure whether they are the experts in their field or not.
2. Check out the company website. Is it overly simplistic, or is it non-existent? Probably not a good sign. Search for the owner’s name on Missouri Case.net, a handy dandy search feature to see if they have been paying their parking tickets – or worse. Missouri’s Attorney General keeps tabs on consumer complaints, and Missouri’s solar industry has a trade association: Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association (MOSEIA). Look at their list of installer members.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your nice, polite salesperson needs to make sure they are all answered. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Solar energy is a construction project involving electricity; it can be dangerous and you need to pick someone that is experienced and has the wherewithal to be around in 25 years – that’s the length of solar panel warranties. And ask about that warranty: if it isn’t at least 25 years, shop elsewhere. Do they have a customer service department? Two men and a truck usually don’t. Remember to ask whether your roof will need strengthening first to take the weight of the panels. If it’s too weak to take the weight, you’ll need a roofing contractor like Lidoran Roofing in Sydney and Brisbane, Australia to have it strengthened, which will obviously need to be done before the solar panels are installed.
4. Understand your contract. Read it. In most cases the solar array will belong to you. You will receive a utility rebate check made out in your name only, and you can take a federal tax credit at the end of the year, not your installer. Don’t give the installer all the money up-front. Reputable installers have a schedule of payments for milestones achieved from contract signed to materials delivered to project completion.
5. Finally, listen to your gut. If you feel something just isn’t right, it usually isn’t. Most of us just aren’t that intimately familiar with our electric bill. You have every right to question the person spouting phrases like “kilowatt hours” and “DC power”. There are a large number of reputable solar installers across the state. Your home or business deserves the best, not just the cheapest.
- Where to find solar energy information and facts.
- Energy Sage blog: Go Solar Checklist: A Useful Tool for Shopping for Solar Power Systems