How to Spot a Bad Solar Installer so You Can Avoid Them like the Plague

15 Questions to Ask Before Investing in 25 Years of Energy Production

If you want to recover your investment in solar power, you only get one shot at finding the right installer.

Lately, we’ve been called by an increasing number of people who’ve had problems with their solar installations and have asked us to come in and fix them. In most cases, we’re forced to turn them down. Why are they asking us and not the original company? Mike Croft,  Director of Sustainable Solutions for Agriculture for Coastal Solar, gives two reasons:

We receive calls every week from people needing repairs or maintenance on poorly built systems. Most of the time, the company who did the installation has disappeared or did such a poor job that the customer no longer wants to work with them.”

To make sure we’re all clear, here are the two reasons:

1) The original installer has disappeared

2) The customer wants nothing to do with them

Neither of these situations is good for anyone. What’s happening these days as solar energy becomes increasingly appealing and economically viable, is that bad actors and get-rich-quick installers are popping up, trying to win quick business, make some cash, and then bolt before anyone finds out they have little idea what they’re doing.

Sometimes, the same owner will actually launch a new company after closing the old one. They’ll just use a different name. An Australian article about this problem calls this ‘phoenixing,’ a reference to the second X-Men film. With that strategy, they can avoid liability or having to honor repair warranties and can leave their customers holding the bag when their solar systems don’t perform as promised.

Bad Solar Installations Blow Your Chance to Save Big on Energy

Saving money with solar power depends entirely on having the right system that lasts for many years. Coastal Solar offers a 25-year warranty on our panels and installation. We want you insure that get a good return on your investment.

So, when a person decides to “save” a little money up front by taking the lowest offer on the table, what often ends up happening is, their system underperforms or stops working entirely after just a few years. At that point, their investment has gone up in smoke.

With solar power, the goal isn’t to save a little money on the front end. The goal is to save money for the next 25 or more years. That means getting every detail right in the installation. The only way to do that is to work with a reputable installer.

Otherwise, you end up with this

How Can a Bad Solar Installation Cost You?

A poorly done solar installation can affect you in many ways.

Aesthetically, it might just look bad and an eyesore can degrade your home’s value.

A poorly done installation can also cause roof leaks if the panels aren’t secured and sealed properly. It can have exposed wires, which jeopardize the long-term performance of the system in addition to just looking bad. It can fail to meet code. It can fail to qualify for the warranty because it’s not done according to the manufacturer’s specifications. his all applies to the inverter as well as the solar panels.

In short, a bad solar installation can look bad, damage your house, underperform, stop working early, and fail to qualify for the warranty.

As Mike Croft puts it when explaining why Coastal Solar has to turn down most repair jobs when other companies installed them:

Unfortunately, we can rarely service these customers because the liabilities are too great, and the manufacturer’s warranties will not cover the repairs done to improperly installed systems or through a company other than the original installer. That’s why we highly recommend thoroughly vetting your potential solar installer. Simply going with the cheapest bid could cost you thousands in the long run.”

So how do you vet your potential solar installers, as Mike suggests? Here’s how:

15 Questions: How to Sniff Out a Poor-Quality Solar Installer

Ask them these questions and then do some follow up research:

1. Do they have all the necessary business license, and insurance policies for your state and locality?

If they don’t, then don’t work with them. Pretty simple.

2. What is their license number (so that you can you validate their credentials)?

Don’t take their word for it. Get their license number, and then go verify its authenticity.

Here’s a clickable map, by state, where you can see your state’s licensing requirements, if any.

If your state has no solar licensing requirement, there are still solar certifications and other quality-control processes you can ask about. For example:

3. Will there be a licensed electrician on-site when the system is installed?

Don’t settle for anything less. Sadly, in most states, you don’t have to be a licensed electrician for the electrical interconnection, you can be working under someone else’s or none in most agriculture cases. If you want your solar installation done right, you need much more assurance and skill than that from your installer. For starters, you want a licensed electrician, and you want them on site during the installation, not just to see their name on the company website.

Ideally, you also want to work with a company that has at least one NABCEP certified PV installer on their staff. Keith Freeman is Coastal Solar’s NABCEP installer.

Keith has also been called “The Pioneer of Solar in the Southeast” because he’s led so many big solar projects and installations in multiple Southeastern states, as well as islands in the Caribbean.

4. Do they design and install the systems themselves or do they subcontract to local companies?

If they do use subcontractors, are the subcontractors licensed and have they undergone background checks? There’s nothing wrong with subcontracting, if those companies are as legitimate as the solar company you’re working with. Again, check licenses.

5. How long have they been in business?

Obviously, every company must start somewhere. But if you want to be safe, you should go with a company with many years of experience and stability, with multiple projects they can show you today that are still operating and producing.

6. Will they let you contact current clients for unbiased reviews?

Your potential installer should also let you contact some of those clients, especially ones whose solar panels they installed several years ago, not last week. Happy customers with solar energy systems still operating as promised five or ten years later are a great indicator that your installer knows what they’re doing and can be trusted.

7. How big is their service area? Are they operating in multiple states or are they a local company?

Just local isn’t good enough. Coastal Solar has installed solar power systems in four states, and we’ve received a generous amount of press coverage because of the quality of our service and work.

8. How many solar systems have they installed?

While more is not necessarily better, this will give you some idea of their experience.

9. How much experience do they have working with your utility company? How familiar are they with the permitting process?

This is one area where your installation can cause major problems. You need an installer who knows how to work with the government and the utilities, so everything is done to code.

10. Can they provide you with customer reviews & testimonials, references and examples of their other installations?

Again – you want to see all kinds of jobs, with photos, names, faces, endorsements, people you can reach out to. If they’re doing great work, they shouldn’t have any problem with this.

11. Who should you contact if there is a problem with the system? Where is that person located?

If the person you contact is in another country, that’s a problem. You want localized service you can count on. You want a phone number that won’t vanish in two months.

12. Who is responsible for ensuring that warranties are serviced in a timely manner?

This might be the same person as the one in question 11. Could be a different person. Find out.

13. How many different warranties are there total for the system’s components and what do they cover?

For example, do they cover only the products themselves, or also shipping and labor for replacing them? Do the panels have a different warranty from the inverter? What about the installation as a whole vs the individual panels?

Be absolutely clear how your warranties works.

14. What happens if the system does not produce as much power as was promised? Does the company offer a performance guarantee?

Your solar installer should be able to show you projected energy production and cost savings for your solar panels. Coastal Solar gives 25-year financial forecasts that include break even points, internal rate of return, and much more.

15. How did you hear about this installer?

Beware of online ads for solar installation with super low, limited time offers. Solar installation is a complex process. It’s not something you want done “as fast and cheaply as possible.” That’s the only way those companies can offer those rates.

They underpay their installers, forcing them to cut corners to get it done as fast as possible so it’s still financially worthwhile for them. That’s how shoddy solar installations happen.

How Is Coastal Solar Different? Ask the Governor

When you ask us for an estimate, you can ask us all 15 of these questions, and more.

Clay Sikes, owner of Coastal Solar, has a stellar reputation around the region, in more industries than just solar. His business ethics precede and define him wherever he goes.

Keith Freeman, who you heard about earlier, has been in the solar industry for over 40 years. Many more of our employees have been with us for years. We’ve been installing solar power systems a long time and will continue to do it.

In fact, did you know both gubernatorial candidates in the last election cycle stopped by Coastal Solar during their campaigns? Ask yourself – why did they choose us for this honor, and no other Georgia solar companies?

That’s trust and reputation you can’t buy, especially with a cheap lowball limited time offer on the internet and a phone number that doesn’t work after two months.

Your solar installation needs to last over 20 years. Get it done right, and it will.

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