Installing a solar system is not a small investment. In many cases it will be more expensive than buying a car and the contractor will be working in your home, so it pays to get a good contractor and one that you are comfortable with in the long run.
For our project we sought bids from four reputable solar contractors (two smaller companies and two bigger ones). Our installation is not the typical cookie cutter roof mount system and the two bigger companies do not seem interested in doing the anything residential beyond the basic roof mounted array. The two more independent contractors were much more interested in thinking outside the box. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, we have a beautiful southern exposure along the back side of our house, but south is not the way the roof faces. Both SunBug Solar and Go Green Industries were excited by the project and spent the time to work up a project estimate for us.
- SunBug Solar
- Go Green Industries
- Nexamp – Never returned my request for proposal
- Gro Solar – Called back, but said they’d have to check with engineers and never got back to me after that.
Be sure to get the estimates as apples-to-apples as possible. A couple things to remember to consider are:
- Does the project include a monitoring service? i.e., web tracking of energy production
- Who does the rebate paperwork?
- Who applies for the building permits?
- Who applies for the utility interconnect?
- Are you confident the work will be done to your satisfaction and in a timely manner?
- Can any rebates be paid directly to the contractor (less financing needed upfront if it can)?
We are very happy with the work Go Green Industries did for us 2 years ago when they installed our high-efficiency boiler, and we have a friend in town that had recently completed a project happily with SunBug Solar, so we knew both contractors would do a good job.
Be sure to check references
A lot of solar companies are springing up over night to meet the growing demand, some will do a good job, others will not. Be sure to talk to previous customers in your town. Prior experience of the contractor working with your city or town and your utility company on the various permits will make your project flow much smoother. You also want to make sure your contractor is insured and licensed.
You can negotiate
If you have one contractor that you would prefer to work with, but their price is significantly higher, try negotiating. Our friends in New Jersey successfully got their preferred solar contractor to meet the bid another contractor had made for the same job saving them thousands of dollars.
Some solar companies are able to offer very good financing. In some states, the pre-sale of Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECS) can offset the initial capital investment. Talk to your contractor and your local banks to see if low interest financing or SREC pre-sales are available.
Remember, this is a big decision, take your time and ask questions. A good contractor/company will work with you to make sure you understand all the aspects of the project. Read the fine print of the contract. As I’ve said a few times, this is more expensive than a car and will last longer too. Think about how much paper work there is to buy a car and be glad the contract is much shorter and more straight forward. If it isn’t that may be a signal to reconsider the contractor. Our contract was about 8 pages plus the design specifications.
Even though the bid from Go Green Industries was slightly lower for the same panels, inverter and general structure, the big deciding factor was that SunBug Solar would do all the paperwork and would apply the rebate from Commonwealth Solar directly to the project cost savings us the need to fund a large portion of the project out of pocket or with financing.
We are looking forward to the next stages of this project with a lot of excitement and anticipation.
Jon & Alicia
|Going for Solar Series|
To learn more about residential solar installations, check out our series Going for Solar, which details every step from dreaming about installing solar, through picking a contractor and the steps in construction. We provide information and advice for every step of the way, as well as different approaches such as paying for it yourself versus leasing a system. Don’t miss the steps on how much money we saved during our first year of usage!