Part 2 of our checklist for choosing a solar provider focuses on deciding which proposal, and which solar installation company, is the best fit for you. (ICYMI, here’s Part 1, which addressed eight characteristics to look for when deciding which solar companies to ask for proposals.)
It's All About Service
All of these factors fall under the umbrella of "Service" which, when it comes to solar, boils down to this: Will your solar provider deliver the system and benefits you want in a prompt, friendly and high-quality manner?
More than Money
Comparing two or more proposals can be difficult. Maybe one recommends 28 panels made by Brand A, and the other proposes 24 panels from Brand B. How on Earth do you compare the prices for those?
Our advice? Don’t worry too much about the prices. We know that sounds crazy. Solar is a big investment, but if the proposals are in the same ballpark, don’t torture yourself by evaluating them on price.
(As with all things construction-related, if a proposal is wildly higher, or lower, than the others, that is a red flag and you’ll probably want to toss out that proposal, unless there is a clear reason for the price difference.)
If you did the homework outlined in Part 1 of The Top 15 Things to Look For in a Solar Provider, then all your proposals are from reputable California companies offering high-quality products. So at this stage of the decision process, focus instead on what it will be like to work with each solar company. Will they provide the service you expect, and make going solar as easy as possible? Break it down using the following seven criteria.
As you scan the proposals before you, think back to your experiences with the salespeople. How comfortable did each of them make you feel about his or her company, and solar in general? Did you feel you were being forced into solar or a particular panel brand or system size? Or did you feel you were having a conversation in which the solar consultant listened to your needs and proposed solutions appropriate for your lifestyle and wallet?
The salesperson’s approach says something about the company’s philosophy. Chances are, you can expect the same kind of service you got from the salesperson — good or bad — from others at the solar company.
One Point of Contact
Once you’ve signed up with a solar installation company, the salesperson will most likely hand you off to a new contact for the remainder of your project.
We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have one point of contact for your solar installation. Behind the scenes, many people will be involved in scheduling the installation, ordering the equipment, securing the necessary permits and inspections, coordinating with the utility, booking the crew, and actually overseeing the crew.
You do not want to have to track down a new contact for each step of the project! You should be assigned one point of contact — at Citadel Roofing & Solar we call them Project Managers — who is available to coordinate with the rest of the in-house team, guide you through the process, and answer any questions you may have.
Equally important, confirm that you will be given a direct number and email for that person, making it easy for you to contact him or her.
Now is also a good time to ask about the credentials of the employees who will be working on your project. If the company website doesn’t provide biographical information on employees, ask your salesperson about your team’s experience in solar and related areas.
Most important is, again, your one point of contact. Now, no one employee knows everything, but your contact person should have a strong working knowledge of solar technology and financials.
(Any company can have new employees with a learning curve. Cut them some slack as long as they are honest and direct, and promptly seek out any answers they don’t have at their fingertips.)
Installing a bunch of rectangular solar panels in an attractive layout might sound like an easy task, but have you actually looked closely at some of the systems out there? Bad designs and bad workmanship are far too common.
The right solar company will design a solar energy system that is attractive and fits well with your home, with a minimum of visible “conduit” or wiring. If the panels don’t look good in the drawing in your proposal, chances are they won’t look good in reality either!
Designing a pretty system isn’t enough. Some solar companies like to downplay the actual system design to minimize your input. They don’t want your opinions because they want to install the system of their choosing.
But it is your right to understand why your system design looks the way it does. Good solar companies will explain this, and exactly how your solar will look on your home. You should understand exactly where all the pieces of the solar electric system—panels, wiring, inverters and meters—will be located. Even though some equipment may be installed in your basement or garage, you still want it to be neat and as unobtrusive as possible.
Once the crew is onsite, if the crew lead determines a change is needed, the rationale for that change should be clearly explained, and you should be asked to sign off on the change.
If your solar proposal suggests you need some roof work done before installing solar panels — typically these are roof reinforcements or sometimes a completely new roof — it’s a plus if the solar company can also provide the roofing services you need.
Otherwise, you are forced to find a roofer on your own, compare those proposals, and then coordinate the roof work with the solar work. You didn’t look into solar to become a general contractor. So a solar company that can make the roof work easy — like Citadel Roofing & Solar — is going to make your life a lot easier.
Clearly Defined, Easy Process
Last but not least, your solar company should make it clear upfront what happens after you sign up with them.
What are the actual steps of the permitting, approvals and installation process? What is the timing? Are there any potential delays? What is your involvement? (Click here to access Citadel’s infographic on the Solar Installation Process.)
Solar in California does come with a lot of paperwork related to engineering, local electric and building inspections, and utility connections. A reputable company will explain to you at the beginning what the steps are, and they should handle most of those steps for you.
Solar Service Checklist
For easy reference, here’s a checklist of things to consider when deciding which solar company’s proposal to accept, based on which company will provide you with the best service.
If you’re just starting your solar journey and haven’t requested proposals yet, read Part 1 of this post for a checklist of things to consider when deciding which solar companies to contact.