How to Choose Your Solar Contractor
As with any contractor working on your home or business you will want to verify that the solar professionals you consider are licensed, bonded and insured. Additionally, you’ll want to know:
What certifications do they hold?
Some organizations are now certifying installers by a set of standards; one of the most common today is NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners). When looking at credentials it is important to remember that due to the newness of this type of certification there many highly qualified, experienced and reputable solar professionals that still do not carry this specific certification. These “non-certified” installers often have considerable training and vast experience in the industry which means that they are very qualified to do your installation. Be sure to look beyond the certification and deeper into the training and experience of prospective contractor before making your decision on a solar professional.
What is their training?
Many companies that manufacture and distribute renewable energy products offer training on their products and on solar technology in general. Be sure your installer has kept up-to-date with training on specific products and changes in the industry.
Are they a licensed electrician?
Many highly qualified solar professionals do not carry an electrical license. However, due to regulations for residential electrical work you will need a licensed electrician to obtain a permit, supervise the job and do the final AC hookup.
Some solar professionals will say that it is best to have all installation services available under one roof. At Fire Mountain Solar we have a different philosophy. We hold a General Contractor’s license and have hand selected and personally trained Strategic Partners to provide electrical and other services that require specialty licenses to our customers. However, Fire Mountain Solar oversees and inspects all of our installations to insure the finished project meets our rigorous quality standards. This model is in alignment with our goals of flexibility, efficiency and exceptional quality. Ask us more about why we have chosen this approach to our installations.
Are they experienced?
Talk with potential installers about their experience. But just because an installer hasn’t done a job exactly like yours does not mean they do not have the knowledge to do a proper, quality installation for you. If you are concerned if an installer can handle your type of installation, ask them for references from industry professionals, such as wholesalers or distributors, who can attest to their qualifications.
Can they provide references?
Ask for references and contact them. But remember, a contractor will use their most satisfied customers as references.
Check out third party sources, such as Solar-Estimate.org, a free service to consumers that provides a comprehensive selection of pre-screened solar, wind and energy professionals. All reviews from customers available at Solar-Estimate.org come directly from the customer and are not provided by installers. This insures that you are getting accurate, unbiased information about potential installers. But be wary of some websites that provide lists of renewable energy installers. Many are just marketing companies paid to advertise for installers and/or pre-screen customers. These services can help you locate professionals in your area, but they should not be relied upon as unbiased sources of references for those installers.
Ask for business references such as industry wholesalers and banks who can speak to the professionalism, integrity, experience and the reputation of the company. And don’t forget the Better Business Bureau! Are the companies you are interviewing members? If not you can still check to see if any complaints have been submitted by former customers.
How many years have they been in business and how many systems have they installed?
Fire Mountain Solar has been in business since 2001 (though the Nelson’s were in the industry before then.) The number of installations we’ve done is rapidly increasing; ask us for specifics when we talk.
Do they have experience with both grid-tie and off-grid systems?
Off-grid expertise is becoming increasingly rare, as many new companies come into the market that focus solely on grid-tie solar. Fire Mountain Solar is one of the most experienced off-grid contractors in the US, having considerable personal as well as professional experience with off-grid battery-based systems.
We also have many years of grid-tie experience, and would love the opportunity to help you find just the right solution for your home or business.
What is the lead time from the time the contract is signed to when my system will be producing energy?
Lead time can vary greatly depending on which components are selected and the time of year the installation is done. Components such as racking are often ordered directly from the manufacturer and generally have a minimum of two weeks lead time; sometimes four to six weeks lead time during the busy seasons. Spring and summer tend to be the busiest seasons for installations which can increase lead time, and fall and winter weather can cause delays.
However, generally speaking, most systems can be installed within two to four weeks of you signing a contract with Fire Mountain Solar. And the actual installation itself usually takes 1 to 3 days for residential systems.
What is their warranty?
At Fire Mountain Solar we are so confident in the quality of the products we offer and the workmanship of our installations that we offer a 5 year warranty on all systems that we install. For product only purchases the manufacturers’ warranties and terms apply.
And one more important question that may help you select just the right company to do the job:
Do they live with renewable energy systems themselves?
Tim and Alana Nelson, founders of Fire Mountain Solar, have lived completely off-the-grid since 1996, using solar and wind technology to power their home. And the office building of Fire Mountain Solar is operated completely off-grid as well.