Solar Buyer Beware: Summer Brings Warnings for Consumers

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As the solar industry’s maturation leads to growing pains like contractor scams, the Better Business Bureau and others issue warnings for consumers. The industry needs to help educate consumers to avoid scams, thereby helping ensure that solar is seen in a positive light.

As the solar industry matures, it’s experiencing both the benefits of a growing industry and the pitfalls. An unfortunate pitfall is the scams that can accompany any home contracting project.

The fact that the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers about these scams is a sign of how far the industry has come. Even having something to warn about is relatively new when it comes to solar. But to take solar to the next level, we all need to be sure to avoid this kind of behavior. Solar has enough challenges without shady dealings giving it a bad name.

Consumer education is one step we can take to minimize the risk. Because the average consumer is still unfamiliar with solar technology, costs, and financing options, they can become easy prey for unscrupulous — or even just misleading — solar providers.

Issues with solar installations can be numerous, and serious. Common ones are incorrect installation, damage to the roof, and faulty panels. In many cases, solar providers make promises they can’t keep. A homeowner may be assured that they will save a certain amount of money with a solar lease, only to find that the escalator increases more quickly than their electricity rate.

So what can consumers do? It’s crucial that they do their research. Specifically, the BBB advises homeowners to:

  • First, conduct an energy audit to determine if solar makes sense. In general, if a homeowner’s monthly bill is less than $100, they should look into cheaper ways to save energy — and money.

  • Find out how many sunny days their home gets each year, and check to see if the roof is shaded for all or part of the day.

  • Ask about local, state, and federal laws regarding solar standards.

  • As with any product or service, comparison shop with several providers. This can’t be stressed enough. Homeowners differ in what they consider most important — cost, working with a local company, getting American-made panels — but whatever the criteria, it’s important to get more than one bid and not to go with the first provider who knocks on the door. Solar companies also have a tendency to present their offerings as if they’re unique. But we all know there’s more than one company that offers zero-down solar leases. Yet a surprising number of homeowners don’t get more than one bid.

  • Find out about available tax credits, and whether the provider will take them. Homeowners should also ask how long they will receive tax credits for and if they will be taxed on the credits.

  • Be cautious, and check all details. Some providers will promise the homeowner no out-of-pocket costs before reviewing their specific situation. Basically, if it sounds too good, look into it further.  

  • Ensure the roof is in good condition and can handle a solar system.

 

All of these are important, but success can hinge on choosing the right provider. With solar, as with most big financial decisions, it comes down to trust. In a recent Enphase survey, 69% of respondents said that they went with the most trusted or highest rated residential solar installer, compared to the 56% for whom price was the main factor.

 

Along these lines, Service 1st Energy Solutions recently put out a press release with a few recommendations:

 

  • Find out more the solar provider — check on their longevity in the local marketplace and their principles of operation.

  • Understand the relationship between solar installers, electricians, and other subcontractors. If subcontractors are used, it’s important that they be properly managed.

  • Pick a company with a proven track record. Past experience ensures that the solar installer knows how to manage every step of the process — sales and financing, permitting and homeowner associations, and installations and inspections.

  • Talk to previous customers of the provider to get an honest perspective of what to expect throughout installation. If that’s not possible, check online reviews.

  • Verify applicable licensing for services being performed — something most homeowners don’t do. Service 1st Energy Solutions notes that it holds six active licenses for their various disciplines of work, which signals that they practice in an honest and accountable manner.

The trick is getting the word out to consumers that they should be doing this due diligence. It’s up to all of us in the solar industry to find ways to educate consumers, and help make solar truly mainstream.