Mail-order companies, large discount warehouses, small mom-and-pop businesses, and large corporations all sell and/or install renewable energy (RE) systems. As the number of dealers, distributors, and installers grows, being an informed consumer is increasingly important. It will save you money, time, and aggravation to do advance research to find an installer who best meets your needs. You’ll want to be sure that the person designing and installing your new system has the expertise to make it efficient, safe, and reliable.
Geoff Greenfield, an installer with Third Sun Solar and Wind Power of Athens, Ohio, advises people to verify an installer’s experience before hiring them. While everyone has to learn somewhere, if you want to hire a novice, make sure you are willing to risk being part of their learning curve. New installers should learn by working with experienced industry professionals—not by trial and error on your system.
Greenfield also suggests that you take a close look at your prospective installer’s approach and attitude. “Select someone who will listen to and serve your true goals and motivation,” he says. “Too often a client will end up with a one-size-fits-all solution that isn’t what they really wanted. If your installer’s only solution is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.”
Experience pays off in the end. The pain of a poorly designed or installed system lasts much longer than the short-term sting of paying a bit more. You can, however, choose to save money by working with the installer on parts of the project. Why pay an installer’s wages to dig that trench, or pour that cement? If your installer is agreeable, it may save some money to do it yourself.
“If you want to assist in the installation,” says solar consultant Joel Davidson, “be sure the installer understands what you want to do. Some technicians will not work with homeowners because of the hindrance factor or insurance liability; others won’t because their own lack of skill and experience will become obvious.”
Veteran installer Dave Palumbo of Vermont-based Independent Power says, “One thing I tell do-it-yourselfers is that this stuff is not easy. It may look slick when you see a completed system, but there are 101 ways to mess it up along the way.” Palumbo has seen customers balk at his prices, only to later realize that it was a bargain to have the job done right the first time rather than labor over the details themselves or deal with an inexperienced installer.
Most of us want the best product for the least cost. But shopping by price alone can get you in trouble in the long run. What you’re trying to buy is renewable energy for years. That means that you want reliable equipment installed for the long haul. Here’s a listing of some key issues to consider when selecting an installer.
Professional Credentials. Organizations are now certifying installers by a set of standards, and seeing an installer’s credentials can give you an idea of their qualifications. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) offers solar-electric