and solar-thermal certification, and they are working on a wind certificate—all fairly rigorous certifications that involve not only difficult written tests but also require field experience. That said, many seasoned pros with excellent qualifications don’t see the need for additional certification. They may choose to not dedicate the extra time or expense to become NABCEP certified.
Competence will always be as important as credentials, and always harder to judge. Randy Brooks of Brooks Solar in Washington State recommends that prospective system owners trust their instincts. Ask yourself if potential installers look and sound like they know what they are doing, he says. Interviewing more than one prospect and comparing their responses will help you feel more confident about your judgment through understanding your own needs and learning what to appreciate in an installer.
Electrical License. If you contract with an installer who doesn’t have an electrical license, you or your installer may need to hire a licensed electrician to obtain the permit, supervise the job, and do the final AC hookup. Regulations for residential electrical work vary from state to state, so be sure to check with your local code officials prior to installation. Your installer should have a good working relationship with the local electrical inspector. Also, if you expect to take advantage of financial incentives, be aware that many states won’t provide rebates to unlicensed or unapproved installers.
Bonded & Insured. Make sure your installer has liability insurance to protect you against installation mishaps—a ladder that accidentally shatters a picture window, for instance. You need to be protected if the installer’s work damages your house during or after the installation, or if one of the company’s workers is injured on the job. Some installers advertise that they are “bonded” as well. This guarantees that the contractor will meet their obligations in a satisfactory manner. Failure to do so results in the bonding company paying you compensation. However, being bonded is expensive, so if you want an installer who is both bonded and insured, you’ll probably have to forego a one-person operation for a larger installation company.
Training. How recently and where has your installer been educated and trained? Find out if the installer has kept up-to-date with training courses on the specific products they sell. Many companies that manufacture and distribute RE products offer training, enabling installers to stay current on new product developments and how they fit into RE systems.
Experience. Don’t be shy about asking about an installer’s experience. Every installation is different, so the more installations an installer has handled, the more likely yours will be manageable for them. Find out how many systems similar to yours the installer has designed and installed. Plus, there are always new products entering the market, and new regulations to deal with. An installer who has completed several recent installations will probably be familiar with the newest products and the latest code issues.
Variety & Quality of Products. The variety of products an installer carries may or may not be important to you. But the more brands an installer carries, the