Brian Sadler talks about how to choose the right solar contractor, including what qualifications and certifications are important, and asking about references, testimonials, and their approach to project management.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and I’m here today with Brian Sadler, Vice President at Solaris Renewables, a solar company in Massachusetts providing premium solar and storage technologies with exceptional customer service, and designing, installing, and servicing solar systems in Massachusetts, Southern New Hampshire, and Maine.
Today we’re talking about choosing the right solar contractor. Welcome, Brian.
Brian Sadler: Hi, John. Thanks for having me in today.
Solar Installer Qualifications and Certifications
John: Sure. So, Brian, there are a number of things that people should ask of their potential solar contractor to make sure that they’re choosing the right one, and there’s a lot of different solar companies that are out there, so trying to narrow it down to the one that’s the best for you can be difficult. So first, what are some of the qualifications and certifications that a customer should look for in a solar installer?
Brian: Yeah, that’s a common concern, or something that potential homeowners and business owners are looking for, to make sure they’re comfortable with their contractor, and should be in all cases. So, I’d say that, first of all, you want to make sure that they’re licensed and insured. That’s something that’s listed. For instance, our home improvement contractor license number is listed on our contract. And then of course, we’re fully insured and our numbers are listed on our vehicles and such as well. But we’ll provide that information at any time for home owners. So, you want to make sure that they’re registered with the state, licensed and insured.
And then there are some other industry-specific, there’s NABCEP, and that’s basically a certification that you’ve gone through some training specific to solar. It’s a nice-to-have thing I would say. But really one person in the company could have it, for sales or for installation or for engineering or a variety of different specializations, and then use that badge or qualification across the company, which is generally not the case. Generally speaking, the installers themselves aren’t NABCEP-certified across the board. So, I think most important is that they have a track record and being licensed and insured in the state that you’re working in.
Assessing a Solar Contractor’s Experience in Massachusetts
John: And then how can I assess a contractor’s experience with solar installations, especially here in Massachusetts?
Brian: You got to ask, right? So straight up asking out of the gate and getting the response directly from the company is of course the first step, but understanding that they can provide a home improvement or a general contractor’s license and general liability, workers’ comp, insurances, things of that nature as well. But then also, I would say, checkout their website; do they have customer testimonials on there, are they talking about how many installations they have done or how long they’ve been in the state, things like that.
Mass Clean Energy Center has some data that you can actually search by the contractor’s name and see how many actual installations that they have had in the state as well. So, you can get a good indication there. Sometimes it’s a little tricky because certain names, they have different … They might be like ourselves as a DBA “doing business as”, so there’s some of that. So, ask your contractor and they can point you in that direction and make sure that you’re sourcing the name correctly as well. But there’s state resources there as well. And of course, looking at having them provide furnished photographs of their work and their installations as well as speaking to any current customers.
Ask for Testimonials and References
John: Okay. You mentioned customer testimonials. Are testimonials and references maybe something that you should ask your contractor for?
Brian: Absolutely. We get asked that a lot. So we’ve, over the years, become really proactive with that. And we have a map of all of our installations with pins, with the customer name and address and a photo of their installation. And we have a lot of customers who have volunteered to be solicited references so that we can just provide their names to potential new clients and they can reach out to that homeowner and learn how their experience was with us and how their solar system is performing. So, we certainly do that.
Also, Google reviews is probably the most common place folks are looking for that. There are some other online reviews. I mean there’s a variety of different ones that have popped up, but I think specific to our industry, there’s a handful. Unfortunately, a lot of times, those are owned by big national solar companies and kind of put themselves as the number one installer in the state and such. So, I think Google seems to be one of the most trusted. And then otherwise asking the contractor to point you toward the places where they tell or ask their customers to put reviews and testimonials.
Solar Installation Case Studies
John: And then, similar to that, would be case studies. Is asking for case studies an important consideration as well? And if you were asked for case studies of similar projects to mine, would you be able to provide those?
Brian: Sure, we do. So, these systems have become more and more complex over the years, as with other peripherals with solar. We’re talking about energy storage with batteries and smart panels and smart home connectivity. A lot of connectivity, app interfaces, and the control of a full energy system with solar. There’s more going on. And so, sure, we have a variety of case studies that we can point customers to.
So, if a customer is looking at a particular type of project, we can say, okay, in your area, we have customer X, Y, and Z, similar system size or a similar type of project, similar home layout, similar whatever-the-case-may-be. And we say for them, they were able to cut their electric bill by 70% or 100%, or they’re fully able to go off the grid with energy storage system and backup capabilities. So, whatever the kind of the alignment is with the current client, looking at the options that they’re considering, we can certainly align it with a case study with a current customer that gives them an indication of how things would work for them.
Project Timelines and Approach to Project Management
John: And then what about project timelines and your approach to project management? Would that be something that you’d want to discuss with a potential contractor as well, so that I know that my project is going to be done within a certain timeframe?
Brian: I think expectations are really important, and having them clearly defined and outlined. So, I would certainly want to ask my contractor. And any project, especially solar and something that I haven’t gone through before, I certainly think that’s a great question to ask your contractor. We handle it in our own way, and other companies handle it in their own way. So, for us, I think it’s a really transparent process. We provide the timeline and expectations in writing to all of our customers. We manage everything in house, so we have a lot more control and as well as response. So, we know when a customer’s saying “hey, where are we at?”, we know where it’s at, and we can respond to that immediately.
We also have a variety of teams working on one project. So as this comes in, it would be the consultant or sales rep who’s consulting with the homeowner, and then they become a customer, and then it’s going to go into the site, the drone, the site inspection phase. We have communication and timelines and expectations and we all talk to each other. So that’s, I think, important as well. It’s not like we are just selling a project to a customer and then trading that off to a subcontractor to do the project management, and then another subcontractor to install it, and then another subcontractor to do the service. We’re doing all of that in-house. It’s the same folks working on your project throughout and we know where that’s at. So,I think us being able to control the expectations timeline and be able to provide that information to customers in real time is a huge deal. And I think it creates a much better customer experience and then those customers respond to that in a really positive fashion.
Other Things to Ask Your Solar Contractor
John: Are there any other things that you feel like are important that people should ask of their potential solar installer contractor, just to make sure that, again, they’re working with the right company?
Brian: Yeah, I think that a lot of that is getting a little bit in the technical information, but I think it’s important to know what the product is you’re getting. So, a lot of companies are just talking about a 370-watt panel, for instance. And that’s what it says in the contract. It doesn’t have a brand, it doesn’t have a model number. Same thing with inverters, which is the electronics that make the solar panels’ power usable for our homes.
So, a lot of times these are through the conversation with the homeowner and on the contract are essentially white labeled or very vague. And I think asking homeowners, who the manufacturing partners are that they have, what’s their relationship with distribution, these type of things, a little more nuanced and detailed, but knowing the equipment I think is really important. And how that equipment stacks up versus other equipment and what are the warranties for that equipment.
I think warranties is a huge piece. What are the warranties provided from the installer themselves? What are the warranties provided from the manufacturers and how do those warranties work? How do I file a claim? And I think those are really important pieces. We try to take all that off the plate. We have really strong manufacturing relationships and therefore we manage all of the warranties on behalf of our customers. They need not chase around manufacturers. If there’s a warranty claim, we handle that all internally, and it’s due to our long-term relationships with the manufacturer that we think are really important. Be it the panels, inverters, the other electronics, small panels, the battery storage systems and the railing and mounting systems. All these pieces are really important. That’s another thing, is people forget these are attached to your home.
Brian: So, what’s the mounting equipment that you’re using? How are you attaching this to my roof and to my home? What about the wire management? Where is that going to be and how’s it going to look? Where’s the equipment going to reside? Is it going to be in my basement on the side of my house? Is it going to be out front by my doorbell? These are things that we work really hard to make, not only the system perform well, but be aesthetically pleasing. And these are all questions that are really important to talk to your contractor about, because I would say that we do things differently than others do. And a lot of people see systems in their neighborhood and they’re like, “I don’t want that on my house”. And we show them that we do the things a little differently. And once they see it can be done a different way, they’re much more at ease and excited about their project.
John: All right. Well, that’s great advice. Great to talk to you again, Brian. Thank you.
Brian: Thanks, John, I appreciate it.
John: And for more information, you can visit the website at solarisrenewables.com. Or call 781-270-6555.