August 28, 2008
Consumer Advisory From the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA)
Solar works. Solar products are available for your home or business that will produce electricity, heat water for your household uses, and heat your pool. Solar energy systems are excellent investments for many home owners who wish to generate their own clean energy, increase the value and enjoyment of their property, and protect themselves from future energy rate increases. Consumers considering having a solar energy systems installed should consider it as a significant home improvement project, and should follow the same common sense and regulated guidelines as with any other home remodeling project.
With all of the interest and publicity surrounding renewable energy, coupled with generous state and federal incentives and rebates, the solar industry in California has grown exponentially in the last several years. Many solar companies in California have been selling and installing solar systems for decades, and many excellent companies have entered the market in the last several years.
Unfortunately, as with any growing industry, companies with little or no expertise in either the technology or good business practices, or those who see the interest in solar energy as a opportunity to quickly capitalize without delivering a quality product, have sprung up. Recently there have been several instances in California where consumers were taken advantage of by unscrupulous and even criminal activities. The California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) is attempting to educate the consumer and offers this advice to help make sure every new solar customer is a happy solar customer. Property owners should do their research to make sure that the solar company they are considering has a good reputation and sufficient experience, and protect themselves by following the guidelines below.
1. Hire a Licensed Contractor. The contract, and all advertising and documents of the company must contain their California State Contractor's License number. The status of the license, insurance, record of any unresolved complaints, and names of the responsible individuals can be checked at the Contractor's State License Board website at www.cslb.ca.gov. Verify that the contractor's license is in the same name of the company you are dealing with, and that they are licensed to perform the types of work being considered. The consumer section of the website also contains valuable information that anyone who is considering hiring a contractor should review.
2. NEVER give a deposit more than $1000. Home Improvement Contractors are prevented by law from requesting or collecting deposits more than 10% of the contract amount or $1,000, whichever is less. After your deposit is made, it is customary to make partial payments as materials are procured and work is performed. These payment amounts should never exceed the work actually performed, and should be specifically listed in the contract. Be sure that your contract has a provision for holding back a reasonable amount (5% or 10%) until you are satisfied with the work. NEVER pay the full amount of the contract, or sign a certificate of completion before the work is satisfactorily completed. If the contractor is carrying your rebate for you, this may suffice as retention, as the rebate amount cannot be collected until the homeowner signs a certificate of completion.
3. READ your contract carefully. Don't sign anything until you understand the contract and agree to the terms, and make sure the contract includes everything that is agreed to. Never sign a blank or partially blank contract, and be aware that the contractor must provide a Three-Day Right to Cancel, (Rescission), with no obligation to the consumer. All changes to the contract must be in writing and agreed to by the owner. Beware of a contractor offering an initial discounted or group price, and then adding on additional charges during the project. The contract may contain provisions, or terms and conditions, which explain the consumer's and contractor's rights. However, a good contract will be fair and even in its provisions. If you feel that the contract you are asked to sign is one-sided, ask the contractor to change the clauses that you object to. If the contractor refuses to negotiate, you may want to reconsider whether this is the company that you want to do business with.
4. CONFIRM the sales representative is a registered Home Improvement Salesperson. The individual will be listed on the contractor's page in the CSLB website, and have an identification card issued from the Contractors' State License Board.
You will find that most reputable solar companies are competitively priced, but it is always a good idea to get more than one estimate. If the claims your salesperson sound too good to be true, they probably are. Don't sign the contract and don't give the salesperson any money if something doesn't feel right to you. And remember, you have 3 days to reconsider any contract you sign to improve your home, at no cost or obligation. Do your own independent research to verify that the benefits and costs are described correctly. Talk to your neighbors and people you know who have a solar system and learn from their experiences.
About CALSEIA: Since 1977, California Solar Energy Industries Association has supported the widespread adoption of solar thermal and photovoltaic systems by educating consumers, supporting solar legislation and conducting business in a professional and ethical manner. www.calseia.org includes a list of solar companies that are members. Click on "Find an Expert".