How to Find a Pre-Screened Solar Pro
Finding the right Solar Pro
One of the most difficult parts about going solar is choosing your installer. So much rests on the shoulders of the contractors you hire. Depending on where you are, you might have dozens of companies to dig through, and it’s all too easy for analysis paralysis to set in.
So, where do you start?
On option is to use the SolarReviews Pre-Screened Solar Pros accreditation as an example. They estimate only the top 20% of all solar companies can earn the accolade, which makes it a nice measure for selecting the cream of the crop. Even if you don’t use a company directly from SolarReviews’ list, a good understanding of how the award works will help you to make a good selection.
What qualifies a company as a pre-screened solar pro?
To achieve pre-screened solar pro status, a solar company has to achieve a meet several stringent benchmarks:
- The company has to have a minimum of 3 years of experience in installing solar systems. The only exceptions is if the company has rebranded, in which case they must still have the equivalent experience.
- The installer has to have a minimum of 10 reviews, and their average review score has to be at least 4.5 stars out of 5.
- A minimum of 3 of the reviews mentioned above must have been written within the last 12 months.
- ContractorCheck.com is then used to evaluate the installer. ContractorCheck are a subsidiary of Experian, and provide services for checking up on a company’s financial status. They do this using public business data like License, Bond and Insurance information to build a profile of the business. To get a good rating, companies need to pass a few checks:
- All their accounts are current with creditors, and mustn’t show any liens or disputes within the last 5 years.
- The company hasn’t filed for bankruptcy in the last 7 years.
- The company has submitted all the correct licenses
Checking a contractor’s background yourself
Some areas – for example, California – have a long list of pre-screened solar pros to choose from. Other places are not so well supplied, so what do you do in this situation?
Below, I’ll briefly walk you through how to check if a contractor meets the standards SolarReviews laid out.
#1: Look for reviews
Check out our post on finding solar company reviews.
Searches on more general review sites can also prove surprisingly fruitful. It’s important that you don’t base your opinion of the company on a single review, as there’s often more than one side to a story. If you’re seeing a general trend appear across many reviews on different sites, it’s probably a good indication of what you can expect when dealing with a company.
Pay attention to when the reviews were written, and by whom. A well thought out review from a regular poster is probably more trustworthy than a host of short reviews by newcomers all clumped within a very tight date range.
#2: Ask for referrals
Ask the contractor to put you in touch with some previous customers, and ask them about their opinions and experiences. This is a good way to get a handle on a company, especially if the previous customer is willing to go into detail.
In particular, ask about what went wrong — it’s more than likely that something, somewhere will — and ask about how the contractor handled it.
#3: Deeper research into a company’s standing
If you’re willing to purchase a report from them or a similar company (ContractorCheck charges $12.95 for a single report) then it’s a quick way of getting the information. The report contains licensing information; details of bonds and insurance; details of any bankruptcies, liens and judgments; and details of the company’s credit rating.
If you don’t want to spend the money and you’re willing to do the legwork you can discover most (but probably not all) of this information for yourself.
Checking for licensing
Most states have a licensing board that you can contact to check whether or not your contractor is legitimate. Contractors-license.org is a nice resource that can point you to the licensing board of each state. In some states it’s possible to have a license through a local municipality, without being licensed at the state level — in these cases you should still be able to get details by contacting the licensing body directly.
Checking if the contractor is bonded and insured
This one will depend a bit on where you are. In some states you can’t get the license without being both bonded and insured, and in these states you should be able to confirm a contractor’s status with the licensing board directly. In other states, your best bet is to ask the contractor for proof — ask who they’re insured and/or bonded with, and then call those companies to follow up. If the contractor isn’t willing to give that information for any reason it’s an excellent sign that you’re better off taking your business elsewhere.
Looking for bankruptcies
All bankruptcies are filed through federal courts, and there’s a handy system you can use to check for these — the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, or PACER. You need to set up an account, and whilst using PACER isn’t free — it costs $0.10 for each page view — if you accrue less than $15.00 on your account in a given quarter then the fees are waived. The cost for viewing a single document (not including the search pages) is capped at $3.00, so unless you’re checking a lot of companies you’re unlikely to be charged.
Looking for information on liens and judgments
Liens against a contractor will show up in the county court where their company is headquartered. The easiest way to do a lien search varies from state to state. In some places you need to file an information request form, in others you can do an electronic search —as an example, in Missouri you can use the Missouri Online UCC Filing System.
Likewise, any judgments will be found in the local court records. Whether those records are accessible online or will require a request for information to be submitted is going to vary from state to state, just like liens.
Dealing with credit ratings
Finding out a company’s credit rating is the one area where you can’t get the information yourself, and will need to purchase a report from somewhere like ContractorCheck or Experian to get any details.
All of that should give you a pretty solid idea of the value of finding a pre-screened solar pro. There’s a lot of work in checking all of that manually! Hopefully you also have a good grasp of the ins-and-outs of checking out a contractor for yourself. Even if you do have people accredited by SolarReviews in your area, it’s still worth your time to check for reviews and ask for references! The effort is worth it to make your solar dream a reality.
Photo Credit: CC License via Flickr