At least once a week we get an offer from someone claiming to be a solar contractor who wants to do our installations. They are offering subcontracting services. Some are licensed, some are probably not. One thing is for certain – the answer is NO!
Unfortunately, the solar energy industry has become a money-grab for people and companies who are not contractors, but sales and marketing organizations. Finding prospective clients and selling solar is fun and lucrative. The problem is that these companies often really have no idea how to install solar panels. They farm out the installation to another company, or often to a work crew with a truck and a few tools. Many times the sales organization is not even based in Florida!
Subcontracting Solar Installations
If these work crews are properly licensed and insured there is nothing illegal about subcontracting work, as long as the sales and marketing company is properly licensed in Florida. However, what we sometimes see is licensed contractors acting as just sales organizations who allow unlicensed work crews to do the work with little to no oversight. That is illegal, and that is a recipe for disaster. At best, these companies are built around a sales organization and the installation department is an afterthought.
Here is a fairly representative email from the many offers I get each year:
Questions to Ask Before Your Hire a Solar Contractor in Florida
It’s not hard to imagine why you are at risk by hiring one of these sales companies who subcontract, but here are some questions you should ask yourself:
- If they do not operate an office and warehouse in reasonable proximity to you, how are they going to service your system in the future if needed and who is going to do it? Answer: They won’t, and you will likely have to call me and pay me to fix it as many others do.
- What happens if there is an injury and the employee is not covered under the prime contractor’s insurance? Answer: They will go after you or your insurer.
- How long will they actually be in business? Answer: We have fixed many, many systems for clients whose solar contractor went out of business.
- Is the licensee actually involved in the installation? Answer: Many times the licensee just lends their license to the installation crew to get a permit. Other times the licensee works for a different company than the one that sold you the solar panels.
- Can a subcontractor place a lien on my home? Answer: Absolutely – if they follow the Florida lien law and the company from which you purchase the solar panels doesn’t pay them, they can file a lien against your home!
- Are you going to get a quality installation? Answer: Probably not. Since these contractors just work for “dollar per watt,” they have every incentive to get the job done fast. There is no incentive to get it done right as they provide no warranty for workmanship. We have seen some of the worst workmanship in these scenarios with improper flashings, uneven solar panels, and even dangerous wiring.
How to Protect Yourself from Hiring the Wrong Solar Contractor
I recently visited a client in Naples, FL who purchased a solar photovoltaic system in 2017 under these circumstances. The company, which was based in Ocala, FL, is long gone. They never had an installation crew – it was farmed out to some guys with a truck. From what I was told, the original installer did not finish getting the permit inspections passed. Some of the installers who left the company contacted the homeowner and offered to get the permit issue fixed. They also offered to expand the system after the inspection was passed, which they did… illegally, and very poorly. Aside from the poor structural installation with improper waterproofing measure and no attempt at aesthetic techniques, the wiring was left in a dangerous condition with wire size too small for the expanded system. On top of that, it was connected on the wrong side of the whole-house generator, creating another hazard.
It’s just disgusting to me that someone who calls themselves a contractor can take so little care for someone’s property.
How can you protect yourself? Here are some tips:
- Find out where the contractor’s actual main office and warehouse are located. If they are not within a reasonable drive, don’t hire them. They will not want to service your system later.
- Look up the licensee who is taking responsibility for your installation. Google their name. If they are not easy to find, ask yourself why not!
- Check online reviews (but use common sense and see if they are likely real). Our online reviews are 100% legitimate reviews by real clients. Just as important, check for bad reviews. It’s amazing how many times companies with 2.3 stars still get hired. It’s so easy to check and obvious when a company has poor reviews.
- Ask to talk with the owner. If you can’t talk to them pre-sale, imagine trying to get in touch with them after the system is installed.
- Beware of unreasonable payment terms. The only hard costs before installation are usually engineering and permitting. Deposits are there to cover real costs and ensure that clients are committed. If the contractor can’t float the cost of materials for the time it takes to get the system installed and inspected, they may not have the financial wherewithal to earn your trust. Special orders are different, but for typical installations, demand reasonable payment schedules and never pay 100% until the job is 100% finished.