I Found Solar Panels Cheaper Online!

My wife sometimes makes fun of me for trying to be cheap when hiring contractors and service people. It’s a natural thing for a skilled, hands-on, DIY kind of guy. I hate to “overpay” for something I feel I can do myself. Plus, I love a great deal as much as the next guy. The story that always comes up in our home is the crown molding incident.

Just like solar panels, crown molding requires a real professional
Just like solar panels, crown molding requires a real professional. I hired Raymond Remodeling as part of a larger remodeling job and they did spectacular work.

In 2006 I realized that my saw would not accommodate the tall crown molding we wanted to install in our small kitchen at the time. I already had the material and I decided that rather than buy a new tool I had no space to store in our condo, I would hire someone. Blasphemy, right?! I found this guy online. He had a funny name that I won’t mention, but let’s just say we call him “The Boob” for short. I will never forget him. My wife will not let me. His name comes up time after time whenever I’m being cheap.

forgotten compressor
I let “The Boob” pick up the tool he forgot.

I paid The Boob $200 for “completing” the job. It was obvious to both he and I that it wasn’t “complete.” It looked like a kid put together some scrap wood with some nails and really bad aim with the hammer. The joints were caulked together with what appeared to be a full tube of caulk – per joint! I was nice enough the next day to let The Boob pick up the air compressor he forgot.

On top of the $200 mistake and the scrapped trim wood, I paid a few times that amount to get it done right, had the contractor supply the (better) trim, and I was blown away with how much value I received by hiring a professional who knew both what he was talking about and what he was doing.

We hear frequently that you can buy solar panels online for so much less. There are several pitfalls that consumers don’t realize when considering an online “kit” or DIY solar panel option. One factor is that the solar panel itself only makes up a small percentage of the equipment required for a solar energy system. Aside from quality, performance, and safety, there are many other considerations like suitability for the environment, fitness for the purpose, and building code requirements. All of the other costs associated with small materials, shop supplies, fasteners, wiring, plumbing, are often overlooked. Design, engineering, and permitting are often forgotten when calculating the true cost of a complete solar energy installation. Solar kits rarely meet local requirements for effective and fully legal systems.

And then there is “The Boob.” You really don’t want that guy responsible for mounting something on your roof – trust me. And you really don’t want him doing plumbing and electrical.

Professional licensed solar contractors are multi-trade trained and qualified, putting together a unique combination of plumbing, electrical, and roofing skills. The products and techniques used in installing solar panels successfully are unique to the industry. While there are some skilled handy people out there that can get through a project, experience is key to avoiding mistakes and long lasting, trouble-free installations.

If you want to get cheap solar panels online, talk to us about how we have picked up the pieces after botched installations and thrown out entire systems that didn’t do the job or couldn’t be legally installed. Ask us about the $30,000 worth of useless solar panels from a bankrupt manufacturer that another seller stuck with a client we helped. Ask about the DIY solar pool heater in a box that rotted through a roof in Fort Myers. We promise you will be happier with a professionally installed solar energy system comprised of the right equipment when you consider the length of time the panels will be on your home, and you amortize the professional installation costs over the system lifetime.

Solar professionals don’t make much money, if any, on the materials. You can buy most solar panel components online for similar prices, even given my volume purchasing power. The value we bring to the table is education, advisement, and a rock-solid installation that will look great and perform as expected. After considering the overhead of being a reputable, licensed, and insured contractor, you will need to pay a reasonable amount for a job well done, and you can’t compare it to online prices to figure out how much you should pay us. Get an apples-to-apples competitive quote (and make sure it’s really apples-to-apples).

I have (mostly) learned my lesson. When my wife wanted crown molding in her office last year, I paid a professional (Classic Finish Carpentry) to come in. We found the price very reasonable, and the job was done with quality above our expectations, and exactly how I requested it (paint-ready trim installed). It’s hard justifying paying for something that I can probably do and I think should always be cheaper. I take that into account when pricing my services, keeping in mind that I have to charge enough to stand behind my work.


P.S. If you are going to ask me if you can buy something online and have me install it, the answer is no — call Bubenheimer. I can’t stand behind products I don’t supply.

P.S.S. If I forget a tool on your job site, please call me. 🙂

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