How to Hire the Right Solar Installation Contractors in Canada
If you are interested in converting to solar, your most important task is finding a solar installation contractor. This guide will walk you through the process of finding the right solar contractor and converting your current living place into a more energy-efficient home.
What Are the Benefits of Switching to Solar Energy?
Solar energy is in limitless supply. If you switch your home from nonrenewable sources of energy to solar power, you will enjoy the following benefits:
The vast majority of homes and businesses in Canada can indeed benefit from converting to solar energy. To maximize that benefit, you must approach the process with care.
Keep in mind that finding a qualified installation contractor is the most critical part of this process. An expert solar installer will ensure that your system is installed correctly, that you can afford it, and that it will continue to work well into the future.
The Challenge: Finding a Solar Installation Contractor
Even though the benefits are clear, installing solar panels is a big undertaking. When you switch to solar power, you commit yourself to this energy source for the long term. That being the case, you must find a solar installation contractor who can assess your needs and complete a solar installation that works for your home.
It’s a challenging task, especially when contractors may not offer the best quality installations. Worse, you may have no idea what you should expect from a reputable solar installation contractor.
Don’t worry! As long as you follow this guide, you will find a qualified solar energy installer and enjoy the benefits of living in an energy-efficient home.
What to Look For in a Solar Installer
Search online for a solar installation contractor, and it will be obvious that there is no shortage of them. However, they are not all the same. You're going to have to vet all potential contractors to find the best solar installation contractor for your particular project.
Fortunately, you'll be able to obtain multiple free quotes and consultations. Reputable installers are willing to speak with you for free without requiring you to make a purchase.
When you speak with a solar installation contractor, don't just focus on price. Of course, the cost of your project is important, but there are so many other things to consider, such as the following:
What to Expect During Your Initial Consultation and Quote
To start this process, you will go to the contractor’s website. From there, it should be pretty easy to find a form or other contact information to set up an appointment with the solar installation contractor. This first meeting should be free and come with no obligations for you. During this consultation, your solar installation contractor may do any of the following:
Once they’ve done that, they will get back to you with plenty of information about what you need to convert to solar, how long the process will take, and how much it will cost.
At this point, they will also tell you how much a solar installation could potentially save you. If this number is disappointing to you, keep in mind that solar contractors must consider several factors. For example, a home may appear to have plenty of sun exposure in early spring, but significant shading might occur as nearby trees fill out over the late spring and summer. Your contractor will be able to predict these events and adjust your assessment accordingly.
If you want to know how they arrived at the conclusions they did, your solar installation contractor should be willing to go into detail with you. Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all solar installation solution for homes. For example, the number of panels you will need will depend on your home’s sun exposure and current electricity usage. Also, remember that the location and orientation of your home matters, too.
Does Their Quote Make Sense?
As a homeowner, you should vet any quote you receive for any home improvement work. It’s no different when you work with a solar installation contractor. Many online calculators can help you get a ballpark cost estimate. Do keep in mind that these calculations will not match the accuracy of a proper solar energy assessment. Still, they can help educate you a bit and prepare you for what to expect.
We highly advise that you get more than one estimate. By doing this, you will have multiple quotes to compare. If one solar installation contractor provides a cost estimate that is significantly higher or lower than the estimates of their peers, that’s a red flag.
What Are the Options for Your Home?
Ultimately you care about two things. First, you need to find a solar installation contractor who can assess your home, determine whether you are a candidate for solar energy, provide an estimate, then complete the work while maintaining high-quality standards.
Second, you need to know if the cost and benefits balance. You are more likely to achieve this if you have a selection of options for powering your home. Ask the contractor what is available to you in terms of configurations and equipment. You’ll also need to know each system’s maximum generating capacity, including the cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh). This information may help lead you to the best option.
Are They Licensed and Insured?
Your solar installation contractor should definitely have the appropriate licensing, certifications, and insurance. The last thing you need is for there to be an accident or injury on your property with a contractor who is not adequately insured. Do a bit of research and learn how to complete your installation according to rules and regulations.
Keep in mind that many tasks require various tradespeople, meaning that your solar installation contractor is obligated to carry multiple licenses or subcontract work to other tradespeople. For example, your contractor may be licensed to perform solar installations but will need to work with a licensed electrician to run the wiring.
When a solar installation contractor subcontracts out to other trades, that can create some liability concerns. If something goes wrong or something isn’t completed, you no longer have a single point of accountability to deal with. You also have to verify the licenses, permits, and insurance of each subcontractor.
Insurance Requirements to Consider
It isn’t enough to simply verify that a potential solar contractor has insurance. You should also determine that their coverage is adequate to ensure you aren’t left holding any liability should something happen. Here are some items to consider:
General Liability Coverage
General liability protection to insure against costs associated with property damage or injuries.
Workers’ compensation insurance pays for medical expenses and lost wages if workers become injured installing your solar components.
Contractors Pollution Insurance
Your contractor(s) need coverage for mold or other post-installation damage that may occur if they make mistakes during the installation process.
Commercial Contractors’ Equipment Insurance
This type of insurance protects contractors against vandalism, theft, weather damage, etc.
Professional Liability Insurance
Professional liability insurance coverage protects contractors against liability issues, especially regarding promised rebates and incentives.
This phase in the process is an excellent time to work with your own insurance company, as well. There may be additional coverage available to help protect you before and during the installation process. Set up an appointment with an insurance company representative. Let them know that you are beginning the process of having solar panels installed.
Ask about what your current insurance plan covers. Will it cover the panels, inverters, racks, and other equipment? You should also ask about coverage for damage to your roof. Hopefully, this won’t be an issue, but inexperienced contractors have damaged roofs while installing solar incorrectly. You can avoid this risk by selecting your solar energy installer carefully.
You may have the option to lease your solar equipment instead of buying it. Not only that, but you may find that this is a better option for you, but it may change your insurance needs. The company that leases the equipment to you may cover insurance and maintenance themselves.
If this is the case, these services won’t be truly free. Instead, they will be embedded in your overall leasing costs. However, you should still communicate with your own insurance company. Leasing programs may cover the solar equipment. They very rarely offer any protection for your roof or other structural elements. Be sure to have the appropriate coverage and riders added to protect yourself in the future.
Finally, your insurance agent has probably worked with customers who have gone through the same process. They will provide you with information on what you should look for in terms of the coverage your solar installer carries. Your insurance company may even have specific requirements about the insurance coverage contractors working on your home must have.
What About Solar Certifications?
Your solar installation contractor may carry other certifications or endorsements. These may qualify them to install solar equipment from specific manufacturers, participate in various solar incentive programs, or simply indicate they have proven they operate ethically while offering quality solar panel installations.
These certifications may not be available in every area. They may not be mandatory, either. However, they can be an extra indicator of quality and reputation. Additionally, this is another way to determine that your solar installation contractor has earned the trust of that certifying body.
Will There be a Dedicated Project Manager?
Some of the issues listed above can be solved if you have a project manager who serves as a single point of contact. Project managers will provide you with progress updates and communicate with you about your project-related concerns.
Is the Solar Installation Contractor Local?
This is not a mandatory qualification. Many solar installation contractors may install solar panels on a national or provincial scale and do fantastic work.
On the other hand, there are benefits to hiring a local contractor. Local contractors are familiar with the rules and regulations that apply to your area and home. If your local government has any incentive or rebate program, local solar installers will also know how to help you qualify.
Can the Contractor Handle Utility Agreements
Unless you plan on using strictly solar power in your home, you will still have to work with your local utility provider. Ask any potential contractors if they can help you with these agreements.
Your utility company may offer rewards or incentives for any extra renewable energy that you can reintroduce back into your grid. Your experienced contractor will understand the requirements for qualifying for these programs and help you navigate net metering processes. With net metering, you receive credit for each kilowatt-hour of energy that you export into the grid.
At the end of each billing cycle, the credits you receive balance against the kilowatt-hours of energy you use from the system. The difference will either reduce your bill or result in your compensation or surplus for you, assuming the rate for energy exported is the same as energy imported.
A feed-in tariff is a solar incentive that uses different rates to calculate the amount of solar energy you export into the grid and the amount you import. These figures are also tallied at the end of each of your billing cycles. Ideally, your solar panels can adequately power your home and feed energy back into the grid.
Expertise/Ratings and Reviews
You have finished evaluating solar contractors and verifying their insurance and licensing situations. Assuming you are considering someone who can operate as a solar installation contractor, it’s time to get some objective opinions.
While no solar installation expert will have only stellar reviews, a reputable one will have good ratings and reviews overall. Look at Google reviews, Homestars, the BBB, and other sources for customer insights and feedback. Don’t just look at the ratings; also read the reviews in detail. Be wary of negative feedback that seems to follow a pattern. If you read statements about “missing a deadline” in one or two reviews, that’s all right. But if that statement is made in nearly all feedback, it is cause for concern.
Ask the solar installation contractor if they have referrals you may contact directly. Referrals will give you insights into the solar installers and their solar program to help you determine if you are hiring a trustworthy contractor.
What Distinguishes the Best Solar Installation Contractor
You may find that you have more than one very qualified solar installation contractor willing to work on your project. Now, it’s time to dig just a bit deeper to determine who is the best fit. In many ways, you will be deciding who is most willing to provide you with an incentive for choosing them.
Available Financing Options
Converting to solar isn’t an inexpensive thing. Fortunately, there are many options for financing a solar installation. You will also find other ways of recouping your investment and making this all worthwhile. An excellent solar installation contractor will be very familiar with these programs.
In fact, as you discuss cost and financing with your potential solar installation contractor, ask them what the final price will be after all discounts are applied. You can use a solar calculator to ensure that the numbers they give you make sense.
Remember that your final cost should consider the following:
It is reasonable to expect that the solar installation contractor you choose will know of any incentive programs that will help you pay to have solar photovoltaic systems installed. They should also be willing to put in some effort to help you through any application processes. Here are some of the programs that might be available to you at any given time.
Tax Incentive Programs for Solar Installation
Governments in Canada see the value in encouraging citizens to move towards renewable energy solutions. Because of this, they have designed many solar tax rebates or credit programs over the years. The problem is that it can be challenging to know which programs are available to you.
Some programs were created to run only for a short period and have since closed. Others have particular requirements or are intended for commercial use.
Solar incentives can be challenging to research, so hiring a skilled, experienced solar installation contractor is very important. They will have up-to-date knowledge of these government solar programs and will be able to help you qualify.
Solar Installation Financing
Talk to your solar installation contractor about financing. Reputable companies will work with banks or other finance companies to finance those who cannot pay for solar panel installation all at once. Sometimes, there may be special low or zero-interest programs available to you. Your local or provincial government may even be willing to back these loans.
If none of these programs are available, talk to your solar installation contractor about in-house financing options. They may have created programs to help homeowners who need assistance but don’t qualify for other programs.
Grants Rebates and Other Solar Incentive Programs
Other programs might be available to help you manage solar installation costs. If you have a good solar installation contractor, they will let you know about the following:
These programs provide funding for solar installation projects that do not need to be repaid.
Rebate programs give you money back after purchasing solar panels, inverters, and other products. Your solar installation contractor may be willing to discount their services if they receive any rebates. If you are purchasing your own equipment, they may help you maximize any qualified reimbursement.
Knowledge, Experience, Workmanship
How do you know your solar installation contractor is best qualified to work on your home? In addition to verifying their reputation and checking their licensing, it’s essential to ask about warranties and guarantees.
Is your solar installation contractor willing to guarantee the work they do and the equipment they use? Do the solar panels they use have manufacturer warranties? How long do those last? Which components are covered under warranties? Are only some items covered? What about batteries or battery chargers?
Solar Contractors Will Make Your Panels Shine
Many Canadians have converted to solar power; others are strongly considering it. Whether you are motivated by a concern for the environment, the opportunity to receive a solar incentive, or simply want to go off-grid, you can find a solar installation contractor to help you.
The best contractors will offer a free consultation and provide you with detailed information about your options. Good solar installers will also connect you with financial assistance, have the appropriate insurance and licenses, have a stellar reputation, and be willing to provide you with answers you need to become a better solar customer.
If you follow the guidelines above, you will know the right questions to ask your solar installation contractor, how to identify potential concerns, and how you can determine which company is best qualified to install solar panel kits on your home.