The easiest way to get started with a solar electric or solar hot water is to get a bid proposal from a solar contractor. In fact, we recommend homeowners and businesses get two to three bids from different contractors to compare them. Before you hire a specific contractor, there are important questions to ask.
While self-installed solar systems are allowed in Oregon, we strongly recommend on using licensed solar contractor to do the installation. Not only are they familiar with all the required building and electric codes and permitting and inspection processes, but have the experience to make sure that a solar installation is done correctly and will operate for decades. Additionally, to receive some incentives, such as the Energy Trust incentive, a certified installer must be used.
Searching for a contractor? There are many certified solar contractors throughout Oregon and southwest Washington. Use our “Find A Professional” to search contractors and other solar professionals by name, by type of expertise, or on a map by location.
Not sure what solar contractors to reach out to or do you want a solar contractor to reach out to you? Energy Trust makes it fast and easy with their online “Solar Bid” tool. Energy Trust will match you with qualified solar trade allies in your area based on the needs of your project. Those trade allies will contact you to determine if your property is a good fit for a solar and how much it will cost. It a quick tool if you don’t want to spend time looking for a specific solar contractor.
Make sure the bids you receive are based on the same criteria. Where the system will be installed, warranties and hardware can all affect price. Solar electric system bids should state system size in watts or kilowatts, and estimate the electricity the system will produce yearly. Bids should include all costs associated with the project, including hardware, installation, permitting and warranties.
Hiring a Contractor
Once you have the bids, there a handful of questions we recommend asking solar contractors about their company and the proposed installation.
Questions to Ask
- What percentage of energy usage will the solar installation offset?
- What is the projected payback period?
- Do they have solar lending partners that recommend to finance getting solar?
- How many projects they have completed in Oregon/Washington and how long have they been installing solar?
- Who will actually be doing the work? Long-term employees? Subcontractors? It is common for solar contractors to hire subcontractors to perform some or all of an installation. Verify that any subcontractors have experience or training installing solar energy systems.
- Explain if your home has any unusual features, such as specialty roofing. Will that affect you going solar?
- If you are considering both solar water heating and solar electric you may want to consider a contractor who can install the systems simultaneously.
- Panels, inverters, and racking equipment: Who manufactures them and where? Most of the equipment involved in going solar can be purchased from manufacturers in the Northwest or the United States.
- What are the warranties (both from the contractor and from the manufacturer)?
Ask for a copy of the standard contract terms from the contractors you are considering and compare them. Energy Trust trade allies, for instance, are required to provide a minimum two year warranty covering all repairs resulting from defects in equipment or workmanship.
Equipment manufacturers typically provide longer warranties. Solar electric, panels often come with a 25 year, 85% performance warranty. Warranties for inverters generally range from 10-20 years.
Typically, a solar water heating installation will have an all-inclusive two year warranty by the installer. In addition, various components including the collector, the pumps, expansion tanks, storage tank, and other components may have a one year (smaller items) to 10 year warranty. Your installer should be able to provide warrantee information on all the major components in your system.
- Get the names of owners whose systems are similar to the one they are proposing for you.
- Request references and photos of previous work. Call these references and ask if they would use the contractor for future work.
To comply with state and local building codes, your contractor must have a CCB license. Ask the contractors you are considering for their number, and go to Oregon Construction Contractor’s Board to check them out.
The Energy Trust of Oregon requires solar electric systems receiving their incentives be installed by one of their certified Trade Allies. These contractors have been trained to make sure your system is designed to meet all of the qualification requirements including TSRF (Total Solar Resource Fraction). To be eligible for Oregon’s Residential Energy Tax Credit, Oregon requires the contractor hold a valid Tax Credit Certification. For a list of contractors with these certifications go to Oregon Department of Energy website. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) provides nationally recognized training and certification for solar industry professionals. You can read further about NABCEP on their website.
Installation Process and Components
Before a contractor starts installing the system they’ll need to secure the correct permits (such as a building and electrical permit) and approvals (Energy Trust incentive, utility interconnection agreement). This process will vary in time, depending on where you live and type of installation. Generally it takes 3-7 weeks. Once your contractor has all the required permits and approvals it generally takes only 1-3 days for their team to install the system. Some installation are more complicated and may require more time. Following permitting and utility inspections, you’ll be set to enjoy the benefits of the sun.