Hiring The Right Solar Contractor

Hiring the right solar contractor for your solar installation will be the most important decision as a property owner. It’s important to hire a contractor with the experience to properly install a solar system without any damage and mess to your property. The first step in your research is to check a contractor’s license number. You can visit Contractors State License Board (CSLB) to ensure a  contractor is qualified to offer their services.


Hiring A Qualified Solar Contractor

In California, a solar contractor is required to have an active A, B, C-10 (electrician) or C-46 (solar) license – any licensed electrician is recognized by the state as qualified to install your system. However, a C-46 licensed contractor specializes is solar installation.  A C-46 license means the contractor is certified with the knowledge and skills that are specific for a solar project.

What’s on the CSLB C-46 Test?

Licensees must demonstrate knowledge in the following areas:

  • Planning and Estimation: C-46 contractors know how to design complete solar systems. They can read and draw system plans and create accurate job cost estimates.
  • Solar Collector Installation: Licensees can install roof and ground mount collectors, as well as building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) systems, using weatherproof roof penetrations only when needed.
  • Solar Thermal Installation: A C-46 licensee can install hot water, pool heating, and radiant and air systems.
  • Photovoltaic (PV) System Installation: Besides the BIPV systems, C-46 holders can install basic PV and energy storage systems, as well as interface with the utility grid (which is critical if your system will be connected to your local utility).
  • Service and Maintenance: Your C-46-licensed contractor can evaluate solar PV and thermal systems to ensure they are producing power according to spec, and repair or replace components should productivity dip below agreed-upon projections.
  • Safety: Licensed pros on your roof will know how to prevent safety hazards, spot and fix unsafe working conditions, and handle hazardous materials.


Why Licensing Matters for Solar Installers

Since licensing involves testing and fees, this can tempt some contractors to work without one. Contracting without the proper license is a misdemeanor in California, and the contractor is subject to a $500 fine. The state runs occasional stings to nab unlicensed contractors; one recent operation turned up dozens of them operating in Orange County and Long Beach.

There are big risks for homeowners who use unlicensed contractors as well. First, unlicensed installers may not have the solar-specific knowledge the CSLB requires. This can lead to inaccurate power production forecasts or other problems that keep you from getting the most value and use from your system. Moreover, if there’s an accident and someone puts a hole through a roof, they won’t be backed by the bonds available to licensed contractors. Solar installation involves dealing with high voltage, so improper installation can lead to shock, fire, or injury – being sure the contractor hold an active license that is no expired adds protection from potential law suits.


Additional Ways to Determine Your Contractor’s Experience

In addition to inquiring about licenses, be sure what warranties are included with the solar installation. Contractors that provide warranties beyond those offered by the system component manufacturers is an added benefit. Otherwise, that could be a sign that the installer won’t be around should something issues arise in the future. Solar contractors that also provide a production guarantee over a long period of time demonstrate their expertise in a solar project.  A production guarantee is a promise to the property owner that their solar system will meet performance expectations –  helping you avoid such headaches and give you peace of mind about your new source of renewable energy.


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