Unless you are licensed to install a rooftop system yourself, you will likely contract professionals when you go solar. When you do, you’ll want to be sure the people who will be on your rooftop know what they’re doing.
When doing this research, check your potential installer’s license number. In California, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) works to ensure contractors are qualified to offer their services. But what exactly does that license mean, and what are the consequences of using unlicensed workers?
Your Installer Doesn’t Need a Solar-Specific License
A solar contractor is required to have an active A, B, C-10 (electrician) or C-46 (solar) license. That’s right: any licensed electrician is recognized by the state as qualified to install your system. In theory, that is.
The reality is that working with solar components and getting the most power out of them is best done by someone focused specifically on that work. If possible, you’re going to want someone who’s licensed to handle solar. A C-46 license means they have been tested on several types of knowledge and skills that are key to successful installations.
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 your roof, they won’t be backed by the bonds available to licensed contractors. Remember, solar installation involves dealing with high voltage, so improper installation can lead to shock, fire, or injury.
Additional Ways to Determine Your Contractor’s Experience
In addition to inquiring about licenses, ask if they provide solar system warranties beyond those offered by the system component manufacturers such as the panel maker. If not, that could be a sign that the installer won’t be around should something go awry down the road.
Disputes with installers over systems that underperform or have other problems have become so common that some law firms now offer specialized practices focused on them. Checking your installer’s credentials upfront—including their CSLB license—will help you avoid such headaches and give you peace of mind about your new source of power.
Bay Solar Group’s CSLB license number is 974115. We are licensed for roofing, electrical, and solar work. If you have questions about our experience, or any part of going solar, we’d like to hear from you.