Solar Works, Scam Artists Don’t

Solar works. Solar products are available for your home or business that will produce electricity, heat water for your household uses and even heat your pool. There is no reason why any reputable company needs to oversell or hype the benefits of solar energy.

Many solar companies in California have been selling and installing solar systems for decades. Most companies started up their solar business in the last several years. Unfortunately, however, more recently the industry is experiencing something new: people who have created fancy websites and presentations and act like they will sell you a good product, when in fact they have little or no expertise. Customers should do their research to make sure that the solar company they are considering has a good reputation and sufficient experience.

In the last few months, there have been reports from several customers in California who gave very large deposits to a solar sales people but never received a solar system. These people lost their deposits and it is likely they will never get their money back. The California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) is trying to help these unfortunate people but it also wants to make sure that there are no new victims. As such, we’re offering this advice to help make sure every new solar customer is a happy solar customer:

Anyone performing construction work in California on jobs that total $500 dollars or more in labor and materials must be licensed by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). The contract you sign should contain everything agreed upon by you and your licensed contractor. It should detail the work, price, when payments will be made, who gets the necessary building permits and when the job will be finished. The contract must also identify the contractor, give his/her address and license number. A good contract also has warnings and notices about the right to cancel, mechanic’s liens and allowable delays. Check out this website for more details on hiring contractors.

Here are a few hints for those who are considering having solar installed on a home or business:

  1. Never give a deposit more than US $1,000. Contractors are prevented by law from requesting or collecting deposits more than 10% of the contract amount or $1,000, whichever is less. After your deposit is made it is customary to make partial payments as materials are procured and work is performed; these payment amounts should be specifically listed in the contract. Be sure that your contract has a provision for holding back a reasonable amount (5% or 10%) until you are satisfied with the work, but do not hold back that money unless you have good cause. If the contractor is carrying your rebate for you, then a hold-back may be unnecessary.

  2. Read your contract carefully. The contractor wrote the contract, so you can expect it to contain provisions that protect the contractor’s rights. However, a good contract will be fair and even in its provisions. If you feel that the contract you are asked to sign is one-sided, ask the contractor to change the clauses that you object to. If the contractor refuses to negotiate, you may want to reconsider whether this is the company that you want to do business with.

  3. Never pay the full amount of the contract before the work is performed.

  4. Always look for the contractors’ license number printed on the contract and the company business cards.

  5. Verify the contractors’ license number at the Contractors State License Board and make sure that the contractors’ license number is in the same name as the company. This website also shows whether there are any disciplinary actions pending against the contractor and whether they have insurance that meets the state’s requirements.

  6. Confirm that the sales representative is a registered Home Improvement Salesperson.(He or she should have an identification card issued from the Contractors’ State License Board).

  7. Finally, remember that it is always a good idea to get more than one estimate for the work.

You will find that most reputable solar companies are competitively priced. If the claims your salesperson makes sound too good to be true, they probably are. Don’t sign the contract and don’t give the salesperson any money if something doesn’t feel right to you. And remember, you have three days to reconsider any contract you sign in your own home. Do your own independent research to verify that the benefits and costs are described correctly. Talk to your neighbors and people you know who have a solar system and learn from their experiences.

Where you can find more information:

CALSEIA includes a list of solar companies on its website that are members. Click on Find an Expert

The State Contractors’ License Board website is where you can check a license or sales person’s registration.

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CALSEIA was formed in 1978 to represent manufacturers, distributors and installation contractors doing solar energy-related business in California. It represents solar companies' interests at the California legislature and state energy/regulatory agencies. CALSEIA is led by a member-elected board of directors and its executive director, Mignon Marks.

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