Growing Your Solar Business Part 3: Working with Homeowners

We’ve been talking about growing your solar installation business in a tough economy.  We talked about small systems and selling to home builders in past issues, this week let’s talk about working with homeowners.  This is a huge subject that might be better tackled in an entire university course, but let’s cover some basics that really every contractor should have in their toolbox.

What will be your game changer?

Most of the contractors I talk to tell me they have plenty of interest and have done a ton of estimates, they just have a tough time converting prospects into actual paying customers.  I bet 99% of your customers say no for price reasons.  That’s a hard obstacle to overcome, but there are still ways to get paid and not break the customer’s budget.


Energy Audits
If you’ve been in the solar business for a while now, you’ve learned that reducing consumption is every bit as important (and probably more so) than generating clean power.  Are you offering an energy audit package yet?  Usually for $400-$500 you can go through a home and recommend basic changes to lighting, HVAC, and insulation that will save the customer that much money off their energy bills in a matter of months.  Since it has to be done anyway, the customer may as well pay you to do it and you’ll have your foot in the door when its time to get a PV system.  Much of the equipment necessary can be rented these days.  Check out the RESNET certification program checklists and see if this is a tool to add to the toolbox.

Micro-Grid Tie Systems
Now thanks to Enphase’s micro inverter line, you can size a system for just about any budget.  These inverters are designed to handle the inversion at the panel itself, meaning each panel has it own inverter.  The minimum system size used to be around 1200 watts because that was the smallest grid-tied inverter available and it cost a minimum of $1200.  Now you can buy a 200 watt panel, a micro inverter, a breaker and some wiring for less than $1000.  Could you get a homeowner to purchase a $2000 system?  What if you created a program where they commit to installing a module and inverter every year for the next 5 or 10 years?

Small Kits for Outbuildings
What if you just installed a small system in a garage, shed, or basement that would give the homeowner the warm-fuzzies and put a little cash in your pocket?  There are solar power kits that come complete with panel, charger, inverter, an cabling that can run a couple lights or even a freezer in some cases.  This systems might not be big and glamorous, but let’s face it, neither is starving for lack of work.

Rebate Transfer Programs
Are you taking advantage of rebate transfer programs?  Sharp now has a program with their solar panels where they will assume any utility rebate and knock that amount off the price for the system.  There is a little additional paperwork, and if the rebate takes longer than 90 days the customer might have to pay a little interest, but the program has worked beautifully for contractors across the country.  So if your system costs $4/watt and your utility has $3/watt in rebates, you’ll only pay $1/watt out of pocket.  Plus the customer still gets to collect the federal rebate at the end of the year.  Does that sweeten the deal?

System Financing
How many times have you been asked about financing for solar power?  It’s really a no brainer when you consider that you can get a car financed, and a car doesn’t generate money or last 25 years, right?  NREL has a nice guide to government financing of small residential solar projects.  It’s also worth a call to your local banks about setting up a program.  While the terms will depend on the customer’s credit, the contractor that is well versed in these programs and can shepherd their customer’s through them the easiest will win every time.  I know contractors that are using lending companies that used to specialize in construction equipment for solar power systems.

So what has worked for you?  Leave a comment and let us know what’s good and what’s bad for getting homeowners to ‘yes’.

Kriss Bergethon is a writer and solar professional from Colorado, for more information visit his solar power site.

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Hello, I am an engineer and now design and sell solar power kits and systems. I actually got my start working for large mining companies and worked in coal mines for a time. After seeing the enormous environmental costs of carbon-based fuels firsthand, I decided to take a different path. I got involved with green construction and eventually found myself building my own green home. I now live off the grid with my wife in the mountains of Colorado.

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