Is Your Solar Contractor Really a Solar Contractor?
The residential solar industry has ebbed and flowed in Ontario over the last 15 years and the current federal grant and loan programs are heating it up again. It’s important for home owners to understand the landscape and what kinds of companies are vying for their attention.
Solar Installation Contractors
A full service solar contractor will design, supply, install, and service your clean energy system. They will have extensive experience in a variety of technologies and can guide you through decision making, including referring you away from their own services if that’s the best solution for your needs. They employ all their own installers, invest in their people, and are proud of their installations and good referrals. They’ll warranty their work and provide service as needed. They’re your partner in clean energy generation.
Lead generators are not solar companies at all; they’re SEO (search engine optimization) companies. They excel at getting their own websites and ads listed at the top of search results, thus capturing the attention of homeowners doing research. Sometimes they offer a handbook or other informational resource, but their primary goal is to collect your contact information. They sell your contact information to other parties as a “qualified lead” and those companies compete for your business. They may sell your contact information multiple times to different audiences like roofers, renovators, landscapers, etc.
A marketing company fills a position between a contractor and a lead generator. They excel at SEO, have very professional websites, and they look like a contractor, but they have little or no expertise or installation capability in-house. They subcontract the actual work including any of design, installation, commissioning, and service. By keeping the sales process and materials procurement, they maintain control of the client and of most of the project value. Marketing companies don’t own trucks, aren’t constructors, don’t carry workplace safety insurance for the construction projects, etc. They download all of this ‘real’ work and risk onto others.
How Can I Tell a Marketing Company from a Contractor?
Here are some tips:
- Who does the installation? Is it your suppliers’ employees or a sub-contracted 3rd party?
- Who are the people behind the brand? Brands don’t build solar energy systems; people do. Who owns the company? Who are the key leaders? Who will be working on your home? A reputable contractor has a team of contributors right down to the end installers and can identify them from the top of the organization to the bottom. Marketing companies don’t invest in staff and are often unwilling or unable to identify their people.
- A contractor needs a home; it needs a shop, storage, a place for its trucks, etc. Where is your supplier’s home base? Is there an address? Is it a downtown suite — maybe a postbox? — or an actual location with space for materials, tools, and vehicles? Use Google street view to find out and go visit.
- A good contractor is proud of its brand and will invest in lettering its trucks. The contractor wants your neighbours to see who is doing your installation and wants name recognition in the community. Marketing companies sub-contract to a range of installers and don’t want the brands of other companies at their job sites. They’ll encourage blank trucks and rental trucks.
- When your only tool is a hammer, every problem is a nail. Marketing companies standardize on just one or two solutions for simplicity because they lack in-house expertise and rely on many different sub-contractors for field work. All sites get the same technology, whether it’s best suited or not. A skilled and experienced contractor understands a range of solutions and can discuss and recommend from among many solutions one customized to your site and needs.
- Stock photos or real photos? Marketing companies are great at building professional looking websites with impressive imagery. Stock photos are easy and cheap to buy and look great but have no relation to the supplier’s work. A proud contractor will prioritize showcasing their own work.
- Watch for claims of kW installed. kW is a measure of system size and large kW claims sound impressive, but don’t necessarily translate into useful experience with your kind of installation. Look for years active in the industry – a contractor with more years of experience has seen a wide range of challenges and solutions and will be a more creative problem solver. And their installations are time tested.
- As clean energy systems do occasionally require service and maintenance, who is your contact after the system is installed? Who will answer your questions? Who will visit the site to address concerns? The actual installer knows your site best and has a direct stake in your continued satisfaction. If the installer is a sub-contractor, you are not their client and you should not expect their prompt attention.
Generation Solar is a quality-first, full service solar contractor; we employ and train all our own installation staff and we are a licensed electrical contractor. We service what we sell and provide a range of design, installation, and service solutions to a broad array of clients. We’ve been doing this for 25 years. We love what we do, and it shows.