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Comparing solar companies

Hkergrrl asks:

Does anyone know of a comparison website for solar companies in MA?



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There's a local company called Energy Sage that is often recommended for starting a search. They are national firm but based in Boston. You upload your electric bill and solar providers submit quotes. Ultimately you work directly with the actual installer, not Energy Sage. But Energy Sage has a good amount of information on their website and they know Massachusetts well. You can email them questions and they'll respond honestly.

A lot of people have had good luck but I didn't get many offers on Energy Sage. Still, not a bad place to start.

This is my pro tip: Many towns in the area, Boston included, let you look at building and electrical permits online. You can often see all the documents such as the size of the system, the approx. cost, etc. Spend a few hours and find homes nearby with recent solar installs. You especially want to look at homes with a similar type of roof and build construction.

Then actually go to the house, knock on the door, and ask the people about their experience. People love to talk about this stuff. Ask lots of questions about the experience and quality of work. A review from a few neighbors is far better than any website.

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Green Energy Consumers Alliance may be helpful to check out. They recommend EnergySage.

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Every solar project in the state is listed in a spreadsheet on the state website. I can’t find it right now, but I’ll try to post the link later.

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- Sunlight Solar out of Waltham: Good experience of installation and repairs, and working with an unusual roof.
- GreatSky (no details)


- Sunbug: Rude, and half-assed quote.
- Solarflair: Incompetent.

Other tips:

- "Get a squirrel guard," say multiple people.
- Snow guard too, if you don't want avalanches.

I'd also recommend getting a quote with/without the option to have the solar panels still give you power during a blackout (possibly whole-house, possibly just on one special outlet.) A lot of people aren't aware that during a blackout, most home solar installations shut down for safety. You have to get a special option to get it both ways!

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Enter the project slowly and thoughtfully.

We had good experiences with Sunbug Solar, after the installing firm went bankrupt.

The danger of snow/ice avalanches is very real. We once ended up with sheets of five inches of solid ice in our shared driveway. Fortunately there were no injuries or vehicle damage. A rare but very real threat.

Snow guards could save a life.

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Those buggers will get up under the panels and chew the wires, and can start a fire. :-/ (They may also chew a hole into the roof under cover of the panels, for that matter... but the fire risk is obviously worse.)

Neither of these are risks I would have even thought of on my own, that's for sure. Lots of research required.

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Has left New England. They put my system in a decade ago. When I had a service problem this spring, their one remaining local technician came. While fixing my problem, he told me that the company was closing its NE office the next week, and retreating to Oregon.

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Great Sky would not be my first choice although others have been happy.

You want to ask any installer about the specifics regarding how they plan to mount the panels, run the conduit, and mount the boxes on the side of the house. Some of that is dictated by electrical codes but there is a "nice" and "ugly" way to handle these things. You won't notice the panels after a few weeks but if all the stuff on the side of the building looks bad, it will irk you forever.

Get all these details in writing before signing an agreement and make sure you're happy with how everything will look when the job is complete. The salespeople will only want to talk about the panels and generation and not the install unless you press them.

The best installers can run all the cable inside the house or at least the attic. This can be complex. You might need to hire your own electrician to handle that aspect. The worst companies run conduit everywhere and make sloppy bends. The national companies are famous for that.

Some of the companies will upsell you on the quality of the panel but it's very rare a panel will fail and need to be replaced so don't worry much about that. Focus on the other aspects of the job. The salespeople might push you to sign an agreement quickly, possibly for a discount, but don't feel pressured. There are many companies to choose from.

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And other people may never notice them. Numerous salesmen have come to my door trying to sell me those leased solar panels. I usually invite them to walk back to where they can see my roof, and after they do that, they just keep walking. Your neighbors will notice your installation.

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As a homeowner with solar panels, I like seeing them on as many homes as possible.
I see them as progress towards a greener planet.
I will say that the older panels are more apparent (the ones with all the dots) than the newer panels, and eventually the newer panels will look more apparent than what will come 10 years down the line, but I still see panels as the solution and, therefore, not an eyesore.

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so that we can avoid them. :-P

(Yeah, yeah, there's a difference between the salespeople and the installers. But I feel like there could be a correlation.)

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Leasing solar panels is a bad idea. They deny this, but the lease agreement amounts to a lien on your property, so if you want to sell your home, you have to pay off that lease first. Plus, you only get a partial discount on your electric bill. The leasing company gets all the SREC payments and any other financial benefits the panels create.

If you buy the panels outright, they pay for themselves in a few years (7 in my case), and continue saving you money for many years after that. When I had that problem this spring (a blown fuse in the inverter), I got a couple of real-life electric bills, for hundreds of dollars. Since the fuse was replaced, my bills have gone back to $0 a month.

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One salesperson says we probably don’t need squirrel guards because our roof is steep so they won’t want to nest under the panels. Do you know what kind of roofs people had issues with?

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