Choosing a Solar Installer: Checklist for choosing a Solar Company in Ontario

Choosing your solar installer can be a big decision and we understand it’s not the simplest one either. With infinite options available just with a simple Google search, the question quickly becomes how do you choose the best one? How do you know if they’re good and how do you know if they’ll do the best job for your home?

Choosing the right solar company for your home: Ontario

Choosing the right solar company for your home: Ontario

In order to help you out, we decided to create a simple checklist to help you make this decision. It’s a list of short questions that you can ask any solar installer you are considering to see if they are the right one for you.

1. Licenses and Insurance: Ask your solar company if they have the appropriate licenses and insurance; especially for the workers involved in your installation. It’s a wise thing to do so that you do not end up with a potential liability claim. And if they are reluctant to disclose whether or not they have it, you’re probably better off with another company.

2. How long have you been a solar installer?: The last thing you want is an installer working out of his basement or installing solar on the side. You need a reliable company that has been around for 5 or more years and installing solar needs to be their primary businessnot a roofer who sometimes installs solar or an electrician who does it on the side. You want to ensure that they have a place of business that you can actually walk into and see a solar panel for yourself.

3. Are the installers actually employees or subcontractors?:Sometimes, solar companies subcontract their services to reduce labour costs. The trouble with choosing a company that uses subcontractors for their installations is that you might know and trust the solar company but you know little about the subcontractors – this can create quite a dilemma and one that you want to avoid. There’s also the off chance that they won’t follow “company procedure” during an install. Always choose a solar company with in-house installers and like CanSIA (Canadian Solar Industries Association) says ‘reduce your risk’.

4. How realistic are the ROI (return on investment) projections?:This is one of my biggest pet peeves! Some solar companies (not all) tend to present over inflated ROI projections to customers to get you to sign up. Since they show your return to be higher than what it will actually be, your system purchase looks that much more attractive as they will come out with unrealistic expectations saying you’ll earn 12 to 17% return on your money when in fact, you will actually earn closer to 10%. Once they have sold you, it will take a few months before you realize that you’re not meeting their projections and by that point you’ll have no recourse to take when your monthly cheques don’t match what they suggested when you made the purchase.

Instead, ask them how they calculated the ROI, and whether or not they accounted for shading, snow etc. You can also ask for past records of solar projections and hydro payments of some of their previous customers – WITH contact information. Please have them review with you how they got to their performance projections and ensure that you understand! They should be able to go through their process with you so you have a clear understanding.

5. What does their price include?: Since you are not a solar professional you’ll probably not be as familiar with the all the details involved with your installation (building permits, engineering, connection costs, squirrel guard, etc). Ensure your solar installer clearly states what’s included in the price and more importantly what their cost does not include. No one wants surprises at the end of the day that they were not counting on.

6. Who files the microFIT / FIT application?: It’s a good thing to ask your solar company if they’ll file your application or will you have to do it, because you do not want to be struggling with paperwork – especially something that’s key to your installation. Besides, the biggest plus about a Solar installer professional filing your application on your behalf is that they are familiar with the process and know the intricacies involved.

7. Warranties and References: Like for any purchase; always, always, always ask what the warranties cover and for a few references. It’s the first thing that should pop in our head when we make a purchase – especially something that requires a big investment, so don’t be shy about asking for warranty information and some references you can talk to.

Feel free to print this list off and have it by your side when you speak / meet with solar companies you are corresponding with. Go over these questions with any potential solar installer one by one. At Eco Alternative Energy we adhere to all the above standards because we believe customer satisfaction comes first. And in case you are wondering what should be included in the cost of your solar system, here’s a great post that lists it for you: How much does it cost to install solar panels? For any questions that you have regarding choosing the right installer or solar don’t hesitate to drop us a message or call us at 1-866-976-3749.

And remember don’t sign up with a solar installer just because they seem to be offering the best price – like they say, if it’s too good to be true, that’s because it probably is!

If you are in Ontario, Canada and would like a free online evaluation of your property for solar, feel free to fill out the short form below and one of our experts will get in touch with you in quickly.

Author: Derek Wilson

 

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Solar System Installation: Is it better to do the install yourself? Professional vs DIY

Whether you choose a professional to install your solar system or decide to do it yourself, kudos to you for choosing to go solar and thank you for helping us make Ontario greener!

Professional solar panel installation or DIY?

Professional solar panel installation or DIY?

A lot of hobbyists jump at the idea of a DIY project but hold on, before you put your tool belt on and start climbing up the ladder onto your roof you need to ask yourself; “which option is better for such a significant project”? If you’re planning to install a Grid Tied Solar System, we recommend you take a look here at what a Professional Solar Installation company offers you vs a DIY project:

  1. Professional Expertise: The first advantage of using a professional company to install solar panels on the roof of your home is that they employ professional electricians, installers and solar specialists to do the job right. This means that everyone involved in your solar installation is an expert in their field as opposed to a hobbyist trying to figure things out for the first time. If you’re planning on doing a small home project that does not tie into the grid, then the Do It Yourselfer (providing he or she is handy in this regard) may be a better option.
  2. Making the best recommendations: A professional Solar company will be able to make the best choices for your solar system. They will know exactly which system design will be the most lucrative, which inverters to use, which racking to go with and all this faster than you can type “Photovoltaic” on your browser. It is unlikely that hobbyists will know the best configurations of a system and still be able to maximize production, since they probably don’t account for factors such as shading, preferred azimuth, pitch, etc.
  3. Time Savings and Faster Earnings: When you start a DIY project for the first time on your own, you will evidently go through the many panel brochures, inverter info and engineering specs and eventually find a simple flowchart of steps required to install Solar that you may use as a template for your installation. It is unlikely that you’ll finish your project without running into a few roadblocks which could potentially take a while to figure out. When using a professional solar installation company, you’ll be dealing with professionals who have been through the process several times and understand their way around any roadblocks they encounter. As a result, they should be much faster (a 10 kW system should be installed by professionals in about 5 days) and your system will start producing sooner which in turn equates to you earning money faster.
  4. Trying to save money: Keep this in mind, the cost of your average solar system is primarily made up in the panels, inverter(s), rails and electrical. Labour is a very small percentage of the overall price tag.
  5. Paper work made easy: Are you fond of provincial red tape? Like the rest of us, probably not – especially when you don’t do it on a regular basis. Filing for your OPA (Ontario Power Authority) application to get approved is the first step to installing a solar system and a service that many solar companies are happy to provide. Then comes the LDC paperwork, single line diagrams and in many cases engineeringand a building permit. Having your solar installer take care of this for you will save you the headache and time of shuffling through what some describe as an endless sea of paperwork. Similarly, solar companies take care of the majority of other paperwork required in the process so you don’t have to worry. If you are taking up this project as Do It Yourselfer the paperwork will slow you down, not to mention the unnecessary stress associated with it.
  6. After service care: It’s a great relief to know that someone will be around to look into any trouble that your system runs into long after your installation is complete as opposed to getting up on the roof every time something goes wrong and making sure you are around to fix it. Most solar companies will be available to provide you with some form of after service care on your system. Many solar installers offer a 24-36 month warranty on their installation.

So at first glance, it might look cheaper to install a Grid Tied Solar System on your own or have a friend do it but in the long run it could turn out to be more of a headache than it’s worth. To make solar a truly rewarding and wonderful experience we suggest you choose a professional solar installer for your home. And if you’re considering looking into choosing a solar company in your area, please read our post on How to choose the right solar installer: a checklist for some great tips! Like always, our solar experts will be happy to answer any questions you have, so be sure to drop us a message below or call us on 1-866-976-3749 . If you are in Ontario, Canada and would like a free online evaluation of your property for solar, feel free to fill out the short form below and one of our experts will get in touch with you quickly.
Author: Derek Wilson

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Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline, Which Solar Panel Is Best?

There’s a great deal of interest about Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline Solar Panels. As such, we decided to do a comparison from your point of view and we will try to avoid using any trade jargon to give you a better understanding of the difference between the two options: Mono and Poly solar panels.

Surface of Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Surface of Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline cells are made from asingle crystal of ultra pure silicon. They are the original silicon solar cell and they are still the most efficient today. Mono cells are typically a little more expensive since they’re a little moredifficult to manufacture. The benefit of mono cells is that they perform slightly better under low light conditions equating to better production on cloudy days versus polycrystalline panels. How much better? Well that is a topic for discussion as there has been little local data to prove this here in Ontario. Suffice to say, you may get up to about .5% better production per annum using mono cells versus using polycrystalline.

A Polycrystalline Solar Panel

A Polycrystalline Solar Panel

Polycrystalline cells are made up of multiple crystals and are generally less expensive to manufacture than mono cells. The gap in performance has narrowed significantly over the years to the point where they are very close. Since Polycrystalline panels are made up of several crystals, this means that they also absorb less sunlight and produce slightly less than mono cells per metre squared.

Many Solar panel manufacturers here in Ontario offer both mono or poly options. Ask your installer what they recommend for your roof and maybe have them quote on both. If you are in Ontario, Canada and you’d like to drop us a message you can do so here or call us at 1-866-976-3749.

In short, both are good technologies. It’s simply a matter of personal preference and budget. In case you wanted to find out how much a solar system installation typically costs, please read our post on How much does it cost to install solar panels in Ontario? We hope you find it helpful! For any questions feel free to drop us a comment below.

If you are in Ontario, Canada and would like a free online evaluation of your property for solar, feel free to fill out the short form below and one of our experts will get in touch with you quickly.

Author: Derek Wilson

 

 

 

 

 

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Solar Energy Systems: What could possibly go wrong?

So, you’re considering investing a rather large chunk of money to have a solar energy system installed at your home with the benefit of receiving a preferred rate for the electricity you generate that will be guaranteed to you for 20 years through Ontario’s MicroFIT program.

Now you’re wondering what could possibly go wrong in the coming years.  After all, it’s good to know about any problems that may arise now so that you’re going into this with your eyes wide open. By planning now for potential problems down the road, you can most likely prevent nasty service issues in future years.

The good news is that for most solar systems, there is very little that can go wrong. Solar panels have no moving parts which makes maintenance virtually non-existent.  As for cleaning the panels, here in Ontario, we typically get a good rainfall once a week which naturally cleans the panels of any dust or debris. Solar panels typically come with a 25 year warranty so you’re covered in that respect.  As for the inverter(s), they often come with a 10-25 year  warranty (term will depend on the inverter you choose, so choose wisely).

Squirrel damage to solar panel wiring.

Squrrel dame to solar panel wiring

If there was one thing that could potentially go wrong with your system, I would hazard to guess that it would be our furry little friends, squirrels.  If your roof is near an area accessible to squirrels, they could decide to call your solar array home and set up a nice nest underneath your solar panels to protect them from local predators and the elements.  However, a bigger concern than the nesting is what they do when in their new digs.  You see, squirrels like many rodents like to chew and the wiring under your panels make a great snack for their little chompers.  The damage that these little critters cause to wiring can result in thousands of dollars worth of repairs as your solar installer will not only be required to remove the panels, but also replace all of the wiring affected by squirrel damage.  In the meantime, you’ll be losing production which also costs you money.  Now for the really bad news, most insurance companies do not cover rodent damage which means that you’ll be on the hook for this bill. The solar industry  has been experimenting with various  solutions to this problem (coating the wires with a nasty taste that squirrel’s will naturally want to keep away from and protective wiring) but to date they have not provided us with a cost effective solution.  So is all hope lost? – Nope.

Squirrel Guard installed around solar panels by Eco Alternative Energy

Squirrel Guard installed around solar panels by Eco Alternative Energy

The good news is that some solar companies are now providing customers with a product called Squirrel Guard which in essence is a galvanized steel screen that is installed around your panels and acts as a deterrent so squirrels (or birds for that matter) are unable to get under your solar system to wreak havoc.  The Squirrel Guard screen is made by welding and hot-dip galvanizing, followed by PVC coating (this ain’t no chicken wire).  This high quality screen stands up to the extremes of rooftops.  It combines just the right mix of strength and weight with workability and transparency for a quick, long-lasting, secure and inconspicuous installation.  Squirrel Guard is the most effective solution so far for squirrel damage to solar panels.

Be sure to ask your solar installer if they provide Squirrel Guard before you sign up especially if you know you could potentially have a squirrel issue either now or down the road.

We make it a point to inform our customers about Squirrel Guard before signing up.  If you would like to speak to a solar specialist for a high performance squirrel protected solar system, please Contact Us or call us at 1-866-976-3749.

Author: Derek Wilson

 

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How do I know if my home is right for Solar ?

Solar Panel Installation by Eco Alternative Energy

Solar Panel Installation by Eco Alternative Energy

We’ve been doing solar installations for homes for a long time in Ontario. One of the most common questions we are asked by our customers is , “How do I know if my house is a good candidate for solar?” Or,  “How do I know solar can be installed on my roof?”

Well it’s easy. All you need is a quick look at your house by a solar professional – via satellite or in person. Before installing Solar on anyone’s home, we at Eco Alternative Energy first conduct an inspection of the property either through satellite imagery (first) or in person.
We basically look for :

  1. A good Southern, Western or Eastern exposure (although south is best, east and West roofs can still be very rewarding).
  2. The pitch of the roof (25-50 degrees is typically optimal).
  3. Any shade considerations to avoid? (trees, chimneys, plumbing stacks)

Our Solar inspectors have specialized tools to perform a shading analysis to determine if shading will be a problem for your site. Cutting back trees may be a solution and we will advise accordingly.
After determining the size of the best system for you, we can then determine your systems estimated production in kilowatt hour ’s (kWh’s) based on your roof pitch, azimuth, and shading and provide you with an fairly accurate projected return on investment. Once you have a sense of how much energy your system will generate, you can evaluate the cost of purchasing.
Installing systems smaller than 2kW may not be worth your while. If you’re trying to do the math yourself, then figure each panel as is about 5.5 feet tall by 3.3 feet wide.

We hope that was helpful! If there are any more questions you have regarding solar, please feel free to leave a comment below or Contact Us.

If you are in Ontario, Canada and would like a free online evaluation of your property for solar, feel free to fill out the short form below and one of our experts will get in touch with you in shortly.

Author: Derek Wilson

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How much money can I make under the microFIT program in Ontario?

Eco Alternative Energy is back to answer your questions about Solar.  A lot of our customers at the earlier stages of reaching a decision wonder if its true that they can make money under Ontario’s microFIT program. And once we tell them IT IS TRUE, the next question they have is , well ” How much? ” The answer, though it depends on a couple of variables, is pretty simple – your payments will depend on the size of your system, the pitch of your roof and any shade considerations.

Under Ontario’s microFIT program, you get a cheque from your Hydro company every month

Under Ontario’s microFIT program, you get a cheque from your Hydro company every month

 

It might sound a lot here, but it’s not. The size of your system means – what kind of solar panels you decide to go with and how many. This can be easily figured out via satellite imagery and we have specialized tools to calculate shading. So it only takes us a few moments to come up with a close approximate for your proposal once we have all the information. Once you install a solar system, under the microFIT you will get a cheque from your Hydro company every month. Isn’t that great? We think so too!

If you are a homeowner or an eligible participant, you have the opportunity to develop a very small or “micro” renewable electricity generation project (10 kilowatts or less in size) on your property. Under the microFIT Program, you will be paid a guaranteed price for all the electricity your project produces for at least 20 years and in the current phase the rate being offered is 54.9 cents per kWh guaranteed for 20 years.

Going back to the ” how much money question” – your cheques will typically be larger in the summer months (longer days, more sunlight) and less in the winter months. The average household can expect to earn approximately 10% return on their investment each year of their 20 year contract with the OPA. We will provide you with a realistic estimate based on actual conditions for your home or business.

If you’ve read our post about how to find out if your house is a good fit for solar you already have an idea on how a house is evaluated but you can always contact us below if you still have questions about solar.

Author: Derek Wilson

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How will shade affect the performance of my Solar Panels?

Eco Alternative Energy provides a free shade analysis for your solar panels.
It’s common knowledge that vampires can’t stand garlic, that the Joker is Batman’s nemesis and that oil and water simply don’t mix. The same can be said about solar panels and shade. They simply don’t work well together.

Solar modules are designed to convert solar radiation (otherwise known as sunlight) into electricity which will then either be sold to your local Hydro Company in a grid tie scenario or used to charge batteries in an off-grid system. When a panel is blocked by a shadow (either by a cloud, a chimney, or tree branch, etc), it can reduce the performance of your system dramatically.

Without getting too complicated, imagine a standard solar panel on its side, in a landscape position. Now divide the solar panel in two with a top half and a bottom half. Each half is a circuit interconnected together in series (30 cells in each half for a total of 60 cells). When you shadow any of the cells in either of these two half’s, the voltage of the solar panel will drop in order for the panel to protect itself. Even if only one of the 30 cells in that section of the panel is covered,  it will have a dramatic effect on that half of the panel and potentially on the system as a whole depending on whether you decide to go with a string or micro-inverter (future blog coming soon).

Some common shade considerations you will need to look out for include chimneys, hydro wires, dormers, TV antennas, snow, neighbouring houses and of course tree branches (doesn’t really matter if its winter or summer as the shadows of branches in the winter alone can still have a significant impact on your system). Do shadows from these obstructions mean that you can’t add solar to these areas of your roof? Not necessarily.

Your solar installer should have the knowledge and expertise in choosing the best areas of your roof to add your panels that will maximize your return on investment. He or she may avoid certain areas due to constant shade obstructions but it’s important to keep in mind that some shadows may affect a panel in the morning however may not affect the same panel the rest of the day – resulting in overall good performance. That’s  because shadows move throughout the day as the earth moves (but I know you already knew that).  Solar installers should have the tools, like a Solar Pathfinder, that will allow them to make

Eco Alternative Energy- solar pathfinder
educated decisions on the best places for you to add your panels. With the Solar Pathfinder tool, they should be able to predict your solar systems performance based on any obstructions you may have on your roof. It doesn’t matter what time of year they do the analysis – the tool is smart enough to give results for the entire year with surprising accuracy.

We hope you found this article on shade helpful. If you would like to have a shade analysis done on your roof call 1-866-976-3749. We would be happy to help you out and offer our free property evaluation. You can also find out about other posts to many of your common questions here on our blog.

Author: Derek Wilson

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