TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — More than likely, you’ve seen door-to-door solar panel salesmen in your neighborhood recently with clipboards and aggressive sales pitches.
The solar industry is red hot as homeowners try to lower energy bills, take advantage of government tax credits and do something good for the environment.
But buyers beware. Even proponents of solar warn against believing everything the salesman says. And remember, solar is not a good choice for every house or every budget. Plus, not every contractor who installs solar is the worthy of your business, says Heaven Campbell of Solar United Neighbors, a nonprofit solar advocacy group.
“Unless it’s girl scout cookies, take a second glance,” she said, recommending homeowners only buy from solar companies they contact themselves, after a lot of homework.
Solar panels are popping up all over the Tampa Bay area, as tens of thousands of homeowners hope solar will lower energy costs. But solar issues have become one of the most complained about calls to Better Call Behnken.
Viewers complain about companies going out of business and leaving them hanging, failing to get permits, failing to hook up their solar, damaging their roof or promising to cut shade trees that block the sun’s rays and then failing to do so.
They complain about signing up for long-term loans without understanding the fine print.
Michele Helterline, who lives in Sarasota, thought she was doing everything right. She says she had been thinking of getting solar for quite some time when a salesman knocked on her door.
The pitch sounded good, so she decided to finally make the decision to go solar.
“I was so excited,” she said. “I wanted to do something good.”
Just months after the 29 panels went on her home, things started going wrong, and she said her solar company was unresponsive.
“It was off for over a month because no one had set up the app, I wasn’t able to monitor it,” she said. “I didn’t really know how it worked. Once the inspector came, they were supposed to come back and they never came back, they never called me, and I couldn’t get in touch with them anymore.”
Helterline said the company won’t call her back and online reviews indicate her company may be out of business. It’s currently under investigation by the Florida Attorney General’s Office.
She said her roof was damaged during the installation, and one of her 29 panels is already not working. But even though she has a manufacturer’s warranty, she can’t find anyone to do the work.
“I’ve called multiple companies,” she said. “No one wants to touch a system that they didn’t install themselves.”
She’s happy with her $22 a month electric bill, but even if the system’s not working properly, she’s still stuck with monthly $180 loan payments on the $38,500 purchase for the next 25 years.
Here are some tips, if you’re considering solar:
First, make sure your house is a good candidate for solar. It’s preferred to have a south-facing roof to get the most sun. Be skeptical if the salesman wants you to remove shade-providing trees. Solar proponents say don’t do it.
Another incentive is federal tax credits, which sounds good, but if you normally get a refund, this will not apply to you. It’s only for those who owe taxes.
And speaking of money, the average cost for solar is around $25,000. Most solar companies work with third-party lenders that offer lower interest rates. The industry standard is to pay off your loan within 10 years to make it cost effective, but some lenders can spread that out to 25 years, which means you pay a lot in interest.