Selecting a professional contractor

Buying a solar roof system is an important investment. Before you spend your money, spend some time learning how to evaluate the roofing contractor who may be doing the work. The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) and the Rooftop Solar Resource want to help you get the kind of results you expect—a quality roof system at a fair price. You should insist on working with an NRCA member professional roofing contractor.

A roofing contractor or electrical contractor may act as the prime contractor during installation of a rooftop solar system. Because both trades will be working simultaneously on the rooftop, cooperation between trades is important, and roofing and electrical contractors who have worked together or have an established working arrangement are well-suited to perform this work.

NRCA recommends the installation be performed by a full-service system integrator who understands rooftop solar systems, such as a Certified Solar Roofing Professional.™ Because electricians likely are not educated in proper roofing and weatherproofing techniques, a professional roofing contractor can appropriately install solar panels and/or the flashing and weatherproofing of the solar panel support system. Conversely, because roofing contractors likely are not educated in proper electrical installations, a professional electrician can appropriately install the balance of system. Additionally, roofing contractors' employees are well-trained to work on rooftops. It is prudent to ensure solar integrators and electricians have the appropriate training and insurance to work at heights.

A rooftop solar system should be installed by qualified and licensed (where applicable) professionals. Installers can be from a roofing company with a solar system specialty, a roofing company with a solar subcontractor or a solar installer with a roofing subcontractor. It is important to remember a roof system's primary function is to keep a building weathertight. Rooftop solar systems are desirable; however, keeping a roof system weathertight is a job only a professional roofing contractor can perform. Building owners should consider the following: If a roof with a PV system leaks, it's likely a professional roofing contractor will be contacted to resolve the leak. Therefore, it may be best the prime contractor for a rooftop solar system installation be a roofing contractor.

All roofing contractors are not alike, and NRCA recommends you prequalify roofing contractors to get the job done right the first time. The following guidelines will help in your decision:

  • Check for a permanent place of business, telephone number, tax identification number and, where required, a business license.
  • Insist on seeing copies of the contractor's liability insurance coverage and workers' compensation certificates. Make sure the coverages are in effect through the duration of the job. (Note: U.S. workers' compensation laws vary by state. Consult your state's laws to determine workers' compensation insurance requirements.)
  • Look for a company with a proven track record that readily offers client references and a list of completed projects. Call these clients to find out whether they were satisfied.
  • Check to see whether the contractor is properly licensed and/or bonded. Call your state's licensing board for your state's specific requirements (where applicable).
  • Insist on a written proposal and examine it for complete descriptions of the work and specifications, including approximate starting and completion dates and payment procedures.
  • Check to see whether the contractor is a member of any local, state, regional or national roofing industry associations, such as NRCA.
  • Call your local Better Business Bureau to check for any complaints that have been filed.
  • Have the contractor explain his or her project supervision and quality-control procedures. Request the name of the person who will be in charge, how many workers will be required and the estimated time of completion.
  • Carefully read and understand any roofing warranty offered and watch for provisions that would void it. Keep a healthy skepticism about the lowest bid. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Remember, price is only one criterion for selecting a roofing contractor. Professionalism and quality workmanship also should weigh heavily on your decision.

NRCA members pledge to uphold the follow:

  • Have a permanent place of business and provide customers with a street address, telephone number, tax identification number and, where appropriate, a business license
  • Exhibit professionalism, financial stability, quality workmanship and readily offer customer references
  • Provide detailed written proposals, including descriptions of the work, start and completion dates, and payment procedures, and honor contracts to the best of their abilities
  • Provide a fair value to the customer and the most efficient and reliable roofing services available, including adhering to a policy of honesty, integrity and objectivity
  • Provide evidence of liability coverage and workers' compensation insurance coverage for each roofing job
  • Commit to worker safety and education, including adhering to Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety regulations
  • Provide names of roofing manufacturers with whom the company is a licensed or approved applicator
  • Provide a properly maintained and clean job site
  • Stand behind their work, offering warranties and/or guaranties, when appropriate
  • Provide information and options to customers for increasing energy efficiency

NRCA, a nonprofit trade association, is one of the construction industry's most respected organizations and the voice and leading authority in the roofing industry for information, education, technology and advocacy.

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