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BBB exposes solar energy scams

Consumer Reports News: April 13, 2011 12:17 PM

As sure as the sun rises in the East, the home improvement scammers come knocking on doors in Spring promising top-notch improvements at cut-rate prices. This year’s favorite flimflam is green, specifically solar, according to the Better Business Bureau.

The solar scams borrow from the more tried-and-true home improvement ripoffs. “They may show up at your door, advertise in local papers or deliver fliers to your home,” said the BBB in a recent scam alert. “Like the typical contracting scam, solar paneling scams can range anywhere from issues with the installation and costs to the actual solar panels themselves.”

The fraudulent contractors prey on homeowners who are unfamiliar with solar energy, which is most of us. And because solar installations can cost from $5,000 to $60,000, the financial stakes of a mistake are high. The BBB advises those who are considering solar, to consider the following:

Learn how solar energy works. For example, panels facing south that receive maximum sun exposure during the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., will provide the greatest amount of energy. You save more when you have excess energy that can then be credited to your utility bill.
Is solar energy right for you? Conduct a self energy audit. If your monthly bill is less than $100, consider other ways to save energy that cost less.
Make sure your roof is in good repair. Even though a properly installed solar system will not damage your roof, make sure your roof is in good condition before you begin the installation to avoid any future problems.
Consider all costs. Determine if the benefits and savings outweigh the cost of maintenance and upkeep over the long run.
Check state and federal incentives. State and federal programs can save you as much as 50 percent on installation costs. Be sure to understand the terms and conditions of the incentive programs and conduct your own research before signing a contract with an installer. For the latest information on state programs, check the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy.
Be wary of installers that promise no out of pocket costs. Be leery if an installer suggests obtaining credit for the full amount of the system even though they are promising very low or no costs due to rebates.

Consumer Reports recently tested four solar water heaters at our Yonkers, New York, headquarters. Our tests were based on the consumption of hot water by two to four people (80 to 85 gallons per day). The cost, including installation, ranged from $2,500 to $8,500 and we saw annual savings of from 19 to 55 percent. Payback time, including the federal credit, also varied, ranging from 5 years to 33. How much you save in your home may differ based on climate and usage.

   

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