A story on Spokane’s KHQ-TV about a botched solar installation caught our attention in early June. The report showed a deep, unfilled ditch carving its way through a Spokane family’s lawn, and it mentioned that family members had hurt themselves falling into the ditch. This ditch had been open for over four months.
Now, ditches can be part of solar installations, for instance, if there is a long distance from the solar array to the point of solar connection. Still, they should be filled in by the contractor promptly, and the landscaping brought back to what it looked like before the installation.
Out of concern for the rest of this particular installation, we contacted the homeowner, who agreed to a third-party inspection by us. It turns out the open ditch was just one sign of a huge problem, and it was by no means the only part of this installation that was dangerous, even life-threatening.
During our inspection on Friday, June 9, our technicians documented multiple code violations that are life-threatening, as well as other serious safety concerns and faulty installations on the property. One solar array is not correctly attached to a sheet metal roof and will likely damage the roof and/or detach from the building and become airborne during strong winds, costing the homeowner tens of thousands of dollars in repairs and possibly injuring bystanders.
We sent the results of our inspection to the City of Spokane Building Permit Department and to the local Fire Marshal.
What’s doubly troubling in this case is that the installation was done by one of the door-to-door, out-of-state solar sales companies moving through Spokane this spring and summer. This company has pulled several hundred solar permits in North Spokane over the last few months.
“We were happy to help the property owner with a free inspection of the substandard work done on their home so that they can hold the contractor accountable. I, unfortunately, believe work such as this is increasingly common,” said Gavin Tenold, Owner and General Contractor at Northwest Renewables. “Many solar sales companies have sent sales teams door-to-door in the Spokane area, resulting in a huge influx of permits. As always, it’s important to consider the quality of work you’re expecting when selecting any contractor to work with.”
At Northwest Renewables we routinely go beyond code requirements to ensure that the work we do is not only safe but also representative of the craftsmanship tradition we are obsessed with.
If you consider adding solar panels to your home, please treat the process like any other major home improvement. You most likely wouldn’t buy a kitchen remodel from someone who randomly showed up at your door – don’t buy solar panel installation that way, either.
A couple of nights after the first story ran on KHQ-TV, a follow-up story explained that the contractor had filled the ditch. We gave the homeowner a list of code violations on the rest of the installation to forward to the contractor so that they could correct the issues. But to add to the problems: the homeowner did not have contact information other than an 1-800 number.
We will continue to assist this homeowner and hope their story serves as an example of the importance of proceeding with caution around solar installation.
Northwest Renewables was founded in Spokane in 2016 by Master Electrician Harlan Heise, and Owner and General Contractor Gavin Tenold. It is the region’s leader in solar design and installation and performs all design, construction, and support with an in-house team of experts.