Pro Installers - what are your problems?

Hey everyone!

I just found this site and I'm hoping some of you could help me out. I'm doing a research project for an entrepreneurship class I'm in. Our first task is to find an industry that interests us and learn about how they work.

The end goal of the project is to come up with a business idea that could in some way help the industry, make your guys' lives easier, faster, more profitable, even more fun. I'm a software developer too, so I tend to lean towards those types of ideas but it doesn't have to be.

I'm completely new at this, so I know I have a lot to learn. Right now just looking to understand you day to day.

My first couple question is: What 3 or 4 tasks do you spend most of your time on when you're an owner, an installer or an office manager?

Anyone that can help would be awesome. Hoping I can repay the favor.

-James

Comments

  • westbranchwestbranch Solar Expert Posts: 5,183 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    Welcome James, I think you might benefit by choosing only one of the segments of this forum, like 'off grid' to focus on as there are many variables to 'solar'

    hth
     
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  • jameshollisterjameshollister Registered Users Posts: 7
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?
    westbranch wrote: »
    Welcome James, I think you might benefit by choosing only one of the segments of this forum, like 'off grid' to focus on as there are many variables to 'solar'

    hth

    I guess that shows how little I know about the industry. I don't know how I want to help, but I know how important it is that these technologies become more widespread and I want to try to do my part. I know I'm good at tech stuff and software thought I'd start there.

    Are there a lot of kinds of companies that handle residential installations? Do companies specialize in clients that will be on or off grid? I assume a lot of those businesses also do installation of things like solar water heaters or solar window shades.

    Is there a good way to look for companies that do these things? I found one directory that looked pretty good (solar-estimate.org). I'm gonna reach out to a few of those.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,642 admin
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    Was listing to a radio show this morning (name shall not be said), and apparently the number 1 growing market right now is regulatory compliance software.

    I am not in the business, but I wonder how much time an installer spends on Human Resources and each city/county/state's contracting requirements (let alone EPA, xyz government agency requirements).

    Sorry got to "Rush" out right now.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • jameshollisterjameshollister Registered Users Posts: 7
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?
    BB. wrote: »
    Was listing to a radio show this morning (name shall not be said), and apparently the number 1 growing market right now is regulatory compliance software.

    I am not in the business, but I wonder how much time an installer spends on Human Resources and each city/county/state's contracting requirements (let alone EPA, xyz government agency requirements).

    Sorry got to "Rush" out right now.

    -Bill

    :) I have no idea what radio show you could have been listening to.

    That's a great point. There are so many things that business owners have to deal with that are unrelated to what they really wanted to do when they started. If I can find those things, I can try to minimize the burden just a little.

    It'll be a journey though. Have to find a few owners that'll open up to me so I can learn the ropes a bit.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,642 admin
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    I made good money, for awhile, working with Engineering Documentation processes and created software to assist the engineers, manufacturing, documentation, purchasing, and outsourced manufacturing folks.

    In the "olden days", it was not unusual for a design engineer to spend 50% of their time managing paper, pulling part numbers, writing change orders, etc...

    As a design engineer I hated the "busy work" that sucked up so much of my time (but was critical to the needs of the business).

    I took the beginnings from the existing groups, and with my experience as a design engineer, I designed and implemented a system that only required an hour or so per week of the engineer's time to answer all of the requests and requirements. Pretty much, it made everyone twice as efficient and really reduced our time to market.

    The "Compliance" software suite would probably be looked on favorably by anyone that got into contracting/solar and hates dealing with the "back office" stuff.

    I believe a fair number of computer services companies got started as an internal project for a large corporation and later offered their product to outside customers or even got spun off as stand-a-lone companies.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • jameshollisterjameshollister Registered Users Posts: 7
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    Bill that's awesome. I've been in software for about 9 years and I love those moments where you help people do their jobs more efficiently.

    If there's something that those guys need I'll find it.
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    you know, i gave this a bit of thought and before i give my 2 cents, know that i'm not an installer. i would think the biggest problem, and goes along the lines of trying to offer the best service for the lowest cost, would be determining what a customer wants, needs, and what is possible for a site. most customers are in the dark on what is involved and what is possible, let alone some of the little aspects of it and its operations. it's kind of what this forum goes through every day as it is educating and fumbling through things to arrive at a viable solution. most of their time is involved with discussions with the customer to determine what the customer will get. as you can guess this can get complicated being many customers know so little and often there is more than one solution as ultimately the customer has to decide on what they want. this is tough to do when they don't know much. that means they are trying to quickly educate the customer of possible solutions and i guess some will opt to eliminate the education and just try to tell the potential customer what they want. this is not good to do as this happened just to the south of me as was reported by another member trying to aid that customer and the business went under so he has no recourse or knowledge of what he has bought and how to make it work.

    educating the customer, to whatever degree, i think would be the biggest problem for the installer really would like a customer to know what they want and just leave the figuring and grunt work for him, the installer, to do. as was covered already the installer has a lot of paper work to do with calculations, drawings, permits, etc etc once a system is settled upon to get installed and much of this has to be accounted for prior to the customer saying yes for much of that is to determine what to charge and hand over his estimate to the customer before the customer even says yes. if he is a smart customer he has approached many installers for just this very estimate.

    i'm sure some installers who want the customer semi-educated and happy have made some efforts and inroads into cutting this time and effort down as it is unpaid time and effort until the customer says yes.
  • solarixsolarix Solar Expert Posts: 713 ✭✭
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    As a working, full time installer - I long for the day when I can just have someone call up, say they want a solar system, and then we go out and install it next week. It is getting to be about that cookie cutter simple. However, the reality is it takes about 3 months of regulatory process to work through all the stuff burdening us down.

    Plans: 1-line schematic, 3-line schematic, site plan, plot plan, site map, mounting plan, assembly drawing, spec sheets on everything...
    Approvals: structural engineering, building department, utility intertie.
    Inspections: building department, utility
    Funding: Utiltiy Rebates are a big game, tax credits make for a big rush at the end of the year, leasing companies that take control of the whole design and process.
    Overhead: All the costs and time it takes to operate a business here in highly regulated, litigation prone, america.

    Yes, I know that solar is "new" and you can't just let us wild-eyed installers loose out there uncontrolled, but if we could just get to the place where we are trusted, the price of solar installations could come way down. To answer your question, I think we need a recognized standard for installations so that the AHJ's don't feel they have to micromanage every detail. The basic problem is that solar is new, and houses were not designed with solar in mind, and there are many ways of doing it, and many different local variations. It all adds up to a lot of potential problems that the authorities feel they have to control.
    We are going to have an energy crises before long, and we will have to choose between having all the paperwork and gett'n the work done.
    If you can come up with a software system that overcomes all the paperwork, give me a call.
  • jameshollisterjameshollister Registered Users Posts: 7
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    Beautiful stuff guys. Keep it coming. I knew there had to be all kinds of regulatory and paperwork hassles. Big sign that there has to be some way to improve on with some kind of system.

    3 month lead times on projects. That must mean you have a bunch of them all going at the same time. How do you keep track of all that (deadlines, schedules, paperwork, etc)? Can imagine it's a pain.
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    we also have the likes of john wiles of the nec constantly putting regulations in place and making changes ever couple of years and this applies to all of us and not just installers. he is supposed to be doing things for safety, but he has proven himself to be just another bureaucrat as he was caught in at least 2 instances of creating hazards through his regulations. these regulations he cooks up become the law in many places that have adopted it, which most do as they lack the time and resources to do it for themselves. the individual local governments do, however, have the option of deleting or changing aspects of the nec rules if they are smart enough to see through the ineptness and dangerous aspects the nec has been coming up with in recent years. most aren't that smart or familiar in local governments.
  • jameshollisterjameshollister Registered Users Posts: 7
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    Can imagine that's frustrating. Dealing with regulations made by people with little experience.

    That brings up an interesting point though. If I purchase a PV system and have it installed, do I usually also purchase a service agreement? Are they on the hook for having to make sure things are up to code when new regulations are passed?
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    those at the nec are supposed to be knowledgeable, but as i said they have gotten bureaucratic.

    that's an interesting question. usually if previously installed safely and inspected under previous rules it usually is allowed to stand under those rules, but i'm sure there are exceptions if it is serious enough. i'm no expert on those at the nec. do know that should it become necessary that you are responsible and not the installer.
  • WindsunWindsun Solar Expert Posts: 1,164 ✭✭
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    A while back we installed new panels on our main store building in Flagstaff. It took us two days to install the system (12kw Kyocera setup).

    It took us almost 15 weeks to get through all the red tape and regulations.
  • jameshollisterjameshollister Registered Users Posts: 7
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?
    Windsun wrote: »
    A while back we installed new panels on our main store building in Flagstaff. It took us two days to install the system (12kw Kyocera setup).

    It took us almost 15 weeks to get through all the red tape and regulations.

    Hey! Thanks for helping out!

    That's pretty crazy. I wonder how 15 weeks compares to other types of building improvement projects, even electrical ones.

    Looks like the online store is doing well, congrats! Do you still do a lot of installations? If you do, maybe we could set up a phone call sometime. I'd like to hear more about the specifics of what red tape there is, who you waiting for, how you manage that whole process, etc. On the phone would probably be easier than going back and forth here. That be cool?
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,642 admin
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    On of the frustrations I have seen... Building Department will not give any permit until HOA (home owners' association) approves. HOA will not approve until there is a valid building permit. You have to lie to one or the other to get the (small) project moving.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    james,
    they don't do the business thing here on the forum for the store so get in touch with them.
    info is on this page just in case you didn't see it.
    http://www.windsun.com/
  • SolaRevolutionSolaRevolution Solar Expert Posts: 407 ✭✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Pro Installers - what are your problems?

    One thing on my wish list is an app for smart phones which can connect to various equipment to collect stored data, up-grade firmware, change set points. There are many different manufacturers with their own protocols so it may be impossible to handle it all but it would be so nice to be able to leave my laptop safely at home.

    How about a device which could plug into the mini USB on my cell and use aligator clips to connect to a shunt. Graphing data from a battery Shunt! I'd buy it today if it was available.
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