On July 1, new state building codes for energy conservation in residential and commercial buildings will take effect. Along with my fellow architects, trade professionals, and building officials, I’m preparing for the implications. One portion of the new code addresses solar installations and provisions. All well and good, but I have serious reservations based on previous and current experiences.

Here’s my story on why I am leery. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the codes and efforts to go “greener.” But I fear for the average homeowner who is interested in rooftop solar.

When I first met my husband almost 14 years ago, he was in the early stages of a solar installation. I asked to review his paperwork. Buried deep in the contract, in barely understandable language, were contradictions that would have cost him more than any benefits of having solar installed. In essence, it was a scam. He quickly canceled. But now, despite being older and having a vast knowledge in the construction industry, I fell victim myself to a solar project gone wrong.

This began over a year ago when I noticed my neighbors had installed a solar array on their roof. I inquired about how it went. They explained what they had done, who had installed the panels, and what their expected rate of return was. Naturally, I was skeptical, but I have known these neighbors for 30 years. They do not go into anything without fully researching and intensely vetting contractors. They double- and triple-check references and never jump on anything fast. I asked for the name of the company and proceeded to set up an appointment.

Prior to meeting at my home, the company did an online assessment of my property to make sure that we would have enough open sky and roof surface to make the project viable. Once this was confirmed, we met the sales team at our home.

The visit went extremely well. The presentation was clear and there was no hidden language. We would purchase the panels and were expected to generate 110 percent of our required electrical needs. In addition, 2023 was the last year certain federal and state incentives on solar projects were still being offered. (They have been replaced with different tax incentives.) There was absolutely no pressure to sign, but we decided to pause and do some additional research, as well as to check references.

I am fortunate that several of my neighbors are in the trades. One owns Plymouth’s premier roofing company, two are builders. I had conversations with all of them. I was incredibly disappointed when the roofer said that he could not do my re-roof as he would be unable to guarantee the roof after the solar company penetrated the surface with hardware to install the panels. I was disappointed, but his reasoning was understandable. The builders, whom I have the utmost respect for, were blunter: “Put a hole in a roof and water will follow.” And, they said, “How are they going to guarantee each solar bracket will be fastened to a roof rafter?” The builders are not anti-solar by any means. One is considering a ground array for himself, but he’s not a fan of roof installations.

But how did my process go so wrong? Not trusting my own skepticism was one reason.

Despite these two bits of cautionary advice, we decided to move forward and signed a contract, which provided for the sale and installation of the panels as well as a new roof. But soon we encountered our first red flag. The company had failed to account for the code requirement of setbacks on the roof edges to the panels. (Why had they missed a code requirement? Isn’t that something they should have been versed in?) They would have to re-adjust the panel layouts. We would still be getting almost the same electrical output, but with fewer panels, the cost would decrease. A bonus, right? Nope.

The company quoted me the new price and said it would follow up with a new contract. It took a month, but when the new contract showed up, it continued to show the old price despite the new panel count. I repeatedly told them the contact price was wrong. They insisted it was correct and I needed to sign or would forfeit my place in line. The red flag was raised, and I remained steadfast against signing it. The salesman finally recognized the error and had it corrected. By that point, my gut told me to walk away. If they couldn’t get a contract right, how was the rest of the job going to be handled? I should have trusted my gut.

The first phase of the project was scheduled for early November. The project would kick off with the new roof installation. This was to be done after the company scheduled an “engineer” to assess the roof’s structural integrity. The “engineer” knew as much about roof framing as my 12-year-old niece. I repeatedly told him the size and species of my roof rafters. Undeterred, he insisted on verifying this for himself. Upon completion of his site survey, he asked: “What kind of wood is in the main attic rafters?” My confidence level took another serious hit.

Reading the contract for the re-roofing, I noticed a few things that I wanted corrected. I also requested a pre-construction walk through. Why the extra caution? When I moved back home to Plymouth in 1993, I was in search of a place to live. My dream property would have been built in the 1700s on a level lot, with at least four fireplaces, three bedrooms, a barn, and possibly a water feature.

With a baby on the way, what I purchased was a two-bedroom 1938 Cape on a steep upslope lot. Not my dream, but a starter home. As I settled in, I was informed the house had been built by Ralph Fortini and my grandfather George Fornaciari. It was built for one of my mother’s cousins and had been home to a couple of Plymouth’s finest citizens. After my mom’s cousin sold it, famed Plymouth football coach and teacher Johnny Walker (1914-2007) lived here. Years later, Lauris Bradbury and his wife made it their home. (Bradbury served on multiple town committees including the Plymouth Bicentennial Committee, Plymouth’s 350th Anniversary, and was president of the Old Colony Club.) Eventually the house became my forever home and I have come to love it like a family member.

I know the house pretty intimately now. I know its quirks and faults. One of the quirks is unique roof flashing details installed by Ralph and my grandfather 80 years ago. This is why it was important for the pre-roofing walk-through. The roofer needed to understand these details. I was willing to pay more to ensure the details would be replicated. I even told the solar company that I had a stockpile of trim stock to accomplish the task. I was told a walk-through wasn’t necessary and a site supervisor would be on the job first thing in the morning.

The morning of the install, the crew arrived prior to 7 a.m. I asked about the supervisor. I was told he was coming later and it would need to strip the roof first. When I left for work at 8 a.m. the supervisor was nowhere to be seen. I should have told the roofers to stop. I’m still regretting this today. It’s important to realize that the roofers were subcontractors working for the solar company. The roofers were from Billerica. Why was a local South Shore company hiring roofers from so far away? Most likely with the number of installs scheduled to meet the tax incentives, it was obvious that anybody on a roof would do.

Arriving home at 5 p.m., the reroofing was still underway and darkness was upon us. How could they continue to work without any light? I turned on all of our outside lights. The crew cleaned the yard until 7 p.m.

It wasn’t until the following morning that the actual horror of what was done fully revealed itself. The reroofing was a disaster. I can’t begin to describe all the errors but what was the most disturbing was the flashing details that I was so concerned about. Not only was the flashing incorrectly and poorly done, a windowsill had been ripped off, discarded, and not replaced. Looking at the house, I was close to tears.

The next few days were a nightmare: endless phone calls, promises of repairs, and halfhearted apologies. I knew I could not continue. If the reroofing had gone this badly, on top of the failure to produce the proper paperwork, I realized I needed to stop. My faith moving forward with this company wasn’t there. I requested they return all my deposits.

They originally agreed to refund my money. Days turned to weeks, weeks have turned to months and nothing has been returned. Communication has ceased. I had to retain a lawyer (who informed me I was his fourth legal action against a solar company in 2024.) A demand letter has gone unanswered. I have now consulted with my neighboring roofer and hired one of my favorite contractors to repair all the damage. All at my expense.

So now, a year has passed. I am out a significant amount of money and my goal of trying to do the right thing has been foiled.

Oversight in the solar industry borders on a Wild West scenario. Unlike the construction of a home, which requires multiple inspections throughout the process, solar installs are far less regulated, and the new codes do little to address that problem. Granted, my major issue wasn’t with the actual solar installation, but the process leading up to it.

And it’s not just my experience: a simple Google search of solar scams or solar company reviews yields hundreds and hundreds of pages of complaints. Online reviews of the company I had chosen are also tanking, and I plan to add my own.

Most homeowners are not as versed in the construction field as I am. When my contractor was making the repairs, he noticed water infiltration had already begun. In my case, if this had been your average homeowner, water damage would only appear years later.

With the new code fast approaching, I hope that folks will be incredibly careful in decisions they make if the choice is solar. Hiring the right professionals with long track histories in their field and trusting their gut are priorities! I’ll continue my efforts to be a good steward to the earth. I’ll continue to recycle, I drive a hybrid, and make conscious decisions on goods and services I buy and use. I know other people have had positive experiences, but as far as solar is concerned, for me it’s “once bitten, twice shy.” Maybe I’ll look for a home wind turbine instead!

Architect Bill Fornaciari, a nearly lifelong resident of Plymouth, is the owner of BF Architects in Plymouth. His firm specializes in residential work and historic preservation. Have a question or idea for this column? Email Bill at billfornaciari@gmail.com.

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