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Category: Grid-tie Solar

Install of the Month – May 2018

Install of the Month – May 2018

Defying Expectations with Tom M.

It feels great to prove your doubters wrong. Just ask our May Install of the Month recipient, Tom M.! He installed his DIY system for two and a half times less than what other solar companies wanted to charge him. Now, he’s free from the power company’s ever-increasing rates.

This month’s Install of the Month goes to Tom M and his large grid-tied installation in Albuquerque, NM.

When Tom started to tell people he wanted to go solar, they looked at him sideways. Albequerque has a long permitting process and strict electrical requirements. And he would face push-back from his Homeowner’s Association. But he knew the long-term rewards were worth the effort.

Tom didn’t plan on going the DIY route at first. He contacted a few local companies for quotes. But they tried to nickel-and-dime him on installation charges and wouldn’t customize the system to his liking. He soon got to the point where he knew that he would rather do it himself.

Tom contacted Wil at Wholesale Solar, who is also a New Mexico resident and familiar with local regulations. 9 days after he got his equipment, Tom had installed his own solar PV system.

When it came time for inspection, his HOA had to admit Tom’s work well exceeded their expectations. And the electrical inspector? They said it was the largest self-installed system they’d ever seen, and they’d never seen one done so professionally.

Interview with Tom

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

Saving money because of constantly increasing rates from the local electric company.

Did you have any previous DIY experience?

I am a self taught DIY’r. I have a great workshop and lots of experience in home repair and other projects.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

The most difficult part was getting the proper permits through the city. The building permit was just a payment, but the electrical permit required passing a city electrical test, following NEC 2014 rules, to allow work on my personal residence. I was also required to get a reroof permit due to the type of installation that I performed. The HOA also only provided a conditional approval since they didn’t feel it was possible for a self install to meet their requirements. However, it exceeded their standards and received compliments from all the neighbors.

How many helpers did you have?

Family helped by handing tools up to me on the roof, otherwise no additional assistance.

Did you hire a contractor?

I did not hire a contractor for any part of the installation

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

I needed engraved placards for outside labeling of the equipment. Due to removal of 9 pallets of concrete tile and lifting 34 panels up, a forklift was a helpful tool in getting equipment and parts up and down from the roof.

How long was the full installation process?

Total installation time was 9 days. The permitting process was over a period of 3 months. This time included removing concrete tile then re-roofing with asphalt shingles to protect the house under the panels. Due to the HOA requirements that no more than one foot of conduit be exposed, I put all penetrations under the panels to protect them. I also installed chicken wire around all 4 sides of both arrays to keep the birds out. Concrete tile was then replaced up to the edge of the arrays to make it look like the roof was tile. The arrays are embedded at a level no higher than the concrete tiles.

How did it feel to get your solar project finished?

A true sense of accomplishment, and a great feeling when the electrical inspector stated that he had not seen a self install system that large and one that had been done so professionally.

Who else did you consider before choosing Wholesale Solar?

CST Solar and Positive Energy in my city. But when they started charging for every little item and when they refused to install the way I wanted, I got fed up with them and decided to install myself. Their cost was two and a half times as much as what I spent.

What was your total solar install costs? (Ball Park)

$24,000

How much did you save on your taxes

$8,000

Components in Tom’s custom system:

Tom's Solar Breakdown:

  • Cost of Contractor: None
  • Cost of Electrician: None
  • Total Hours to install: 9 hours
  • Design Output of kWh per year: 19,200 kWh
  • Federal Tax Incentive: Qualifies for $8,000 U.S. Federal Tax Credit
  • Utility rates per kWh: Varies: different rate plan options and TOU rates in place
  • Average Monthly Utility cost: Varies: different rate plan options and TOU rates in place

The Full Story in Tom's Words:

We wanted to be the first in our neighborhood to have solar…

We started thinking about solar when we bought a nice 50 acre piece of property in eastern Arizona in 1998. The closest power was 9 miles away and cost prohibitive, so solar became the answer. Well, as with all things in life, the only constant is change. Having children, and a change in career that moved us overseas put the whole project on the back burner.

Over the years, the power companies continue to increase their costs, and our increasing need for more and more power has made us reevaluate things. 

Fast-forward to 2016, and life has started to settle down. Over the years, the power companies continue to increase their costs, and our increasing need for more and more power has made us reevaluate things. We still have the property in Arizona, but we are focused on daily life in our home in Albuquerque, NM.

One day while shopping in Home Depot, there was a sales representative from a local solar company. Out of curiosity I asked them to come out to the house for an evaluation and quote. I knew that we were going to be one of the larger residential systems that they would design to install.

COMPLICATIONS… AND A SURPRISE EXTRA $20,000 

We ran into complications. There were limitations from the power company, the city mandated that our system could be no larger than a 10kW grid-tied system and our the Home Owners Association said that the panels would have to be parallel mounted to the roof and be within 4 inches of the existing roof. Also we should have less than one foot of conduit exposed on the roof, and that there should be limited additional equipment installed on the outside of our house.

After taking some measurements, they came back to us with a quote of $32,000 to have a fully installed and completed system. We were also informed that Nusenda Credit Union was the only financial institution in our area that would provide loans for solar. It is refreshing to think that they see the potential and return on investment when this cutting edge technology is done properly. However, we did not need this service because we chose instead to pay cash. Our return on investment would be immediate for us.

We signed a contract from the solar company, and then came the change orders and additions. Because we were splitting the arrays between two buildings, they wanted to charge almost $5,000 for trenching and putting conduit in the ground. Additionally, the 75 foot run between buildings would cost almost $500 dollars for the two 10 gauge DC wires to be connected to the system. We were told that they would be unable to tie into the existing power panel, as it would need to be upgraded to a 200 Amp service. Our service at the time was 100 Amps. Finally, they said that they would need to outsource any roof issues to a roofing company.

The system that they designed for us would be 14 panels that would be pointed due south on the workshop, and 20 panels that would face due west on the house. The workshop was one string, and the house would have two strings of 10 each. In the garage, we installed two SMA grid tie inverters. By having 3.8k for the workshop, and 6k for the house, we would be below the 10k maximum imposed by the power company.

We originally had wanted a system that was enough for our total needs. When we showed them a one line drawing of how we wanted the system, they said they couldn’t do it that way because it would take too much effort to install and be cost prohibitive. I was sensing that we didn’t fit into their cookie cutter design and that they may not have installers that were skilled for this type of work. As the customer, we wanted it our way and were willing to pay the cost differential. After consulting with their designers, managers and technicians for 6 months of design, they gave us a new estimate for almost $52,000. Imagine the look on our faces when we saw the new cost and the return of investment changing to about 15 to 17 years. We politely asked them to leave after deciding it was time to pull the plug due to the cost and inability to work to our specifications.

After consulting with their designers, managers and technicians for 6 months of design, they gave us a new estimate for almost $52,000. Imagine the look on our faces when we saw the new cost and the return of investment changing to about 15 to 17 years.

At dinner that evening, we discussed the events of the previous months, and decided that I was handy enough, and should consider doing the install myself. The next day I began the long process of obtaining permits, and making drawings and designs. We looked for suppliers of equipment, and found Wholesale Solar. We had an idea of what we wanted, and with the expert assistance from Wil Burlin, we started the process on our own. It took two years to find a contractor that would agree upgrade the power panel to the house. Due to construction changes, a new underground feeder, meter can, main disconnect would need to be installed. While we were at it, we had them move the service panel into the garage so that we could have better access and would not have to go outside at night in the rain to check a breaker.

At dinner that evening, we discussed the events of the previous months, and decided that I was handy enough, and should consider doing the install myself.

 

CHOOSING DIY 

Now to the good part…. We contacted Wil again, and he still had our original specifications. With a few changes, we finalized the order. Within 3 weeks, we received our shipment. During those three weeks, we ordered all the additional items we would need for our custom install, and I also started the permit process. For several weeks we would be receiving packages containing heavy duty switches, wire, breakers, conduit, ground lugs, labels, roof flashings, and waterproof boxes, from UPS, FedEx and USPS. It was like Christmas in April.

Also during the time that we were waiting for delivery, we worked on prepping the roof. We didn’t want the panels to be installed on top of our tile roof, so we removed the roof tiles. We found that the underlayment had water damage. If the local solar company contractors would have installed their system on top of the tile, we wouldn’t have known how much damage we had underneath.. Once the tiles were removed, we placed new underlayment, and installed a good 30-year shingle with all the proper flashings for a weatherproof roof. We also had our local roofer come out and reseal all the skylights, roof penetrations and other problem areas.

Next, we installed the Flashfoot 2 mounts and weather tight conduit flashings. We cannot say thank you enough for the Flashfoots as they were simple to install, and provided a weather tight and sound foundation for the rail system. Then we installed of the rails, and made sure they were all level and true. This is probably the most important step! Make sure they are straight, level and tight, as it will make the rest of the process go extremely quick. It is amazing how much a simple string line can do to help make everything square, true, level and straight. Hint… Don’t skimp on the roof mounts, penetrations or the amount of sealant. Spend the time and money on it now so that you don’t have to take it off later.

When submitted, my design approval with the power company was flawless, and only took about 4 days. 

When submitted, my design approval with the power company was flawless, and only took about 4 days. The approval process with the city was a little more in-depth, and it took me four trips to the city’s planning office to get the drawings approved. We paid for the building permit, but we were not informed that we needed an electrical permit. Because we were doing a self-install, they could not provide us with a permit unless I took, and passed, the city electrical test which would allow me work on my own home. I passed, so we were then almost legal. Reroofing, due to the damaged underlayment, caused the need for a reroof permit. It seemed like the city was reaching deeper and deeper into our pockets. After paying $700, we finally had the permits we needed to start the actual work.

Installation of the panels came next, and it went very fast. We actually had 14 panels on the workshop in less than an hour and then 16 of 20 on the house in about the same amount of time. Connections were easy and the final connections to THHN wire were in junction boxes already located in the attics. Panels were connected to the equipment in the garage through wires in ¾ inch conduits. Inverters, switches, production meter, fire department disconnect, a Generator disconnect relay, and to make it look good, we used no flex conduits. It took a bit longer, but all electrical (even in the attics) was run through ¾ inch EMT conduit that was bent to give it that professional and industrial look. EMT conduit also allows for easier pulling of wire on long runs versus flex conduit that the contractors wanted to use. This all took a bit longer, but in the end made it look and function much better.

For the runs from the workshop to the house, we dug a trench, 6 inches wide 16 inches deep and put multiple runs of one-inch schedule 80 PVC conduits. We would then backfill the trench, and then lay 6 inches of concrete sidewalk over the trenched area

The electric wall in the garage also had extensive work and upgrades. The drywall was removed, and some conduits were hidden in the wall with a few junction boxes for access. Plywood was hung on the wall, and it was textured and painted. Equipment was then hung on the exterior of the plywood. How many times you’ve tried to hang something on drywall only to have it sag or fall off. By using the plywood, you cannot tell any difference from the other garage walls, but you are able to mount anything anywhere and know that it is secure.

The inverters, switches and conduits all looked great. We added more than the normal number of disconnects so that we can have an AC disconnect both inside and outside. We also added a DC disconnect for each string, before each inverter so that we can perform maintenance on part of the system without shutting the entire system down.

GETTING IT APPROVED

Once everything was complete, we called for an inspection of the three permits (City electrical, city reroof, and building. The reroof and building permits were passed, but the electrical inspector was going to fail the install because the paint had not been removed from behind the ground lugs in the disconnect switches, even though the grounding screws had good contact. Unfortunately, the inspector couldn’t come back that day. But he did say that if we sent him a photo of the modifications before 3:00PM, that he would approve it and put it into the city’s computer. We ended up receiving a full approval. 

Next, we called the power company. They came out about 5 days later to install the production meter and to turn the system on. We didn’t even have to be home for this. When we came home, we found the system was working, and that it had immediately started producing power. Better yet, our meter was running backwards.

Because we use SMA inverters, we have programmed them to connect to the Sunny Portal application on our phones where we can monitor the power from anywhere that we have an Internet connection. It sends daily reports to our phone at the end of each day. Our average power usage in April is 65kWh per day, and we expect more in July and August.

In the beginning of this installation, and the many approvals and inspections, our Home Owners Association only gave use a conditional approval for installation. It seems like they wanted control of our project, and since it was a major project, they gave only a conditional approval because they didn’t know if we could actually do the install to their standards. We didn’t want to hurt their feelings by telling them that our standards are higher than theirs. We do understand their concern that not everyone is skilled enough to complete this monumental task. 

Another stipulation they had is that you can only have tile or metal roofing material in our neighborhood, and since we put shingles on the house, it wouldn’t pass their standards. To get around that, we protected our roof with the shingles, installed the solar system on top of that, and then replaced the tile right up to the edge of the panels. This way the panels are recessed in-between the tiles and no one can see the shingles. We also get some very strong winds during the year, and believe that the lower profile of the panels compared with the rise of the tiles will put less stress on the panels.

We have not heard of any protests from the HOA, but have heard praises from from our neighbors.

The shingles will last for a longer time because the panels are protecting them, just as the panels are protecting the production and ground wires and roof penetrations. We have not heard of any protests from the HOA, but have heard praises from from our neighbors.

EASIER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK

To regress a bit, we talked with many others that have solar systems, and many complain that they have birds making nests under the panels. Think of that, a dry, protected, and warm place to build a nest to raise youngin’s? We would think the same. However, not wanting to encourage the birds, we spent a little extra on bird proofing them by installing chicken wire to the panels, then down to the roof and under the tiles. Once the roofing tiles were replaced, the chicken wire almost disappeared, and now we have no worries about birds. All power and ground wires are protected under the panels and all the electrical controls are in a nice protected garage. The only thing you see on the outside of our home is the production meter and a single fire department disconnect. Due to city regulations, engraved placards are required to be placed on the equipment. Through PV Labels on line, they were easy to work with, and they completed custom labels that should outlast the life of the system.

Although this was a family project, I performed most all of the work. My wife, and daughters would occasionally help by helping to move and stack the panels, handing up tools, light up parts in the dark, keeping me fed, or filling up my water cup to keep me hydrated. I’m glad we did it in April, and not in July. It was warm, but July would have been a lot more uncomfortable. I also made use of a used forklift that we had purchased last year for other projects. I was grateful to have it while lifting the panels and lowering the excess roof tiles. Without the forklift, I would have seriously thought about hiring a younger helper to help me move the 9 pallets of tiles from the roofs to the ground.

In summary, this all sounds like an unthinkable self install project. However, it looks great, and it was easier than you might think. The system from Wholesale Solar works great. Our total cost was about $25,000 along with some sweat equity. After federal rebates of $7500, the total price out of our pocket is about $17,500.

After federal rebates of $7500, the total price out of our pocket is about $17,500.

If we had financed this project, the return on investment would have worked out to about 4 years. But instead we are free and clear from payments. The total time invested was about two weeks for permits, and 9 actual days of installation.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. Do I recommend this to others? Absolutely.

The best thing about all of this is the freedom from increasing electrical costs. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Do I recommend this to others? Absolutely. It is a part of the house that just works for us and for our environment in a positive way. I guess the only thing that I have left to do is to spray the dust off of the panels from time to time.

5 Questions You Should Ask Before Installing Ground-Mount Solar

5 Questions You Should Ask Before Installing Ground-Mount Solar

courtney
COURTNEY JOHNSTON, Purchasing Manager at Wholesale Solar​

If you’ve read about the state & local incentives to go solar and maybe even looked into our free solar cost calculators, you’re likely convinced – going solar is a terrific investment. But once you’ve made the decision to purchase a solar system, that’s when the real questions begin.

If you’re a homeowner that has some acreage to spare, a ground-mounted solar array can be a terrific option for you. Depending on your budget, space, and energy needs, a ground-mounted system has a lot of benefits.

For starters, the system is easier to access and has no interaction with your roof – which means you don’t have to worry about damaging roofing materials, water leaking into your home, or moving the panels around in the case of a roof replacement.

However, before you bust out the auger, consider these five questions inspired by a conversation I had with solar professional Brady Schimpf. In addition to being the Technical Marketing Engineer at Ironridge, a company that produces mounting hardware for PV solar arrays, Schmipf has a lengthy background in solar installation.

Aside from Schmipf offering up answers to these questions about rooftop solar, he also clued me in on five key things many people misunderstand about ground-mounted solar – and shed some light on major compliance & property line issues that can cause all kinds of costly problems after installation.

Question #1:  “What are the different types of ground-mount solar systems and how do I know which one is best for my needs?”

Standard Ground Mount

When most people think of ground-mounted solar panels, they think of the image on the left (as featured in our Dec 2017 install of the month). This is what’s called a standard ground mount – where several poles are placed in the ground, and a racking system is installed on top to hold the solar panels.

The process of building this kind of system is similar to putting together a fence. You would first dig several holes that are a few feet deep, then set the poles in, and fill them with concrete. This structure would create the foundation for holding your solar panels.

A notable feature of a standard ground mount is that the panels are “fixed” – this means the tilt angle and direction is permanent. While the main benefit of this is that it’s cost-effective and easy to install the downside is that there is little to no adjustability and it’s not ideal for areas with extreme snow.

While concrete piers are always the most practical and cost-effective foundation for a standard ground mount, there are alternative foundation options including ballasted, driven piers, and helical piles. These are mainly used for large commercial or utility installations, typically when the soil is too hard or rocky to drill into.

With a ballasted solar system, it’s basically a standard ground mount with an added feature – concrete footings that are above the ground. Driven piers look like a huge pole, and as the name suggests, it gets pile-driven deep into the ground using specialized equipment.

Helical piles, also known as Earth screws, look like a giant screw. They also require special equipment for installation, similar to the driven piers. Additionally, all three alternative foundation options require working with a Professional Engineer (PE).

Pole Mount Solar Panels

Aside from standard ground mounts, you may also consider pole-mounted solar panels. When I consulted solar professional Brady Schimpf, he explained that pole mounts provide some interesting solutions that might apply to your unique situation.

For starters, pole-mounted solar panels are built in a similar way as the standard ground-mounted systems, but instead of digging several holes you would dig one big hole and set a huge pole into it. Then, the solar panels are mounted on top with a built-in tilt and swivel feature that allows you to adjust the panels manually or set up automatic trackers to improve your solar output.

While this sounds pretty appealing, Schimpf reminds consumers that what it really comes down to is the cost per watt. He stated,  

“In a residential system it’s way cheaper and equally as effective to add more arrays [solar panels] than have the ability to adjust a smaller array.”

However, there are benefits to a pole mounted system beyond energy output – the adjustable feature also allows you to lift the array above the ground to clear foliage, snow, and other obstructions. The height combined with adjustability makes a pole mount ideal for those that live in snowy climates. On the downside, pole-mounted solar panels are a lot more expensive, require a big concrete footing, and the large pipe is hard to work with.

Question #2:  “Does ground-mounted solar have to be off-grid?”

Both grid-tied and off-grid customers can use ground-mounted solar panels. The decision to use ground-mounted solar instead of rooftop solar usually has to do with space. For customers that have some acreage to spare, using ground-mounted solar can be a great option – but if you’re living on a smaller lot, or want a quicker ROI, you might want to conserve space and make use of the real estate on your roof. Ground mounted solar systems tend to be more expensive and labor intensive, but can be more efficient at capturing energy thus saving you more in the long run.

Question #3: “What are some things I should consider before installing ground-mounted solar?”

Before you purchase a ground-mounted solar system, consider the fact that it’s usually a more complicated installation process than putting solar panels on a roof. When you have a roof installation, half of the structure is already built. All you have to install is racking and the solar array. However, with a ground mounted system, you essentially have to build the structure of the roof from scratch, so the solar panels have something to sit on.

When I posed this question to Schimpf, here’s what he had to say:

“[Aside from space] one important thing to consider is your soil type. If you’re not familiar with what it is, you can get a local contractor out to do an evaluation for a reasonable fee.”

And depending on where you live, this could be an essential step. Some cities, especially those with certain soil types, strict building codes, and high earthquake risk, will require you to get your soil inspected and approved before you can move forward with your ground mount design. In that case, a soil engineer would look at the soil to determine its type and make adjustments to the foundation size and requirements of the design.

Keep in mind that all standard ground mount racking comes pre-engineered for all 50 states, but certain conditions in your area like heavy wind and snow and certain soil types may require special designs.

The key point here is that depending on where you live, you might need to meet with a local engineer to get your system approved and built to city standards.

So what are the best type of soil for ground-mounted systems?

Schimpf tells us:

“Basically anything that doesn’t have tons of large rocks and isn’t a hard-pan type material [works] well. Ground-mount works well on almost any other type of soil – it’s only an issue if you get into that [situation] with large rocks in the ground. That’s where it causes problems – but there are alternate ways around that…It’s more costly, but if that’s what you have there are options.”

Some of those options would be the more complicated foundations mentioned above – like ballasted, driven piers, or helical piles.

Question #4: “Do I have to get my property line surveyed before installing ground-mounted solar?”

One of the smartest things you can do before installing a ground-mounted solar array is to get your property line surveyed. According to Schimpf, issues with property lines come up a lot – usually after you’ve spent thousands to install a ground-mounted solar system. He recalled one scenario where a consumer built their solar system too close to the property line and the whole system had to be taken down and moved a foot backward.

“It’s very important to go through that process and understand property line setback requirements because if you install without a permit and you put [the system] too close to the property line, that can be a huge problem if you try to sell your home or get a permit to do other work on your property. Down the road, this can come back as a big issue.”

Property line setback requirements will vary quite a bit depending on what state or county you live in. For example, this document from San Diego County names the property line setback for ground-mounted solar arrays at a minimum of 3 feet. However, this document from the Department of Energy Resources in Massachusetts recommends counties in the state enforce 20-50 foot property line setback requirements (located on page 8).

To save yourself a ton of money and a massive headache, be sure to contact your local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), which will be either your city or county depending on who issues building permits. To get a permit, you’ll have to go through all kinds of documented processes, including submitting a site plan. If you need assistance navigating the bureaucracy, be sure to download our free permitting guide.

Question #5: “Are ground-mounted solar panels safe & legal in my neighborhood?”

As long as you install your solar system after obtaining a building permit and purchase code-compliant materials, it’s entirely safe and legal. PV solar panels are compatible with most types of land use and permitting is typically handled on a local level.

According to Schimpf, when you install a ground-mounted solar array, there is not as much concern about fire as there is when you install on top of a roof, but UL 2703 code compliancy is still important. UL 2703 is a building code that requires PV solar racking materials, bonding, clamps, etc. to undergo rigorous testing that ensures they have the appropriate structural capacity, can withstand both high surges of electricity and don’t accelerate house fires.

And while the fire hazard element is more critical for rooftop solar panels, you still want to look out for UL 2703 compliant parts and avoid mixing and matching parts from different suppliers, as these parts may not have been tested together on a system level. Additionally, Schimpf recommends you protect the wires coming down from your solar array; they should be enclosed by a channel or raceway so that they’re not left open and exposed causing potential hazards.

Click to download our guide to getting started with solar power
Customers’ Biggest Questions About Rooftop Solar Panels Answered

Customers’ Biggest Questions About Rooftop Solar Panels Answered

courtney
COURTNEY JOHNSTON, Purchasing Manager at Wholesale Solar​

According to data from Consumer Reports, more residential homeowners are opting for solar power than ever before. From 2010-2015 the number of residential solar PV installations increased dramatically.

I surveyed three consumers who recently made the switch from PG&E power to sun energy, and they all said the same thing – their biggest concern during the purchasing process was their roof.

Many residential customers don’t have space for a ground-mounted solar power system. However, if your biggest concern is saving money and getting a quicker return on your investment, rooftop solar panels are likely the best fit anyway.

A rooftop installation is always more cost-effective because it takes advantage of an existing structure. With a roof mount, you don’t have to go out and buy pipes and concrete or pay for the extra labor it takes to install the system.

And although a rooftop solar system seems simpler at first glance, there are still a few important questions you might want to consider. In fact, here are the answers to five of the most common questions about rooftop solar power for home use.

Question #1: “Is my roof a good candidate for solar panels?”

Most residential customers considering the switch to solar power want to know whether their roof is even fit for solar in the first place. The truth is, solar panels can be installed on almost any type of roof – you just have to find the right mounting system for the job.

To get more information on mounting systems for rooftop solar, I spoke with solar industry expert Brady Schimpf, who is the Technical Marketing Engineer at Ironridge. According to Schimpf, “there [are] mounting systems for just about everything…but some are much more difficult, expensive, and labor intensive than others.” The first thing to consider before a roof installation is the material that the roof is composed of. The most common roofing material, composition shingle, is one of the easiest to install solar panels onto aside from a metal roof.

In general, solar panels are best installed on a sturdy roof that is made of composition shingle or metal, and things tend to be a bit more difficult on tile roofs – especially those that are so delicate that technicians can’t walk on them, like Spanish tile.

One technique an installer can use with a tile roof is to remove a section of tile and install shingles where the solar panels are going. This makes the solar system appear flush with the roof due to the raised height of the remaining tiles, and you won’t be able to see the shingle roofing underneath the solar panels.

Each type of roof will likely require a different style of mounting hardware, so if you plan on doing your own installation be sure to discuss those details with a solar consultant. For example, a low slope roof (a.k.a. flat roof most commonly seen on commercial buildings) can be tricky to install on, and typically requires hiring a roofing company to install flashings.

On the other hand, something like a metal roof can be much more straightforward. On certain types of metal roofs, a solar array can be clamped down without penetration, making it 100% leak-free. You might also check out this video about solar panel mounting options or this one below, which details how to mount solar panels to a roof step-by-step.

In addition to materials, customers should also consider the pitch angle of the roof, the size and shape of the roof, how much shading is present, the direction the roof is facing, and of course the age of the roof. All of these elements can affect how much solar energy your system is able to produce. If the system is installed correctly and optimized, it could potentially cover the cost of a new roof in energy savings in as little as 5 years.

Question #2: “Do I need a new roof to install solar?”

If your roof is in need of any major repairs, you will want to take care of them before you install your rooftop solar system. Solar energy systems have a lifespan of 25 to 35 years and taking a solar system down to replace a roof can be complicated and costly.

But generally speaking, this is only an issue for shingle roofs, which have the shortest lifespan. A shingle roof installed in the last 5 years is probably good to go for solar. For a roof that is older than that, consult a roofer to find out whether you need to replace the roof or perform major maintenance before installing solar panels.

Question #3: “Do rooftop solar panels damage the roof?”

One huge myth about rooftop solar installations is that it will damage the roof. On the contrary, a rooftop solar system can extend the life of a roof by protecting it from the elements.

Rooftop solar arrays are mounted slightly higher than the roof so air can circulate under the panels to prevent overheating. That being said, confirm that the technicians installing your rooftop solar system have experience with your particular roofing material and investigate whether the solar installation will void your original roofing warranty. Also, make sure you regularly clean debris like leaves and pine needles out from under the panels.

According to Schimpf, “Something a lot of new installers or DIY builders struggle with is damaging the shingles,” and the real issue with putting holes in your roof is the potential for water damage. As described by Schimpf, who has a long background in solar installation, technicians will install flashing underneath the shingles, and if they don’t take their time and lift the shingles carefully, it can damage the roofing materials making your home susceptible to water damage. Thankfully, much of those worries about water damage can be alleviated by some innovations in mounting hardware made in the last 5 years.

Schimpf described an elevated seal system produced by Ironridge that uses strategically placed metal flashing instead of rubber or sealant to divert water around the hole. This means homeowners would be reliant on an elevated piece of metal, which will likely outlast the home itself, over a rubber or sealant that has an unknown lifespan.

Question #4: ” Can I install a rooftop solar system by myself or do I need to hire an expert?”

Depending on your skill set, you can install a solar array on your own or partner with a contractor. Some Wholesale Solar customers handle a majority of the project on their own but hire contractors for some of the work. For example, you might want to pay a roofing company to install the flashings and then you can bolt on the rails and solar panels yourself. Any local roofing company can install flashings, and the company that installed your original roof will be able to verify that it won’t affect the original warranty.

Of course, doing everything yourself can cut down on the cost of your system and is perfect for a customer that wants to be highly involved with every step of the process. According to Schimpf, any DIY installer should try to find a mounting system that “goes together simply, has a low part count and is easy to put together.” Considering you’ll be working on an inclined surface, the less little parts you have lying around, the better. Schimpf compared the process to the “Ikea Cabinet Scenario,” where “you’ve got 60 different screws and fasteners, you’re trying to put it all together, and once the cabinet is assembled you realize you’ve got it all backward.”

Schimpf also noted an essential piece of information regarding fire code compliance. He recommended finding a mounting system that is UL2703 listed, which means it has been through rigorous testing to make sure it can handle large surges of energy, has the proper structural capacity, and won’t interact with the solar array to accelerate house fires. For more information on this and other key details regarding DIY installation, you can check out beginner to advanced webinars from Ironridge.

Question #5: “Where might I encounter hidden costs that decrease my ROI?”

When a customer asks how solar panels will affect their roof, they’re ultimately questioning whether they’re going to be faced with extra costs or headaches down the line. And this much is true – taking down and storing solar panels while replacing a roof can be costly.

One important point to make is that most solar systems have the same lifespan as the average roof, so as long as your roof is in good condition when the solar system is installed, you won’t have to take the solar panels down until it’s time to upgrade both the roof and your solar system.

So what does an expert on mounting hardware state as his biggest concern for rooftop installers?

“Keeping your roof membrane intact, keeping water out of your house… and taking the most time to make sure it’s done right.”

Some additional tips offered up by Schimpf involve commonly overlooked elements regarding mounting a junction box or rooftop conduit box. Customers should take the same precautions around water damage as is done with the solar array, otherwise, you’re really only completing half the job.

Additionally, be meticulous with your wiring. There will be cables that come down from every panel, and they need to be kept secure. If they’re drooping and blowing on the roof in the wind, the rough roofing material can wear through the insulation of the wire causing safety hazards. Also, as explained in this article by Mark Durrenberger from New England Clean Energy, unsecured wiring can provide a nesting location for small animals and collects debris more easily.

The wiring behind your panels can be secured using metal clips that keep everything tight and neat– just make sure the materials are made for solar use, like these metal clips from Ironridge. A cheap bag of zip ties won’t be able to withstand the elements in the long term.

So whether you’re ready to hop on the roof and install your own solar array or want to hire an expert, there are many design elements to consider. Some of the main takeaways are safety, the longevity of the parts used, and code compliance. If you’re ready to explore your options for residential solar, download our free getting started with solar guide.

 

Click to download our guide to getting started with solar power
Install of the Month – March 2018

Install of the Month – March 2018

“I prefer to do it myself.” with Garland C.

Our Install of the Month for March is Arizona customer Garland C’s well-researched and fully planned out grid-tied solar system. Garland installed his system himself, with help from one friend, during the construction of his new home.

Garland was after a sound return on investment and an eco-conscious home. He wanted DIY convenience and the ability to monitor his system, so he chose Enphase microinverters. Getting American-made panels was also important to Garland and he opted for high-end, high-efficiency Suniva panels.

Garland came into this with a lot of information. He had been studying different types of inverters like Solaredge, but eventually decided on Enphase microinverters.  – Solar Tech Wil Burlin

Garland reports that the most difficult part of his project was actually getting the panels up on his roof. Normally this task isn’t so tough, but with a 8/12 pitch roof, safety while installing on such a steep roof became a number one priority. Knowing he’d still be paying far less than hiring an installer, he sprang for some roof racks to make it easier to walk on his roof, and he also made sure to always wear a safety harness.

In the end, Garland had a beautiful self-installed system on his brand new home. The moment his new home was hooked up to the grid, he saw that meter start moving backward!

Interview with Garland

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

To save money.

Did you have any previous DIY experience?

Generally speaking, I do everything I can myself. I have basic knowledge of house wiring and roof construction. This was my first solar system.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

Everything was pretty simple. Physically, the most challenging part was placing the panels on my 8/12 pitch roof.

How many helpers did you have?

One.

Did you hire a contractor?

No.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Purchased some roof racks to make it easier to walk on my roof.

As soon as they hooked my house up to the grid, my meter started moving backward, which was pretty cool! – Garland C.

How long was the full installation process?

With my house being a new construction project, I did the solar system installation in phases. Because of this approach, I don’t have a good idea of the total length of time needed to do the installation.

How did it feel to get your solar project finished?

It was several months after I completed the installation that my power company hooked my house to the grid. As soon as they did, my meter started moving backward, which was pretty cool!

Who else did you consider before choosing Wholesale Solar?

I looked at two other contractors to install my system. But I never really considered paying someone else to do it. I prefer to do things myself.

What’s your ballpark estimate of your total solar install costs?

$22,000.00

How much did you save on your taxes?

$6,600

Garland’s System:

Garland's Solar Breakdown:

  • Cost of Contractor: None
  • Cost of Electrician: None
  • Design Output of kWh per year: 12,220 kWh
  • Federal Tax Incentive: Qualifies for $6,600 U.S. Federal Tax Credit
  • Utility rates per kWh: Fluctuates based on local utility as Garland lives in a TOU area.
  • Feed-in Tariff/Net Metering Issues: None reported
Install of the Month – February 2018

Install of the Month – February 2018

Carbon Negative with Chuck W.

We LOVE this install from New Mexico customer Chuck W! It’s not only a beautiful install, but Chuck was also able to maximize his roof space perfectly allowing him to reach carbon negative. We’re also excited that this is our first ever Install of the Month featuring SolarEdge’s HD Wave inverter. Its compact size fits just right on Chuck’s small structure.

His personal solar technician Wil B. reported that working with Chuck was a joy:

Chuck already knew he wanted high end panels and the Solaredge inverter. I just had to broker the deal to find him the best Solarworld options. We went with a combination of black panels on one building and silver on the other, mostly for aesthetics. He knew he wanted the new HD Wave inverter so he ended up having to wait a few months for it to be released.  – Solar Tech Wil Burlin

Chuck received his shipment from the freight delivery service, recruited a few friends, family, and solar veterans, and got his racking and panels up himself, no installer required.

His story is pretty inspiring and he tells it better than we could, so we highly recommend reading our interview with Chuck below!

Interview with Chuck

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

I feel it’s important that I support combating climate change as much as I can. The low cost of a DIY PV system made it possible for me to “max out” in terms of the system size allowed under our rules for simple approval. This system will produce a substantial surplus, even after converting all of my propane usage to electricity. I expect to be “carbon negative”, including travel, from here on out.

Did you have any previous DIY experience?

I’ve been doing it myself for as long as I can remember. – Chuck W.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

The hardest part was dealing with the electric code. Our local authority requires taking a test for DIY solar, my installation had a couple of minor irregularities related to putting the PV juice back into my existing AC system, and in general, it was quite a lot of study to make sure it was completely by the book. Even though I’ve had a career as a design engineer, the electric code is a whole different world!

How many helpers did you have?

My friend Art from NY, a former solar installer, offered some good, practical advice (especially on dealing with inspectors) and helped put the rails up on the first structure. My friend Gene helped raise the first set of panels, and my partner Miya helped install the rails and raise the panels on the second structure.

Did you hire a contractor?

No, I didn’t hire anyone.

I feel it’s important that I support combating climate change as much as I can. The low cost of a DIY PV system made it possible for me to “max out” in terms of the system size allowed under our rules for simple approval. – Chuck W.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

The kit from Wholesale Solar was complete and accurate for everything up through the inverter. Getting everything from there to the AC connection was full of missteps in getting the myriad little pieces and fittings. I made quite a few extra trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot.

How long was the full installation process?

Overall, it’s been going on for about 4 months, with lots of off time in the middle. Doing it again, if I focused, I could probably do it in a week.

How did it feel to get your solar project finished?

FANTASTIC!

Who else did you consider before choosing Wholesale Solar?

I looked at various other companies on the web, liked what I saw with Wholesale Solar (especially the employee ownership part), exchanged a few emails with Wil Burlin, liked how that worked, decided to buy from WS.

What was your total solar install costs? (Ball Park)

For the 10 kW system (essentially two 5 kW SolarEdge systems on separate structures), about $19,500.

How much did you save on your taxes

Here in NM, there’s only the Federal 30% credit remaining, which should be worth a bit under $6,000.

Chuck has a 10kW Grid-Tied System including:

Chuck's Solar Breakdown:

  • Cost of Contractor: None
  • Cost of Electrician: None
  • Total Hours to install: 40 hours
  • Design Output of kWh per year: 17,668 kWh
  • Federal Tax Incentive: Qualifies for ~$6,000 U.S. Federal Tax Credit
  • Utility rates per kWh: 14.5 cents/kWh
  • Average Monthly Utility cost before solar: ~$200
  • Feed-in Tariff/Net Metering Issues: Local AHJ Requires Test for DIY
Install of the Month – September 2017

Install of the Month – September 2017

A Long Install With a Big Payoff, with Larry E.

This month we get a look at an install that took a little while, but paid off in a big way for Larry E. Working for three months on-and-off (weather permitting), he was able to build a stellar ground-mounted solar power system on his property, with 24 solar modules providing plenty of power to his home.

Larry was great to work with. Easy going, confident and comfortable with DIY with good previous knowledge of grid tied solar.
– Solar tech Salesperson Zach S.

Larry had a little help for a day or so, but after that he was on his own, installing his system one panel at a time over the course of the project – although he also hired an electrician to help out towards the end. Larry has been a general contractor for 45 years, so installing on his own was no problem and he was no stranger to DIY projects!

Interview with Larry

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch?

The project took me 3 months, but it was only “part time” – working on my solar installation when I had the free time to do so. It took a bit of time to finish since I wasn’t able to commit full days of work to the project.

How many people did it take?

I had two people helping with the installation for one day, but after that, I was on my own. Towards the end, I hired an electrician to help me with the wiring and final testing before we flipped the system on.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

I’ve worked as a general contractor for 45 years, so a DIY project such as this was right up my alley.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

Permitting my solar system and dealing with the utility company was the hardest part of the process. Getting my paperwork in order and checking everything off with my local AHJ was a difficult step that took a lot longer than I expected it to.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

There were a couple of tools I didn’t have in my toolbox: a 10-150 in/lb torque wrench, a DC disconnect, and a Kwh meter. The torque wrench I could pick up at my hardware store, but the other two items were a bit more difficult to find. 

How/Why did you choose to self-install and add solar to your home?

Primarily to save money on my monthly utility bills, the choice to install solar was an easy one once I realized how much I could save each month, and with the size of the array I installed, I expect my decision to pay off very quickly.

Larry’s primary objective was to save money and make a solid investment. We collaborated on components for the system, with the Suniva sale, and it being a ground mount I recommended the 340’s as it is all ground work so easier to handle bigger panels, and there were no space constraints
– Solar tech Salesperson Zach S.

Components in Larry’s System:

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Questions about Larry's install? Ask us in the comments below.

Install of the Month – August 2017

Install of the Month – August 2017

A Real Contender of an Installation with Rocky H.

This month’s install is a real contender, with a difficult project that took three hard, 12-hour-long days of work to complete, proving that with a little patience, anyone can be a champion.

Rocky H., the champion in question, rose to the challenge and ended up with an exceptional solar array for his home!

An “extreme DIY’er,” Rocky H. had no professional construction background but built his own house, garage, and workshop by himself.

“There was a large learning curve as I didn’t know anything about solar or DC wiring/properties, but it wasn’t anything that can’t be learned.  You don’t have to be a licensed electrician to complete a solar system.  Willingness to learn and research what you don’t know will get you there.”
– Rocky H.

Rocky had the help of a little manpower from friends and family, as well as a 60ft. man-lift to help reach the rooftop a bit easier – with an 8/12 pitched roof, a ladder wouldn’t be quite as simple!

Interview with Rocky

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch?

I ordered my equipment in May, but didn’t start installing until June. I had some things to install on my existing electrical systems before starting on the solar system. The actual installation took 3 twelve hour days. I installed the disconnect and inverter before starting on the roof. It took about 4 hours. The electrical inspection was two days later, and the system test with my utility company was two days after the electrical inspection. I will admit I had all my i’s dotted and my t’s crossed!

How many people did it take?

The first two days, it was just my father in law and I. We installed all the anchor points for the racking and then the racking itself. The second day we installed all the optimizers, optimizer cabling, grounded the racking system and starting running wiring to the inverter. The third day I had two more friends help. Finished up wiring to the inverter first thing in the morning and then installed all the panels. The 36 panels took us about 6 hours.  It probably would have taken twice as long if we didn’t use a man-lift. I used a 60 ft. man-lift as I have an 8/12 pitched roof and the peak is about 40 ft high. I would recommend one if you can get one. It’s much easier than hauling everything on a ladder. Unless you have a big crew.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

I have never worked in construction, but I built my house, garage, and workshop.  I’ve also helped my friends with their projects, etc. I’m 37 years old. I’m an extreme DIYer. I would say my working knowledge is probably better than most. There was a large learning curve as I didn’t know anything about solar or DC wiring/properties, but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be learned. You don’t have to be a licensed electrician to complete a solar system. Willingness to learn and research what you don’t know will get you there. Will Burlin at Wholesale Solar was a big help. I probably came in thinking I knew more than I did, but he helped me bridge the gap on things I didn’t have experience with — like derating a panel to land a large enough breaker for my system. Trying to wrap my head around that one was interesting.

“Will Burlin at wholesale solar was a big help. I probably came in thinking I knew more than I did, but he helped me bridge the gap on things I didn’t have experience with like derating a panel to land a large enough breaker for my system. Trying to wrap my head around that one was interesting.”
– Rocky H.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

This may sound lame, but I stressed a ton about locating the center of my trusses. You can try to measure from the end of your roof, but that isn’t always accurate. I couldn’t find them using a stud finder, so I ended up doing it the old fashioned way and used a hammer and my ear just like finding a stud in the wall. It was pretty dang accurate. Within 3/8’’. Pounded a nail where the sound was more solid. If it was off, the flashing from the anchor would cover it easily. Overthought that part 100 times over. Also stressed about handling the DC wires coming from the optimizers. Was afraid of getting shocked, etc. After a little research, I found out that each panel in the string would carry approximately 1V until activated by the inverter. The system comes in many parts and seeing it sitting in my garage for a month before I attempted the install was intimidating. I just hoped it would all fall together once I began… and it did! The way they piece the system together makes it easier. I didn’t have to cut any of the rails. They come in lengths that seem to go together for any number of panel rows. All the paperwork they gave me had all the answers I would need. There were several attachments emailed to me that I had to read a couple of time before they were clear.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

There really weren’t any tools. Like I said before, I over-researched the process. I have most tools a general contractor would have, so I was ready. The one tool I’d recommend if you have a shingled roof is a Dasco shingle ripper pry bar. $20 on Amazon. It worked way better than a regular pry bar, saving me a ton of time. I found a guy using it for his panels via YouTube. You’ll have to supply the AC wiring and the breaker from the inverter to the disconnect and then to wherever you connect to the utility (meter socket, sub-panel). Any conduit needed. Metal conduit for DC/strings to inverter and metal or PVC conduit for AC wiring. I think labels now come with Wholesale Solar packages, I didn’t get any with mine (Our solar packages now come with a 55 piece pack of labels designed to meet 2017 NEC – Ed.) . I also had to supply some engraved plastic labels required from the electrical inspector and a couple from the local utility. pvlabels.com got them to me in 3 days and cheap!

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

My neighbor had a system installed by a contractor. I started asking him questions and we both thought we could install it ourselves and save a bunch of money. We were right! I have a 4,000 sq ft home and also a 2,000 sq ft home and was tired of high utility bills! Plus there are great rebates and tax savings. I’ll get 30-45% of my money back in tax credits and rebates.

“Rocky was on top of all the technical aspects of his project, he had clearly done his research and was asking all the right questions. Besides a little advice here and there, and a quick revision of the diagram, everything was smooth sailing”
– Wil Burlin, Solar Technician

What was your primary reason for adding a DIY Solar Kit to your home?

To save money.  After all my expenses it only came to $15,000. Another neighbor had a similar size system installed for over $26,000.(my system is a little larger too). I will be saving hundreds per month!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I will say I was a little skeptical to work with any solar company. I was afraid that after giving them money that I would be left in the wind if I ran into problems. Wholesale Solar really helped with everything. Everything from ordering to shipping was pretty easy. They provided all the engineering required for permitting and required by my local utility. I had a couple questions about grounding and some other minor things that were answered within a day if not the same day. At the end I needed my line diagram changed for my final inspection. My rep was on vacation, but another rep stepped in an handled it the same day. My rep came back the next day and made sure I had what I needed. There was a point were I got really frustrated with my rep because I couldn’t understand some of the technical aspect (derating I mentioned earlier) and my rep was very patient with me. I will be honest, I’m not the easiest person to deal with. My patience is really short when dealing with salespeople. But these guys aren’t pushy. They are really laid back. They don’t seem like they are pushing for a sale. They must really love solar! (We do! – Ed.) I’m now thinking about installing a system on my business office!

Components in Rocky’s 11.16 kW Grid-Tied System

Questions about Rocky’s install? Ask us in the comments below.

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Install of the Month – July 2017

Install of the Month – July 2017

A Group Effort With Great Results – Install of the Month with Matt M.

“Do It Yourself” doesn’t mean you have to go it alone: this month’s install proves that a lot of friends and a little foreknowledge can go a long way. Matt M. knew what he wanted – to offset his power bill, and he knew exactly what he needed to install to get the job done. Six friends and 20 or so hours later and Matt has a fully functional grid-tied system that looks fantastic.

“The moment I got on the phone with Matt I could tell that not only was he knowledgeable, but he also had the confidence of a do it yourself installer. He came to me with the usage he was looking to offset, and we were able to easily design a system to fit his needs. He knew he was planning to build a structure to mount the panels on which gave us nice flexibility for panel layout, and allowed for ideal panel orientation. Matt’s knowledge of construction and familiarity with solar made him an ideal customer for this DIY project. “
– Solar tech Ian S.

Matt’s install was done on his 6/12 pitch metal roof, which proved a bit fiddly, but worked extremely well for racking the system. S-5! brand racking clamps allowed him to secure his IronRidge roof racks and mount his solar panels with ease.

A union sheet metal worker for over 20 years, Matt is no stranger to hard work and hands-on projects like this. His neighbor, a professional electrician, installed a solar array 5 years ago, which inspired him to install his own solar power system now. Matt knew he had to act fast, however, as Indiana just passed a law that drastically alters their solar incentives!

Indiana’s new incentives pay back solar customers for over-wattage power (the power produced that exceeds what they use, and is then sold back to the utility companies) at wholesale rates rather than the past retail rate, drastically lowering ROI for solar-powered homeowners. For new customers, this goes into effect in 2022. For customers looking to replace or expand their systems, this goes into effect at the end of 2017. By installing his entirely new system now, Matt manages to slip in under the deadline and gets a solid 5 years of ROI before the payoff rate drops. Now, the rate lowers to an amount that’s on par with most of the rest of the country, but what Matt M. found frustrating is that Indiana already has relatively cheap electricity – so the incentive to go solar needs to be as high as it has been in the past to make renewable energy worthwhile.

Interview with Matt

How long was the full installation process receiving your equipment to flipping the switch?

It took 10 hours to install the racking and panels with 6 friends helping me, then it took another 10 hrs to pull the main feed and wire everything together with 3 friends helping me.

How many people did it take?

7 people installing the racking and panels and 3-4 people to wire up the inverter.

 Did you have any previous construction experience?

I am a union sheet metal worker with 20 years in, and my neighbor is a union electrician with 20 +years.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

The most difficult part was installing the racking and panels on the 6/12 pitch metal roof.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Working with Ian was great, he was very helpful and answered every question I had. Thanks Ian! The only thing I was missing were two grounding lugs for the racking which was not a big deal: I made two out of 1/4-20 s.s. bolts w/ a button head that slid in the top of the racking perfectly.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I installed myself because I had great friends that took the time to help me out, I couldn’t have done it without their help.

“Matt knew what he was doing, he never once called in for technical support, he already had himself an install crew and was ready to go! “
– Solar tech Ian S.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

I installed solar because our neighbors had done it 5 years ago and Indiana just passed a law to start shutting down net metering, which doesn’t make any sense to me.

Components in Matt’s 11.16 kW Grid-Tied System

Questions about Matt’s install? Ask us in the comments below.

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Install of the Month – June 2017

Install of the Month – June 2017

“Making it Look Easy” with Bryan W.

Sometimes installation is a breeze! With Bryan W., the recipient of our Install of the Month, it was just so. Our customer was familiar with DIY projects and decided to install a  grid-tied solar power system to save some money. After a few conversations with our techs he got set up with the right equipment and was able to install an amazing solar array in a short time frame, a high quality one that would help him get a return on investment.

“Bryan was great to work with. He came to the table with a good understanding of what he wanted, and after a few conversations we had his system designed and quoted. It took about a month from start to finish.
– Solar tech Wil B.

Bryan W. built his own home and did all of the wiring himself, so a solar installation project was no problem. His past expertise came in handy with installing his grid-tied solar system, with few problems to get in the way. This kind of experience isn’t necessary for a DIY solar installation, but comes in very handy all the same. With his experience, Bryan knew how to wire his system, determine wattage requirements, and was familiar with the ins and outs of the permitting process before he got started.

“I enjoy the satisfaction of completing my own projects and, of course, there was a significant cost savings vs. having a contractor perform the installation. I did receive an estimate for having someone else perform the installation before making the decision to do it myself” – Bryan W.

The layout was among the first steps in installing Bryan’s grid-tied system. Bryan found this part slightly difficult, remarking that “a stud finder didn’t work for locating the roof rafters,” so he was forced to use different means in finding them, so he could figure out the space between rails to mount his racking on. With projects of this scale, especially on an 8/12 pitched roof, it can often be handy to have a second pair of hands in the form of a friend or neighbor to help you out.

Although we strive to provide a complete DIY kit with all of the components necessary, planned out and customized to fit each customer’s needs, Bryan W. found himself needing one additional piece – a pass-thru enclosure for bringing the wiring into his attic space. After a little research, he found a SolaDeck enclosure made by RSTC Enterprises, which flashed under the roof shingles and met all UL approvals. It made for a very clean pass-thru and Bryan was able to locate it beneath the panels.

As you can see, this installation project looks fantastic now that it’s complete, and Bryan W. is the proud owner of a working grid-tied solar power system.

Interview with Bryan W.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

The installation took two weeks, including inspection and final approval. I installed all of the racking and wiring myself and had a friend help with setting the panels.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

I built my house and installed all of the wiring myself.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

Laying out and snapping the chalk lines for the racking was challenging. A stud finder didn’t work for locating the roof rafters, so I used a hammer to tap along each one to make sure I was on it and figuring out the spacing between rails was a difficult task to perform by myself. I would definitely recommend having a second person. Everything is challenging when working on an 8/12 pitch!

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

The only additional component that I had to research and purchase separately was the pass-thru enclosure for bringing the wiring into my attic space. I used a SolaDeck enclosure made by RSTC Enterprises, which flashed under my shingles and met all UL approvals. It made for a very clean pass-thru and I was able to locate it beneath the panels. I would definitely recommend their product.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I enjoy the satisfaction of completing my own projects and, of course, there was a significant cost savings vs. having a contractor perform the installation. I did receive an estimate for having someone else perform the installation before making the decision to do it myself.

“This was one of the smoothest sales and installations I have been involved with. I did not have to provide any technical support for Bryan, I am very proud of his “get r’ done” mentality.”
– Wil B.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

The primary reason was for saving money on our electric costs, but I also take pride in knowing that we are producing our own clean power and reducing our carbon footprint.

Components in Bryan’s 8.97kW Grid-Tied System

If you want to save money on your electric costs with a grid-tied system like Bryan’s, now is a great time to start because through June 21st 2017 we’re offering free shipping on grid-tied systems! Learn more here.

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Install of the Month – May 2017

Install of the Month – May 2017

“Racking Up The Challenges” with Eddy K.

A Tough DIY Solar Project in LA County

We love Eddy K’s install because, even though it wasn’t a walk in the park, he did it all for mom. And with Mother’s Day coming up, everyone knows that mom is the most important person in the world! What everyone may not know however, is just how difficult it is to install a solar power system in LA county. With some of the strictest permitting and fire codes in the country, it’s a real challenge to install new systems that meet regulation standards. These codes are very good for safety, but can be exacting for someone who is new to solar, wants to DIY, and wants everything to be 100% perfect for the system they’re planning to install on their mom’s roof! But Eddy stuck with it because he wanted to make sure his mom never had to worry about a steep power bill again.

And guess what? With a lot of hard work and some guidance from the DIY solar experts, he ended up with a flawless system and aced those LA safety inspections.

Racking like Eddy’s is free this month during our IronRidge racking sale! Click to learn more.

For overcoming these seemingly overwhelming obstacles, Eddy more than earns our May Install of the Month!

“I passed the DWP and Building and Safety Inspections with flying colors. And they were highly impressed that I had never done a PV system installation before!” Eddy shared.

Eddy had more than just the LA fire codes to overcome, however: the house in question had a hipped roof, making placement of solar panels and the IronRidge racking a real challenge.

But not to worry, Alden S., one of our resident design techs here at Wholesale Solar, was up to the task. Alden helped him get the perfect code-compliant system that would work on his mom’s hipped roof, all the way from the initial planning phase up to his system passing inspection.

“Eddy really did an amazing job with his install. It’s really impressive that he accomplished this by himself and with such accuracy,” Alden shared. “Working with him, it was very apparent he wanted to cover every little detail before drilling a hole.”

“This was Eddy’s first solar installation, so naturally he had a lot of questions,” Alden continued. “The way I see it, that’s one of the big values in working with us; our customers know they can ask us a question, and, even if it’s an unknown at the time, we’ll find the answer. But it was Eddy’s persistence that lead him to this success story. If he hadn’t called me to check in and get each of his questions answered, this process would have taken much longer and would not have looked this great!”

It was Eddy’s persistence that lead him to this success story. If he hadn’t called me to check in and get his questions answered, this process would have taken much long and would not have looked this great!
– Design Tech Alden S.

The first challenge was helping Eddy design a system that would be as efficient as possible on this style of roof. As you can see in the gallery above, there aren’t a lot of large flat spaces on his mom’s roof, so this involved making four code-compliant subarrays, each with their own measurements and specifications. And to add to that, one of the codes required the conduit connecting the four subarrays be on the outside of the roof, a certain number of inches above it. Usually you don’t see this conduit at all; it’s generally installed under the roof in the attic. For our purposes, it’s actually a really great visual example of how subarrays connect in one string, but for Eddy and Alden, it added to the difficulty of getting this system right.

It took some intense calculations and careful measuring to get the most out of the space available, and Alden even remarked “You know your job is great when you use the Pythagorean Theorem during a day of work!”

Working together, they decided on an IronRidge XR100 racking system. This racking system allowed for easy installation with durable mounting that was flexible enough to adjust to the limited space available.

After all this planning and learning, Eddy was finally ready to start the install itself! He worked 7 hours a day, Monday through Friday, for four weeks to get this system up and running. The very first step was drilling holes for the QuickMount flashings that would attach to the roof and support the IronRidge rails the solar panels were mounted on. Eddy cites this as hands down the most difficult part of the installation, since he had to find the center on every rafter for each QuickMount penetration, and every single rafter had different measurements by an inch or more. The next challenge was making sure the setback on his panels was between 18” and 36” from the edges of the roof, which wasn’t as difficult as finding the center of the rafters, but took some time and close attention to detail.

Eddy also chose not to hire an electrician, opting to go the full DIY route. You can learn a lot about electrical by wiring your own solar system, an opportunity he wasn’t going to give up. But figuring out how his particular system had to be grounded wasn’t easy, and was what the building inspectors were going to be looking at the closest.

But in the end, after every piece of hardware was attached, every rail cut to size, every nut torqued, all components properly wired, every conduit in place, and every panel mounted, it was worth it. The challenge was real, but seeing the price difference between DIY and working with a large solar company made it a no-brainer. Not to mention knowing his system was perfectly installed according to the strictest codes out there, and knowing that his mom no longer had to worry about a steep power bill.

The racking he used in his system that was able to accommodate the demands of this project was an IronRidge roof mounted racking system. We recommend IronRidge for most installations, and now through May 26th, IronRidge roof mounted racking like Eddy used is free as part of our biggest deal of the year. Click here to learn more about IronRidge, racking in general, and talk to a solar expert like Alden now. And if you have the space in your yard, you might consider our IronRidge ground mounting options, which are half off right now.

Read on to learn about this project from Eddy’s point of view.

Interview with Eddy

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

When I received the equipment I was still in the permitting process and schooling myself on a few things, so it took a little extra time to get started with the actual physical install. Once I did start, it took four weeks from the first hole drilled for the very first QuickMount flashing to flipping the switch. That was working 7 hours a day, Monday through Friday, and I did the work 100% on my own.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Yes, but nothing even close to this! I’ve done a lot of carpentry and structural-type builds, and I built a race engine for my ’69 Mustang years ago. The extent of my electrical knowledge was basic in-home stuff, the most complex of which was having custom-built and wired a wooden chandelier.

What was the most difficult or confusing part of the installation?

The most confusing part by far was learning how my specific system had to be grounded. From the technical aspects like how it had to be routed and grounded through conduit, to making sure it was code compliant with all the strict Los Angeles building codes. All I can say is… wow! The most difficult part was hands down finding center on every rafter for the QuickMount penetrations. Every single rafter had its own measurement, and all of them were different by an inch or more. Very Fun.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Nope, everyone was awesome about knowing my project and everything it was going to take to complete.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

To save heaps of money! Because of the four separate subarrays and needing to de-rate the main panel, this system would have cost $22,000.00 to $24,000 if I went with Solar City. I did it for just under $11,000.00 with you guys.

Because of the four separate subarrays and needing to de-rate the main panel, this system would have cost $22,000.00 to $24,000 if I went with Solar City. I did it for just under $11,000.00 with you guys.
– Eddy K.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

To offset my mom’s power bill by as close to 100% as possible.

Components in Eddy’s 4.56 kW Grid-Tied System

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