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Category: Mounts / Racking

Best Solar Panel Mounts & Racking Products (2019 Edition)

Best Solar Panel Mounts & Racking Products (2019 Edition)

What are the best solar panel mounts in 2019?

A solar mount (or solar racking system) is the foundation that holds your solar array in place.

Mounts are used to attach solar panels to the roof, ground, or another surface on your property. With proper installation, a sturdy mount secures your panels in harsh weather and protects your investment.

In this article, we’ll explain how to choose the best racking setup for your solar project. Then we’ll dive into our recommendations of the best solar mounts & racking products on the market in 2019.

What’s the Best Solar Panel Mount For My Project?

Most Cost-Effective Solar Racking Solution: Fixed Roof Mounts

A standard fixed roof mount - the most cost effective solar panel mount around.

Roof mounts tend to be the least expensive way to mount your solar system because they take advantage of your existing roof structure to provide a foundation for your panels. This saves money in racking material and labor costs to complete the installation.

You also get the added benefit of building your system in otherwise unused space. If you’re on a small property with limited space, a roof mount might be your only option.

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Solar panels should be tilted toward the sun to maximize their production. Most residential rooftops tend to be sloped close enough to this optimal mounting angle that they don’t need any additional tilt adjustments. In this case, a fixed roof mount is the easiest and most cost-effective option.

To get a feel for how to install a roof mount system, check out this video where I walk through a demo roof mount installation:

Tilt Legs

If your rooftop is flat, you can use tilt legs to face panels so that they are more perpendicular to the sun. Tilt legs simply lift the panels up to a fixed angle, so that they face directly into the sunlight.

Whereas most residential rooftops are sloped, flat roofs (or low slope roofs) are morecommon in a commercial setting. In these cases, tilt legs can be used to adjust the panels to the proper angle.

A roof mount with tilt legs, used to tilt panels at the optimal angle.

Read our article about tilt & azimuth angle for an in-depth walkthrough on how to find the perfect angle to mount your solar panels.

Ballasted (Zero Penetration) Roof Mounts

Most roof-mounted racking techniques require you make penetrations in your roof to clamp the mount in place.

If you don’t feel comfortable drilling holes into your roof, or your lease agreement does not permit roof penetrations (as is the case for our flagship Wholesale Solar office), you can go with a ballasted roof mount.

Ballasted mounts rest on a free-standing base that isn’t drilled into your roof. This mount relies on the weight of the PV array, as well as concrete blocks, to hold the system in place.

Ballasted mounts only work on flat or low-slope roofs, and they must be well-engineered to handle the significant amount of extra weight added by the concrete blocks holding the system in place.

Choose Ground Mounts For Ease of Maintenance

Fixed Ground Mounts

Fixed ground mounts are the best racking option for those who need easy access to their PV array.
Wholesale Solar customer Stacy’s IronRidge SGA ground mount system, featured as our June 2018 Install of the Month.

A standard ground mount uses a simple metal frame to support the weight of the rest of the system.

The best way to secure a ground mount in place is to set the structure in a cement slab. If you choose to perform a DIY installation, you’ll likely need to rent equipment to dig footings and pour cement.

Standard ground mounts are normally installed at a fixed angle and position, though there are adjustable options for certain applications.

Pole Mounts

To lift your array off the ground, you can also mount your panels on the top of a sturdy pole. This provides more ground clearance, which is mainly useful in areas with heavy snow where you can expect snowfall to accumulate on the ground below your array.

Pole mounts are the best solar panel mounts to use in heavy snow areas, because the steep tilt angle helps shed snow.

The steep angle of pole mounts naturally aids snow removal, as the weight of the snow causes it to naturally slide off the face of the panels.

Most pole mounts are also adjustable. If you like to get hands-on with your system, you can adjust the tilt angle of your panels to get the most production out of your system on a seasonal basis.

Trackers

Trackers are ground mounts that adjust automatically, ensuring your panels always face directly at the sun.

In theory, trackers are useful in optimizing the facing of your panels to squeeze every last drop of production out of your array. In practice, if you need more output, it’s far more cost-effective to add 1 or 2 extra panels to your array (presuming you have the space).

We only recommend trackers in massive commercial-scale systems, or for rare edge cases where space efficiency is the primary concern guiding the system design.

Read more about trackers in our article: “Should You Buy a Solar Tracker? (No, Probably Not)”

The Best Solar Panel Mounts You Can Buy in 2019

Best Roof Mount: IronRidge XR100

IronRidge is a leading PV racking manufacturer making quality roof-mount racking. Their solutions are available in three sizes: XR10, XR100 and XR1000.

The XR100 is our standard roof-mount racking solution. This will work for almost all systems, unless you need a reinforced foundation to hold up in heavy weather.

In high wind and snow areas, we recommend an upgrade to the XR1000, which is built to hold up in extreme conditions.

The XR10 is a viable lightweight solution for areas with no snow and very little wind loading. We commonly recommend it for installations in Arizona and Southern California, where the weather is warm and mild.

Most folks use the IronRidge XR100. It only makes sense to upgrade to the heavy-duty XR1000 if you live in hurricane regions or heavy snow zones.

You also need flashings to attach the base of the mount and provide weatherproofing and protection for your roof. Your roofing material will dictate which flashing you use:

Best Tilt Legs: Quick Mount/SunModo

We recommend the IronRidge XR100 or XR1000 (same as a standard roof mount) with the addition of tilt legs.

Quick Mount flashings.

We commonly pair these with the Quick Mount QBase low slope flashings, which are code compliant for flat or low-slope roofs.

Another option is the SunModo EZ Sunbeam commercial racking system. It can be built on top of the roof, above air conditioners and other obstructions, which helps to maximize the usable build space on your rooftop.

Best Ballasted Mount: DynoRaxx

The concept of a ballasted mount is to build your system without drilling into your roof.

This is especially useful if you don’t own the property (for example, a commercial installation in a rented office building).

We like the Dynoraxx ballasted racking system. The trays are fiberglass, which are lightweight and won’t damage your roof.

The Dynoraxx ballasted mount is lightweight and easy to install. The fiberglass trays don’t expand and contract under the heat of the sun, which means it won’t warp and damage your roof.

Best Ground Mounts You Can Buy in 2019

Best Fixed Ground Mount: IronRidge SGA

The IronRidge SGA ground mount uses XR1000 rail, which is the same equipment used for heavy-duty roof mounts.

But for ground mounts, the rails need to be set on a substructure of 2” or 3” steel pipe. Since this would be incredibly expensive to ship, we strongly recommend sourcing the steel pipe from a local building supply store.

This is the most affordable and easy to install ground mount system. We recommend a fixed ground mount, unless you live in extreme climates or have unique space concerns that would necessitate a tracker.

Read more about the pros and cons of roof mounts vs. ground mounts to determine which is best for your project.

Best Pole Mounts: General Specialties or MT Solar

Our preferred pole mount comes from General Specialties. They make high quality, adjustable pole mounts which are manufactured in the USA and built to order.

Best Pole Mount: General Specialties
A General Specialties pole mount.

MT Solar pole mounts are another great option. They designed their pole mount with ease of use in mind. They are easier to install and adjust than any other pole mount on the market.

Best Trackers: Zomeworks / Wattsun

As we mentioned above, trackers are the least cost-effective mounting option available, and we almost never recommend them for residential installations.

Trackers used to be popular when panels were 5-10 times their current price. It made a lot more sense to squeeze every bit of output you could from the panels.

Today, you’d be better off using a fixed ground mount or pole mount and adding a few more panels to cover the extra output.

But if you have your heart set on a tracker, Zomeworks and Wattsun make high quality trackers (at a premium, of course).

Best Tracker: Zomeworks
A Zomeworks tracker.

For commercial applications, single-axis trackers are a great way to save space and maximize efficiency for large utility-scale installations. But they don’t make much sense for residential systems.

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Tilt & Azimuth Angle: Finding the Optimal Angle to Mount Your Solar Panels

Tilt & Azimuth Angle: Finding the Optimal Angle to Mount Your Solar Panels

Solar Angle and Azimuth: A Quick Summary

“Angle” describes the vertical tilt of your solar panels, and “azimuth” is their horizontal facing in relation to the Equator. Solar panels should face directly into the sun to optimize their output. Finding the right angle and azimuth helps you get the most production out of your array.

Welcome to another entry in our ongoing Solar 101 series. Today we’re going to explain how to mount your solar panels to get the most energy from them.

Let’s start with two key terms: elevation angle and azimuth angle (commonly shortened to “angle” and “azimuth” for brevity).

  • Elevation Angle: The vertical tilt of your panels.
  • Azimuth Angle: The horizontal orientation of your panels (in relation to the equator, in this case).

Solar panels work best when they face directly into the sun. But that task is complicated by the fact that the sun moves across the sky throughout the day. It also changes angle in the sky as the seasons change.

So when you build a solar system, the question is: what’s the best angle to mount your solar panels to get the most output?

Some people will want to set it at one angle and forget it, while others like to go hands-on with their system and make adjustments to optimize output.

You can also buy a tracker, which automatically follows the sun’s position in the sky to squeeze the most output from your panels. But trackers are rarely the most cost-effective option. It’s almost always cheaper to buy a few more panels instead of investing in a tracker.

Optimal Azimuth (Horizontal Angle) For Solar Panels

For best results, your solar panels should face toward the equator. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, face them south. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, face them north.

(Since we’re an American company, the following example assumes you’ll point your system to the south.)

Specifically, you should point your panels toward true south as opposed to the reading on your compass, which is magnetic south.

Many people are surprised to learn that their compass isn’t completely accurate. That happens because magnetic forces in the Earth’s core pull the compass needle away from true north or true south. Depending on your location, the compass reading can be inaccurate by as much as 25°!

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The difference between magnetic north (the reading on your compass) and true north is known as magnetic declination. This is a measurement of how many degrees you need to compensate from your compass reading to find true north.

Magnetic Declination values in the United States

A positive number represents eastern declination, meaning true north is east of your compass reading. A negative number represents western declination, meaning true north is west of your compass reading.

So how do you calculate the ideal azimuth for your panels?

First, find your magnetic declination from one of the many charts online, or from a tool like NOAA.gov’s calculator.

Adjust the facing of your panels by the magnetic declination value in your location. The direction you adjust the panels depends on where you live:

In the Northern Hemisphere:

  • If your magnetic declination is east (positive), rotate your panels east.
  • If your magnetic declination is west (negative), rotate your panels west.

In the Southern Hemisphere:

  • If your magnetic declination is east (positive), rotate your panels west.
  • If your magnetic declination is west (negative), rotate your panels east.

Two examples to demonstrate the difference:

If you live in San Diego, California, your magnetic declination is about 11° east. Since San Diego is in the Northern Hemisphere, start by finding magnetic south, then adjust 11° to the east.

In contrast: Cochran, Chile also has a magnetic declination of around 11° east. But since you are in the Southern Hemisphere, you want to point your panels north instead. So you would actually make an adjustment 11° to the west to find the ideal azimuth.

By performing these adjustments, you will face your panels directly at the equator, maximizing their exposure to sunlight (and by extension, the amount of solar power you generate).

Finding the Optimal Tilt For Your Solar Panels

The other half of the equation is finding the vertical angle, or tilt, of your solar panels.

You have a couple options here: pick one angle and leave it alone, or adjust the tilt a few times per year to optimize seasonal production.

Depending on your preference, here’s our advice.

Optimal Tilt Angle (No Adjustments)

If you never want to bother with adjusting your panels, set them at a tilt angle that is equal to your latitude.

To use the above example again, San Diego is located at a latitude of 32.7157° N. You’d be just fine if you set your panels at around 33° and left them untouched.

One wrinkle to consider is changing the tilt slightly to favor summertime or wintertime output. If you spend more money in the summer running the A/C, you might want to optimize for summer production. On the other hand, if you end up blasting the heat during harsh winters, you can set your panels to favor winter production.

This matters more for off-grid systems, since you store your own power. If you are grid-tied, you most likely want to optimize for summer production, since the utility company will typically give you a credit for any over-production. You will produce more in the summer, and you can collect on this credit in the winter months.

To optimize overall production year-round, tilt your panels at your latitude.

To lean toward more production in the summer, tilt your panels at your latitude minus 10-15°.

To lean toward more production in the winter, tilt your panels at your latitude plus 10-15°.

Seasonal Adjustments to Optimal Tilt Angle

If you have an adjustable mount and don’t mind tilting your panels manually, you can change the angle a few times a year to get a bit more production from your array.

We should note that this isn’t a particularly common choice. Most of our customers simply give themselves a 5-10% cushion in production when sizing their system so they never need to make adjustments.

The main exception is in heavy snow areas. If snow will accumulate on your panels, pole mounts make a lot a sense. You can adjust them to a steeper tilt angle in the winter, which not only improves output, but also sheds snow from the face of the panels.

Related Product: General Specialties 10x Pole Mount

If you are able to adjust the angle of your solar panels a few times per year, here is the adjustment schedule we recommend:

  • Spring: Tilt the panels to your latitude.
  • Summer: Tilt the panels to your latitude minus 15°.
  • Fall: Tilt the panels to your latitude.
  • Winter: Tilt the panels to your latitude plus 15°.

These are general guidelines, but you may get better results by customizing your adjustment schedule based on your location. For more info, read through solarpaneltilt.com, an old-but-still-excellent reference that explains (in great detail) how to tilt your panels to maximize their production.

A Note About Trackers

Trackers automatically adjust your system so that your panels always face directly at the sun. The concept is to squeeze as much production as possible out of your panels.

While the idea sounds great in theory, trackers rarely make sense in residential systems. Tracking equipment costs $600-$1000 per panel, and you could expect that investment to net you 60 to 90 watts of extra production out of a 300W panel.

Alternatively, if you need more output, you can simply add another 300W panel for around $160. If you have the space, it’s far cheaper to add more panels.

The math changes for commercial systems, but in general, most people don’t need trackers. Read the full explanation here.

In the end, you don’t really need to be concerned about fine-tuning your system unless you’re in danger of running out of space to build it. Trackers are often too expensive, and frankly, adjusting panels is going to feel like a chore unless you really enjoy the hands-on DIY approach.

If you have plenty of space, we recommend giving yourself a cushion by adding a few extra panels. The convenience is well worth it.

For more information, check out our free solar racking guide.

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Should You Buy a Solar Tracker? (No, Probably Not)

Should You Buy a Solar Tracker? (No, Probably Not)

Solar trackers are a special kind of solar mount that automatically follow the position of the sun in the sky.

The purpose of trackers is to maximize the output from your solar panels. Trackers automatically adjust your panels so they always face directly at the sun and get the most possible exposure year-round.

It sounds like a great idea. Who doesn’t want to get the most efficiency out of their panels?

But when people call us up asking if they should buy a solar tracker with their system, we almost always tell them the same thing: no, it’s not worth it.

Why? Because the value proposition starts to crumble when you do some basic math on system parts.

Trackers made sense 10 years ago when panels cost way more than they do now. This NREL report puts panels at $3.57 per watt in 2008, which works out to just over $800 for a 225W panel.

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At that cost, it made more sense to pay extra for a tracker to maximize the value of each panel. But the cost of solar has consistently fallen 6-8% per year, and now the opposite is true. If you need more energy, it’s cheaper to buy more panels instead.

Let’s compare both options.

You can buy hardware for a standard fixed ground mount for about $80 per panel. A ground mount for a six-panel system will cost about $480 in materials.

Or, you could buy a tracker for $600-$1000 per panel…

If you put six 305W panels on a tracker, the rated output on your system is 1830W. You might pay $3600 to build it on an inexpensive tracker.

Trackers squeeze another 20-30% production out of your system, so you end up paying $3120 (the tracker cost minus ground mount cost) for an extra few hundred watts of production.

If you really need that extra output, what makes more sense: buying an extra panel for 250 bucks, or buying a tracker for 3 grand?

If space isn’t a concern, it is almost always cheaper to buy a couple more panels than overpay for a high-tech mount. In addition, trackers have moving parts, which translates to more frequent maintenance – making them less reliable than fixed arrays.

And that’s why we rarely sell trackers…the idea is great and the technology is interesting, but it doesn’t come close to making sense from a cost perspective.

Related: The most common racking types are fixed roof and ground mounts. Read our comparison of roof mounts vs. ground mounts to see which makes sense for your system.

The Exceptions: When Solar Trackers Make Sense

Trackers don’t save you any money. But they do save space.

The only time we ever recommend trackers is when you are working with space restrictions and you absolutely must maximize your production from a compact array.

This scenario usually comes into play in commercial and remote industrial projects.

On one hand, you have projects like this setup powering telecom equipment on the top of a mountain. There’s no room to build a larger mount, and they would have had difficulty digging footings in the rock.

Since they needed extra output but didn’t have room for more panels, a tracker made sense for them in this scenario. It enables them to power an industrial outpost within the constraints of their project.

Another scenario where trackers make sense is large-scale commercial installations.

At scale, the math changes. 20-30% of a 3 kW system isn’t a ton of power, but 20-30% of a 100MW commercial installation is quite a lot of additional power.

There are other considerations which make trackers more appealing in commercial and utility systems as well.

One: the cost of land. Trackers allow for more dense PV installations, which means you can fit more energy output into a smaller array. That reduces the amount of real estate needed for the system.

Two: the cost of installation. Large-scale systems cost a lot to install. Trackers are more scalable to install in commercial systems because they require less labor to connect fewer modules and inverters. Those costs add up, and the savings on labor eventually offset the extra money invested in trackers.

Wrapping Up

So do you need a solar tracker?

Commercial trackers sometimes make sense when you’ve run out of room to add panels to your system. But that’s about the only time we advocate for them.

If you’re building a residential system, you don’t need one. If you have space, just buy more panels and save yourself some money.

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Ground Mount vs. Roof Mount Racking: What’s the Best Way to Mount My Solar Panels?

Ground Mount vs. Roof Mount Racking: What’s the Best Way to Mount My Solar Panels?

Ground Mounts vs. Roof Mounts: Quick Summary

Roof mounts are less expensive because they use your existing roof structure as a foundation. They also take up less room on your property. Ground mounts take up more space, but they’re easier to access for installation and repair. They also give you greater control over the orientation of your array to maximize production.

Once you have your solar panels picked out, it’s time to decide which mounting system is best for your living space, budget, and energy needs.

There are two types of solar mounting options: roof mount and ground mount racking systems. Roof mount systems affix to brackets on your roof, while ground mount systems are built into a foundation at ground level. See the comparison images below for examples.

Ground Mount

Roof Mount

There are benefits and drawbacks to each, and both mounting systems have their merits depending on your project specs. This article will dive deeper into what we think about when we recommend ground mount vs. roof mount racking to our customers.

But first, a quick summary:

Ground Mount Solar Racking

Pros

  • Easy to access
  • Easy to clean
  • Easier to troubleshoot
  • Stronger racking overall
  • System is not confined to the dimensions of the roof
  • Cooler panel temperatures means higher energy output
  • No need to remove panels if roof is replaced

Cons

  • Installation is more labor intensive
  • Installation is more expensive
  • Requires more parts and pieces
  • Permitting process is more expensive
  • Takes up real estate
  • Not aesthetically pleasing to everyone

Roof Mount Solar Racking

Pros

  • Less expensive
  • Requires fewer materials to install
  • Installation labor cost is lower
  • Utilizes unused space
  • Easier to permit

Cons

  • Hard to access – especially if your roof is steep or slippery 
  • Harder to troubleshoot errors
  • Higher panel temperatures mean lower panel output
  • Space constraints on the roof limits the size of the system
  • Can be a hassle if you need to replace the roof within the panel’s lifetime (might install the system twice)
  • Putting holes in your roof could lead to water damage

Why Go Ground Mount?

The Perfect Alignment

No matter what kind of solar system you’re considering, this much is true: every solar array works best when it’s able to get as much sunlight as possible.

If you live in the United States, you’re north of the equator, so the sun leans south as the Earth orbits. Facing your array true south will capture the most daylight and produce the best results. However, if you live south of the equator in South America, it would be more efficient to face your system true north.

Getting the perfect alignment can be a little tricky for a roof-mounted system. It isn’t likely that your roof naturally faces directly into the sun.

Ground-mount systems can face any direction you want. You can align your system at the optimal angle so it points directly at the sun. For that reason alone, ground-mounted systems are most efficient, as they maximize access to the sunlight that powers the array.

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Benefits for Off-Grid & Grid-Tied Consumers

The perfect angle isn’t the only thing that makes ground-mount arrays more efficient. Being raised off the ground allows for better airflow and cooling, which means your panels produce more energy.

Most solar panels are tested at an average of 77° Fahrenheit – a normal sunny day, but nothing too extreme. But when it gets hotter than this, and the panels grow less efficient, producing 10-25% less electricity. The semiconductors suffer greater resistance to the flow of electricity. Think of it like squeezing the hose when there’s water running through it.

Proper airflow and cooling keep your panels running in optimal conditions, which is a clear advantage for ground-mount racking.

Giving You Room to Grow

If you’re installing on your roof, chances are you’ve got limited space to make the most efficient array possible. Should your energy needs change in the future, it could be challenging to add more panels to your current system.

When you go ground-mount, you’re under no such restriction – assuming you have the space in your yard. You can expand your array after the initial installation, and many ground mount racking options allow you to bolt on new additions easily.  

This means if you add on to your property and require more power, or if you find that your initial power supply just isn’t cutting it, you can add more panels as needed with minimum fuss.

Accessibility 

Another major benefit to ground mounted solar is accessibility. Solar systems require a lot of trial and error, especially in the installation phase. It’s a pain to have to get up on the roof every time you need to work out a kink with your system.

This is an even bigger selling point if you’re considering a system with microinverters and optimizers. With those accessories, there is a component under each solar panel and they can be difficult to replace on a roof-mounted system.

What happens if a microinverter in the middle of the array breaks down? In that case, you would have to remove several panels to access the source of the problem. When your system is on ground level instead of high up on the roof, it’s easier to troubleshoot panels and accessories.

Ground mount also makes it easier to clean your panels and perform routine maintenance on them. It provides you with more peace of mind to know you won’t have to risk your safety every time you need to brush snow off the panels, wash off dust and pollen, or remove debris from under the panels. There are also pole mounts available, which are ideal for heavy snow areas. Pole mounts can be constructed with adjustable tilt angles to maximize energy production and easily shed snow in the winter months.

Drawbacks Of Ground-Mounted Solar

Now for the drawbacks of ground-mount racking that you might want to consider.

In general, a ground mount is a lot more complicated to install and requires more money upfront to get the job done. If your primary concern is seeing the maximum return on your investment into solar panels, roof mount could be the way to go. The permitting process will be lengthier for a ground-mount system. And it will take up more space on your property, which you may prefer to use for something else.

More Labor Intensive & Requires More Cost Upfront

The main reason why a ground mount requires more cost upfront is because the system requires more parts to be assembled.

Think of it this way – when you place a solar array on the roof, half of the structure has already been built for you. But when you place a solar array on the ground, you have to build a sturdy roof-like structure to hold the panels in place.

This process involves getting your soil surveyed to make sure it can hold the system firmly in place, digging large holes, and paying extra for parts to build a suitable foundation for the panels.

Roof-mounted systems skip a lot of these costs. Assuming your roof is in good shape and doesn’t have structural damage, it should be strong enough to support the weight of the solar array. You don’t run into any of the hassle of building a brand new foundation to hold the panels in place.

Ground-Mount Racking Requires a Longer Permitting Process

Additionally, the city or county you live in might have a heavier hand in the installation process, since the system is considered a new structure. Depending on where you live, you will have to go to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) and obtain a building permit.

This will add extra challenges to the process. You’ll need to:

  • Submit a design plan
  • Consider soil type and property line setback requirements
  • Pay permitting fees

Ground-Mount Takes Up Real Estate

The final drawback to ground mounted solar is that it takes up a lot of space on your property. When you mount a system on your roof, it will be more discrete, and you get to keep the space on your land to do whatever you please.

The space issue isn’t a big deal if you have a large property. People who live out in the country tend to be able to find space for a ground-mounted system that won’t interfere with how they live the rest of their lives.

But if you own a smaller property, your roof may be the only place your solar array will fit. In some cases, a ground-mounted system isn’t even an option.

If space isn’t an issue, the decision often comes down to aesthetics. For those that consider ground mounted solar an unsightly blemish on their land, there are some artistic or unique installation options out there, such as those featured below.

But for the most part, people are proud of their solar arrays because they are a cutting-edge technology that represents freedom from the power company and total independence.

We like it when people show off their systems with a sense of pride. But there’s nothing wrong with preferring one look over another. For buyers who have the luxury of space, the decision often comes down to whether they think ground or roof-mounted systems look better.

Key Points To Consider:

Go with a ground-mount system if you want to simplify the maintenance / cleaning process and maximize energy output over time. There are three main questions to ask yourself to make sure ground-mount will work for you:

How much are you looking to spend upfront?

A ground-mount racking system requires more labor and parts to install it. You may need to partner with a contractor to get the job done, and the permitting process will be lengthier and more expensive.

But consider this: once the panels are installed, the upfront cost will be offset down the line by a more efficient energy output. There’s also less cost and hassle involved if you have to remove the panels for re-roofing.

You’ll shell out a bit more cash at the start, but the effort will pay for itself over time.

What kind of soil do you have?

If your property is on bedrock or if you know the soil is going to be really difficult to dig into, you might want to put the panels on your roof. Hard soil can make installation costs for ground-mount systems skyrocket. It’s not impossible, but you’ll need to rent heavy-duty equipment to drill into the ground.

There are also a few workarounds with ground-mount options to keep the digging to a minimum. A ballasted system might be a good solution. Learn more about the different racking options available in our article covering frequently asked questions about ground-mount racking systems.

Will you need to expand your system?

If you don’t plan on living off-grid, a rooftop system will probably be more than enough for your energy needs. However, if you are planning to go off-grid, the ground mount will allow you to add more panels as your energy needs change over time and you will get the benefit of a built-in tilt that can face towards the sun more easily than your roof.

When is Roof-Mount Racking Better?

Neither mounting system is “better” than the other – the choice depends on how your budget, energy needs, and lifestyle come together. A roof-mounted solar system tends to be a better option for customers who:

  • want to maximize their ROI
  • want a system that is simpler to install
  • don’t have a lot of space
  • want to spend less money upfront

Less Materials & Labor Means Less Cost Upfront

One thing that makes a roof-mounted solar system an easy sell is that it requires less time and money upfront to install.

When you put a solar system on your roof, the most complicated part of the structure is already in place. You don’t have to dig holes, get the soil surveyed, worry about your property line, or purchase expensive materials like poles and concrete.

The set-up is ideal for grid-tie customers that want to make a smart investment; installing on the roof instead of the ground can save you thousands of dollars.

If you’re curious to see what the roof mount installation process involves, take a look at our demo roof install in this 22-minute video:

Makes Use Of Unused Space

More often than not, a roof mount is used in a residential setting where there isn’t a lot of space for a ground-mount system. You might live in a condo or tightly-packed suburb. What scarce yard space you have might be better used for barbecues or a place for the kids to play. Mounting panels on the roof allows you to use space that would otherwise be useless, saving the rest of your property for the things that matter most.

Even for people with lots of land, some choose to install solar panels on the roof because it’s more inconspicuous. It keeps the space on your property free for things like raising animals, farming, and outbuildings. Roof-mounted systems keep the clutter off your land, so there’s more room to get things done.

Added Insulation & Protection

One unexpected benefit to a roof-mounted system worth mentioning is that it protects the roof from degrading elements like UV light, wind, rain, and snow. It will also keep your structure more insulated. If you’re living off-grid, this can be a nice way to keep the house naturally warmer at night and cooler in the daytime.

According to this article from Earth Sky, students at UC San Diego found that solar panels kept the roof an average of 5° Fahrenheit cooler than an exposed rooftop, which saved the building an average of 5% on cooling costs. Those savings are on top of what you’ll save on your energy bill anyway by going solar.

Easier To Permit

Are you one of those people who doesn’t like to get tangled up in bureaucratic procedures? A roof-mounted racking system is perfect for you. It involves a much simpler permitting process. You can submit the blueprints for your home to show whether or not your roof is structurally sound, and you’ll have to make sure your wiring and electrical systems are up to code. This typically won’t be an issue unless you live in an old home.

There’s no extra design paperwork to submit, because you aren’t building a new structure on your property – something that would lead to a much longer approval process.

Drawbacks Of Roof-Mounted Solar

What makes people shy away from roof-mounted systems? There are a couple downsides to consider:

  • Inaccessible due to their height
  • Less efficient, depending on the positioning of your home
  • Harder to modify and troubleshoot
  • Space constraints on smaller rooftops

Accessibility Makes Things Harder To Troubleshoot

For anyone that’s ever installed Christmas lights or cleaned out the gutters on their home, you know what a pain it is to get up on the roof. Depending on your mobility and planned level of involvement in the installation process, you may want to consider the accessibility of your roof. Depending on the pitch and what kind of material your roof is made out of, you may not want to risk getting up there. For example, metal roofing is really slippery.

Less Efficient

Roof-mounted systems are rarely as efficient as ground-mount systems. Rooftop solar panels can’t always be aimed directly at the sun. It’s a lot harder to angle an array on an existing structure so that it is optimized for full power consumption during peak hours.

You’re at the mercy of the built-in specs of your roof, which means you can’t always get the panels facing true south (above the equator) or north (below the equator). To compensate, you may have to buy a few extra panels to match the output of a perfectly aligned ground-mount system.

Space Constraints

The average roof area on a standard, medium-pitch roof in America is 1,500 square feet. Some of this space will be unusable due to chimneys, vents, and other obstructions. There’s not a lot of space left to work with.

Once your system is in place, it will likely be impossible to add on to that system if you need to increase your energy production. If your family grows or you add an extension to your home, it could be challenging to add extra panels to adapt to increased energy consumption.

Key Points To Consider

If you think rooftop solar is the best option for you, be sure to consider some commonly overlooked questions:

How old is your roof?

A roof and a solar system have a similar lifespan, so it makes sense to install them at the same time. Roofs less than 5 years old will likely be fit for solar panels. Any older than that and you at least want to consider whether it’s a good idea to replace it at the same time you install the panels.

If your roof is really old, there may be damage, leaks or structural integrity issues to worry about. It will need to be in good shape to support the weight of the solar array. Try to anticipate roof repairs before installing your system. It’ll be a huge pain in the butt to repair your roof after the panels are installed.

Does your HOA have constraints on where you can mount your panels?

Depending on the solar access laws in your state, a homeowners association (HOA) can prevent you from installing solar panels. Before you purchase your solar system, check in with your HOA to see if they have any guidelines regarding solar. You can negotiate any problems with them while you get the permitting in order.

How expensive is your electricity?

Even though solar panels are an excellent investment, it requires a big financial commitment upfront and it can take time to get a return on that investment depending on your energy consumption. If your energy consumption is small, your savings will be too. A lot of those savings can depend on your state and whether or not you live in a remote area that has expensive electricity. So even though we are big supporters of solar, it’s not for everyone – it really depends on your core goals.

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5 Questions You Should Ask Before Installing Ground-Mount Solar

5 Questions You Should Ask Before Installing Ground-Mount 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.

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Free Solar Racking Guide

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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.

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Customers’ Biggest Questions About Rooftop Solar Panels Answered

Customers’ Biggest Questions About Rooftop Solar Panels Answered

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.

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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, download our Solar Racking Guide for more info.

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[Videos] Become a Ground Mount Installing Pro: Beginner and Advanced IronRidge Videos

[Videos] Become a Ground Mount Installing Pro: Beginner and Advanced IronRidge Videos

Finally gain the confidence you’ve been looking for! Our Friends at IronRidge want you to be a Ground Mount expert. In these 2 detailed videos you will learn the basic and advanced approaches to installing your Ground Mount solar foundation.

Intro to Ground-based & IronRidge Design Assistant

Ground Mounted solar arrays often appear very simple, but their foundations can vary in depth, width, and spacing, making them one of the trickiest variables to handle. In this presentation, we review the forces affecting ground mount foundations and show you how to use Design Assistant to quickly reduce foundation size and cost.

Advanced Ground-based & IronRidge Design Assistant

As you know, no two Ground Mount Systems installations are the same. In this presentation, we explore the wide array of site conditions installers encounter and review best practices around topics like dealing with groundwater, building on sloped land, and planning for cold climates. In addition, we’ll share a field-tested and proven method of saving time on large-scale installations. We’ll also show you how to use the new visual interface in Ground-based Design Assistant to plan your project and generate a bill of materials.

More IronRidge Racking Resources: 

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5 Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Mounting Your Solar Panels

5 Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Mounting Your Solar Panels

Your solar power system is only as good as the racking it’s mounted on. You want to get the most durable, effective, flexible racking for your panels, while also keeping in mind several important factors that can make or break your project. So before you start installing, make sure you’ve considered the following important aspects of racking, and save yourself time, money, and peace of mind:

Price: Determining the size of your solar project, as well as the expected cost of it, is an essential part of the process. Take into account that you’re not just buying solar panels, but also racking, power inverters, charge controllers, battery banks and even generators depending on the size of your project and whether you choose grid-tied solar, off-grid solar, or another format. 

Use the Wholesale Solar cost calculator, check to see what incentives your state offers for switching to solar power, and determine how much you’re willing to spend to get the most out of your planned solar power system before you start installation. Keep in mind that the cost of your solar power system is only one aspect of the project. Many states also require permits, surveys, soil samples, and even minor engineering in order to accommodate a solar installation, which can add unforeseen expenses that you will need to budget for and plan around.

Ground Mount of Roof Mount?: Setting up your solar panels on sturdy racking such as an IronRidge XR10, XR100, or XR1000 mount ensures that your solar power system is secure and protected against high winds or inclement weather.

Choosing the right racking usually comes down to a combination of cost and available space.  Roof-mount racking is generally more affordable, and uses the available space on your roof, while ground-mounted systems can be quite expensive with extensive preparation work required before installation – including obtaining soil samples, digging, and pouring cement upon which to mount your planned racking.

Efficiency: With any solar power system you want to get the most efficient setup you can and maximize your return on investment. This means more than simply getting high-efficiency panels, however – in fact high-efficiency panels are often costly, and not necessarily better for residential customers (“efficiency” in this regard normally means more power produced with a very small panel size, useful for NASA satellites in orbit or other expensive projects). However, high-efficiency systems are often desirable if working with a limited amount of space, where getting the most out of the room available is essential. 

An efficient solar power system here is one that makes the most use out of available hours of sunlight, taking into account the angle at which they’re mounted and the amount of roof or ground mount space is available to you. Making sure your panels are mounted so that they don’t get covered by shade, wind-blown debris, or other factors is also essential  – even a small amount of shade, leaf litter or pine needles can reduce a solar panel’s output by 50%, so plan out your installation accordingly and get the most out of your investment!

Orienting your solar panels correctly can help get the most out of your investment as well. True “solar-south” orientation is the most desirable, allowing for the most coverage during the day and therefore the most sunlight collected by your panels. If your roof does not face solar-south, however, east and westward-facing panels can still be productive.

The Right Setup for Your Roof: Roof types can make all the difference when setting up a DIY solar power system. The type of roofing material can make mounting and racking more or less difficult, and determining what works for your particular situation is an important step – one that’s best to tackle ahead of time before you start spending!

  • Metal roofing is especially easy for mounting solar panels, strong and durable like the panels themselves. Usually found on industrial buildings, this roofing type accepts roof mount racks easily, with little extra work needed. Metal roof clamps either drill into the roof to fasten securely, or clamp onto the metal seams with no drilling necessary. 
  • Shingle or Slate roofs need to be drilled into in order to mount your racking system. Due to the fragile nature of this material, precautions need to be taken regarding flashing and sealing your drill-sites against the elements, to ensure your roof doesn’t leak after installation. Shingle or slate roofs need to be in good repair before you mount solar panels – we recommend a roof with a projected useful lifespan of 10+ years. 
  • Tile roofing is slightly more difficult, as we know from April’s Install of the Month, as you need to fit specialized tile hooks or brackets to your mounting in order to support the racks. Some roofers recommend replacing tile altogether, as tiles often break during the installation process.

Choose the Right Racking: Planning out your solar array to be the most efficient and cost effective setup is important. In order to do this, mounting your panels on the right racking, keeping in mind the importance of location, angle, and the scale of your overall project, is vital.

To this end, we put together a cheat sheet of different racking types and brands, to help guide you in getting an idea of what’s right for your project. Our technicians are available via phone to assist you, as well.


Learn more about each racking brand: IronRidge XR and SGA, DynoRaxx, MT Solar, General Specialties, Tamarack Solar.

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Our Annual Free Racking Sale Returns!

Our Annual Free Racking Sale Returns!

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Rack Up Big Savings During Our Free Racking Sale

Our biggest sale of the year is back by popular demand. Wholesale Solar is offering Free American-made IronRidge roof mount racking with purchase of complete solar systems. Upgrade to the XR1000 roof mount racks for an additional cost. Ask your sales tech if the XR1000 is right for you.

Considering a ground mount? We’ll take 1/2 Off IronRidge ground mount racking with the purchase of a compatible SGA system. Call our solar experts for their recommendation.

Solar power is a “triple bottom-line” investment that benefits your family, your pocketbook and our planet. This month Wholesale Solar is making your investment even more attractive:

Racking Special: Enjoy FREE American-Made IronRidge Roof Mount Racking and 1/2 Off IronRidge Ground Mount Racking with the purchase of any complete solar system over $5,500*.

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