Steps to Mount Solar Panels On Roof
It goes without saying that solar panels are most efficient when installed on the roof.
When panels are fixed on the roof, they can absorb maximum light because they face the sun directly.
The installation can be a bit technical, and it would be wise to have a contractor do it for you. But, it doesn’t harm to gain some knowledge on solar panel installation.
However, if you’re the handy type or are in the construction industry, follow this guide to learn how to mount solar panels on the roof.
What to Consider When Installing Solar Panels on Rooftop
Before you install your panels, you should ensure your roof is in good shape. Because solar panels are meant to serve you for years – some warranties go up to 25 years – your roof should be solid.
In case your roof is damaged, fix this before mounting the panels. Early renovations will save you the trouble and cost of removing the panels and remounting after repairing the roof.
There are various types of roofs, but asphalt shingle roofs are the most common.
Also, consider the location of your house. Is your home likely to be blocked from the sun in the near future? For instance, if you have recently planted trees, these could obstruct your panels from the sun when they grow.
Whatever you do, ensure the part of the roof you settle on for your panel is the one that receives the most sunlight.
Another crucial question to ask yourself is whether your roof can support the extra weight of solar panels. Usually, solar panels are not heavy, and they typically weigh between 2 to 4 pounds per square foot. To be safe, you can have a structural engineer check your roof to see if it fits your panels.
Nine Steps to Install Solar Panels On The Roof
Step 1. Layout your materials
First, you have to ensure all the items needed are nearby because you can’t be going from the roof and back all the time.
Here are the items you need: Drill and drill bit, a pencil, a chalk line, a tape measure, and a ladder. The rest of the things should come in your solar panel package.
Step 2. Fix the stanchions
Ensure the structure is tilted to at least an 18-degree angle to get the most sun exposure.
Look for the perfect place to fix the stanchions. Stanchions support the panels so that they are not torn from the roof.
The stanchions, which are like screws, should be placed on your roof’s rafters. If you don’t know where the rafters are, use your house’s blueprint to locate them.
Now you know where your rafters are, so the next step is to fix the stanchions on the roof. Usually, the distance from one stanchion to another should be four feet. Drill holes in the rafters to attach the stanchions.
Step 3. Install the flashing
Lift the shingles and put the flashing underneath them.
Fasten the flashing onto the rafters using a bolt.
The work of the flashing is to keep water out of your house once you drill a hole. Apart from the flashing, the bolts also have a seal that also helps to avoid leakage.
Step 4. Attach the rails
Place the screws in the holes and tighten them. Then use bolts to fix the upper and lower rails to the stanchions. Here, an impact driver will ensure everything is properly fastened.
Step 5. Measure the distance between rails
The next step is to ensure the rails are parallel to each other. How? Measure the distance between them using a measuring tape. The diagonal distance should be exactly equal. Should you find the space is not identical, balance the rails accordingly.
Step 6. Place the middle rail
The middle rail should run from the upper rail to the bottom one.
Step 7. The wiring
Remember, under every panel, you should set up a power inverter kit. Then, ensure copper wires are on your inverter kits. The connections should be in and out of the solar arrays.
Pull wires from your panels to an electrical meter and out to an electrical sub-panel. Run the wires to the power inverter kits through the rail, which has a trunk. (For more detail read: How to Wire Solar Panels in Series or Parallel?)
Step 8. Mount the panels
You can mount the solar panels on the stanchions. Ensure the plug connections are linked. Then, fasten the retaining clips onto the rails. This move will bolster your panel in place.
Step 9. Connect to the inverter
Now it’s time to put power into your solar panels. Shut off your power supply before connecting the solar system to your house.
The next step is to connect your solar inverter to the system. The inverter is what will convert your solar energy from DC to the AC energy your household needs. Ensure the inverter is placed in a well-ventilated area to prevent overheating and is easily accessible for maintenance and monitoring.
Should you decide to keep your inverter outdoors, avoid the hot afternoon sun.
Connect the solar inverter to your battery. The battery comes in handy when your panels are not producing enough energy, such as when it’s cloudy.
A Guide to Solar Panel Mounts
Solar panel mounts are a common component of almost every solar panel array. Although there are newer solar panel technologies coming out that do not require mounts, such as the Lumeta solar module that are being developed. the majority of solar panel arrays on the market and the ones already installed will require this feature.
Solar panel mounts are used to secure your solar panel array to a surface and can also be used to optimize your panels energy production through its angle and direction. The type of solar panel mounts that would be required for an array is completely dependent on the specific surface of which the array is being attached.
Overall, the purpose of a mounting system is to position a solar panel in the right location so that it can be exposed to the maximum amount of sunlight. This is usually at a 30-degree angle and should face south or southwest. Solar panel mounts can be completely customized to facilitate the effective positioning of the attached solar panel array to meet these parameters.
When looking at residential solar panel systems, the roof layout and roof material type of the home will have a big influence on the mounting system and solar array in general. The more you customize the system, the more expensive it will be, however, so lets take a look at some of the more common solar panel mounts.
Types of Solar Panel Mounts
There are several types of solar panel mounts that can be installed on a property owner’s land or home. The most commonly used mounting system is a classic roof-penetrating rack. This is simply a rack that is drilled into a roof with additional screw holes or other attachment mechanisms on top of its surface so that the solar panels can be easily attached to them.
Roof-penetrating racks come in many forms. Some try to minimize the amount of drilling made into the roof, and some FOCUS more on aesthetics. The two most popular companies for racking systems are Unirac and Ironridge. but you can also do some more research to find better options if these are not for you. Most companies like these use specialized clamping or screwing components that connect the solar panels to the racking system.
Non-Drilling Mounting Solutions
The next category of rooftop solar panel mounts is specific to surfaces that are not suitable for drilling. This includes tile and metal roofs.
For tile rooftops, you can add a special rack like the one pictured above or replace a small portion of the existing tiles with metal shingles. The metal tiles are designed so that the solar panel array can be easily secured through clamps, screws, etc.
For Metal Roofs, the solution for solar depends on whether your roof is Metal Tile or a Standing Seam metal roof.
- Metal Tile roofs are long-lasting- however, they are quite fragile, and often don’t have compatible structural integrity for solar. This can mean a partial re-roof or structural enhancement in order to support the solar system- an added cost.
- Standing Seam Metal Roofs are usually structurally sound for solar, and mounting system can be clamped in place quite easily on the protruding metal seams.
Ground-Level Solar Panel Arrays
The type of mounts used for rooftop solar panels can be much different than the ones used on a ground-level system. In both cases, however, you should always ensure that the panels are exposed to as much sunlight as possible. For those with unsuitable rooftops, having a ground-level system could be a cheaper and more efficient solution.
Solar panel arrays that are installed at the surface level will have much more flexibility in how they can be positioned and integrated. A notable benefit of having a ground-level solar panel array is that you can install a dynamic mounting system that will adjust its angle to maximize its exposure to the sun. You can also use racks and other components to create a fully customized array with any production capacity that you can support.
Setting the Foundation
The purpose of a solar panel mount is to serve as a foundation for a solar panel. Mounting systems allow for solar panel arrays to be positioned in the most effective location to maximize the panels exposure to sunlight. The type of solar panel mounts will vary widely depending on the rooftop or surface type where it is being installed on. Overall, solar mounts are pretty standard, but they are almost always a necessary component of your solar panel array.
Whatever your roof type, our experts and Solar.com can help you find the mounting solution that’s best for your project, and an expert installer to perform the work. Get started free here.
Your Roof Space Will Determine the Size of Your Ballast Mount
Essentially, the exact layout and design of your ballast mount will depend on the ratio of available roof space to the amount of electricity you’d like your system to produce.
If you have a relatively small roof space compared to the amount of electricity you need, you’ll want to design a system with high power density by getting the most solar panels on your roof as possible.
This often means installing your panels at a lower angle relative to the roof (about ten degrees or less). By doing so, you can install the rows of panels more closely without having the row in front cast a shadow on the row behind it.
If you have a good deal of open roof space relative to the amount of electricity you’d like your solar panels to produce, you can increase the angles of your panels. Increasing the angles will create longer shadows, meaning the rows of solar panels will have to be placed further apart. However, depending on where in the world you live, higher tilt angles can increase the amount of energy your panels produce.
In an ideal scenario, your solar panels should be installed at an angle about equal to your location’s latitude. That means if you live along the 30-degree latitude line, you’d want to install your panels at a 30-degree angle. If you live at the equator, you’d want them to be flat. However, installing your solar panels at the perfect pitch isn’t essential to having a solar system that performs well.
Is Your Roof Right for Ballast-Mounted Solar?
Solar panel ballast mounts can be a great option for homes and businesses with flat roofs. They can even have some advantages over solar panels installed on a sloped roof. However, ballast-mounted solar won’t be ideal for all buildings.
Here are a few things to consider.
Small Roofs May Require Penetrations
The solar panels in a ballasted solar roof mount are secured to a racking system which is then held in place on the roof by weights. For most roofs, this means no penetrations are required to install the system.
Because most people are wary of putting holes in their roofs, this is a popular selling point for ballast mount systems. However, depending on the size of your roof, penetrations may still be required. Small flat roofs may need additional roofing attachments that have to be secured in through the roof. These attachments will be installed by a third-party roofing company, and may or may not impact your roof’s warranty.
But because most flat roofs in general top mid-to-large-sized commercial buildings, the vast majority are installed without these additional attachments and with no roof penetrations needed.
All that said, it’s worth noting that a properly installed roof-mounted system should not leak or cause any issue, regardless of how it’s mounted or the roofing material. Thanks to specially designed attachments and properly installed flashing, no water damage will occur if the system is installed properly and with trusted, quality materials.
Roof Needs to Support the Additional Weight
Ballast mount systems are held in place by weight, so your roof and your building need to be able to support this added burden.
The average 60-cell solar panel will weigh about 40 pounds, which isn’t a problem for most commercial roofs that are in good shape.
Regardless of the type of roof-mounted system you install, a third-party structural engineer will have to sign off on the drawings before installation can begin.
Strong Winds Require Even Weight
Ballast mount systems are designed to stand strong against strong winds. However, the stronger the winds in your area, the more weight will be needed to keep your solar system in place.
This may include buildings that are several stories above ground level where winds can be strong. Or buildings located on or near the coast. If this sounds like your building, your ballast mount may need even more weight to keep those panels secure. That means a strong roof with solid supports.
The Condition of the Roof Matters
Just like any other roof-mounted solar system, you want to make sure your roof is in a good condition. Panels should only be installed on a roof that is in the early stages of its life and in a condition that will be suitable for holding panels for several decades.
We typically discourage people from installing solar panels on a roof that has a shorter remaining lifespan than the payback period of the solar panels. For example, if you have a 10-year payback on the solar system don’t install the panels on a roof that only has 7 years of a useful life remaining. The cost to remove and reinstall your panels is a cost that you’ll want to avoid if possible.
How Flat is your Flat Roof?
Most flat roofs aren’t 100% flat, and that’s intentional. They can have a small pitch of under ten degrees which helps with water drainage.
If your roof is pitched at three degrees or lower, a ballast mount should work well on your building. However, if it’s much steeper than this, additional weights will be needed to keep your system secure, which could potentially exceed your roof’s weighted capacity.
Should You Install Ballast Mounted Solar Panels?
Putting solar panels on your roof is a great way to save money in the short term and long term by creating renewable energy. If you have a business or a home with a flat roof, a ballast system may be the option for you.
By holding the panels in place with weight, there’s no need for roof penetrations that can inhibit your roof’s warranty. However, smaller flat roofs may not be able to depend on weight alone to hold the panels down, and some penetrations may be needed.
Additionally, your roof will need to be able to support the weight of the solar system. If your building is located in an area with strong winds or you have a higher-pitched flat roof, even more weight will need to be added, putting more stress on your roof.
That said, ballast mounts are popular among flat-roof owners for a reason. They’re relatively easy and fast to install, and in most cases, they keep your roof in great shape and your roof’s warranty in good standing. On top of that, you get free, renewable electricity.
Paradise Energy Solutions has installed hundreds of ballast-mounted systems. Below are links to view a few of them:
Solar Carport Mounts
The manufacturers we provide are designed to offer reliable solar panel mounting structures for residential, commercial, and utility-scale projects and often include stamped engineering. At Solar Electric Supply, we assure customers with the satisfaction of knowing that these manufacturers have designed mounting structures with the intentions of making installation cost effective and easy.
Professional Solar Products (ProSolar) has been manufacturing solar equipment for more than 20 years, longer than any other PV mounting provider. Being the original patent holding U.S. manufacturer of the Rooftrac® Top-Down solar mounting system, one can be confident knowing they are being provided with nothing but exceptional solar equipment products. All products are proudly made in the U.S. by U.S. workers, promising overall product quality and safety.
Quick Mount PV was founded in 2006 to bring code-compliant, cost-effective, waterproof rooftop mounting systems to the solar industry. By being able to recognize the need for fast installation and the demand that every attachment be absolutely watertight, the company innovated the patented Qblock Elevated Water Seal which would ultimately result in the Classic Composition Mount. Their proven track record to deliver effective products in a market hungry for mounting solutions is undeniable.
Unirac delivers industry-leading technology solutions designed to meet the needs of any type of solar installation. Since delivering its first PV mounting system in 1998, Unirac has experienced remarkable growth of its superior racking systems. They continue to invest heavily into advancing solar energy worldwide.
SnapNRack is a manufacturer of photovoltaic module mounting products and systems. They have mounting systems available for pitched roofs, flat roofs, ground mounting options and non-penetrating standing seam metal roof solutions. They have both residential and commercial solutions for any size.
Renusol America is considered a leading innovator in pitch roof and flat roofed solar mounting systems. By combining a heritage of excellence in German engineering with American innovation, in 2011 Renusol America introduces the groundbreaking, American-made Renusol CS60- the first one piece mounting system for PV panels.
DPW Solar, popularly known for their POWER-FAB® product line, provides easy-to-install mounting systems and enclosures. Founded in 1993, their lean manufacturing capabilities combined with their PV solar industry experience promises reliable solar products.
Schletter encompasses over 40 years of experience in the design and manufacturing of steel and aluminum products. They are internationally recognized to be a manufacturer of a diverse product mix including solar mounting systems for small to utility scale applications, waste management solutions, and customized bracket manufacturing.
Upsolar’s consistent growth is a testament to it’s superb product quality and strong customer relations. Founded in 2006, the company has served to provide the world’s PV market with products of market-leading quality. Upsolar is committed to providing a variety of high quality mono- and polycrystalline PV modules through their vertically integrated manufacturing platforms.
Orion Solar Racking, Inc. is backed by the reputation and financial stability of its parent company, Deco Lighting, Inc. Their manufacturing and marketing of photovoltaic racking solutions has gained them a lading role in the solar industry. Orion prides themselves on releasing a wide range of high-quality and innovative mounting systems, providing roof and ground mounting solutions for residential, agriculture, industrial, government, commercial, and utility grade projects.