Choosing The Best Solar Panel Racking System
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
As an installer, you may find that customers are concerned with the way their panels will look on their roof. And while we know appearance is important, it’s also crucial to choose the best racking solution for their situation. Did you know that the lion’s share of your time installing a solar system is dedicated to assembling, aligning and attaching the racking system?
Thus, selecting a racking system that helps promote safety on the job site and saves time is critical. Choosing a system wisely will help keep your projects on schedule and on budget. This can help reduce your installation costs while ensuring happy customers.
You don’t want to have your installation crew fumbling with cumbersome parts while on the roof. This can lead to accidents and even injuries. In addition, if you are installing solar PV systems in areas with severe weather, it is also critical to make sure the mounting system can handle these conditions.
Let’s explore all you need to know to select the best PV panel racking system for your next solar energy installation.
What Is Solar Racking And Why Is It Important?
A racking system safely affixes solar modules to different surfaces, including roofs, carports, awnings or the ground. These systems are typically made of metal and set the orientation and tilt angle of a solar array. In areas with a lot of snow, installers often pitch solar power systems at a steeper angle to allow snow to slide off the panels easily. Racking systems help ensure panels are pitched at the optimal angle to capture maximum solar energy.
Pitched roofs are the most common roof type for residential installations. Solar systems are commonly installed parallel to the roof on angled roofs, with a couple of inches gap between the mounting hardware and the solar PV panels. If the gap is too small, there won’t be proper airflow, and the solar panels can overheat, reducing electricity production.
When installing PV panels on flat roofs, they are often pitched at a steeper angle than the roof itself, compliments of the racking system. Some customers might want to avoid roof penetrations. In such cases, a ballasted system might be a good option. These systems use concrete blocks to weigh the system down instead of anchoring the system to prevent wind lift.
It isn’t always possible to install the solar system on the roof. Although it is almost always the lowest cost option, it often isn’t possible or advisable. For example, if the roof is heavily shaded or in a state of disrepair, a ground mount might be better suited.
These racking systems typically angle the panel up to lift off the ground and at an ideal angle to avoid shading and optimize solar electricity production. In addition, pole mounts enable the system to have a tracker to follow the sun.
The age and material of the roof also matters. If a clients’ roof is in need of replacement, installers can recommend that the homeowner takes care of this before any solar panels are installed. Panels can last 20-25 years or more so it’s important to ensure the viability of the roof’s structure before boots hit the roof. Check out some of the recommended roofing materials that are particularly well suited for solar.
Components Of A Roof Mounting System For Solar Panels
These systems are composed of several parts, all critical for securing solar panels to the roof.
Roof penetrations will lead to roof leaks if they are not properly sealed. Therefore, flashing is used to stop water from penetrating into the home or business, and it’s often comprised of an aluminum rectangle.
Keep in mind that flashing varies depending on the type of roof. For example, for asphalt shingle roofing, it is often slid under the shingles. By contrast, standing seam metal roofs don’t require flashing if no roof penetrations are made and the racking system is attached to the roof’s seams.
Solar Panel Roof Mounts
This is the part of the solar racking system that comes in direct contact with the roof. Often, these attach to the roof through flashing, and a bolt attaches to the rafters in the roof. Before installing a solar energy system, ensure the rafters are intact and properly spaced to secure the project properly.
These are long vertical or horizontal tracks that run along the roof and are composed of aluminum. The solar panels attach directly to rails, and wiring usually runs along the rails, keeping the installation tidy.
Best Solar Panel Racking Solutions By Brand
Although there are numerous solar racking manufacturers, below are three brands that lead the way for excellent PV racking solutions.
This solar mounting manufacturer produces solutions for flat roofs, pitched roofs, and ground mounts for both residential and commercial applications. Their products range from moderate to extreme load capabilities, and they are known for producing some of the strongest racking systems in the industry. This is especially helpful in extreme climates with large snow loads or high wind loads.
The IronRidge XR100 rail system has 8-foot spanning capabilities and is designed to support heavy loads. It is an easy system to assemble, especially for new solar installers, because this system requires minimal tools and parts. For example, there are only three socket sizes needed to assemble the rack, and it is fast, safe and easy.
In addition, the IronRidge XR100 has flashing attachments for nearly every roof type for easy installation and high durability. The racking systems are made out of aluminum alloy, which is excellent for the installer because it is lightweight yet very robust.
All IronRidge systems come with a 25-year warranty, and are listed under UL2703, the standard for evaluating the efficacy of mounting systems as they relate to electrical and mechanical connections.
Founded in 2004, this racking specialist serves the international market with various options for flat, tile, corrugated fiber concrete, trapezoidal sheet metal, standing and round seam roofs, and ground mount systems. It serves the residential, commercial, and utility-scale markets across the globe. They even offer some shared rail systems that reduce how many rails need to be installed, allowing solar modules to share rails.
The company, previously known as Everest Solar Systems, can customize solutions if its standard products don’t accommodate. It has provided racking solutions for over 20 gigawatts of solar energy capacity worldwide. Their online design tool allows customers to “build” racking systems for their projects and can connect directly with GreenLancer for the next steps of the installation.
This s solution contains a snap-in system to attach the rails for easy installation. With this system, it is easy to mix module orientation for greater energy production. The company is owned by SunRun and produces residential roof and ground-mount racking systems, but not commercial PV racking.
The company claims to have the largest span capability of any light rail solution. Also, it has the first railless system to earn Miami-Dade NOA approval due. These are highly stringent due to the area’s high susceptibility to high-velocity hurricanes.
How Much Do Solar Panel Mounting Systems Typically Cost?
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the racking system commonly costs about $0.10 per watt. However, ground mount systems cost more than rooftop solar systems because of additional hardware, permitting, and installation costs. The good news is, if your clients qualify for the federal solar tax credit, they can apply it to the cost of racking equipment and installation costs. The credit is now 30% for systems installed before 2033.
Choosing The Right Racking System For Your Project Is Paramount
IronRidge, K2, and SnapNRack all make quality solar mounting systems with excellent warranties. Many solar contractors get accustomed to a particular system, and they prefer it because they become more efficient at designing and installing systems with that specific equipment. Ultimately, choosing the ideal racking system depends on the property, local climate, and installer preference, but these options are a great place to start your search.
Once you’ve designed the racking system layout for a client, work with GreenLancer to streamline the required permitting and engineering.