Solar Installation 101: A Step-By-Step Guide to Completing Your First Solar Project
So, you've read our tip sheet on getting started in solar, are successfully licensed to install solar arrays for your region, located solar suppliers, applied for your permits through the GreenLancer App and have a project (or a few) lined up. Congrats! The next step is getting boots on the roof to get the solar array installed.
Pre-Job Site Preparation
Safety is always number 1 priority. Solar installers work with the two largest hazards in the construction industry; electricity and heights. Before heading to a job site, set a meeting to discuss safety protocols. Getting the crew home safely is always the goal -- this involves planning, intention, and awareness.
Run through your solar installation checklist to make sure you have all the tools and materials required (Printable Checklist Available here.)
Job Site Arrival
When you arrive on the site:
Hang the building and/or electrical permit in a visible, safe place
Set up an organized work area. Keep it away from any of the homeowner's valuables if possible. This includes fold out work tables, saws, shelves, etc. Being organized saves time, and saving time saves money
Open your Solar Permit Plans to sheet A-103. This sheet shows the attachment plan for the project
Plan the most effective way to install and work the plan from there. (Ex: When it comes time to place panels on the racking, don’t start on the edge of the roof that you are entering from. That will only slow you down and create a potential tripping hazard).
Phase 1 (Solar Installation Racking)
70% of the time on a job site comes from measuring, marking, and drilling racking. It is the most crucial part of the job for the following reasons:
It is the foundation of the finished product. Unaligned racking results in unaligned panels. This step is not to be rushed.
Roof Leaks; Another reason this step cannot be rushed. Doing the job the right way at all times saves the company and the homeowner from dealing with a leaking roof in the future.
There are twelve steps to phase 1 (Solar Installation Racking)
Gently put ladder in place. You can use an old towel or blanket to place between the ladder and the siding/gutter to avoid any scratches.
Secure the safety anchor. This will require 1 brave and confident individual to walk freely on the roof to its highest/safest point and place the safety anchor into a rafter. They then connect the remaining safety harnesses.
The remaining crew joins on the roof with the tools required. *Pro Tip: There is such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. Depending on the size and slope of the roof, most residential crews operate best with 3 workers on the roof, and one on the ground providing guidance.
With the remainder of the crew on the roof, the leader on the roof will refer back to sheet A-103. At this point, it is time to measure the corners of the solar array.
With the outline of your solar array completed, you then need to identify where your rails will be. The solar panels you order will specify this location on the spec sheet. It is typically 1 foot from the top and bottom of the module. These markings are what will be used to snap your chalk line.
Locating and marking rafters is crucial to the installation. This is what inspectors will look for, and what makes the system structurally stable. Place a measuring tape from one end of the rail (step 5) to the other. Reference your plans and mark the appropriate rafter attachment point (in blue circles on your GreenLancer permit set) at the appropriate spacing.
Snap a chalk line along the rail location from step 5. This line should be perfectly straight if done properly. It is best to have 2 people on both ends, and one person snap it from the center.
Drill pilot holes to the manufacturer’s specification. For the IronRidge FlashFoot 2, this requires a ¼ inch drill bit. Then take a pry bar and GENTLY lift the shingles around each hole to make room for the flashing. *IMPORTANT*: When drilling pilot holes, it should take a little bit of muscle to get all the way into the rafter. Saw dust should come out of the hole as you bring the drill back out of the hole. Keep the drill bit spinning as the hole is exited. If a rafter is missed, do not make a big deal about it and draw the attention of the homeowner. Simply grab a hammer, and try to feel where it is. Once the rafter has been located, use roof sealant to fix the hole that you missed. We don't want leaks.
Insert the FlashFoot 2, and place on the cap.
View the plan set for required rail lengths. Add 2-6 inches to be safe, then cut and splice rails. IronRidge rails are aluminum and light, but make sure to walk them slowly up the ladder. Once on roof, attach the rails to the cap of the FlashFoot 2.
Ground the system. IronRidge rails are self grounding, but they need to be grounded properly to be safe. Each row of panels requires (1) ground lug to be placed on (1) rail. You can decide which rail for what makes most sense on the job site.
(Optional) Installing a SolaDeck to hide conduit. If there is attic space available and you would like to hide your wire runs under the panels and through the attic back to the main service panel, you will want to install a “SolaDeck” for each string of panels. Installation is similar to the FlashFoot 2. Pry shingles gently, and fasten them in place per the manufacturer's instructions.
Phase 2 (Solar Micro-Inverters)
With your racking in place, it is now time to move on to the micro-inverters / optimizers
From the end of your rail, measure in half of the distance of the width of the solar panel. Example: If a panel is 40 inches wide, measure in 20 inches and make a line on the top of the rail. This should be the center of the solar panel and will indicate where the Micro-Inverter is to be placed. From there, mark every 40 inches, which will be the center of all of the remaining panels
Fasten each micro-inverter to the rail in it’s specified location using the IronRidge micro-inverter bolt
Phase 3 (Solar PV Modules)
With your micro-inverters fastened to your rails, it is time to fasten your PV modules
Place your first PV modules in line with the array outline that you marked back in Step 4. With one person holding the module in place, fasten it with an IronRidge UFO.
Phase 4 (Cleanup and Handoff)
Now, we move onto cleanup and handoff
Connect the remaining wires into the junction box / Sola Deck. The system is now ready for a licensed electrician to run the wires to the home's Main Service Panel
If there is room to cut rails shorter, you may do so with a powered saw
Ensure that there is nothing left on the rooftop that could fall at a later time and damage the property or cause injury
Double check that no wires have come loose and have touched the roof.
With the system installed, and the job site cleaned thoroughly, power the system off. It is now time to call for inspection.
And just like that, you've completed your first solar installation! Keep the projects rolling and you'll be installing like a pro in no time.