Performing A Solar Site Survey: Everything Installers Should Know
Updated: Jan 11
Conducting a solar site assessment is an important step in the design and sales process. It involves going to a property to gather information critical for creating an accurate proposal and design for a solar panel system. However, a site survey can be time-intensive.
Therefore, saving time by prequalifying leads before visiting the property is helpful. An on-site survey is only worthwhile for strong leads that are likely to go solar. So, before you head out, we recommend giving prospects some ballpark price information and ensuring they understand the basics of solar power. For example, some potential customers might not understand that they need a solar battery to have electricity during a blackout.
You can also use satellite images or solar design software to conduct a feasibility analysis before visiting the property. If the site has poor solar exposure, it might not be worth the visit. Likewise, the feasibility analysis can help flag issues for you to examine onsite.
Some solar companies have transitioned to conducting only remote site surveys and relying exclusively on aerial images, solar design software, online data, and photos and information from the home or business owner. Some solar contractors find this saves time and streamlines the sales process, while others feel this creates more headaches when the installation process begins. Whatever you prefer, it’s important to understand what goes into a solar site survey.
What Is A Solar Site Survey?
A solar site survey is an opportunity to inspect a prospective customer’s property before designing and installing a photovoltaic system. It is also a chance to establish rapport with them, so it’s helpful to be punctual, professional, and prepared.
The site survey is your opportunity to gather all the information essential for the solar PV system design, permitting, and interconnection process. You will inspect the roof and electrical panel, look for trees and buildings shading the roof, and review your client’s historical electricity use.
Your solar design software might have features that can assist you, such as providing a shade analysis of the roof or calculating the available roof space for PV modules. However, you can review this information for accuracy on your site visit. Did the homeowner just install numerous skylights that don’t appear on the aerial images? Is the roof on its last leg? Did a neighbor to the south just chop down a huge pine tree, boosting the solar exposure? These are all valuable questions to ask when on site.
During the site assessment, you will also want to gather any information the installation crew will need before they start. For example, will running the conduit require a unique approach or special tools?
What To Look For During A Solar Assessment
During the site survey, you will need to complete the following activities.
Determine if the home or business will need an electric panel upgrade: Most houses require at least a 200-amp service, but many older homes do not have this. For businesses, the needs vary widely, depending on their electrical system and loads.
Inspect the roof condition: Ideally, you want to install a solar energy system on a relatively new roof that won’t need to be replaced in the next few years. It is also helpful to determine the roof type to create a plan for mounting the solar modules. Wood and slate roofs can be especially challenging, while standing seam metal roofs and cement roof tile roofs can be the easiest.
Determine if there is excessive shading: Historically, solar contractors used tools such as the Solar Pathfinder to determine if there was too much shade, but now many installers rely on solar design software. If the roof is too shaded, the solar array won’t produce sufficient electricity. Sometimes, the homeowner or business is willing to trim or possibly remove trees to improve the solar resource. If the house roof is too shaded, determine if there is an alternative place to mount the panels, such as a garage roof or ground mount.
Look for roof obstruction: If the home has chimneys, skylights, vents, HVAC equipment, or mechanical systems, you will need to design the solar panel layout around them. This will reduce the available space for modules, reducing the size and potential output of the solar power system.
Take roof measurements: You can either do this manually or use solar design software with this feature. The measurements will be used to calculate the available space for solar panels and the roof pitch.
Choose the placement of the inverter and conduit run: The solar inverter should be located out of direct sunlight and in a dry location. The conduit can either go on the exterior or interior of the home or business, depending on the layout.
Consider additional energy-efficiency recommendations: Some solar companies also give suggestions for reducing energy use. Giving helpful recommendations can be an excellent way to provide a great customer experience.
How To Perform A Solar Site Assessment
These are the critical steps to complete during your site visit. Remember to take lots of photos, especially on your first site surveys, so you can refer to them later if you have questions.
1. Inspect the main service panel: Determine if the home or business needs an upgrade.
Is there enough space for a solar circuit?
Is there sufficient amperage for the home or business with the current electrical panel?
Ask the home or business owner if their power needs will change soon. Are they planning on getting an EV and adding a charger, or switching to electric appliances such as a dryer, water heater, or range in the near future?
Consider if the electric panel is safe or could potentially cause a fire in the home.
2. Document shading and other obstructions: Determine if the roof has an excessive amount of shade and ways to mitigate it.
Assuming you live in the Northern Hemisphere, look on the south, west, and east sides of the roof for current or future obstructions.
Remember that small trees will grow and could eventually shade the roof during the system's lifespan.
Consider who owns trees shading the roof and if merely trimming trees would greatly improve solar exposure.
3. Determine the condition of the roof: Find out the roof’s age and if it currently needs any repairs.
The type of roof dictates what to look for, but damaged or missing roof shingles, cracking, damaged flashing, signs of pooling, and blockages in the downspouts are all signs of an aging roof.
Ask the home or business owner if there have been any roof leaks or, if possible, look in the attic for signs of water damage.
4. Consider the roof dimensions, pitch, and rafter spacing: This step can be done manually or using solar design software.
If the roof is really challenging or steep, you might add a bit to the cost to account for the additional installation time. Installers will need to be more cautious when working on steep or difficult roofs, thus slowing down installation a bit.
Gathering structural information about the roof, such as rafter size and spacing, is helpful when installing the solar mounting system and determining if the roof is structurally sound.
5. Ask the homeowner for additional information: It’s usually easiest to get needed information you haven’t already gathered while onsite.
Find out the age of the roof.
Get a copy of a year or more of electricity bills if needed to calculate the home’s historical energy use.
Ask about any other miscellaneous items, such as the placement of the inverter and conduit.
Tips For A Successful Site Survey
During a site survey, identify anything that could be a show-stopper for the project or add to the cost of the system. Conducting your first site assessments is tricky but will become easier over time.
Come prepared for the site assessment with everything you need, including a ladder, measurement tools, a cell phone or camera, a pen and clipboard, and a brochure or sales materials. When in doubt, take lots of photos you can refer to later. This helps avoid contacting the potential customer repeatedly with follow-up questions or needing to schedule another site visit.
Conclusion: Solar Site Surveys Can Add Tremendous Value To Any Solar Project
Although many solar companies have moved to fully remote site surveys, an on-site solar survey can still be very useful and improve the customer experience. It’s an excellent opportunity to create rapport with the potential customer and identify things that could increase the project cost or installation time, which can prevent you from underbidding or causing delays for the solar installers.
Want to streamline your solar projects? Work with GreenLancer to keep your site survey and other relevant project data organized.