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A good DIY can be a good resource to any individual interested in the subject matter and in this article, we’ll be discussing ‘DIY solar panel mounting’.
If you install a solar energy system, you can significantly lower the amount of money you spend on electricity, contribute immensely to the global environmental conservation campaign, and forget about power-cuts for at least 25 years.
However, you might find it expensive to install a home solar power solution, not only because the equipment is costly, but also because of exorbitant mounting fees charged by professional solar installers.
Nevertheless, why spend thousands of dollars on mounting your solar panel, when you can follow simple DIY solar panel mounting guidelines and set up your solar power system?
If you follow mounting instructions, I assure you that mounting a solar panel is very easy, regardless of the size of the panel.
For adventurous people who like fixing things by themselves, and everyone should, paying for professional installation won’t be necessary, unless there are compelling reasons why you should.
Let’s now look at 10 simple steps that you need to follow, to successfully mount your DIY solar panel energy system in your home.
Step 1: Inspect the Solar Panel Components
Most solar panel stores set deadlines within which you can return parts of the unit, in case you find some of them defective.
So, before you take any further steps with your DIY solar panel unit, make sure that there are no damages due to transportation and that the components are the exact types you ordered.
You will also need to check the voltage on all modules, to confirm that the open-circuit voltage they produce is as specified.
The other thing you should confirm is the product literature, such as installation guide, engineering specifications, hardware, all accessories, and validity period for the purchase warranty.
It is also important for you to confirm that all the solar panel components are available, as indicated in the packing list.
A complete solar power system should include the components listed below, and if you are missing any of the components, you should contact the supplier before you start installing it.
Whenever you visit a premise or home with solar power system installation, the very first thing you notice is a solar panel, often mounted on the roof-top or in the ground.
The work of a solar panel is to tap and convert sunlight into electricity, which is then used to power your appliances.
Solar panels come in different sizes depending on the rating of their output, i.e. the optimum electricity the panel produces in an ideal situation.
Array mounting racks:
Before you mount your DIY solar panels, you first need to join them into arrays.
You can mount solar panels on the roof of your house, on poles, or on the ground of your home, although many people prefer mounting them on rooftops because they appear more beautiful and tap more sunlight on the roof.
Array mounts may be fixed or tracking, with fixed mounts having an angle that is non-adjustable, whereas tracking mounts adjust their angle with the position of the sun, to tap the maximum amount of light.
Array DC Disconnect:
Whenever you need to do some maintenance or repair on your solar panel, you will use a DC disconnect to delink the arrays from the house.
Did you know that solar panels generate direct current (DC), rather than alternating current (AC)?
Whereas most, if not all of the electronics in your house, use AC.
Both solar panels and solar batteries supply you with direct current.
However, you need not worry about that, since your solar energy system comes with a DC – AC inverter, that converts the direct current generated by the panel into alternating current, supplying you with AC that your home appliances need.
You might not require a solar battery during the day as the panels directly power your gadgets, but at night when there’s no sunlight, you will need a backup system to meet your electricity demands.
A solar battery stores charge during the day so that you can use it to supply electricity at night, ensuring that you have an uninterrupted power supply, both in the daytime and at night.
Although a solar system doesn’t require a meter to function, installing a power meter helps you know the amount of power you use from the grid, if you opt to maintain a connection to the grid.
Each circuit in your system has a circuit breaker with a specific rating, that controls the maximum amount of power that your appliances in that circuit can draw, minimizing the chances of a fire break-up.
Circuit breakers, usually housed in a consumer unit, go off when the appliance draws power exceeding the maximum load, consequently disconnecting the appliances from receiving any more power.
The function of a charge regulator is to control the amount of voltage for charging the battery, such that the battery does not overcharge.
However, it is important to note, that there are different types of solar power systems, with some having a battery, while others don’t.
Step 2: Carefully Read Through the Manufacturer’s Installation Guide
Even though you’re going to mount your DIY solar panels by yourself, this must be done as outlined in the manufacturer’s installation manual.
Any procedure done contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions will make your warranty void.
After carefully reading the installation instructions supplied with the equipment, the next thing you should do is, prepare a to-do list’
This will help you arrange the hardware components and tools in a manner that makes it easier to move smoothly, from one task to the next.
Step 3: Take Safety Precautions
Installation of DIY solar panels must adhere to the OSHA safety standards, starting with personal protective equipment, to measures taken, to protect you from accidents and injuries.
Some of the risks you might expose yourself to include falling from a ladder, sliding off the roof of the house, electric shock, etc.
If the roof on which you are going to install the panel is too sloppy, you need to put protection fences along its edges, or wear a harness and latch it to an anchor firmly fixed at the top of the roof.
You must also wear a hard hat, gloves, non-slip rubber shoes, a dust mask (if necessary), and other appropriate PPE.
During the installation of electrical components, make sure that you have turned off all electrical component switches.
Also ensure, that you have disconnected the components from both the inverter and the panel.
If you intend to connect to the grid, you should hire a qualified electrician to do it.
Before you start the installation, you need to familiarise yourself with and follow solar power safety rules which include:
- Work only when the weather is good to avoid damages, for example, strong wind or a storm can blow away the panels, resulting in huge losses due to damaged panels
- You should never sit, exert pressure, or drop objects on solar panels, as this will crack them, possibly causing body injuries, electric shock, and destruction of the panel
- Avoid mounting of solar panels near an ocean or salty water, vapor and mist from these bodies could cause damage or electric shocks
- Make sure the mounting roof for your solar panel is strong enough to withstand the weight of the panels, else the roof might collapse with time
- Most importantly, ensure there is proper ground earthing, to avoid electrical shock
Step 4: Assemble Your Tools and Equipment
Set up an appropriate site, or staging area, where you will keep solar components and mounting tools during the installation.
If you are going to keep the equipment and tools on the roof, then you must spread them out rather than piling them at one spot, to avoid collapsing the roof.
The roof, according to the strength of its construction material, has a maximum load capacity, that if exceeded, will result in its collapse.
Although mounting tools may differ according to your equipment type, the list below includes the basic tools you require, for a typical DIY solar panel installation:
- Measuring tape
- Chalk line
- Conduit bender
- Utility knife
- Wire stripper
- Ratchet set
- Caulk gun
- Impact driver
- Lineman pliers
- Roofing bar
- Crimping tool
- Cordless drill
You might also need tools and materials for cutting shingles, pulling electrical cables, sealing holes drilled into the roof, and mounting inverters and electrical boxes.
You can check the manufacturer’s instructions or call the manufacturer’s hotline, to inquire if the equipment requires any specialized tools.
Step 5: Measure and Fix the Mounts
If you did a site survey, you have already identified an area on the rooftop where you intend to mount your panel.
During the site survey, you should have considered your area-specific fire regulations, shading, and aesthetics; that’s the appearance of the panel on the roof from a distance.
If you did that already, the next step is to measure and mark the points where you will need to drill holes, for racking mounts.
It’s important that you first locate the position of rafters or beams under the roof because every mount needs to be fixed onto a beam or rafter.
You can use a stud finder to locate rafters or simply tap the roof with a hammer, to identify their position.
Next, find out the positions of rails, which should be atop mounts.
Remember to check rail installation instructions for rail spacing, which should be set such that the modules protrude 6 – 8 inches from the rails, on either side.
When fixing mounts to rafters, ensure each mount’s lag screw clears the decking beneath the roof surface and anchor firmly into the wood.
You should direct water away from lag screw holes, by providing for flashing under the mounts.
Always caulk the back of flashing and drill holes before inserting a lag screw, including any extra holes made, in the process of finding a stud.
Step 6: Installation of Racking and Grounding Wire
Next, you will now assemble the rails (check for instructions in the manufacturer’s racking instructions) and lift them to the roof.
Fasten the rails to the mounts using L-brackets, which usually come with easy-to-insert bolts, that lock into position with a ratchet wrench.
Make sure you level and square the rails in every row, with each other, so that the modules perfectly fit into each other.
Finally, connect a short grounding wire between the rails.
Step 7: Install Inverters and Modules
Once you have the rails and grounding wire installed, insert the mid-clamps used for holding modules onto the rails.
Some mounting systems might have a track running along the top or side of rails, for inserting the mid-clamps, which you can confirm from the racking instructions.
Before installing modules, install micro-inverters, if you’re going to use them for your array.
Similarly, insert wire clips before installing modules (only necessary if you’ll be using them to anchor module cables onto the rails).
When connecting modules to each other or a micro-inverter, ensure the cables snap together, and that you fasten the cables, plus any wiring on the array, to the rails.
Fix the module end-clamps at the end of each row and cut off the unnecessary extra length of rails (remember to file any cut rail surfaces to keep the edges smooth).
Finally, connect the junction box, which should be near the array, and place the main inverter and other components on the ground, but near the main service panel.
Step 8: Install the Conduit
After wires from the array leave the junction box, they should travel in conduit to the main service panel.
The most commonly used conduits are the one-and-half inch EMT, which you can shape with little effort, using a simple conduit bender.
If you intend to have some conduits running along the roof, fix several lifts to make sure that you lift the conduits, above the roof.
Sometimes, you may need to cut conduits using a hacksaw to resize them into desired lengths, in which case, you should ensure that you smoothen or file the cut edges.
Always secure conduits to the roof and on walls, with clamps and mounts.
Step 9: Make Electrical Connections
If you have mounted all the necessary components, it’s now time for you to run and connect the wires.
Although you can learn how to do wire connections, you should hire a qualified electrician or a certified solar panel installation professional, to do the actual connections.
The wires and connections will remain for at least 25 years and if not properly done, can cause loss of energy and electrical fires.
If you do the wiring yourself, ensure you follow the recommended procedure, i.e. do not connect the home runs or trunk cable if you’re using micro-inverters, until all wire splicing and box connections are done.
Always remember to check the electrical diagram in the installation manual, to make sure that you’re using the required type and size of wires.
You can choose between series and parallel wiring, depending on the desired system performance and whether you’re using an inverter or note.
Let me briefly explain the difference between series and parallel wiring.
Series Panel Wiring:
Series panel wiring is where you connect one panel to the next, with the negative terminal of one panel being linked to the positive terminal of the next solar panel, creating a string circuit.
In series wiring, the total voltage of the array will be the sum of all the panels, but the amperage of the resultant circuit remains the same.
Parallel Panel Wiring:
When you connect solar panels in parallel, you will have positive terminals of all the panels connected to a common wire, and all negative terminals also connected to a common wire.
With this type of wiring, the total voltage remains the same as that on an individual panel but the amperage for the resultant circuit will be the sum of amperage, for all the panels.
Step 10: Affix Safety Labels and Connect Monitoring Gear
Your DIY solar panel mounting is never complete, without appropriate security and safety installations.
One such measure is to put labels and signs on all components, and locations of components, in compliance with the applicable NEC and building code.
You can purchase labels from the local electrical shop or an online dealer in electrical and solar supplies.
If you have a monitoring system for the central inverter, I advise you to carefully read and adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions, supplied with your product.
Pros and Cons of Solar Panels
Advantages of Solar Energy Systems
Unlike many other energy sources, sunlight will be with us, for as long as the sun remains.
Science suggests that the sun isn’t burning down any time soon, not in the next couple of million years.
2. Minimum Power Bills:
If you choose to stay connected to the grid, one sure thing is that your consumption of power from the grid will be minimal, as you will only use it, when there isn’t enough sunlight to fully charge your battery.
3. Minimum Maintenance Costs:
Most solar panels come with a warranty of up to 25 years, within which the only component you might need to replace, is the inverter (after 5 – 10 years) and probably the battery.
4. New Technologies:
Since the invention of the first solar panel, scientists have continued to research and develop new innovative ideas, leading to the development of more effective solar energy technologies.
Disadvantages of Solar Panels
1. Initial High Cost:
The initial cost of a good solar power system is indeed fairly expensive for an average consumer.
Although by the time you hit 10 years, you’ll have recovered your investment, giving you up to 15 more years of free electricity.
2. Expensive Storage Options:
Although batteries ensure your power supply isn’t interrupted, one thing we must accept, is that good solar batteries are quite expensive.
This forces some people to only use solar at day time (when the demand for electricity) is high, and electricity from the grid at night (when demand for electricity is low).
3. Roof Damage:
Structural damages might also occur if you drill in the wrong position and you have to abandon the hole for another position.
Failure to seal and flash holes correctly may also result in leaking roofs.
Although the DIY solar panel comes with lots of advantages, we have seen in this article, that there might be warranty issues that require your attention, before you start the installation.
One way of going about warranty concerns is to strictly follow the manufacturer’s mounting instructions and consult the manufacturer on any procedure, for which you aren’t sure.
You can also ask a certified installer to supervise or inspect the installation, to give you a stronger basis for warranty claims, where necessary.
You can hire a registered solar company to do the installation if you’re not competent enough or find the process to involve too much work.
Lastly, do not forget to test your system before applying for inspection and approval of your solar installation, which will enable you to apply for tax credits and rebates applicable in your area.
You may need to consult your respective state agency about rebates, as some do not offer rebates and tax incentives unless the panel is mounted, by either a registered solar panel installer or a certified company.
If you follow the above 10-step ultimate guide to DIY solar panel installation, you can assemble your tools and equipment for mounting your panel, once you confirm whether you qualify for rebates, after self-installation.