Installing your own solar power system on your home will save you money. Reading this article before you do that install will save you time and headaches.
First, read all the installation manuals before you start. It probably the most important and most often skipped step. If it hurts your “I know what I’m doing” pride, read them at night when no one is looking. It only takes a few minutes and can save you a ton of trouble. There’s nothing worse than finishing the job and then having to re-do it because you didn’t do something right.
Another important thing is to make sure you have permit approval before you do any work. It is common for installers to get itchy and do something like install stand-offs while they are waiting for the city approval then end up having to move some of the stand-offs to accommodate local fire codes. Just don’t do it. If you are eager to do something before you have approval, re-read your install manuals.
Typically, the solar panels are going to be mounted on the roof which means getting all your tools and equipment up there. We know you are strong enough to carry all that stuff up ladder, but it’s not safe and there is no reason to wear yourself out like that. Get a bucket and a rope and when you are finished you won’t feel like it was leg day at the gym. When it is time to hoist up those awkwardly heavy solar panels, get helpers. It is much easier with at least two people and a broken solar panel will cost more than paying someone for a couple of hours of labor so it is worth it.
Once you have things on the roof, keep the equipment in boxes and your tools in a bag. Having things strewn all over the roof is a safety hazard, plus you won’t be able to find what you need when you need it. Also, if it is a warm day, anything that is metal is going to heat up quickly in the sun and will burn your hands when you touch it. This includes tools, mounting hardware and solar panel frames so make sure you have a good pair of gloves on the roof with you.
The roof attachments for your solar racking typically must be installed in the roof rafters to properly anchor the system. A regular studfinder isn’t going to help you with this because it won’t be accurate with the layers of roofing in the way. Your best bet is a hammer. Tap the roof with a hammer and you will hear the difference when you are hitting a rafter. Once you find one, you can use a tape measure to get the general location of the next one but don’t expect them to be spaced exactly 16” or 24” apart. Keep using that hammer before you drill your pilot holes to be sure you are on that rafter and not just drilling where the rafter should be.
Conduit and wire pulls can be tricky so here are some tips. Plan as many pull boxes in your wire run as you can. The NEC code allows for 360 degrees of conduit bends between pull boxes. For example, if there are four 90 degree bends in a run of conduit, that is 4 x 90 = 360 degrees total and you would need a pull box before the next bend. But there is nothing stopping you from putting in even more bends than required. Every bend makes the wires more difficult to pull, so the more pull boxes, the less stubborn your wire will be.
It also helps if you plan your wire pull to work with gravity instead of against it. If you feed the wire in from the roof and pull it down toward the main service panel it is a lot less work. If it is a ground mount and you are pulling wires through underground PVC pay attention to how the conduit goes together. Once piece is stuck inside the enlarged end of the next piece. Pull the wire in the direction that pull it through the enlarged ends first and that will keep it from snagging on the inside conduit at every joints. Also, don’t fill in the trench and cover the conduit until you have the wire pulled through. You may need to get to the conduit if the wire gets stuck somewhere.
If your conduit run is longer than your fish tape, get a shop vac, plastic grocery bag, light string and a stronger rope. Tie the light string to the grocery bag and stick it in one end of the conduit. Use the shop vac at the other end of the conduit to suck the bag through. Use the light string to pull the stronger rope through and then use that rope to pull the wire. Think it through before you start so you end up pulling the wire the right direction.
Finally, the best wire pull advice in the world is to use lube. Feel free to giggle but they make lubricating compound specifically for pulling wire through conduit and it works better than muscle and swearing.
Another tip that makes the whole installation go smoother is to give yourself a little extra of everything. If you only have the exact amount of bolts or module clamps that you need and one goes bouncing off the roof into the bushes, it can ruin your day. If you have a few spares, it won’t even slow you down. A few extra sticks of conduit will take the stress out making a bad bend and having to start over. Wire often twists inside which means you need more than you measured so always get twenty extra feet and there will be slack to work with at each end.
Finally, know when to ask for help. If you aren’t sure about something call technical support. If you don’t have electrical experience have an electrician do the wiring. If you aren’t confident about the roof work have a roofer put in the roof attachments. It will still be cheaper than paying a solar installer to do the whole job and you can still say you did it yourself if you did most of it on your own. If you purchase your solar parts from GoGreenSolar, you’ll receive full tech support every step of the way. Call (866) 798-4435 for more information.