Tips for DIY Ground Mount Solar
When most people think about solar energy systems, they picture solar panels installed on the roof of a home or business, but that isn’t always the case. Not all roofs are suitable for solar due to weight and structural issues. If you have available land to work with, chances are you have space for a ground mount solar system. Ground mounted solar panels could be a better choice than roof mount systems, especially if you are a do-it-yourselfer.
DIY solar ground mount installation is typically easier and safer than roof mounted solar systems. Here are seven tips to help make your DIY solar ground mount project go a little smoother.
1. Plan Your Project
When planning your project, make sure you know where your property lines are along with their required setbacks. Most cities and counties mandate permanent structures (like a standard ground mount system) to be at least 5’ from property lines. However, they can require as much as a 30’ setback if you’re adjacent to a road or are in a rural area prone to wildfires.
Make sure you inquire about flood zones or water wash areas that run through your property, as you may not be allowed to build near them. Even if local authorities don’t actively enforce these rules, you should think twice about installing a ground mount solar system in areas that might flood during heavy rains or spring thaws.
2. Choose Panel Size Carefully
Installing a DIY solar ground mount means you don’t have to haul solar panels up to the roof, but be wary of choosing extra-large solar panels. Some solar panels are almost 7’ long and can weigh up to 75 pounds each. Even though you don’t have to lug the panels up a ladder, you will still have to move and lift them high enough to install them on the ground mount rack.
At the end of the day, the last solar panel you lift is going to feel much heavier than the first one you picked up in the morning!
3. Consider Pre-Designed Grid Systems
Consider using pre-designed solar panel kits. Some racking systems include all the pieces, while others have hardware designed to work with galvanized steel water pipes. Either of these options will be easier to install and get permitted than attempting to design a racking system yourself.
While you might be able to save money with parts you have on hand, you will pay for it in headaches at the building department along with potential structural issues.
4. Tilt Wisely
Be careful about what tilt angle you commit to if the ground is flat. The ideal tilt angle is 30 degrees in the southern U.S.and 40 degrees in the northern states. However, large ground mounted systems can create a very tall back end on the rack, making for a challenging installation process.
Tilting your racking system to a 15-degree angle makes installation easier and will only make a 5% to 10% difference in energy production. You can also install your system on a south-facing hill (if you have one on your property) or break it up into multiple smaller ground racks.
5. Prepare For Inspection
When you pull your permit with the city or county, make sure you ask what inspections will be required. Building departments often require a “Footings Inspection'' when you are planning to install concrete footings. Footings inspections will require you to dig holes for the concrete footings and have those holes inspected before pouring the concrete.
This is done to ensure that the holes are of the proper depth and width before they get permanently filled. If this extra inspection is required, check the weather before you schedule it. Significant rain could fill the open holes, which could cause you to fail the inspection and set your project completion back.
6. Beware of Hillside Hazards
If you are installing your system on a hillside, here are a few tricks you can use to make the project easier:
- Cut stairs down the hill on one or both sides of your array to make it easier to get tools, equipment and solar panels where you need them. Railroad ties work great as stair steps.
- If your feet slide in loose dirt, try wearing baseball or golf cleats to give you a little extra traction.
- If the hill is steep or has a cliff or a road at the bottom, tie yourself off with a harness or rope to be safe. You can also use the rope to help you get back up the hill when your legs get tired.
7. Manage Your Conduit
Ground mounts tend to have long conduit runs. However, if you plan it out carefully, pulling the wire can be a breeze. Here are some tips on managing your conduit:
- Ensure all the bells for the junctions open toward the overall uphill direction when installing PVC conduit in the trench.
- Tie a light string to a grocery bag and insert it in the uphill end of the conduit once the conduit is all in place.
- Use a shop vac at the downhill end of the conduit to pull the bag and string through.
- Tie a strong rope to the string and use the string to pull that uphill, then tape your wire to that rope and pull it downhill. Pulling downhill is more manageable, and your wire won’t get snagged on the ends of the conduit since the bells are facing in the right direction.
- Use conduit that is one size larger than required by code to make pulling the wire easier.
Choose GoGreenSolar For DIY Ground Mount Solar
Our most important tip (and this is a big one) is to make sure you buy your equipment from a reputable company that offers technical support as part of their package, like GoGreenSolar.
When it comes to learning how to install a ground mount solar system, the GoGreenSolar team is here to help. We are experts in all aspects of solar installation, which can make all the difference in your DIY solar installation experience. We also offer permitting assistance and technical support to make your installation a breeze.
Don’t let the sun set on your energy-saving goals! For more information, contact us here to start your DIY solar ground mount project today.