How to Install Solar Panels on Your Roof

These days, it seems like solar panels are cropping up in more and more places. Homes and businesses are setting them up, and odds are you know someone who has solar panels on their roof. They’re a great source of renewable energy, and advances in technology have made them more accessible than ever.

If you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person, you may be wondering if you have to pay to have someone come out to your house and install your solar panels for you. But if you’re careful and prepared, you can install solar panels yourself. Read on to learn how to install solar panels yourself.

Pick a Spot on Your Roof

The first step in installing your own solar panels is to decide where you want to put them on your roof. Placement is going to be important because it will determine how much sun your panels will see every day. You want to make sure the area you pick doesn’t get too much shade for most of the day – the more sun, the better.

You also want to pick a western or southern-facing side of your roof if you can. In general, the western and southern sides of your house are going to see more sun than the northern and eastern. If you’re putting your panels on the ground instead of your roof, you should make sure they face south or west.

Figure Out Roof Supports

After you figure out where your solar panels are going to go on your roof, you need to start taking a look at the roof support structure. Not every roof will be able to support the weight of the solar panels and their anchoring system. In particular, it’s not a good idea to put solar panels on a roof that will need repair in the next few years.

If you plan to have your roof worked on in the foreseeable future, you want to have that done before you put in the solar panels. It may mean a few years’ delays while you save the money up, but it will save you money in the long run. If you go ahead and install solar panels, you’ll have to disconnect them and take them down before your roof repair later.

Pick Your Solar Type

Before you get out the ladder or start drilling holes in your roof, you need to decide which type of solar power you want to produce. The first type is electrical energy, which is more or less what it sounds like. This is energy that can power the electrical systems in your house, including lights, appliances, and HVAC systems.

You can also choose to install a solar panel system that produces thermal heat. This system converts solar power into heat that can warm your home and run hot water heaters. If you live somewhere cold, this is a great way to cut down on your heating costs and go greener with your heating.

Figure Out How to Connect to the Grid

A big question you’ll need to answer before you get your solar panels up is how you’re going to get the power your panels produce. Unless you have a custom-built system, your home is designed to take its power from the city power grid. More than likely, you’ll have to run your solar power into the power grid before you can use it to power your home.

What this means is you’re going to be working with your city power company to figure out a way to manage your solar power. They may give you a waiver for the amount of power you produced to offset the amount of non-renewable energy you didn’t have to use. Or they may not be willing to work with you on your solar panels at all (although that scenario is less likely).

Before you start buying any solar panels, check on your city and state’s policies on solar power. If you know anyone else who has solar panels on their house, talk to them and ask how they managed to connect to the grid. The more information you can go armed with, the better the response you’re likely to get. 

Decide to Lease or Buy

Now that it’s finally time to pick out your solar panels, you need to decide how you want to pay for them. You can lease them or buy them, and the tradeoffs are much the same as they are when it comes to leasing or buying a house. If you have the money to do it, buying your solar panels up-front can save you more money in the long run.

But if you can’t afford to buy your solar panels outright, there are some great leasing options. Some companies will let you lease them on a rent-to-own type policy where you pay for your panels over the course of several years. Others keep a lease connected to the house, so if you think you may move anytime in the near future, you should take that into account.

Review the Contract

Whether you decide to lease or buy, you’ll sign a contract with a solar panel sales company, such as one of the solar companies in the Inland Empire. As with any contract, you want to review it carefully and make sure you’re okay with everything in the agreement. Solar panels can last for decades, so any problems can haunt you for long after the last panel is screwed to the roof.

Your contract should include details about financing, ownership, and performance expectations on the equipment.

Take a look at performance reviews on the specific panels you’ll be getting and make sure their guarantees match up with that data. You should also ask if the company will be collecting data on your home energy production and usage since many panels these days are web-enabled.

As with any contract, there’s going to be a lot of legalese and things you may not understand. Ask for clarification on any points you’re confused about, and be wary of companies that refuse to give you clear answers. If you’re worried about what you’re signing, take it to a lawyer and ask them to review the contract with you.

Install the Inverter

So you’ve figured out the financing, you’ve figured out the installation details, you’ve signed the contract, and now it’s time to start installing some solar panels! Well, sort of – first you’ve got to install your inverter. This is what will convert the direct current energy your solar panels will produce into alternating current that you can use in your house. 

If you don’t have experience working with electrical systems in a house, it’s a good idea to get professional help with this. These systems are finicky, and you don’t want to get shocked. Worse yet, you don’t want to have a system that isn’t wired properly and either blows out your new solar panels or catches your house on fire.

A quick note about inverters: in general, they don’t last as long as solar panels do. Whereas solar panels can last decades, the inverters typically last about ten years. So you’ll need to plan to replace it in about a decade as part of your solar panel maintenance.

Install the Rails

Once the electrical system is in place, you can finally start putting the solar panels on the roof. You’ll want to start by finding the support structure – specifically the beams – on your roof. A stud finder is a great tool for this job if you happen to have one.

You’ll need to screw each stanchion on your support rails through the roof and into a rafter. Be sure to do this slowly so you don’t split any of the rafters; also make sure the stanchion flashing fits below the shingles so you don’t wind up with a leak. Once the stanchions are on, bolt the upper and lower aluminum rails onto them and drive them down securely.

Make sure the upper and lower rails are square, and then attach the middle rail.

Run the Wiring

With the rails firmly attached to the roof, it’s time to run the wiring. First, you’ll need to run the wiring from your inverter in your garage or basement up to the roof. Make sure power to the house is off for this whole operation.

Each panel will have a micro-inverter that it needs to hook up to. Attach these and then put a 6-gauge bare copper ground on each inverter to ground the whole system. Connect the wires from one array of solar panels to the next, and your electrical system should be good to go.

Mount the Panels

Now, at long last, it’s time to mount your solar panels. This should be a straightforward process; most solar panels will come with simple-to-use retaining clips that you’ll screw onto the rails. Snap together the electrical hookups, and check everything to make sure it’s secure and you don’t have any extra pieces.

With the panels now on the roof, you or your electrician will need to go back down to your basement or garage and finish up the wiring. Make sure everything is connected properly, and then turn power to the house back on. Your solar panels should be in good working order at this point.

Learn More About How to Install Solar Panels

Putting solar panels on your roof is a great way to decrease your carbon footprint and save money. Installed and maintained properly, these panels can last you decades and cut down on the number of nonrenewable resources your home uses. Be careful and prepared through the whole process, and going green doesn’t have to be hard.

If you’d like to learn more about how to install solar panels and other tips for green living, check out the rest of our site at Nu Energy. We have articles about green business, living, and energy. Check out our tips for going green today.