Solar panel installation

Solar panel installation: guide to installing home solar panels

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Buying solar panels is rather simple. Installing them is not: it can be a long and tedious process. Generally, home installation takes 1-3 months to complete, whereas a commercial or industrial-size installation needs from 6 to 12 months. It’s not putting panels in the right place that needs that much time — it’s paperwork, inspections and delivery that take the most. Let’s look at this process closely together step by step so that you know what to expect.

Engineering site visit

PV system installation in some states can only be done by a certified installer. You have to discuss every part of the process with an installer before signing a contract with him. The installer should explain to you how to install solar panels in your particular case, how much it is going to cost, including equipment, permits and his labor, how he is going to handle the paperwork, etc.

After you found the installer, you can expect a visit from him to check your place, take photos and look for a good spot for the system. Finding a good place for your PV installation is crucial for its future. Ideally, in the northern hemisphere you want your panels to face south at an angle that is equal to your latitude. In the USA a tilt between 30 and 45 degrees usually works fine and it’s not worth it to pursue an ideal angle. It’s important to perform a shading analysis to make sure that your panels are not going to be overshadowed by anything in close proximity.

A certified engineer from the installer also has to check your roof or yard beforehand. The roof has to be strong enough to withstand the weight of a solar system. One panel weighs around 40 pounds which results in 2.5-2.7 pounds per square foot load. A rooftop PV system lasts for more than 25 years, protects your roof from harsh weather and in the end prolongs its lifespan. If you think that your roof is going to need a replacement in less than 25 years, better replace it before installing solar. Otherwise, you’ll have to detach your panels from the old roof and it can be expensive, hard, tiresome and you risk damaging the panels. 

An engineer also has to take a look at your electrical panel. If it’s too old and won’t be able to handle amps and volts from the system, he asks you to upgrade it.

Permits and documents

In most American states you have to get a solar permit before installing a PV system. Almost always this paper includes an electrical permit and sometimes a building permit. Exact requirements for the paper vary from state to state, from city to city and from county to county. Usually, your installer handles most of the paperwork and should know the process very well. It is recommended to check with your local officials the details of the procedure – all necessary steps can also be written on the website of your county or municipality. 

Don’t forget to make use of solar incentives in your state – the primary being, of course, Solar Tax credit. Again, consult with your installer about how you want to go about it. 

Ordering equipment

Besides solar panels themselves, you have to order quite a lot of other stuff for successful installation. Generally, you need an inverter to interact with the grid and convert DC from panels to AC. Look into the option of microinverters and AC modules while you are at it. If you want to have energy storage, then you need a battery and a charge controller to protect it from the high voltage of PV modules. 

The equipment for the labor, like fasteners or mounting brackets, depends on how exactly you want your panels to be fixed on the roof. Anyway, all of this you have to discuss with the installer before and the contract has to include the equipment costs. After you’ve ordered everything and scheduled the delivery, your system gets into the queue. The least busy months for installers are in the winter. 

Solar installation: Best weather for installation

After permits are obtained and equipment has arrived, the installer sets an appropriate date for the installation. This part takes from one whole day to three, depending on the size of your system. Of course, if we are talking about a large-scope system, then the process can take weeks. It’s hard to get perfect weather for the installation for three full days, but generally cloudy, but not rainy days seem to be the best for this task.

The whole installation for a rooftop system can be summarized in a few steps:

  1. Installation workers get up on the roof and check the tiles. They start to pass the wires from the power box.
  2. The racking gets installed. Workers try to leave some space between the roof and panels, because the air flowing underneath the modules helps to cool them down.
  3. Workers install solar panels.
  4. Panels are wired together with an inverter.

Approval and interconnection

However, it’s not over yet. After panels are installed, an expert who represents your municipality or county comes and checks the work. If the installer did well, you receive a greenlight for the interconnection process when the system gets connected to the grid. Then the utility sends their own engineer to verify the work and then the interconnection starts. When it’s done, you are finally ready to enjoy the benefits of solar energy. This final stage of installing solar may take up to another month. Obviously if you go for an off-grid system, you don’t need the interconnection. 

Commonly asked questions about solar panel installations

Q.: Can I do the installation myself?

A.: You certainly can do a small DIY solar project, but in some states a full-scale rooftop installation can only be set by certified professionals. Not to mention that without an installer you’ll have to get permits and approvals from local officials yourself and that can slow down the installation significantly if you don’t know the procedure.

Q.: How much does it cost to install solar panels?

A.: Depends on the size. Permits and labor make up 25-35% percent of the PV system costs.

Q.: What solar incentives are going to be available in 2022?

A.: First of all, Solar Tax Credit is still going to be around. Smaller incentives depend on the state where you live. Ask the installer about them beforehand. Utility companies often provide small rebates and incentives to their customers for going solar. 

Q: Does ITC incentive take into account labor costs?

A: Yes, you get 26% of all the expenses back through taxes in 2021.

Also Read: Going Green: Here are 3 Reasons to Invest in Solar Solutions This Year



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