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How to Install Solar Panels on Your Roof.. The Basics

Solar energy is a wonderful thing – it’s free clean energy.  Part of transforming solar from a wonderful thought to an amazing reality requires finding a place for the solar panels to live.  That place is often the roof of your home.

This article will explore some of the options and cautions you’ll need to consider before you say your peace with your spouse and lean that ladder against the house. Seriously, the very first item on the agenda is safety – your safety.

Second, consider your roof condition and type.  Third, consider the facing or positioning of the panels, which will also determine your mounting structure and what you’ll you use for hardware.

Finally, a few warnings about the authorities and determining space requirements. Plus, if you are considering doing more than just the mounting of the panels on your roof yourself – how should you handle the electrical work?  Find out.

The end goal is a secure mount of the solar panels to or just above your roof’s surface (depending on the composition of your roof).  The meat of the matter is to find the main roof supports and to attach brackets or channel to those supports.  The rest is relatively easy, sunny and breezy. Let’s start with safety.

Safety Thought # 1:

If you’re not in good shape or if you are unable to handle awkward loads, consider hiring a contractor or at least, some help of some kind.

Safety Thought # 2:

Make sure your ladder is on a solid and level surface.  Keep an adequate angle by testing the ladder position before you start really using it.  About 3 feet of ladder should be above the point at which the ladder is touching the roof.

A safety harness is a good idea while working on a roof.  There is more to working safely on a roof than you may think.  If you’re not experienced at working on a roof surface, please get more information by searching “Roof work safety” or a similar term.  Read, research and apply all safety measures.  One fall from one roof is all it takes to change your life instantly, radically and forever.

Your roof:

Is your roof in good condition?  If your roof seems good – nothing has flown in the wind except the years, consider getting a roof inspection.  There are three common roof surfaces – asphalt / fiberglass composition, tile and tin or metal roofing.  Cedar shingle roofing is less common these days, but we’ll also include it in this discussion.  No roof last’s forever.  If decades have flown by, get your roof right first – even if means an entirely new roof.

If replacing your roof surface is something you’re considering, you can put your solar supplier and your roofer together.  It would make sense to ask the roofer to install the hardware (or at least the first brackets) for the mounting of your panels.

Where is the sun?

The sun follows an arc through the day.  It rises in the East, arcs across the south and sinks below the prairie, mountains or in the ocean in the west.  It is very important that your panels have a decent chance of sucking up that green energy.

If the surface you plan to mount panels on is generally north, forget it.  You’re looking for the best southern exposure you can get because this will ensure the maximum exposure for the panels – and that’s how the power is made – not in the shade.  In some situations, a roof mounting of your solar panels just won’t be practical.

If your roof surface is somewhat west facing (for example) a rack or frame can be purchased or constructed which will cause your panels to sit up at an angle, correcting the exposure.  The obvious negative to this method is that the panels will be sitting high on your roof – not the most appealing installation in the world.  If you’re faced with this option and you don’t want it, your only other alternatives are a ground or pole mounting of your solar panels.

The hardware you’ll use to mount your solar panels varies, depending on the roof type and whether or not you’ll be using mounting frames as we just discussed.  The manufacturer of your solar panels will have hardware recommendations.

However, some of the cheaper panels don’t come with much guidance.  If this is your situation, consider using channel that is aluminum or galvanized for installation on asphalt shingle or metal roofs.  One of the brand names of this channel is Unistrutt.  It is readily available at electrical supply houses.

Tile and cedar shake roofs will require spot removal of shingles to allow the installation of brackets which allow the panels to be mounted slightly above and clear of the reinstalled roof tiles or shingles.  Select tiles or shingles are removed, the truss or roof structural support member is located and the bracket is lag bolted through the roof sheeting into the roof support member (the top truss cord or rafter).

The appropriate tile or shingle is trimmed to allow clearance for the bracket.  The appropriate sealer is used around the bracket base and the tile or shingle is reinstalled.  Now that the brackets are installed and roof’s integrity is restored, the solar panels can be bolted directly to the brackets OR channel can be mounted to the brackets and the solar panels mounted in turn to the channel.

After installing the solar panels on the roof they must be connected to either individual inverters or a central inverter.  The latest solar systems have individual inverters integrated into each panel.

All of this may sound difficult or even overwhelming.  Once you get started, it will be clear to you that it isn’t rocket science.  However, it is relatively intense labor.  In conclusion, let’s go back to where we started – think safety, nothing is worth losing your health or your life.


If you live in a development which has a Home Owners Association (HOA) the very first thing to do is to look up their regulations or ask them about, their solar regulations.  Some HOA organizations are not “solar friendly.”

The next step is to determine if you have the room.  One kilowatt of solar power requires about 100 square feet of roof area.  To put that into perspective, think of a kilowatt (1,000 watts) as ten old fashion light bulbs or a microwave oven. 100 square feet is equal to 10’ X 10’ or roughly the floor area of a small bedroom.  Make sure you have permissions and the room required for solar before you start.

In conclusion: If your goal is to install your complete solar system yourself, you’ll either need a very comprehensive book or solar installation training.  Why?  It is because electricity is like a rattlesnake – unless you’re used to milking rattlesnakes, you’re probably going to get bit before you get much venom (electricity).

If you are able to complete the actual mounting of your panels on your roof, you can hire an electrician to do the wiring or to tell you how to do the wiring.  If this is the route you take, be sure to find the electrician before you start your project.

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