Residential Solar Panel Installation

What Happens During a Residential Installation?

Time to read: 13 minutes

When someone says “solar powered”, the first images that often spring to mind are of homes with solar panels. This leads to the question, “how on earth did those get there and how did they do it?”

With temperatures reaching extremes, more and more people are beginning to install solar powered systems in their homes. This is especially true in Texas where the power grid is struggling to keep up with the scorching heat waves that are already rolling across the lone-star state. When a customer considers joining the IES Texas Solar family, many have questions about what goes into installing solar panels.  

In this blog post, we are going to take an in-depth look at residential installations with someone who has a wealth of experience when it comes to installing solar powered systems. IES PV Design Engineer Kevin Marceski gives us a look at what goes into the installation process for residential customers, common concerns those customers might have, and why IES has the edge on the competition.    

The Engineering Process for a Residential Installation

So what goes into a residential installation?

For those curious about the process that takes place on a job site, Kevin breaks down what a typical residential installation usually looks like. It is important to keep in mind, however, that every job has the potential to be different. This serves as a solid example of what a residential installation entails.  

 “A regular residential job, just to kind of set the stage, is probably an installation with between about 20 to 30 solar panels, or PV modules as we like to call them. I actually worked on one earlier today that was a real perfect South roof, maybe 10 degrees off of perfect South 180 degrees. But as far as what the installation looks like when the installers roll up on the day of the installation, we roll up in a box truck with all of our materials on hand. What the installers will first start doing is meet with the homeowner. Then they go through their action plan and they’ll make sure that everything on the plan is exactly what the homeowners are looking for. Then they’ll get started right away, boots on the roof.”

“The guys will put on their PPE and then go up and start with the most important first step, which is to break out the old measuring tape and just make sure that all the dimensions will work and that the modules are going to fit on the roof face that they’re supposed to be fitting on. Then they’ll mark where the aeration goes, sometimes for each and every module that is going to be placed on the roof. Then they get right down to brass tacks.” 

“The first thing that we’re doing there on site is making the penetrations. They’ll go and find the rafters on the roof and they’ll just start drilling to make a connection. Then we start laying our feet and our flashings, which is the foundation of the Solar Energy System. For the typical shingle through fill, you slide the flashing under the shingles right up on to that penetration, make a left, and I’d finish it right into the roof there and basically just go along according to the plans for where each one of these attachments’ feet are going to go. Once they have the whole roof specced out, that’s usually about two to three attachments per panel on the roof. Then they start mounting the rails onto these feet. So with these little L-feet, they’ll mount right onto where those lag screws are on top of the flashings and secure the rail, and then you’re basically building right up from there. You build the feet and the rail.”

“Once you have the rail up, you start laying your microinverters or your optimizer or whatever technology is going to help power the panel. In most cases, we use Enphase microinverters and our optimizers are Solar Edge. On a typical installation we roll with five to six guy crews and a typical installation has maybe 19 or 20 panels. Depending on the roof it can go pretty quickly. The roof section can be done in four or five hours, and then they start moving right down, getting those wires off of the roof. A lot of times what we’ll do is something we pride ourselves in, which is that we’ll actually make a penetration into the attic. We’ll have a junction box with that penetration, and we’ll run all of our conduit through the roof or through the attic and make sure that it gets piped down to the side of the house so that there’s no pipe all over the roof. That’s when we start our AC electrical work and we’ll start tying it into the electrical grid there. There’s a bunch of different ways to make the connection there, but it really can sometimes be just as simple as combining all the solar strings into a box that’s dedicated purely to solar.”

Streamlined For Safety

Many customers that Kevin and the installation teams interact with have questions about how their new system might affect their home. Kevin explains how manufacturers take nearly everything into account with solar powered systems along with customer concerns that appear from time to time.  

“A lot of the residential equipment has been streamlined to the point that if there’s ever any issue, breaking the line, or any electrical issue, the entire system is shutting down right away so there’s no threat. I’ve heard a million people ask ‘are they just putting holes in the roof? Are there any fire issues? Is this going to burn down my house?’ I can say from firsthand experience that they’re servicing thousands of customers’ houses and that has never happened, and the way the technology goes these days, I could never see that happening. That includes the roof leaking where we’re making these penetrations into the roof. A lot of times those penetrations in the ceiling or the steel will outlive the actual regular shingle roof.” 

It seems like IES thinks of everything. This is especially true for situations where the system needs to be shut off when first-responders show up for an emergency.

“We make sure that we have a safety disconnect on every one of our projects just in case there are first responders on site and they need to get on the roof. They have a really easy one-handle pull that turns off everything in the solar powered system. Sometimes it’s as easy as plugging a breaker into your main panel and connecting the solar wires right into there. It can be as straightforward as you want it to be. Sometimes it can be a little more complicated, but on a typical installation it’s really not a whole lot more than that to be honest. I’ve worked with guys on the roof who are still electricians who work with their local fire house on the weekends, so they definitely appreciate the fact that they keep those folks in mind when they’re engineering systems when the manufacturers are building equipment.”

“The manufacturers have definitely gotten the process down considerably from the early days from the wiring and the roof to making sure that everything is in its place. It’s become much more streamlined as the industry has kind of matured over the past decade or so. That’s an important thing. Safety is always the paramount consideration and safety for the guys that are going around on the roof or the installers or folks after the fact is super important, so that’s the number one priority. I know I used to tell customers all the time, every Solar Energy System is really very unique. Every time you make one of those turns towards something being more complex there’s the potential for there to be hang ups, and there’s potential for there to be miscommunication between the installers and the homeowner or the homeowner and engineering. The process has become streamlined to the point where a lot of those kinds of issues have really been mitigated.”

“One of the things that I can think of as an example is from my days when I used to work as a service manager. I was on a team where I had technicians being deployed into the field when something went wrong on a Solar Energy System and an inverter broke down or a panel got damaged and somebody needed to go out and repair them. What I would say is again back in the day, you know maybe a decade or so ago, or maybe even a little less than that eight to 10 years ago, a lot of the wiring was really left up to the installer. They had to be really good at the aftermath and they’d really know exactly what to string where and what to connect and what could lead to a lot of potential issues that could lead to thermal vents on the roof. Which is why they, the manufacturers, install or separately put that thought into safety these days to where they’re cognizant of the mistakes that have been made in the past, and they really try their hardest to make sure that nothing like that happens now.”

“There definitely were a lot of common issues that used to crop up, but by and large, a lot of the industry standards have kind of tapered those down to non-issues. Now it’s really just design and aesthetic issues. If something doesn’t fit in a particular spot or there’s a vent where a homeowner didn’t see that there was one, or they wanted the panels oriented a certain way, sometimes those issues can kind of crop up. But outside of regular manufacturer warranty issues, anything like that is really nothing too major that I would say is a common issue on site.”

Working Better Together

When asked about where design engineers like Kevin fit into the buyer’s journey to installing solar, Kevin explains how he and his fellow engineers work together with everyone on the project.  

“One of the things that kind of endeared me to it all is that the engineering team is kind of integrated into every part of the process. We have engineers working directly with our sales folks, our solar consultants. A lot of times we’ll have sales folks sitting down with the customer in their house. They’re able to communicate and have a direct line to engineering and say ‘Hey, this customer is looking for x, y, and z. Can you build me a quote?’ We use our expertise to find what solution is going to work out best for the customers needs. The engineering team is able to turn around a comprehensive quote with exactly the correct solution while they’re sitting at the kitchen table with that customer. That’s something that is not common in every solar company.

 “I’ve worked for companies in the past where it was the salesperson as the spearhead and they kind of carried it all the way through until the project was sold. Then there would be situations where you have to explain like ‘all this needs to be changed or further down the line this isn’t going to work the way that you wanted it to.’ That starts to become a headache for the customer where they’re being kind of slapped around from what their original expectations were. We really pride ourselves on being able to get it right and get it right the first time. I think that because we have that kind of close communication between the sales team and the engineering team early on in the process, that it really helps lay that foundation, and that continues right on to the project managers.”

 “I really kind of consider myself, specifically in my position, as support during the project. You know, advising what equipment can be used to carry that solution to the install. And then, even after or during the install, if there is a slight hiccup or if there was a wrong part ordered, then the project managers are right there with the install team that can help me right into the solution and we can all kind of put our heads together and find that solution quickly and onsite. That’s definitely where I see myself with the company. I work in my position most closely with the project managers and the install teams. Anything that I can do, anything that I can kind of lend a hand in with my expertise to make their jobs easier is always my priority.”

What is it that really gives IES the edge?

While other companies have fizzled out, IES has been going strong for years. Kevin sheds some light on just what it is that makes IES such a trustworthy and reliable energy solutions provider. 

“The big thing about IES is right there in the name. IES is a national company. The parent company is a multi-billion dollar company. They deal in communications, utility, residential, commercial, industrial, and that’s really where our foundation is. That’s where our reputation comes from. We can draw on the combined experience of, I believe, over 100 years of electrical work. That’s really something that I think is really important.”

Other energy solutions companies ended up installing a solar powered system only to go out of business, leaving the customers with no reliable company to help them if something went wrong. Kevin attests to the staying power that IES has along with the fact that they are here for you for the long haul.

“There’s nothing that’s more disappointing than having a customer who made this deep investment and bought these solar panels, these batteries, this generator, and something goes wrong. The company that installed that system is either not in business or not taking calls. It’s also really disappointing to see people just get disillusioned with what should be an incredible technology and a really incredible solution, but not having that large company foundation with the longevity and industry experience to kind of back up the initial installation. It’s critical. And having a business that’s been around for as long as IES has is the kind of thing that we really drive home, that we’ve been in for the long haul and that we’re going to continue being in it for the long haul when you make an investment. This is a 20-year relationship. We’re not just selling you something and running away or closing shop afterwards.”

“You know we’re here to kind of hold your hand if you need it, and while most folks aren’t going to need it, because it’s a kind of maintenance-free installation, we’re here for them. That’s one of the things I always look for with solar. The number one thing I tell them is look for a company that’s been around for a while that has the experience and has the backing that they can sustain themselves for a long period of time. IES has all that and they’re able to service installations as a result and make sure that people stay happy for years to come.

Kevin is a PV design engineer with IES and has worked on thousands of systems over the course of his career. 

If your business is considering switching to solar, reach out to us by going to our website, or by giving us a call at (855) 447-6527.