Residential Solar Mounting Solutions Guide 2019: Situations and Solutions

solar mounting illustration

Solar installers face jobsite annoyances every day. Awkward roof space. Plastic baggies of tiny components. Missed rafters. And so on. Death by a thousand racking cuts. Luckily, for all of these situations, there is a mounting solution out there to make your life easier.

Micro but Mighty

It’s not the size of the flashing that counts, but the system that comes with it

QuickBOLT Mounting Kits

QuickBOLT is a cool new name and logo, with a newly registered trademark for its solar mounting product innovation, but don’t be fooled: all of it is tied to a company and system you already know with decades of roofing and solar experience. Yes, formerly known as SolarRoofHook, QuickBOLT is the solar wing of Quickscrews International Corp., and its one of a kind Microflashing system is a component of its QuickBOLT and Low Profile QuickBOLT Mounting Kits.

The QuickBOLT is the world’s first and only UL Certified Microflashing mounting system, which seals roof penetrations and can be installed without lifting shingles or removing nails and staples. The QuickBOLT with Microflashing has been installed over 600,000 times with zero leaks.

With its new branding and new trademark in hand, we thought it was time we reintroduce you to the company’s strategy and how its system works.

 

Situation

Holes must be made in the roof for a solar installer to mount an array. Those holes must be sealed in some manner, otherwise the roof will leak. An installer who doesn’t use flashing methods greatly increases their risk of a leaky roof. Plus, International Building Codes require flashing to be used on residential rooftop solar. Flashing is typically sold as part of the mounting system. Mounting manufacturers design flashing products that, first and foremost, prevent leaks. Factors like ease of use or install speed more often come second.

QuickBOLT’s goal from the outset was to improve upon the various flashing methods out there with a flashing product design that would prevent water from entering the penetration while reducing the installer’s time up on the roof.

Key Considerations

In the late 2000s, minor innovations in flashing technology took place as mounting manufacturers began shifting away from “standoff” type mounts and toward mounts that integrated traditional flashing into the design. Both rubber bushed flashing and elevated flashing were became designs which added an extra layer of security to protect against water entering the penetration.

“30 years ago, Installers were mounting L-Feet directly to the roof with sealant alone,” says Jared Wiener, executive vice president at QuickBOLT. “In efforts to reduce leaks, the solar industry adopted flashing products that were more effective at redirecting water away from the hole—but often at the expense of voiding the roof warranty.”

Most of the flashing products used in the past included 12 in. x 12 in. pieces of metal to cover a hole that is typically only 5/16-in. in diameter. Installers ended up cutting the material to fit according to their array or simply to remove excess metal. Industry “best practices” were to lift up the shingles and place the flashing product underneath the 3rd course or layer.

The idea was that even though material and labor costs increased, these flashing products would prevent water from entering a penetration. But leaks still happened. Solar installers were unknowingly voiding roof warranties to install solar, becoming responsible for repairing leaks they could have prevented.

“We spoke with installers and roofers around the U.S. and learned that if we could eliminate the need to lift shingles, then solar installers could save a minimum of 30% of the time it takes for a typical solar install job,” Wiener said. “By providing installers with Microflashing, we were able to find the sweet spot between the simple L-Foot 30 years ago and the expensive flashing products of the 2000s.”

Solution: Microflashing

The patented QuickBOLT Mounting System debuted in 2010 for asphalt shingle roofs, which includes what is now properly known as Microflashing. The design of the system addressed the problems installers were facing: voiding the roof warranty by lifting shingles, speed of install, and reducing costs.

The QuickBOLT Kit consists of just three components: a custom hangar bolt, Microflashing, and a flange nut. When installers drive the bolt down, the collar compresses the Microflashing onto the roof, closing the penetration and creating a watertight seal. Any racking system can then be mounted by connecting a any type of bolt to the L-Foot. Installers have fewer components to carry onto the roof and can install the system in less than 60 seconds. The Microflashing is large enough to cover any other holes that might be made from missing the rafters, but unlike traditional flashing methods, installers no longer have to pay for extra, unused material.

What separates Microflashing from previous flashing methods is its placement. Before, installers would lift up the shingles and slide in the flashing underneath. Not only is this time consuming, but it potentially voids the roof warranty and increases the installer’s risk. Instead, Microflashing is designed to be placed directly over the shingle. Water is redirected around the washer just like other flashing methods — but it is significantly easier for installers to use and completely closes the penetration.

This innovation in flashing methods has given installers a new way to install more solar and increase profits.

Notes: QuickBOLT Patent #8448407. Microflashing is a registered trademark. © Copyright 2019. All Rights reserved Quickscrews International Corporation.

Situation

Transporting, cutting and maneuvering the mounting rails will be cumbersome.

plp power disk

Key consideration: Where and how to place solar mounting rails on residential rooftops.

Solution: The POWER DISK from Preformed Line Products (PLP) is a solar mounting system that can be placed anywhere on residential rooftops and does not need to be secured to rafters. Featuring a rail-less design, easy height adjustment and integrated grounding, the POWER DISK is a simple yet cost-effective solution for residential solar applications. What sets this mounting system apart is the roof deck mounting feature which allows for an easier array layout and faster PV module placement. The roof grip fasteners, sealing washers and pre-applied butyl mwastic are all included to provide a secure and reliable roof attachment. The benefits of POWER DISK:

  • Flexible. Modules can be set in portrait or landscape format
  • Adaptable. Attach anywhere on the roof
  • Compatible. Fits most framed 60- and 72-cell modules
  • Quick installation. Comes pre-assembled
  • Built-in electrical grounding. Grounding clips are integrated in the mount

Situation

Steep roof and a large system, a solar array highly visible from home’s primary gathering place.

Ecolibrium EcoX Universal Railess Racking system

Key considerations

  • Maximum fit on roof, same part count in landscape or portrait
  • Low part count for easy and safe installation
  • Exceptional aesthetics from any angle

Solution: Use a safe, fast rail-less solution that eliminates handling 20-ft rails on a steep roof and enables no-reach, module drop-in. Ecolibrium’s EcoX Universal Rail-Less Racking eliminates the need for 20-ft rails and the cost, risks and unsightliness of rails. The EcoX reduces attachments needed by 33 percent and uses 65 percent less aluminum to secure the array. Its no-reach-over panel drop-in design is a key feature, particularly on steep roofs. Components are universal to fit any module frame size, which allows installation to continue even if the module is changed. The design is flexible, resulting in a portrait orientation that fits the roof beautifully. A low-profile, finished look provides exceptional aesthetics for the highly visible location. Cost-per-watt is low.

Situation

Solar roof mounts for a standard composition shingle roof in Greenwich, Conn.

Ecofasten’s RockIt system

 

Key consideration: It’s a typical 35° snowy Mid-March day complicating jobsite conditions, so installers want to move quick.

Solution: The simplicity of Ecofasten’s RockIt system allows the installation team to complete the nearly 12-kW project in 7 hours, enabling installers to escape the bitter weather conditions in as short a time as possible. RockIt has a one-tool approach and only six components, much fewer than typical rooftop mounting systems. Furthermore, the rail-less RockIt solution allows for fewer roof penetrations compared with a rail-based system, further cutting down installation time and product parts. The installation team comments that they were able to bring all materials up to the roof quickly, with products being packaged in small boxes.

Situation

A 7-kW PV system installed on a regular comp shingle roof, 18-degree pitch with 24-in. OC rafter spacing. Twenty-four REC 295 modules at three rows of eight modules. Due to zoning and maximum rail spans, there are 30 roof attachments.

SnapNrack Ultra Rail System’

Key consideration: Time on and off is a priority as the crew is required to complete two jobs per day.

Solution: The SnapNrack Ultra Rail System’s snap-in strategy is featured throughout the installation process — from the the snap-in Ultra Rail Mounts to the module clamps to the wire management accessories. The lightweight rail and pre-assembled components allow for easy transportation on and off the roof. All components are installed with a single tool, a ½-in. socket, eliminating the need for more parts and pieces on the roof. An installation team of four can install this 7-kW system in less than 4 hours, allowing them to get two jobs done and still get home in time for dinner with the family.

Situation

A typical existing asphalt roof for a retrofit PV installation.

Roof Tech MINI

 

Key consideration: The installer wants to secure the mounting system to the roof without having to undo the existing seal of the roof shingles or affect the roof warranty.

Solution: Because of its simplicity and the ICC-certified “flexible flashing” system, the Roof Tech MINI is fastened to the roof without the need to damage the seal of the existing shingles. This approach does not impose a damage of the underlayment nor does it require the removal of nails needed to secure the asphalt shingle roofing. By comparison, installing a traditional metal flashing system on an existing asphalt roof requires the breaking of the seal between shingles and can cause additional damage to the underlayment through scratching it with the metal flange. Also, the opening of a hole on the underlayment from pulling an existing nail used to secure the shingles above in order to slide the upper metal flange into the third course also poses another quality issue. RoofTech says it avoids violating the roof warranty while allowing for a quicker installation time. Additional time is saved in comparison to lag bolts, due to the use of wood screws which don’t need a pilot hole.

Situation

A homeowner getting an asphalt shingle roof replacement requests a quote for solar but express minimal interest in rack and panel systems feeling it’s a ‘dated’ look.

Apollo II solar roofing system

Key consideration:  Losing this sale by only offering traditional rack and panel solar.

Solution: The Apollo II solar roofing systems from CertainTeed are engineered for seamless integration with new or existing asphalt shingle roofs. Each all-black solar shingle offers 63 watts of rated power, and at 1.22 in. thick, provides a sleek, low-profile aesthetic. Apollo II solar shingles attach directly to the roof sheathing with standard deck screws, feature a concealed wiring design and can be installed in any wind zone (including Florida’s high velocity hurricane zone). Dynamic flashing allows for flexibility in rooftop system layout, with water channels and raised fastener locations providing superior protection against water intrusion.

Situation

A small 17-kW commercial job at Canterland Farms near the Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area in Oregon.

SunModo’s 1-in. EZ Standing Seam Clamps

Key consideration: It can be a challenge for installers to fasten standing seam clamps onto the roof seams because many clamps have attachment screws that are too close to the flat roof surface.

Solution: SunModo’s 1-in. EZ Standing Seam Clamps can be attached to a wide variety of seam profiles. The EZ Standing Seam Clamps use set-screws to compress the seam material against the opposite wall of the clamp. The preassembled set-screws can be attached on the vertical leg of the clamp or on the adjacent leg with its 10-degree angle and hook for greater gripping. The clamps are super easy to install, and the upward angle of the set-screws leaves plenty of work space between the drill and the roof. The oval end set-screws and proper torque ensures the protective coating of the roof seam is not damaged during installation.

SunModo also offers 2-in. EZ Standing Seam Clamps which can be installed in-situ at the desired seam attachment location. These clamps are a two-part assembly and uses the same upward angled set-screws to secure them firmly to the roof; no more sliding clamps up the roof line.

Situation

Sloped metal roof on residential and commercial buildings are mostly standing seam, R-Panel trapezoidal and corrugated metal roofs, but due to different profiles from different manufacturers, there are various brackets available for solar installations.

MageBracket R

 

Key consideration: Save time wasted by checking out each roof profile and settle on only one or a few brackets that fit most of the metal roofs.

Solution: The MageBracket R has an angle-adjustable bracket that fits most of the popular R-panel trapezoidal metal roofs. The bracket has two adjustable parts that can rotate to fit the rib with different angles. Therefore, installers don’t need to check out the roof profile first, then look for the right bracket and then wait for the bracket to arrive. Instead, they can stock just one bracket to save money and time. Similarly, MageBracket CH is also an angle-adjustable bracket that fits most corrugated metal roofs with rotating parts for different angles. For low-profile corrugated metal roofs of only 1/4 in. to 1/2 in. tall, MageBracket CL is width-adjustable and fits most low-profile corrugated metal roofs.

Situation

Installer is struggling to find structural members. They are drilling enough probing holes to infer center from a series of hits and misses. Stud finders cannot read through layers of roofing material and plywood and other high-tech devices have given mixed results.

RafterEye LLC Clampster,

 

Key consideration: Locating rafters without creating more penetrations than are needed to install the PV system.

Solution: Tucson-based RafterEye LLC just launched Clampster, a rafter center locating tool, to assist PV installers and others in rooftop attachments. Clampster — which can be used in a variety of construction applications such as exposed beams, porches, navigable attics, skip sheathing, log rafters — works through any roof type except steel. The clamp portion of Clampster grips the rafter just below the deck, and it works by forming a magnetic field around and through a rafter or truss. A rooftop worker reads the magnetic field, which points precisely to rafter center before any penetrations are made. The magnetic field can be read through up to 6 in. of insulating material that may be present (above or below the roof deck) between the available portion of the rafter and the roof membrane. There is no need to infer from one or both edges. Workers move rapidly, precisely locating one attachment point after another before any penetrations are made.

Situation

A rooftop that’s not quite near replacement but getting there. Homeowner wants a solar system now, but also wants to avoid the hassle of removing/reinstalling at replacement time.

APA Solar Racking Pre-Engineered Kit

Key consideration: This is a home in the Northeast, which is notorious for rocky soil.

Solution: APA Solar Racking has a Pre-Engineered Kit that’s a concrete-free solution for project sizes under 150 kW. This system is custom to any two panel increments. It comes with every part necessary for the racking, and 10 kW can be installed in 4 hours with a skid steer and auger attachment. In lieu of concrete, APA offers three types of foundations: helical anchor, geoballast and ground screw. A ground screw is best used in rocky soils, whereas a helical is ideal for soft organic soils. A geoballast is used when the soil is non penetrative.

Situation

A farm with high electric load and a 15-kW AC capacity cap in place. There is a time-of-use (TOU) rate schedule in place from the utility, with the higher rate between 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. There is an open view of the sky E,S,W.

AllEarth Solar Tracker

 

Key consideration: The roof is not great from a structural or orientation perspective, and a ground-based solution should make best use of land.

Solution: The AllEarth Solar Tracker is a grid-tied, dual-axis solar tracker ideal for both commercial and residential settings to take advantage of the sky E,S,W to get maximum production. Here, there would be minimal if any shading from buildings, trees, etc. due to the open farm field. Any permit limitations with an AC limit (vs. DC) will be an advantage for this tracker which produces more power (kWh/kW). The tracker system can be sized to that 15-kW cap and produce up to 45 percent more energy than a similarly sized fixed-tilt system. All of this takes up less room compared to fixed, helping the farmer get the most yield from their land. Under and between the trackers is still usable land for most agricultural needs. Due to the increased afternoon/evening production of the tracker, more kWhs are produced during the TOU, which best offsets costs.

Situation

A new crew member is on a presidential shingle roof installing flashings and L-feet. He rips open a plastic bag containing EPDM washers for the lag screws, and several fly out, rolling off the roof. He then places a flashing over the uneven presidential shingle tabs and installs the lag with an impact driver.

Pegasus’ Comp Mount

 

Key consideration: Quality control. When installing on un-even shingle tabs, such as presidential shingles, 1) press-fit flashings can crack at the water seal; 2) flashings with deck-level water seals may not seat fully against the L-foot, and 3) adhesive reliant flashings may not seal to the shingles around the roof penetration. All of these scenarios have leak potential.

Solution: Pegasus’ Comp Mount has several features to ensure high-quality, lasting and consistent installations. The All-In-One kit packaging has no plastic bags and includes all flashings, L-feet, lags and EPDM washers so there’s less chance of forgetting parts at the shop. The EPDM washers come pre-installed onto the lags to ensure they are installed every time and not lost in gutters. Pegasus’ Comp Flashing has a 0.7-in.-tall cone formed from a single piece of metal, meaning there are no deck-level washers or press-fit pieces to break and allow a roof leak. Pegasus’ L-foot elevates the water seal 0.9-in. above the roof surface, diverting much of the water flow. Finally, a bonded EPDM washer at the lag head acts as a final defense against water intrusion.

— Solar Builder magazine

Roof Tech adds seven module manufacturers to its UL 2703 vendor list

Roof Tech has increased its UL 2703 listing to 24 PV module manufacturers. Now with over 120 PV Modules listed, as a contractor, solar installers have a broader range of modules to install with roof Tech’s rail-less PV mounting systems.

Latest listing additions include PV modules from GCL, Itek, LONGi, Peimar, Solaria, Sonali and Seraphim. Here is Roof Tech’s the current list of approved modules for UL 2703.

— Solar Builder magazine

The Ultimate SPI Showcase: Here’s what to see at Solar Power International 2017

Big leap for microinverters

APsystems SPI

APsystems will unveil the YC600, a dual-module, smart grid and Rule 21 compliant microinverter at SPI in Las Vegas. A groundbreaking design in microinverter technology, the YC600 will offer the highest peak output power, faster transmission speed and more modules allowed per string than comparable microinverters. A wider MPPT voltage range will result in a greater energy harvest for homeowners.

You’ll want to get the full scoop at booth 1745.

Streamlined Shutdown

Fronius

Fronius is launching a new generation of its Rapid Shutdown Box, which the company says will be the most convenient solution for NEC 2014 (690.12) and NEC 2017 compliance, while enhancing overall rooftop and firefighter safety. The new generation includes two versions: the Fronius Rapid Shutdown Box Duo and Quattro.
“Based on customer feedback, we implemented many improvements into this new generation of our Rapid Shutdown Box,” says Michael Mendik, head of solution management at Fronius USA.

Directly connected to the inverter through the same conduit as the DC homeruns and powered by the array, the Fronius solution minimizes the number of components and eliminates the need for an external power supply. The low-profile design and the multiple mounting options allow for installation underneath the modules, ensuring a clean system look. In addition, the NEMA 4X rating ensures the box is built for severe outdoor conditions. MC4 connectors, spring-loaded terminals and generous wiring space make the wiring a breeze. The Rapid Shutdown Box also acts as a combiner box, removing the need for additional hardware. Booth 3943.

Lightweight, flexible power conversion

Ideal Power

Ideal Power invented a new kind of power conversion architecture that delivers on flexibility, allowing you to enable or disable any features depending on project needs. At SPI, check out its 30-kW Stabiliti Series power converters. These multiport, compact converters are smaller, lighter and dramatically reduce installation costs while increasing return on investment. Ideal Power recently partnered with NEXTracker to implement it in various PV sites throughout North America. Booth 1433.

A top rail clip to rule them all

Heyco solar rail clips

Heyco has been busy this summer, introducing several new clips and wire management accessories for the solar market. Newest to the lineup are the SunRunner 4-2 and SunRunner 4-2U, which are top rail clips for various racking manufacturers such as Unirac, Ironridge, Everest, SnapNRack, Solar Mount and other similar racking profiles. The SunRunner 4-2 and SunRunner 4-2U are suitable for the new Enphase Q Cable. At the booth, you can also enter for a chance to win a Google Home. Booth 4762.

Drive down carport costs

Baja Carports InterSolar 2017 Booth Models

Baja Construction always has a standout booth, and this year its in-house construction team will be installing its signature Baja Solar Support System design, the “Braced Single Post Support,” built with high-tensile light gauge steel to support 24 solar modules (7.8 kW). Included in the structure is an EV Station for the hot red Tesla parked underneath. Meet Baja’s in-house designers, engineers and project managers and also make certain to visit Baja’s sponsored lobby lounge for food and beverages. I’m sure you’re already there. Booth 4155.

Improve your grip strength

Ace Clamp solar mount
AceClamps are factory-assembled clamps with patented design features that allow strong connections to standing-seam roof panels without the use of set screws or any other loose parts that could damage the surface of the roof panel. AceClamp designs have been vibration tested during the development stage and incorporate special locking features to ensure that the bolts do not back out when subjected to vibratory loads from wind flutter and light seismic activity. Booth 809.

OMG Roofing solar mount

OMG Roofing Products has introduced PowerGrip Universal for mounting solar racking systems on commercial roofs. PowerGrip Universal is designed to reduce or eliminate ballast in solar racking systems, so there’s less weight, material handling and labor on the roof. Made of heavy-duty cast aluminum, PowerGrip Universal offers 3,300 lbf of tensile strength, 2,500 lbf of shear strength and 2,000 lbf of compressive strength. It’s one of the strongest anchors on the market. Booth 629.

Solar Connections

The Standing Seam Power Clamp from Solar Connections can attach to virtually any standing seam profile and draws its strength from patent-pending WaveLock Technology with optional two, three and five points of attachment. The top can be custom drilled and tapped to fit any bolt configuration. Offering ease of installation, the Silver Bullet set screws include a rounded bullet tip to maximize strength while also keeping the paint finish and seam free from harm. Additionally, the Standing Seam Power Clamp is available in standard mill finish aluminum material, making it an item you can easily keep in stock when the need arises. Booth 1569.

Reinventing the ground mount

Nuance Energy

Nuance Energy’s patent-pending Osprey PowerPlatform could revolutionize ground-mounted solar projects. This earth anchor foundation system satisfies permitting requirements for virtually any site and soil type without the need for geotechnical reports or special inspections. It eliminates the need for heavy equipment or cement by enabling small, unskilled crews to install the entire platform quickly and easily using only handheld tools. Booth 2108.

Meet the 4G platform

Ginlong Solis inverter

Ginlong Technologies is now shipping its Solis 4G Platform. What you can see at SPI this year in booth 2427 is the Solis-1P(2.5-10K)-4G-US single phase string inverters, with high switching frequency; 2, 3 and 4 MPPTs designs; 97.8 percent peak efficiency (97.5 percent CEC); fan-less NEMA 4X / IP65 design, integrated AFCI; web-based and smartphone app monitoring, all under 44 lbs. The Solis 25K-66K-US three phase inverters are designed for all commercial and utility-scale installations with four MPPT designs and ultra-low start up volume that maximizes energy harvest. Booth 2427.

Five trackers to, um, track

SunLink TTD

SunLink’s TechTrack enables efficient load redistribution and allows the system to handle extreme wind with less steel, fewer foundations and lower cost. Now, TechTrack’s intelligent control system also delivers equally responsive control modes for snow, flood and O&M. The result is system level benefits, visible in SunLink’s Vertex data monitoring system. Rigorous testing to UL3703 further reduces permitting risk. Booth 3319.

Soltec

SF7 is the next-generation horizontal single-axis solar PV tracker from Soltec. Soltec says the SF7 enables up to 5 percent greater MW per acre than other trackers and does that with 54 percent fewer piles-per-MW, 15 percent less parts count and 58 percent fewer screw type connections than leading competitors. SF7 standard features include short tracker site-filling options, unique steep-slope tolerance of 17 percent NS, efficient self-powering and innovative cable management solutions for combining, fusing and protecting PV source circuits more economically. Booth 3640.

Solar FlexRack TDP 2 Turnkey Solar Tracker_2017

Solar FlexRack is launching its TDP Tracker with a new BalanceTrac design to increase energy yield and reduce balance of system costs. This TDP 2.0 Solar Tracker with BalanceTrac, optimized for 1,000- and 1,500-V modules, has greater rotational range of up to 120° and enables more modules per row (up to 90). The robust design delivers autonomous tables that increase site flexibility to maximize land use. Booth 2538.

AllEarth Renewable

AllEarth Renewables is showing off its new Gen 4 tracker which will be self-powered, to guard against the grid going down and will have expanded communication options, such as Wi-Fi, cellular and SD card enabled. It will come as a complete, pre-engineered system for easy, efficient shipping. Booth 626.

Array Technologies

Array Technologies is revealing the results of a recent TÜV Rheinland-backed independent report focused on solar tracker reliability. Array’s latest single-axis tracker, the DuraTrack HZ v3, is often touted for its reliability and lower cost of ownership. Array says DuraTrack HZ v3 is proven to be 300x less likely to experience catastrophic failure during wind events than more stow-reliant, single-row competitors. Booth 2919.

Page two has new on big-time collaborations, products for boosting performance, installing on shingles and more.

— Solar Builder magazine

Case study: How Solar Gain chose the rail-less mounting for a 630-MW commercial project

Solar Gain’s Vice President of Commercial Operations Tim Graunke was looking for a new rooftop mounting solution at the 2016 Intersolar Conference in San Francisco.

“We were about two months away from starting a major project,” Tim said.

In the weeks following InterSolar, Graunke worked with Roof Tech Sales Director Tim Vaughn to finalize a contract. By early September 2016, Solar Gain began using RT E Mount AIR to install an extensive 630-kW system at WorldMark Windsor Resort, a 10-acre vacation ownership property operated by Wyndham Worldwide Corporation in Sonoma County, California.

Roof Tech E Mount Air

The project has nine three-story buildings housing its timeshare units, all with asphalt shingle roofing at varying angles, a fact that made it all the more obvious to choose a rail-less mounting solution.

Between September and late December, when the project was completed, Vaughn continued to be the main point person for Solar Gain, but Roof Tech’s Business Development Manager, Milton Nogueira, also played a big role.

“Milton visited the Windsor project numerous times over those four months to provide us with on-site tech support and guidance,” said Graunke. “All our questions were answered quickly, and overall we had a totally positive experience working with Roof Tech.”

The system experienced a severe weather test early on. “When we began the project last September, California had been in a five-year drought,” he explained, “but over the following months, Sonoma County was hit with record amounts of rainfall.”

Graunke noted that previously, Solar Gain had always used flashing that slides between roof shingles. “That can sometimes compromise the integrity of the roof,” he explained, “but we did our due diligence and felt confident that Roof Tech’s butyl rubber flashing was the right way to go.”

Solar Gain Project Manager Max Chellemi concurred. “Once you install RT E Mount AIR, it’s completely watertight,” he said. “There were times when those rooftops had to be left with only the mounting hardware and no PV panels, but we didn’t have a single leak.”

Mounting with butyl rubber: How Roof Tech gets a leak-proof seal

— Solar Builder magazine

We look at the pros and cons of rail and rail-less PV mounting systems

Quick Mount PV’s E-Mount Lag

Photo: Quick Mount PV’s E-Mount Lag

Should you go with a rail or rail-less PV mounting system on your next installation? Depending on who you ask, you will get strong opinions for both. I liken the choice to dieting. Don’t eat meat! Actually, don’t eat carbs! No, it’s sugar that’s the killer! Milk is bad! You need milk!

The commonality here, at least to me, is everyone is right, and no one is right. What works for one person or project may not work for another, and maybe the answer is a little bit of all of the above. The real key is knowing what you need, what you prefer and the attributes of your available choices.

All systems have their pluses and minuses, and depending on the job at hand or your business plan, either could be the right solution for you and your customers. So, when, where and why would you go in one direction or another?

Reasons for Rails

For starters, it is easier to start. Rails involve a lower learning curve. You can get a crew trained on system installation fairly quick, and part of the reason for this is a more forgiving layout. SunModo, which offers all types of systems, says that on a straight-forward roof, your layout time is reduced.

“Our railed systems are flexible to accommodate complicated roof conditions and crooked roofs,” says Stella Sun, marketing director for SunModo. Its EZ Roof Mount can accommodate both rafter and decking applications.

The most ideal applications, according to Jason Xie, president at Magerack, is a large, simple array layout or a crooked roof. “A roof with a lot of obstacles — vents, stack, etc. — can present issues,” Xie says.

Look for low to moderately pitched roof applications in the 8 to 44 degrees range. Railed systems will require more engineering on steep slope pitched roof applications, 45 degrees or greater, according to SunModo.

“All rackless systems don’t use rails. That’s a time savings, but if the number of attachments is higher, if the parts costs are higher, or if there are still fiddly little parts that need adjustment, the overall costs are higher — not lower,” says Barry Cinnamon, founder of Spice Solar. “Installers should carefully account for all parts, including roof attachments.”

Some of the benefits aren’t inherent in the general rail system, but have been built in to select products. PV Racking, for example, has eliminated the need for clamps on the roof, which increases the speed of installation and save 20 to 30 percent in labor time. Its elongated L-Foot allows for faster and easier rail alignment too.

Reasons to Share

Shared rail solutions use rail to hold the modules in place, but reduce components elsewhere, such as mid and end clamps. As Shane Shamoo, president of Solar Speedrack, explains it, shared rail systems cover the entire side of the module, and the module frame becomes “bonded” to the rails and reduces the strain on the module.

“Because the rails are shared, a two-up installation would require only three rails as compared to four for a standard mid and end clamp system,” he says. This provides its own unique nimbleness for either landscape or portrait installations on all roof types. Shared rail also requires fewer roof penetrations, lessening the potential of a “floating” penetration.

SunModo says shared rail is great when modules are in landscape and the rail has to be run E-W and you cannot clamp to the short sides of the module, or when the rail has to be run N-S and the module must be in portrait. Less than ideal shared rail applications would be those with sagging trusses, uneven shingles, uneven roof framing or any other situation that would cause difficulty creating perfectly level rows of rail.

“Since we offer a shared rail system that does not require clamps, the first rail automatically aligns the first row of panels, which eliminates the need to straighten panels and speeds up the installation,” says Devin Paris of PV Racking’s shared rail system. Some systems come with rail spacers to allow for fast and easy spacing between the rails, eliminating the need to pull a measurement between each rail.

Reasons for Rail-less

As you might expect, the benefits of a rail-less solution come from not having rails. I know, I really blew the cover off that one, but it’s worth understanding those benefits: Rail-less products are compact, easy to handle and cheaper to ship.

“A rail-less system provides the suppliers the opportunity to cut manufacturing and shipping costs, and the installers are limiting time on the roof with fewer components to handle and install,” SunModo noted.
Milton Nogueira, business development manager with Roof Tech, notes that it is easier to handle any increments of PV modules, which also opens up more possibilities such as any pitched roof top with asphalt roofing, roofs with less space or roofs with lots of obstacles.

Rail-less mounting can be much quicker, but installers must know what they are doing as there can be a steeper learning curve.

Rail-less is also good for mounting in landscape, but less ideal for portrait orientation, says SunModo. Xie recommends avoiding rail-less on crooked roofs, higher wind areas and tile roofs. Nogueira says he would avoid discrepant roof surfaces with variations over 1 in. You’ll always want to consider the extra attachment points you are adding — the more attachment points, the lower the point load and the less impact on the attachment due to thermal contraction and expansion.

 

System Profiles: Residential Rooftop

SunModo Sundock Rail-free anchor system

SunModo Sundock Rail-free anchor systemThe SUNDOCK Rail-free system offers universal end and mid clamps, which reduce inventory, and allows for snapping in the downslope panel edge as installers work their way up the roof. This means no more reaching over modules to tighten the mid clamps. Finally, the system offers post-module assembly leveling for height adjustments after the modules are installed.

  • Material: Aluminum and stainless steel
  • Flashing included? Yes
  • Certifications: UL 2703 (Pending)
  • Warranty: 20-year

Roof Tech’s E Mount AIR (Gen II)

Roof Tech’s E Mount AIR (Gen II)The E Mount AIR Gen II, has improved features from its predecessor such as IBC 2015 and IRC 2015 compliance, increased warranty terms, fewer parts count, preassembled clamp kit, higher level of adjustability, PE stamped letters and an integrated flashing system. They are fastened with wood screws for direct deck attachment. Roof Tech systems are 100 percent weatherproof certified by the International Code Council Evaluation Services for durability and water resistance and can be installed in about half the time when compared to a conventional lag/rail system, according to the company.

  • Material: Anodized aluminum
  • Flashing included? Yes
  • Certifications: UL 2703, ASTM 2140, ICC ESR-3575
  • Warranty: 20-year

PV Racking’s PV Stealth

PV Racking’s PV StealthPV Stealth is designed with ease and flexibility in mind. Its “clamp-free” design allows for a faster installation of panels, fewer parts and vertical and horizontal adjustability. The big pitch from PV Racking is to remove clamps from the equation and simply lay your panels into place.

  • Material: 6000 series aluminum
  • Flashing included? Optional
  • Certifications: CSA UL 2703
  • Warranty: 15-year

Everest’s CrossRail Shared Rail System

Everest’s CrossRail Shared Rail SystemCrossRail Shared Rail uses fewer rail resulting in fewer roof attachments. This means you can save money on labor, material and reduce time on the roof. To simplify installation, its Slider Kit provides North-South adjustability for easy module alignment. In addition, its structural Rail Connectors allows for safe and quick preassembly of rails on the ground. As an integrated grounding system, CrossRail Shared Rail only requires one lug per sub-array.

  • Material: Aluminum, stainlesssteel hardware
  • Flashing included? With EverFlash Kits
  • Certifications: UL listed
  • Warranty: 12-year

Solar Speedrack’s HRS160 Hybrid Racking System

Solar Speedrack’s HRS160 Hybrid Racking System The HRS160 Hybrid Racking design allows the installer to mount the rails in standard or shared rail configurations. This paired with its Solar SpeedFoot, a non-penetrating solar roof mount, yields increased savings on solar installations. The Solar SpeedRack focus is fewer roof penetrations and reduced components for faster install times.

  • Material: Various materials
  • Flashing included? Optional
  • Certifications: UL 2703, UL 1703, PE Certified
  • Warranty: 20-year limited

MageMount Rail-less Solar Mounting System

MageMount Rail-less Solar Mounting SystemThis system has separate components for module connections and roof attachments. The roof attachment solutions cover all roof types including composition shingle roof, tile roof, stone-coated steel tile roof, etc. All mounting components, including roof attachments, are self-bonded and grounded with one grounding lug. The system is flexible, making it easy to adjust the roof attachments’ lateral position and module height.

  • Material: Aluminum alloy, stainless steel
  • Flashing included? Yes
  • Certifications: UL 2703 and Class A Fire Rating
  • Warranty: 25-year limited

— Solar Builder magazine