By Brandy Diana Kay, marketing associate, Mounting Systems
With rail-free racking trending in the market, installers now have many options to choose from in both railed and rail-free solar mounting configurations. But how can an installer know if a rail-free design is right for them? There are a few key differences when determining which system is best for your company and projects. Knowing the benefits of each system can make the process easier and more cost-effective.
Installing rails on an obstacle-filled roof can be tricky, especially when installers need to cut rails on-site. Rail-free provides the advantage of high design flexibility, accommodating otherwise cumbersome and complicated layouts and offering more freedom in the placement of each stanchion. However, if an installer faces a design that is fairly straightforward and simple, such as a two-by-four consistent block of modules, then a railed installation may serve as a more suitable solution, especially if an installer is already familiar with a particular railed system.
Conveniently, properly designed rail-free systems provide ample amount of both North-South and vertical adjustability similar to that found in many railed systems, so the installation of these newer systems may not seem too far off the beaten path from more traditional installations. With a trained crew of installers, the installation times for rail-free should be faster (or at the very least similar) than railed systems. Similarly, both systems require the same number of roof attachment points, governed by how much load the roof can take, so neither system sees a notable difference in the number of roof connections.
So where can installers see the significant difference? In the soft costs. Installers will notice large differences in shipping and handling. No rails means less material in inventory, more storage capacity, smaller trucks and less money spent on shipping. Features such as integrated bonding and pre-assembly further decrease the overall part count for rail-free solutions. At the installation site, less material is carried onto the roof and on-site cutting is eliminated, allowing for more installs per day.
However, there is one caveat. Although these changes are noteworthy, they do show a higher return on investment for large installers who benefit from economies of scale than those who perform just a few installations per week. Companies with multiple installation crews see the value more quickly than smaller installation companies. Should smaller installers then disregard this new trend in solar? No, the advantages of going rail-free are still considerable and cost-effective, just more time and patience will be needed until these differences become more apparent for certain installers.
Going rail-free is certainly an innovative and revolutionary racking option that is breaking ground within the solar industry. Capitalizing on this trend can reap certain benefits, yet those benefits may be more immediate and transparent for some installers compared to others. Knowing the right system and when best to use it can make all the difference for any solar installer.