Installing solar at heights is in itself intense and comes with added safety measures. But moving components to a rooftop worksite adds time and more physical demand to a job.
Contractors get solar equipment to commercial roofs with the assistance of heavy machinery or by carrying components up ladders on a sloped residential rooftop. Once everything is situated and secured on the roof, the system still needs installed.
Services that pick up bills of materials for solar projects and deliver them straight to roofs have appeared in select regions in the United States. In the residential solar markets in parts of the Midwest and Southwest, there is Final Mile Solar, a rooftop delivery and warehousing service; and in Greater New York City, Allied Solar Products serves commercial rooftop projects.
The two companies have different approaches and requirements for their services, but both remove the tasks of coordinating delivery and hoisting components to the job site for solar installers.
Commercial eastern seaboard delivery
The developed landscape of New York City leaves no potential for ground-mount solar systems or space to safely deliver solar components at the street level for installers. Instead, they must hire boom truck or crane services to lift solar equipment to a rooftop worksite.
Allied Solar Division, a solar products distributor and subsidiary of Beacon Roofing Supply, offers a rooftop delivery service to select commercial customers throughout New York City and parts of the eastern seaboard.
“It is on a case-by-case basis. It’s not something that is done with every job, it’s something that is done on an as-needed basis,” said Peter Lippert, national VP of Beacon’s solar division. “Some of the smaller contractors, instead of trying to hire a crane — which in New York City can be $8,000 minimum — they can pay us a flat hourly rate and it saves them money as long as we have the boom available.”
The service expanded from Beacon’s rooftop delivery for roofing and siding supplies, after finding solar contractors were requesting some of the same materials for their photovoltaic jobs as well. Allied is mainly a full product line distributor for solar, but can offer installers other materials if they’re required to handle tasks like roof cover replacements.
The company uses its fleet of boom trucks to hoist solar components up to 10 stories from an on-vehicle crane. Allied’s rooftop delivery is not for outside hire and is strictly offered to its customers purchasing solar products through the company.
“In New York City, you just do not have the space to store products. If space is tight on a job site, then eventually the products need to be on the roof anyway, so it’s a convenience factor because they leave the logistics up to us,” Lippert said. “They don’t have to coordinate when the products are going to be there and when it’s going to be lifted.”
Lippert said clients have cited convenience and cost-savings as a motivator for using the service. Partnering with Allied gives solar installers greater control over guarantees and product delivery than if they outsourced a boom truck, he said.
Residential rooftop delivery
Final Mile Solar of Salt Lake City, Utah, was founded in 2017 as a for-hire rooftop delivery service for residential solar contractors. Founder and CEO Nate Bendall spent eight years working in the operations side of solar EPC services. He started the company after receiving a string of inconsistent deliveries.
Bendall tracked how accurate and on-time component shipments from distributors were and realized that, in his case, a little over half were either missing equipment, showed up late or both. That meant installers had to run back to suppliers to get the right components, ultimately increasing job times.
“We thought if we could have everything delivered to the roof the day before installation with guaranteed 100% accuracy on the actual bill of material that’s being sent over, then this would help the installation go so much smoother,” Bendall said.
The company’s delivery service works like this: An installer places an order with a distributor. Final Mile delivery personnel pick up the equipment based on the given bill of materials, load it into a box truck and drive it to one of the company’s warehouses for storage. Final Mile contacts their clients’ customers ahead of time and informs them that they are delivering the equipment to their homes, then drives the components to the worksites.
Delivery personnel arrive the day before the job, and they haul the solar components onto the rooftop using a pulley system, ladder hoist or simply by carrying it up the ladder (if it’s a Monday job, everything will be delivered on Friday). The equipment will be waiting on the rooftop for the installers when they arrive, ready to start construction.
“The day-before delivery is crucial,” Bendall said. “It allows install crews, especially for big companies, to install multiple systems a day.”
The equipment is secured on the rooftop with Final Mile’s patented roof rack, which is attached to the peak of pitched rooftops. Panels are rested in the racking, and the remaining components are secured on the rooftop in bags and using ratchet straps. Installers can also use the rack as an anchor point to tie off.
With deliveries, homeowners are liable for the equipment that’s dropped off in their yard or on their driveway. Unlike commercial worksites, fences aren’t set up to secure components, and day-before delivery on the ground runs a risk of theft, Bendall said.
“Having it up on the roof, up off the ground, gives them that added level of security,” he said. “That’s one of the main benefits.”
When the installation is complete, crews can leave the roof rack, excess components and trash that is left over, and Final Mile employees will haul it all away.
Trash pickup was a time-consuming task for Arizona-based contractor Elevation Solar. After each job, the company had to pack everything up, drive it to the dump and pay to deposit the garbage.
“It became more and more of an issue, to where something you think is pretty small got really aggravating and frustrating to our installers,” said Greg Andersen, VP of operations at Elevation Solar.
Between dealing with cleanup, delivery delays and carrying components to the roof, installers were adding between six and eight hours of extra time to installs. Elevation was able to cut that time and reduce its crew size from four to three people with help from Final Mile rooftop delivery.
“We’re very nimble and asset-light, so we actually do not warehouse anything,” Andersen said. “We utilize distribution for basically our warehouses.”
Elevation installs solar in nine states, and Andersen estimated the company uses Final Mile’s services for about 70 to 80% of its jobs.
“I was skeptical at first,” Andersen said. “It’s been a great value-add to us. It’s helped us make sure that we’re installing when we’re supposed to be installing and keeping up and being efficient at the same time.”