Solar Power World editors reached out to the people spending hours on rooftops every day for their insight on the best tips and tools for residential solar jobs. Ryan Zaricki, founder and president of Bloomington, Indiana’s Whole Sun Designs shares his thoughts below.
What’s your favorite installation tool?
Zaricki: There are two things I’ve become a big fan of — and both relate to ease of movement and safety. I was doing installs for years before I realized the benefit of a good pair of shoes. Vans skate shoes or Cougar Paws make life on the roof much more safe and easy. There is also a new product out there called Pitch Hoppers. They create a stable surface on the roof, and they’ve replaced all of the old couch cushions we’ve sacrificed. They’re worth their weight in gold — or couches, at least.
What’s a piece of clothing you can’t live without on the job?
Unless you’re really into heat stroke or own stock in suntan lotion, a wide-brimmed straw hat and a light, long-sleeved button-up shirt is essential for working in the hot and humid Indiana summers.
What’s the best solar install tip you won’t find in a manual?
Get the bottom rail installed first. It becomes a toe-hold for building out the rest of the array. You’re basically building a ladder on the roof from there up. Also, something we’ve been encouraging the crew to do is make sure that they install the DC conduit and junction box ASAP. This allows the ground crew and roof crew to decouple and move on to another job.
What’s a question you have about a new solar product or installation process?
I’ve always hesitated to be a guinea pig for brand-new products, so I tend to stick with what’s tried and true. However, I see a lot of possibilities for rail-less mounting systems and pucks (flash-less) for roofing attachments, but I’ve yet to make the leap. That being said, I was an early adopter of the SnapNrack system and I have no regrets there!
What’s an install tip you learned the hard way?
I learned that the most efficient way to get panels from ground to roof is to simply shoulder them up a ladder. Originally, it was a two-person process, but a few years back, one of our new crew members shouldered a panel and walked it up the ladder, and we haven’t looked back. The other key point in regard to workflow — I’m a big believer in getting the worst part of a job done first. So we like to stage panels on the roof (on Pitch Hoppers) first, take a little break, then install them.