Types of Installs: When You Need Them & How They Work

Solar Installation
Solar panels cost

In this post, we will go over the kinds of installs homes and businesses need to consider when going solar. Each of these install types have solar installers that care about the aesthetic, but also want to make sure the solar panels themselves function as well as possible.

There are several different solar install types to consider before making a solar purchase. The functionality of your space will determine the best one for you.

If your home or building is already connected to the national grid a Grid-Tied PV system is usually the most cost effective to install. An Off-Grid system is self contained and uses batteries to store and supply electricity when the solar panels aren’t producing energy e.g. at night.

This type of system is ideal for remote buildings or anywhere where mains electricity isn’t available. A Hybrid System uses a connection to the national grid to import and export electricity as well as batteries to protect against power cuts and store power for use locally. The majority of homes and businesses will have a Grid-Tied PV system.

There are also different types of PV modules and mounting systems. There are two main types of PV system: systems integrated into the roof surface and systems mounted over the top of the existing roof covering, generally known as stand-off systems. Integrated systems are usually installed in new buildings and stand-off systems are generally retro-fitted to existing roofs, although this is not always the case.

On-roof systems

An on-roof solar PV system (also called a stand-off or bolt-on system) offers very good value for money and is a simple way to install PV panels onto an existing roof. It is the most common PV system installed on homes today.

This type of system comprises stainless steel or galvanised brackets which are attached to the roof battens or rafters and an aluminium mounting rail system specifically designed to fit the PV panels. The panels are fixed to the rails using special clamps and then connected together to form the working electrical PV array. Planning permission is not generally required but will probably be necessary if your property is listed or in a conservation area.

In-roof Systems

An in-roof PV system is integrated with the roof. The PV panels are installed flush with the roof and so this type of system is considered to have less of a visual impact than an on-roof one. They are more expensive than on-roof systems but still offer good value for money and are also suitable for existing roofs. Planning permission is not generally required unless your property is listed or in a conservation area.

Solar PV Tiles

Solar PV roof tiles and slates are the perfect choice for a new-build or if you are re-roofing your home or need to maintain the look of the roof . Solar PV tiles fit directly into the roof, replacing conventional roof tiles or slates. This means that the appearance of the roof line is not altered. Solar PV tiles are compatible with many existing conventional tile and slate products. This type of system is more expensive than the other two and can be slightly less efficient. Again, planning permission is not generally required.

Flat roof systems

A flat roof PV system can be fitted to an existing roof and can be aligned for optimum orientation to the sun and tilt. Their efficiency is comparable to on-roof PV systems. However, care must be taken to ensure that the roof structure can take the extra weight. The frames required can make them more expensive and planning permission is required.

Ground Mounted Systems

A ground mounted system does not require a roof and is ideal for larger systems if you have the space. The system can also be aligned for optimum orientation and tilt angle. In this type of system the PV panels are mounted on frames on the ground or can be raised above the ground on mounting poles. However, planning permission will be required and ground works e.g. trenches may also be required which can drive up costs.

Example of a Ground Mount

Go Solar Group Ground Mount in Utah

For some, getting a ground mount for their residence is the best option. A ground mount, however, doesn’t make sense for all solar installations. Although ground mount installations generally cost the same amount on a watt-to-watt basis, you’ll need one if your roof does not have a pitch that will optimize the absorption of light, which is determined by the pitch of the roof and other factors, such as azimuth.

If you can install solar on your roof, that is the ideal option. This is because rooftop solar is less expensive. You will want to consider a ground mount if your home has shade most of the day and, for whatever reason, a SolarEdge inverter would not work best according to the solar installation techs. You may also need to consider this option if your roof doesn’t have enough space for your solar array.

You will need a good amount of non-shaded space for solar panels whether you put them on your roof or the ground. If you don’t have enough non-shaded property near your home a solar ground mount will not work, as some of the electrical components and wiring may be difficult to orchestrate.

Why Solar Ground Mounts Work

Ground mounts make it possible for people with difficult roofs to still get solar. This allows people to save money no matter their roof size and shading.  For those concerned with aesthetic, it also doubles as an option that can be put in the background so as to not distract from the visual appeal of the home (if you think solar panels are ugly). We, of course, do not think they’re ugly. So much so that we even collected a list of terrible lawn decorations that look worse than solar ground mounts.

How Ground Mounts Work

Because the average ground mount is only 2 to 3 feet above the ground, installation for a solar ground mount is quite different. Ground mounts require cement foundations and ground ditches. You will need to check before you start the project to make sure you won’t be hitting anything. No one wants to hit a gas line or electric cable while digging supports for their ground mount, but the installers will be able to take care of that process for you. It is more likely that animals, children or thieves could cause damage to the solar panels because of how close to the ground the panels will be. Do remember, however, that Go Solar Group sells its panels with a 25-year production warranty and 10-year service warranty, regardless of the kind of install completed at your residence.

Pole Mount Solar Panels

solar pole mount
Photo Credit: Solar Generation

Although pole mounts are similar to ground mounts, they are a bit different in their purpose and application. Pole mounts are not typically seen in residential solar installs, but they do have a well-deserved purpose in the renewable energy world.

When You Need a Pole Mount

Pole mounts are the easiest to tilt, and they usually support multiple panels on a single pole, lifting the solar panels higher off the ground than is usually the case with a typical ground mount. One of the benefits of a pole mount is that you can adjust the position of the panel based on the seasonality of or shading of a given time during the day. They also work the best with varied terrain because they aren’t configured in long rows. This means that you don’t need as large of a space to have them installed.

Most use mono-pole mounts for single or dual tracking solar arrays. These systems track the sun, which could optimize your solar panels’ efficiency. If you live in a small remote spot, a pole mount may be a good option for you as well. This is because a single pole mount will only hold a small number of panels, and typical residences require anywhere from 15 to 20 panels to offset an ideal amount of their energy production. Whereas a multi-pole mount will allow you to install more solar panels at a time.

What You Need For a Pole Mount

To install a pole mount, you will need more concrete and a longer post as well as a deeper hole. Because these solar panels are not connected to a row of panels, you can only supply power for small areas. This is one reason they aren’t ideal options for most residences. The good news is that pole mounts are typically higher off the ground than a ground mount. This means that it would be harder for animals and burglars to mess with it.

Rooftop Solar Arrays

Solar Energy FAQs

Rooftop solar is the best option for most residential solar installs. This is because it is cheaper to install and you don’t need to clear space for it, nor does it take up valuable real estate you would otherwise use for your home.

When You Need Rooftop Solar

If your roofs tilt space shading and orientation are all good to go and you have costly power bills every month,then you are set for rooftop solar. If your home gets a lot of sun and your trees don’t shade your roof, you are most likely a good candidate. If you can pay with cash, you are in an even better position to see enduring solar ROI for your home.

Why Rooftop Solar Makes Sense for Homeowners

Rooftop solar is the least invasive of these options, making it the cheapest installation option. Since it is cheaper to install, it means you get a faster return.

If you own your solar panels, in a manner of a couple years you won’t have a solar bill or an electric bill other than the small bill you get to be connected to the grid and the small amount of usage you still pay the power company for. If you get rooftop solar now, you’ll no longer have to worry about how you’re going to keep the lights on in retirement.

How Rooftop Solar Works

The basics of how your solar array captures the sun and converts it into usable energy is the same as it is with other solar panels. The difference is the installation process and where the panels will be positioned in relation to your home.

Unlike ground mounts and pole mounts, you don’t need to dig anything or use cement. Instead, rooftop solar has mounting gear attached to the roof of the home, which is oftentimes called racking.

This is done by drilling the mounting gear to the roof, then sealing those holes.

Is Your Roof Up for the Task? Make Sure You Have 1 of these 3 Roof Types

If you’re going solar, you’ll want to make sure your roof is in good condition. Another factor is making sure you have the kind of roof that can sustain the wait of the panels themselves. Below are 3 kinds of rooftops that consistently support solar panels installation.

Asphalt Shingle – The Most Common for Residential Solar

solar panels on an asphalt shingle roof

A Metal Roof with Solar Panels

metal roof with solar panels

A Tile Roof with Solar Panels

Tile Roof with Solar Panels

Ballasted Solar Arrays and Installs

ballasted solar panels installation
Photo Credit: Solarprofessional.com 

Ballasted solar panels installation solidifies the position of the solar panels in a way that makes for maximum absorption of sunlight and stability of the structure itself, and these are usually placed atop a roof, which makes them somewhere in between a ground mount and a traditional install. Ballast arrays are panels held in place by concrete blocks instead of penetrating the roof of a home. There are a couple of situations in which this type of installation is the better choice.

When Ballast Solar Arrays Are the Better Option

If your home or business has a flat roof, drilling extra holes may not be in your best interest. Getting a ballast installation is not an option for roofs that have a pitch that already achieves what solar panels will need atop a roof. Ballasted arrays are also installed within the ground.

Why Ballast Installations Work

A ballast installation functions the same way as a regular rooftop installation. With ballast systems, you only need to worry about the cement deteriorating.

If you don’t get high-quality cement blocks, they will deteriorate faster. Concrete on the roof could harm the roof membrane. If the concrete breaks, it also means that your panels don’t have anything holding them down, which could, again, result in the need for a warranty. Go Solar Group has experience installing ballast rooftop ground mounts and pole mounts. If you would like an estimate to help you determine the best installation for your home or business we can help.


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