Rooftop Integrity: How to Install Solar Ethically

Most commercial building owners are aware of the huge financial benefits that can come from installing solar on their rooftop, yet we are not seeing commercial solar growing nearly as fast as the utility or residential markets which have much smaller return on investments (ROI).

So why are commercial building owners turning down their solar energy profit?

One reason could be the bad reputation rooftop solar has acquired in the last decade. This bad reputation could be avoided with a few critical pre-installation steps which will also maximize return on investment (ROI) for commercial building owners.

In this webinar, Point Load Power’s Austin Williams and Integrative Roofing and Solar’s Dan King discuss how to have an Ethical Solar Installation. This webinar will help installers be perfectly in sync with building owners to create a solar project that will stand the test of time.

View the webinar, review the main takeaways below, and download our Ethical Install Feasibility Checklist so you can start utilizing these best practices.

Main Benefits of Rooftop Solar

  • Earn more money or save money on energy costs

  • Improve building owners’ Net Operating Income (NOI)

  • Clean, low-cost energy generated on site

  • Reduce energy costs for tenants

  • Help achieve sustainability goals

  • Redirects the utility company’s revenue to the building owner

  • Tax Benefits

  • Increase the value of your commercial building

To learn more about the benefits of rooftop solar for commercial buildings, see our article, 10 Common Questions About Rooftop Solar.

What is an Ethical Install?

An ethical solar install is one that is organized and executed around the best interests of the building owner. This requires building owners and installers to be on the same page regarding their expectations for the solar installation, roof condition, and roof warranty.

Why Does Rooftop Solar Have a Bad Reputation?

Rooftop solar’s bad reputation is a major barrier for building owners who want access to all the benefits solar offers.

The main reasons for this bad reputation are:

  1. Ignoring the roof

  2. Overpromising the benefits of rooftop solar

Both problems stem from a lack of communication or an inadequate “Feasibility” phase of an installation. During the Feasibility phase, installers need to understand key factors about the roof and the building owner’s goals for the project. Knowing all the facts before the installation will prevent roof damage during installation and will align the building owner’s goals with what the roof can deliver.

We refer to a solar installation that takes all factors into consideration and centers around the best interests of the owner as an, “Ethical Install”.

This means that both building owner and installer are keenly aware of:

  • What the system’s benefits will be post installation

  • Any possible problems with the roof or the solar energy system integration with the roof

  • Expectations for future operation and maintenance (O&M) of the system

Building owners should download our Ethical Install Feasibility Checklist to make sure you and your solar installer are on the same page before moving on to the next phase of the project.

Overlooked Rooftop Performance Factors

The average rooftop solar installation lasts 25 years. To install solar, you need a high-quality roof system designed for installing and maintaining a solar upgrade on the building.

If the roof is in good condition, or the building owner has agreed to revamp their roof to extend its life, next you need to review the roof warranty. The roof warranty could be voided if installation is done incorrectly. For this reason, it is important to make sure the installation is well documented and executed correctly. One BIG myth is that roof attachments void the warranty. This is not true! With proper due diligence, there will never be exemptions in warranty due to the attachment. See more on roof mounts in our article The Ballasted vs Mechanical Attachment Debate.

Due diligence is an important pre-project cost. Due diligence in this conversation means thoroughly assessing the roof to get a better idea of how it will perform in the long run with a solar installation. This is the best way to avoid roof and solar installation damage. Sometimes installers count these costs as customer acquisition costs and absorb them without payment. This can be great for the building owner as long as installers don’t consider these sunk costs and cut corners. We highly recommend building owners pay for thorough due diligence – this helps the project, the building, and the building owner no matter what rooftop decision is made. It also signifies commitment and builds trust. The building owner demonstrates that they are invested in finding the right rooftop solution and the installer has an incentive to understand everything about the project before even starting an installation.

The Feasibility Phase

The Feasibility Phase requires the building owner and solar installer to discuss what is feasible for the solar installation given the rooftop’s condition and the building owner’s energy goals. This phase should be based in fact finding and done before the design or construction phases of the project.

By organizing around a singular vision for the project, installers can more accurately predict the level of success of the installation.

Unfortunately, building owners often do not see the benefit of this stage and by skipping it, pay a significantly higher price down the line in roof repairment costs or lost revenue and savings.

Download the Ethical Install Feasibility Checklist to ensure you’re having the right conversations before starting construction on your solar installation.

The Design Phase

The most important factors to consider in the Design Phase are the mounting system and weight load. You also must know how installing solar will affect the life of the roof.

Important Roof Weight Load Considerations:

  • What is the existing roof design, what are the roof components?

  • What is the roofing structure and framing?

  • How much life is remaining in the roof?

  • How will the existing life be affected by solar?

  • What roof maintenance is required after the installation is complete?

  • Can the roof handle the required maintenance to realize return on investment?

  • How much weight can the roof withstand and how much energy is the building owner looking to produce?

The main Attachment Methods are ballasted attachments and mechanical attachments. When feasible, Mechanical Attachments are almost always better for your rooftop because of the excessive damage ballasts are known to cause.

The main problem with ballasted mounting is that ballasts add significantly more weight to your roof, they can move, they can degrade, they can tear the membrane, all of which damage your roof and possibly the solar array.

To learn more about rooftop solar mounting check out our article: The Ballasted vs. Mechanical Attachment Debate.

The key thing to remember is that your solar system and your rooftop system are not isolated components. They must be integrated to offer environmental protection and revenue/savings generation together. You need both for an ethical solar installation centered around the best interests of the owner. Treating the roof as a cost center to be managed at minimum requirements or a solar system as a stand-alone revenue generator is a recipe for disaster. In an integrated system, these components work together to protect the building, increase the value of the building, and offer a consistent, favorable return on investment for the green energy champion writing the check.

If interested in rooftop solar for your commercial building, check out PV Booster, the first tracking mount designed for commercial rooftops, resulting in up to 70% more energy than the standard fixed-tilt mount.

Renee Holden