Solar Panel Mounts
We all know by now that solar power systems are a win-win. They lower the cost of utility bills, which makes living more affordable. They’re a smart environmental choice, since they harness solar energy from the sun and transform it into electricity through solar panels.
But you may have some more specific question when it comes to choosing or installing your own solar energy system. For example, what are solar panel mounts? Do you need them? If so, what kind and what size?
What are solar mounts?
Solar panel mounts are racks or frames designed to hold solar panels in place. They’re typically lightweight and designed to be adjustable so that the panels can be tilted to the proper position. The mounts can be positioned in most sections of your property, and they’re built to provide a firm hold that stands up to high levels of wind during operation.
Types of Solar Mounts
There are three different types of solar panel mounts available to homeowners and business owners looking to take advantage of the sun: ground mounts, pole mounts, and roof mounts.
Solar Ground Mounts
A ground mount is a durable frame that mounts right to the ground on your property. This frame is designed to hold a specific number of solar panels, which depends on the frame.
Many ground mounts are designed to hold the panels at a fixed angle all year round, which means that the panels won’t run at full efficiency throughout the year. Some of the panels have a built-in angle-adjustment, allowing you to get the optimal angle for gathering sunlight throughout the year.
When plenty of land is available, and trees aren’t an issue, a ground mount is an economical way to hold your solar panels in the right position. One major benefit of using a ground mount is that the panels are readily accessible for maintenance and cleaning. There’s also no worry of stressing your roof system, or inadvertently letting water into the roofing during the mount installation.
Considerations to Make for Solar Ground Mounts
Ground mounts are against local codes in some towns and cities around the country. It’s important to check with the local code enforcement agency to make sure the mounts are allowed in your area. It’s also important to make sure the soil conditions on your property are good enough to hold the mount in place effectively. Sandy or loose soil might need to be compressed before it can be used for a mount.
Solar Pole Mounts
A pole mount is a durable rack or frame built to hold a set of solar cells that’s mounted up on top of a single pole. One well-installed pole is capable of holding a surprisingly large number of solar panels—at times, up to as many as sixteen.
There are a couple key benefits of using a pole mount instead of a roof or ground mount. First, pole mounts take up less ground space than ground mounts do. Imagine having the pole of a basketball hoop setup somewhere in the middle of your yard—it’s much less obtrusive than a full frame spread out over a large section of land. The pole will likely put the panels six or more feet up in the air and let you maintain that ground space.
Another benefit of a pole mount is that you’ll be saving your roof from unnecessary stress. You’ll also avoid the risky climb onto your roof, but you can still get your panels up high enough to avoid potential shade from trees.
Many times pole mounts are designed to allow the panels to swivel from side to side, as well as tilting up and down. This makes sun-tracking technology viable, and it allows for more efficient solar installations overall.
Solar Roof Mounts
One of the most common types of solar panel mounts seen and recommended today are roof mounts. These mounts are desirable for many systems because they keep the panels up and out of the way, which is also the most common spot for optimal sunlight.
They are also surprisingly affordable, since they can often and easily be flat mounted to the roof. This is because most rooftops already provide the angle necessary to gather sunlight effectively.
While the mounts themselves are pretty affordable, they can cost a pretty penny to be installed. That’s because the installer has to climb up on the roof and attach them without disturbing the existing roofing that’s already in place. It’s a delicate and sometimes dangerous procedure that’s more time consuming than installing panels on pole or ground mounts. While roof mounts are up out of the way, they typically end up costing more in the end after the installation is complete.
Above or Below the Roofing
Some roof mounts are designed to go underneath your roofing during the installation. These make it easier to remove your panels at a later date, or to replace the roofing on your home without disturbing the panels themselves.
This type of mount system must be installed before the roofing of your home—much the same as a skylight installation. The mount goes down and the siding is installed up and around the mount with flashing to keep a watertight seal. Usually this style of mount is a flush-mounted system with the panels sitting right on top of the roof, but there are some mount systems that go under the siding, while having supports that are installed underneath the roofing.
Choosing the Proper Size
When choosing the size of panel mount system you want to use, it’s important to think of the future and your current needs. A smaller mount system is undoubtedly more affordable than a large mount system, but that doesn’t mean getting the smaller system to accommodate your current panel figure is the way to go.
If you believe there is a good chance you’ll want to expand the size of your solar array in the future, it makes sense to get a larger mount rather than a smaller one. Getting a mount that’s built to hold eight panels is much more affordable than getting two mounts designed to hold four panels each. In this case, it pays quite well to plan ahead.
You Need a Solar Permit
During most solar panel mount installations, it’s vital to have a permit before putting the mount in place. If you plan on making your own mount, it will need a stamp of approval from a civil engineer to signify that it’s safe—which can cost as much as $500.
Consider the Costs
Because it’s one of the most time- and labor-intensive parts of hooking up the system, solar panel mounts are one of the biggest costs during a solar power system installation. Before deciding on solar panel mounts for your home, it’s important to find out how much each will cost you, including the labor to have them installed. Use the cost of each setup, along with all the benefits that they provide, to help you choose which one you’re going to go with.
Consider Solar Tracking Systems
Solar tracking systems are add-ons to solar mounts that are designed to help turn the panels to face directly at the sun throughout the day. With 90% of the sun’s energy in the direct beam of light that it produces, this direct beam can only be captured completely by a panel facing right at the sun. The farther the panel is tipped away from the sun, the less efficient it is. This results in even carefully installed static solar panels operating with nearly 50% to 75% efficiency losses at some point during the day. Solar trackers can help salvage those hours when the sun just isn’t shining directly on the panels like it needs to be.
Consider Ground or Pole Mounted Solar
While there are roof mounts that will track the sunlight and swivel to keep the panels oriented properly, these mounts are quite expensive and difficult to install. In contrast, pole mounted or ground mounted units can be of the swiveling variety without being overly expensive or difficult to install.
If you plan on having a solar tracker included as part of your solar power system, it’s a good idea to consider ground or, better yet, pole-mounted mounts for your system. They can give you the tracking that you need to get more power out of your system throughout the day.
Solar mounts aren’t just used to keep solar panels in place during windy conditions. They’re designed to maximize the efficiency of the panels by keeping them oriented in just the right way to catch that direct beam of sunlight full on. This means allowing the tilt of the panels to change throughout the year, and also allowing the angle of the panel to change throughout the day.
Some of the best mounts can greatly maximize a solar panel array’s efficiency, and they can also increase power production so much more than simply adding a few panels will—so choose wisely!