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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

DIY Solar Part 5: Tools For Installing a System

So, now its down to the fun part. You've designed a system, found the kit, its here, its ready to be put up. Now what? Let me start by saying that installing a solar power system is WAY too big a subject to cover in a couple blog posts. In fact its something most people should leave to a professional. But, since we're all about empowering people with do it yourself knowledge, we'll cover the basics and offer suggestions for finding more details for your specific situation. In this example remember we're talking about a 2000 Watt roof mounted grid tied system, one of the most popular.

This tool set by Klein would come in very handy on a project like this.

Safety Equipment
As always safety comes first. For starters makes sure you have a really good, solid ladder. Make sure it doesn't have broken or loose rungs and it should extend at least 3 feet PAST the top of your roof when leaned against it at a safe angle. Don't scrimp here, you'll be going up and down that thing a lot and most accidents occur falling off ladders, not falling off roofs. Technically you are supposed to have a rope and harness system at all times as well. These systems can attach to ridges and will save your life if used properly. Many equipment rental stores will rent large ladders and harnesses.

As always a good set of gloves, safety glasses, and work boots are indispensable. That roof surface can be more slippery than you think, especially in cold weather. For 10:12 roofs and above you may want to install a temporary walkway system with 2 x 4's running perpendicular to the slope. This will take some extra time but can actually speed up the actual installation process. If you've got the budget, or the fear of hospital bills, a boom lift (sometimes called a JLG or a cherry picker) can lift you into hard to reach places safely and quickly. These too can be rented easily.

This is a good example of a roof where you could use a mechanical boom lift.
The roof is steep, there is little room to work, and plenty of room on the
ground for the machine.

Hand Tools
If you are buying a prepackaged kit, your tool requirements are pretty basic. The kits these days come connectors, often multi-contact type, that are very simple to connect. There are many projects though that bits and pieces of wire that must be cut to fit, so a standard electrician's list of pliers (small and heavy duty), wire strippers, utility knife, and diagonal cutters will be helpful. You'll also need a small torpedo level, multimeter voltage/amperage tester, chalk line, and a set of sockets for assembling rail hardware. If you are building your own system from scratch you'll need heavy duty cutters for large gauge wire and crimpers for attaching connectors, check with your local equipment rental shop for these (they are very expensive!).

Power Tools
For 90% of solar installations all you'll need is a power drill. Depending on your roof anchoring system and your roof makeup you may want an impact drill, but usually not. For standard residential roofs with asphalt shingles and wood rafters, a simple battery pack drill will do just fine. You'll want a nice long bit (refer to your roof anchor instructions for bit sizing) and some socket inserts to tighten rail hardware.

Next we'll get into the laying out the system and putting up panels. Kriss Bergethon lives off the grid with his wife in Colorado. For more information visit his website at Thin Film Solar.

1 comment:

letsgetsolar said...

Ya- you could do it yourself or-
You could just rent from a company that does all of the install and permit and repair and maintenance hassles for you