Steps for Installing Your Own Solar Power System
There are 13 steps in the process, so it is fairly lengthy, and it’s definitely a learning experience. The challenge of DIY solar is learning what to do and how to do it. The Solar Barn Raising group makes it easier because we train and assist you through the entire process.
This document outlines all of the steps involved in homeowner-installed solar power, in the order they occur.
If you are interested in do-it-yourself solar power, here are some up front considerations before you get started:
- Inform Yourself — Read everything on this website to decide if Solar Barn Raising is a good match for you.
- Roof Height and Steepness — SBR does not work on high or steep roofs for the safety of our volunteers. Your roof must have good access and no more than moderate pitch.
- HOA Rules — Does your homeowners association have any rules or restrictions regarding solar power?
- DIY Experience — Are you a hands-on person, willing to take on a project with a learning curve, and have the initiative to get things done?
- Roofing Condition — Does your roofing need to be replaced before installing solar?
- Moving Soon? — your payback period with SBR is about 5 years; if you are moving before that , solar may not be a good investment.
- Roof Sun Exposure — If not good, do you have room for a ground-mounted system? We can assess your roof remotely; shading is the biggest problem.
- Participate in SBR — We invite you to participate in our installations to observe the process.
- Tell Others about SBR.
2. Contact Solar Barn Raising
- Contact Us — to let us know of your interest. Contacts: Will Rietveld (970-422-5233; willjanet@bresnan. net) and John Lyle (759-6251; firstname.lastname@example.org)
- We will send you a contact form to obtain information on how to contact you.
- We also send you an information request form to enable us to determine the system size you need and fill out an application for a utility interconnection. This includes some questions about your annual electricity use (in kWh), the type of system desired (roof-mount or ground-mount), and desired location.
3. We Do the Following Remotely
- Purpose — When you start working with us, our initial goal is to get you through the utility interconnection approval process (step 5 below) ASAP. The outcome from that step can be a game changer, because you may need to pay for a “service upgrade”, which may affect your decision.
- We Look at Your Roof — Using Google Satellite View.
- We Measure Roof Dimensions — using Google Satellite View.
- We Determine Roof Azimuth — using an online tool.
- We Check for Potential Shading Issues
4. We Contact You by Phone
- Determine System Size — using an online calculator PVWatts, we determine system size interactively with the homeowner.
- Location — we discuss the system location.
- Questions — we ask a few more questions, and answer yours.
To determine the system size you need, add up your power consumption (in kilowatt hours) from one calendar year of electricity bills (or call the power company), and then use the PVWatts calculator to determine the system size needed to produce that amount of electricity.
A roof mount system is the easiest and least expensive PV system to install. Check your roof for open exposure to the sun and note any shading issues. There are few perfect roofs with open southern exposure, so there’s often some compromises. East exposure will work because it is usually less cloudy in the mornings. We recommend a ground mount system only when a roof mount won’t work.
5. Apply for an Interconnection
- Application — We fill out the utility application (for LPEA or Empire) and email it to you to sign, print, and deliver.
- Utility Evaluation — The power company runs a software program to determine how your proposed system with interact with their grid.
- Possible Outcomes — Approval is not guaranteed. Outcomes can be: 1) Yes, no problem; 2) No — your area is already saturated with solar; 3) they will allow a specified smaller size system with your utility connection as is; 4) if you pay for a specified “service upgrade” they will allow the system size you propose; or 5) a combination of (3) and (4).
- Can be a Game Changer — That’s why we want to get you through this step at the very beginning, ASAP, because paying for a service upgrade could change your decision to install solar.
For LPEA, you need to submit an “Application for Interconnection” . There is no cost or commitment to apply. It’s very important that you do this early in the process because a service upgrade may be necessary, which costs money, and may alter your decision to move forward. We do not advise purchasing any solar equipment before you have your interconnection approval.
The application has 3 parts: your completed application form, an electrical (oneline) diagram of your proposed system , and a printed aerial view of your house with the location of the PV array drawn on the rooftop or ground. We do this for you because we want to expedite the application process and get you to the decision making stage.
Deliver your application package to Amanda Miles at her LPEA office (phone 970-247-5786 ext 3404) at 45 Steward St, Durango. Amanda will first do a site visit and send you a confirmation email (that is NOT your approval). Then, at her office, she will run a computer program that determines how your proposed system will interact with the grid. After that test you will get a letter in the mail with either an all-clear approval, or an engineering report that outlines a service upgrade that you will need to pay for in order to install the system you propose. See next paragraph.
LPEA may require a service upgrade in order for you to interconnect your PV system, often a “dedicated secondary” is required so your system does not overpower your neighbors’ houses. This can cost several hundred dollars. If you decide to go ahead with the service upgrade, you need to resubmit your Application for Interconnection form, with the Service Upgrade box checked, to Amand Miles at LPEA. At the same time you need to submit a $300 deposit to Carolyn Fuller at LPEA to authorize the upgrade; the remainder is due when the work is completed. It’s important to do this right away so the upgrade does not delay interconnecting your PV system. If LPEA crews are busy the upgrade could take a month.
6. Site Visit
If everything is going well to this point, and you want to move forward, we will make a site visit. We would be willing to do a site visit earlier in the process if you live nearby, but we are reluctant to drive to the far corners of the two counties before we are certain that you have utility approval and want to move forward.
- Evaluate System Location — we take a close look at roof access, roof obstacles like vents, and shading.
- Design Your PV System — together, we use and online PV mounting system design tool at www.ironridge.com to configure your PV system.
- Measure Roof — the design tool provides the dimensions of the proposed system; we make sure it will fit in the available space.
- Questions — we answer any questions you may have.
- Reviews — following the visit, the racking system design and the electrical system design are reviewed by specialists.
The IronRidge Design Assistant at www.ironridge.com allows you to evaluate different design options to fit your PV system to the dimensions of your roof. Create an account, click on the design assistant for the type of system you want (roof mount or ground mount) and work out the arrangement of the solar panels on your roof or ground frame. The solar panels we currently use are Boviet BVM6612P-320; the design assistant will know the dimensions of the panels. For a ground-mounted system, the Design Assistant provides the spacing of support posts and physical dimensions of the support structure.
Once the design is finalized, the Ironridge Design Assistant generates a list of mounting hardware needed. Share your list (click on “My Projects” and select “Share”) with John Lyle (email@example.com). A specialist will check over the hardware list and place the order. A separate order is placed for each unique installation, and is delivered to your house by truck. You must pay John immediately after the hardware is delivered. Solar panels are purchased as a combined order to obtain quantity discounts.
7. Decision Time — Ordering Materials for Your Project
- Order Mounting Hardware and Inverter — with your athorization.
- Delivered by Truck to Your Home
- Solar Panels Purchased in bulk — you pick them up.
- Reimbursement — you must reimburse us ASAP for the materials and shipping cost.
8. Obtain an Electrical Permit
- DIY Option — in Colorado, a homeowner can do his/her own electrical work, as long as it meet the National Electrical Code and passes inspection. In this case the homeowner obtains the permit online at DORA website, and pays with a credit card.
- Electrician Option — you can opt to have an electrician do the electrical connections for your solar power system. In that case the electrician obtains the electrical permit and handles the inspection.
When your LPEA application is approved and you want to proceed with your installation, you need get a Colorado state electrical permit for your PV system. This is required. If you will be doing the electrical connections yourself (allowed in Colorado), you obtain the permit; if you are having an electrician do the electrical connection, he obtains the permit. A fee is charged; the amount is based on the cost of your system. DORA requires that you get a permit before you start the work. (If the above hyperlink doesn’t work, copy and paste this link into your browser: http://cdn.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?c=Page&childpagename=DORA-Reg%2FDORALayout&cid=1251632720960&pagename=CBONWrapper)
To obtain your permit online you will need to create an account, provide the requested information, and pay with a credit card.
9. Install Mounting Rails
- Roof Mount — mounting brackets are bolted to the roof, and need to hit the rafters.
- Ground Mount — mounting rails are attached to a constructed pipe frame set in concrete.
- Homeowner or Contractor Installed — we require the homeowner or his/her contractor to install the mounting rails the roof, SBR will not be responsible for any roof leaks. We can recommend a contractor experienced at mounting rails on a roof. SBR volunteers will assist with aligning posts for a ground mount frame, but the frame construction is the homeowner’s responsibility.
A roof-mount system simply involves attaching the rails to the roof. A ground-mount system involves a lot more work and costs about 10-15% more to construct a pipe frame secured in concrete, and dig a trench to the main electrical panel.
Our policy is for the homeowner (or his contractor) to install the rails on his/her roof. We have two reasons for that policy: 1) it’s important to bolt into the rafters, and the homeowner can take the necessary time to do a good job; and 2) the Solar Barn Raising group will not be responsible for any roof leaks. It’s important to use a proper sealant, depending on the type of roof. We can send you a document that lists recommended sealants.
10. Install Solar Panels
This is usually done as a “solar barn-raising” where members of the group come to your house to install the panels (rails and panels for a ground mount). By this time you have assisted in other installations and are familiar with the process. We usually install all the panels in one day (rails and panels for a ground mount), connecting them together as we go. The host homeowner usually provides lunch for the group.
11. Connect the Solar Power System to the Home’s Electrical Panel
Many homeowners have a qualified electrician do this last step. We can recommend a good electrician experienced with solar power systems.
However, in Colorado a homeowner can do this himself, as long as it complies with the National Electrical Code. Included in this step is labeling system components in accordance with the National Electrical Code– as a minimum you need to label the AC Disconnect, the PV Solar Breaker, and the main electrical panel with “Warning: Dual Power Supply. Utility Grid and PV Solar Electric System”.
12. State Electrical Inspection
An electrical inspection is required by the Colorado Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA). Submittal guidelines are outlined at:
The electrical inspector for PV systems is Don Nowlin (303-869-3461), firstname.lastname@example.org. Don insists that you submit the required information one week before the inspection, so submit exactly what he wants (no more), and don’t leave anything out.
13. LPEA Inspection and Startup
After you have passed the state electrical inspection, submit the following to Amanda Miles (247-5786 ext 3504) at LPEA: Your DORA Inspection Report (from the electrical inspector), Certificate of Completion Form, Application for Renewable Energy Credit Form, and a W9 Form (Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification which you can find by doing a search for W9 at https://www.irs.gov/).
Amanda will come to your home to inspect the system and turn it on. Then she will put a yellow sticker on your main electrical panel that shows it’s approved.
You are now the proud owner of an operational PV Solar Electric System.
Need help with filling in forms? Call Will Rietveld (422-5233) or John Lyle (759-6251) with specific questions. However, don’t call us and ask “what do I do next?” That information is here in this document; please read it thoroughly and print it for future reference.