How to Install Solar Panels on Your Roof: Step-by-Step Guide

Installing solar panels on your roof can seem like a daunting task, but don’t be scared of doing it. This post will go over the basics of what you need to know before undertaking this project. We’ll also provide tips for installation to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible. So, whether you’re ready to go solar and want to know how to install solar panels on your roof (or just want to learn more about it), read on.

Learn in This Article

  • Why Install Solar Panels on the Roof
  • What to Consider When Installing Solar Panels on the Roof
  • How to Install Solar Panels Yourself: Step by Step
  • What Are Solar Shingles
  • Do I Need Permission to Install Solar Panels
  • What to Do If I Can’t Install Solar Panels on My Roof

Why Install Solar Panels on the Roof

In fact, the solar system doesn’t necessarily have to be installed on the roof. However, the roof is the best place to do it. Here’s why.

In general, the roof gets the most sunlight exposure, making it the most optimal place to install a home solar system. But, as you’ll soon see, it’s not always that easy or possible.

What to Consider When Installing Solar Panels on the Roof

Before looking into any solar panels for your home, you first need to determine if installing them on your roof is an option. So, without further ado, here is what you need to consider before starting the installation process.

House Location

The first thing you need to do is check for any potential obstacles that could block sunlight from reaching your solar panel system. This includes trees, buildings, and anything else that could cast a shadow on your panels. If your entire roof is in the shade, installing solar panels on the roof isn’t the best idea.

Orientation and Elevation of the Panels

Solar panels need to be installed at an angle to maximize their exposure to sunlight. The ideal angle varies depending on your latitude, but most panels are tilted at 30 to 45 degrees. 

Tip: Use a solar calculator to see the best angle for your location.

Also, solar panels on your roof should be installed facing true south if you live in the northern hemisphere and true north if you live in the southern hemisphere.

Roof Structure and Type

Roof structure and type will affect the method of solar panel installation. So, if your roof is made of tile, metal, or another type of material, the requirements for solar panels on a roof and the installation methods will slightly vary (don’t worry, we’ll explain). We’ll have a shingle roof in mind when explaining the installation process step by step but will touch on differences in other solar panel roof mounts.

Shingles Roof

If you have this type of roof, mounting solar panels on a shingle roof is relatively easy, with special mounting brackets attached to the roof. However, you must make sure that your panels are rated for the specific type of shingles you have. Also, it would be best to prepare some silicon caulk or roofing tar to seal around the edges of the panels to prevent leaks. Plus, use stainless steel screws and washers to secure the panels to the roof.

Tip: Round washers provide a better seal.

Tile Roof

In order to learn how to install solar panels on a tile roof, you must understand that tile roofs are harder to work on because the clay tiles are brittle and can easily be broken or damaged. Most often, installing solar panels on a tile roof requires the temporary removal of a few tiles (to cut holes), potentially exposing your roof to water damage. Not ideal, you’ll agree.

In some cases, you can go for tile replacement mounts, which are shaped like tiles and put in the place of tiles under your solar system. This is a new thing in the solar panel installation world, and we welcome it with open arms.

Unfortunately, not all tiles are shaped the same, so if you can find a tile replacement mount fit for your roof, you’ll have to go traditional and remove a few tiles. To avoid unnecessary damage, you must use special roof mounts that will not ruin your tiles (or make as little damage as possible). You can either use hooks or double flashes to mount your solar array.

Tip #1: double flashes prevent panels from rattling in the wind and damaging your tiles.

Tip #2: use a sealant (e.g., tar or silicone) to seal the newly cut holes.

Standing Seam Metal Roof

There are many types of metal roofs, and each solar panel installation requires a bit of tweaking. However, standing seam plates allow for mounting solar panels on the roof without drilling—a dream of all solar installers. And how do you do that? It’s simple: just choose a solar system that clamps onto the seams.

Flat Roof

Solar panel installation on flat roofs is a bit more complicated, and your solar array will take up more space to avoid panels shading each other. Unlike pitched roof mounts, where the roof angle usually determines the angle of panels, solar panels on a flat roof benefit from the possibility of adjusting the angle as you wish. This helps maximize the output. So how to install solar panels on a flat roof? Typically, you’ll use a ballasted racking: tubs weighted down by cinder blocks, gravel, rocks, bricks, etc.).

Roof Strength

Roof strength should also be taken into consideration when installing solar panels. Most residential roofs can support the weight of solar panels, but if you have any concerns, it’s always best to consult a professional. Solar panels weigh approximately 2.8 pounds per square foot for pitched roofs and about 5 for flat ones.

How to Install Solar Panels Yourself: Step by Step

You’ll practically have no problems setting up a solar power system if you know your way around electricity. However, before you jump into DIYing a solar roof installation, you should consult with a qualified solar panel installer and an electrician, no matter your expertise level. After all, meddling with wires can be deadly. Roofs, too.

(Reminder: we’re explaining how to install solar panels on a shingles roof)

Prep Necessary Materials, Tools, and Safety Equipment

The first step in mounting solar panels is to gather the necessary materials, tools, and safety equipment. You will need solar panels, PV wire, stanchions, rails, mounting brackets, a drill, screws, and lags. You should wear a tool belt or have your tools within reach (it’s not like you can jump down from the roof every second to get something). Also, it’s essential to wear legitimate fall protection equipment.

Mark the Location of Stanchions That Support Solar Panels

Once you have all of your materials, the next step is to mark the location of the stanchions on your roof. Roof stanchions are support structures in the form of large metal screws that hold up solar panels. Pull up your home’s blueprint since you’ll be attaching them to the rafters.

Tip #1: Make sure stanchions are level before you drill any holes.

Tip #2: Place stanchions at least four feet apart.

Fix the Stanchions

To be able to fix the roof stanchions in place, you must first drill holes in your rafters. Use steel bolts and an impact driver to secure them.

Tip: Remember the sealant? You should use it here! 

Install the Flashing Under the Shingles

You should install the flashing under the shingles and secure it to the rafters using a bolt. The flashing protects your roof from leakage, keeping it waterproof even after drilling holes in shingles.

Attach the Rails

The role of rails is to carry your solar array panels. You must attach the rails to the stanchions with bolts, tightening them properly (impact driver should do the trick).

Ensure the Rails Are Parallel

Again, we must insist on everything being level. Not only do the rails have to be level, but they also need to be parallel. The easiest way to determine if they are parallel is to measure both diagonals. If they’re equal, you’re good to go. If not, you’ll have to adjust the rails (or, god forbid, drill again).

Tip: Place the middle rail last after making sure the upper and lower rails are neatly placed. The middle one should also be parallel.

Place the Inverters

Everything before this step is easy peasy compared to solar inverter installation and wiring. First of all, you should study what types of wires and equipment you need for this.

After that, you should install a micro-inverter under each panel. Also, make sure your inverters have bare 6-gauge grounding copper wires installed.

Tip: Don’t forget to shut off your power supply before doing any wiring.

Mount the Panels

Before mounting the panels, make sure the plug connections are all linked. After doing so, you can place your panels on the roof stanchions. You’ll first attach the brackets to the solar panel (and you’ll probably do it on the ground). Then, you’ll lift the panel, align it with the rails, and use clamps and bolts to fasten it to the rails. Repeat the process for each panel.

Make sure to wire the solar array panel by panel, parallel with each other. You must put wires into the panels and run those wires to power inverters to create a conductor system. You should be able to run the wires to the inverters through the hollow of the rail.

Connect the Solar Inverter to Your House

It would be best to pull wires from the panels to connect them to a solar inverter, an electrical meter, and an electrical sub-panel. Connect the solar inverter to your house’s electrical panel. Use the provided wiring diagram to ensure that the inverter is connected correctly. If your solar inverter is located outside, keep it out of the sunlight. You should also connect it to the battery (if you have it) and the fuse board.

What Are Solar Shingles

Solar panel shingles are a type of solar panel designed to look like traditional asphalt roofing shingles. Solar shingles are made of thin-film photovoltaic cells laminated onto a backing material, thus are less visible on the roof and can provide a more aesthetically pleasing option for some homeowners. Solar shingles for your roof are also easier to install than traditional solar panels.

Do I Need Permission to Install Solar Panels

It’s essential to check with your local zoning regulations to see if there are any restrictions in place. In most cases, you won’t need to obtain special permission to install a home solar system (aside from a building and electrical permit, which you’ll probably have to get).

However, there may be some setback requirements that you’ll need to consider. Before installing solar panels, you may need permission from your homeowners’ association, local municipality, or even your utility provider. In some places, these allow only professional solar installers to tackle the job of mounting solar panels. Additionally, make sure you’re respecting all the historic district design standards.

What to Do If I Can’t Install Solar Panels on My Roof

We touched briefly on the possibility that the roof may not be the best place for a solar panel mount. In that case, you will probably benefit from a ground mount solar system. Solar panels can be mounted on a pole or frame and placed in a sunny location. You will need to ensure that trees or other objects do not shade the solar panels during the day. A solar ground mount or a pole-mounted system typically requires more maintenance than roof-mounted systems. Also, you may need extra permissions, depending on your area.

Our Takeaway

The roof is usually the most suitable place for solar panel installation. Although it’s sometimes not the most accessible place to work (with all the climbing), roof solar panels require less maintenance than other types. Plus, you can opt for solar shingles, and they won’t look like solar panels at all. Now that you know how to install solar panels yourself, with a few tools, a little planning, and some elbow grease, you can have your own solar panel system up and running in no time!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I install my solar panels myself?

If you have experience with electrical wiring and are comfortable working on your roof, it’s possible to install solar panels yourself. But if you’re not sure of your abilities, hiring a professional is best. They will be able to do the job safely and efficiently, but they’ll also be able to offer advice on the best placement for your panels and how to maximize their efficiency.

Is it easy to install solar panels on the roof?

It depends on the size and type of solar panel system you want to install. It might be easy if you are doing a small project. However, if we’re talking about a large commercial installation, it can be very complex.

What type of roof is best for solar panels?

The best roof for solar panels, orientation-wise, is a south-facing roof that is not shaded by trees or other buildings (for the Northern hemisphere). When it comes to roof material, metal roofs are a popular choice because they are durable and, in some cases, allow for mounting solar panels on the roof without drilling. However, they can be expensive. Asphalt shingles are less costly than metal roofs, and they can also be used on homes with steep roofs. No matter the roof type, if you learn how to install solar panels on your roof, you can benefit from solar energy.