Choosing a Trusted Solar Contractor
Distressed by the many obstacles on the road to solar, Michael of Robesonia, PA approached Belmont Solar in mid 2019 after experiencing serious problems. The building inspector did not approve of the installation or grant a COC (Certificate of Completion) because of the many flaws in the setup, which had been done by another local solar contractor. Technically, as well as administratively, there was much work to be completed or re-done. The technical aspects would significantly raise the cost, and working with the authorities for the permitting, as well as for setting up the Solar Renewable Energy Credits, would bring additional expenses.
We at Belmont Solar hesitated to move on the Robesonia solar install project. We wanted to follow our beliefs, and we felt that the Christian way to handle this was to give the solar contractor a chance to correct his work and finish the project with the Certificate of Completion. We also knew our involvement would necessarily raise the overall cost for the homeowner. That could discourage him to the point of disbanding the solar install project.
For a while, we heard no more about the situation and figured Michael and his solar contractor found a solution. Then, in early 2020, we got another even more distressed phone call from Michael explaining that the wind had destroyed his system. Michael really took a beating during his project. Unfortunately, this story is not unusual, and it is a good reminder that doing your homework before choosing a solar contractor will pay off in the end.
As a customer, it is easy to ask to see proof of certification by the NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) when talking to the solar contractor. You should also look at online reviews. Usually, the details are right on the solar contractor’s website; and while you’re there, check to see if the contractor is a member of the Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, etc. All of these help indicate a solid, well-defined, and established business that made its mark in the local, or even national, solar arena.
What Happened to the Install by the Original Solar Contractor?
These photos can give you an idea of the amount of serious damage a storm can cause to a ground-mounted solar panel array built with underrated materials. As the saying goes, “A pictures is worth a thousand words.” You can see that the panels are shifted and the components constructed to provide support are bent and leaning forward.
When Belmont Solar did a deep analysis of the Robesonia solar install after the storm, we found various reasons why this system could not withstand Mother Nature’s forces.
Obviously, installing a ground mount is like placing a large sail in an open field. The force of high winds will test the materials you have chosen, but this was no hurricane. The system was taken out by 32 mph winds, with gusts up to 40 mph. It had held up for only a couple of months before being destroyed by a weather situation that is not a rare occurrence.
This solar install in Robesonia, PA was built using thin-walled, 1.5-inch, unthreaded pipes, anchored into the ground only 1.5 feet deep, while the frost line is at 3 feet for the Lancaster area. In addition to being mechanically underrated, the installation included electrical components that were underrated for the application. For example, a 60-amp breaker box contained a 100-amp fuse, creating a potential electrical overload and fire hazard.
Rebuilding the Solar Install in Robesonia, PA
An old Dutch saying, when translated to English is, “Let the cobbler stick to his last.” It means that those who work at any craft should stick to what they know best and not try to go beyond the range of their expertise. We are very good at installing solar. However, we need our network of friends to help us with some related aspects; for example, the heavy-duty construction of the ground mount frame. The construction of the new framework for Michael was done by a good friend of ours, Josh Miller of GoliathTech Keystone, LLC. Josh is a trusted frame builder, local to the Lancaster area, and has built many ground mounts for us. Rather than using poured concrete, Josh used specially designed “Earth Augers.”
Earth Augers, part of a helical (screw-type) pile system, are not affected by frost in the wintertime and have a much higher pull-out rating than poured concrete pillars. They are the ideal solution for the solar industry, as there is no need to wait for concrete to harden after the installation. The solar contractor can start working while other piles are being installed. Designed for the highest wind exposure (Factor C), and installed deep into the ground beneath the freezing level, they ensure that the system can withstand a constant wind speed of 100 mph and a snow load of 40 psi. The framework connected to the Earth Augers uses thick-walled, 2-inch threaded tubing. Michael’s new system already withstood a storm in May 2020 that produced gusts up to 80 mph.
Once the frame is up, we step in and build the solar array using our signature Tough Trac mounting rail. Tough Trac is a subsidiary of Belmont Solar and produces mounting rails with exceptional rail strength, the strongest in their class. They are rated for 120 mph winds for spans of up to 80 inches as well as 80-pound snow loads over 48-inch spans.
The result is a 25 KW system delivering ample power to Michael’s home, and a happy family with the promise of guaranteed power production for many years to come.
In summary, don’t make the same mistake. Doing your research prior to choosing a solar contractor will certainly help your solar installation process go much smoother. If you do have questions about the solar installation process or choosing a trusted solar contractor, contact our knowledgeable team at Belmont Solar. We have plenty of experience installing all types of solar systems, including Grid-Tie, Off-Grid, and Grid-Tie with Battery Backup. It’s our personal goal to help you experience the benefits of solar without the hassle!