Solar Panel Racking & Mounting: Know Your Options (Pros & Cons of Brackets)

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Solar Panels | April 1, 2024

Man holding a solar panel and looking at a solar panel mounting system wonders how do solar panel racking system and solar panel mounts word, and is there a solar panel pole mount, brackets for solar panels, and solar panel mount diy options?

Solar panel racking systems helps ensure that your solar energy system installation is secure and safe.

By properly distributing the weight of the panels, the system is designed to withstand punishing weather and still stay in place, working at full capacity.

There are various solar panel mounting methods to consider, but the most important thing is to find one that matches your specific needs. It also helps to know all the basics of solar panel racking systems to understand which will be the perfect fit.

This complete guide provides information on solar panel racking and mounting system options, so that you can make the best decision for your solar energy needs.

Solar Panel Racking System Types

The solar market boasts various racking options.

Graphics of types of solar panel racking system which includes Roof Mounting, Ground Mounting, Pole Mounting, and Solar Canopy.

Below are the go-to for homeowners:

Roof Mounting

Everyone knows about this mounting method, like a flat roof solar panel, and can easily tell a solar-powered home by looking at the roof. Rooftop installation works for various roofs, from flats to shingles.6

You can also choose between solar shingles vs solar panels based on your needs and budget.

Installers always factor in the roof type and slope, prevailing weather in the region, latitude and presence of shading buildings and trees nearby. You can go for any solar roof type depending on your roof’s age, available equipment, the system’s efficiency, and other personal considerations.

Ground Mounting

Unlike a roof racking system, the panels in ground mounting stay on the land or an open field with posts drilled into the ground. It usually needs more equipment than roof installation but has the advantage of higher efficiency.

They are also easy to tilt for better capture of the sun’s rays and are easy to install, unlike drilling on the roof. Other high-tech systems can also automatically incline to receive more sunlight.

Pole Mounting

Pole mounting is almost the same as ground mounting, but the difference is that the panels attach to poles at elevated angles. The stands are durable and high quality, holding more than ten panels at a time.

You can also opt for mounting on the pole’s side, top, or multiple fixing with more advanced tracking features to help improve efficiency.5

Solar Canopy

These PVs are common in charging stations where electric cars park under the shade and power up underneath. They are user-friendly and better for the environment, unlike powering using grid electricity.

The canopies are rooftop panel alternatives and great for when the needs are too many for rooftop installation.

What Is Solar Panel Racking?

Solar panel racking/ PV racking involves installing solar panels on the roof, ground, or poles to facilitate access to the sun’s rays and their conversion to solar energy.

Choosing a system entails picking and installing all the required components for maximum support and efficiency.1

Two workers during the installation of solar panels.

(Image: Dennis Schroeder11)

The best-racking accounts for environmental conditions, weather, latitude, seasons, and other factors. For instance, you should go for a steep or highly inclined racking system if you live in a snowy region to avoid snow accumulation.

Additionally, when professionals rack the panels, they also consider the type and how much does a solar panel weigh before advising you on the ideal racking method. The goal is to ensure the panels are secure and properly angled for maximum power output.

What Is the Solar Panel Racking Process?

Looking from the outside, you may think that racking and mounting only involve screwing the panels to the roof or ground. The process is complex and intricate; a wrong move may damage your roof or the panels.

You need the perfect mounting method, preparation of the necessary equipment, and the know-how to merge all the components together to create a functioning system. You should also know how to set up the panels after a successful mounting.

Most installers include rails to enhance the panel support, while some go “railless,” allowing the panels to sit directly on the mounts or rails. Lastly, after installing the panels, you must also confirm that the wiring is accurate, which is the most vital process to guarantee that the system will work.

What Are Ground Mount Solar Racking Systems?

A solar ground mount is the best option to avoid rooftop installation. This system uses free-standing panels on the ground a few feet or inches from the building.

Solar panels installed in the middle of a grass field.

(Image: Grendelkhan12)

It works if you need more panels than your roof can hold, and you can consult with the installers about how many solar panels do I need.

However, remember that this system requires sufficient space on the ground to accommodate the panels and related equipment. You also want to avoid shading buildings and structures that interfere with the performance.

Lastly, consider your soil type because ground mounts must be firm and solid; otherwise, there will be complications and weather interference. A professional or geologist should examine the soil type and confirm whether the soil can hold the weight and if there are issues like large rocks underneath.7

Types of Ground Mount Solar Racking Systems

Ground mount solar racking is when the installers set up the panels and equipment near the building. There are three main ways to install the panels on the ground;

Fixed Tilt

Fixed tilt systems are large-scale solar systems in single or dual-post that serve massive facilities. They don’t need too many poles, and you can configure them based on the frame type, making them more cost-effective.

Single Axis Tracker

These free-standing systems look like solar trees. The panels attach to long moving poles that angle according to the sun’s position.

Although uncommon in residential areas, they are a hit in commercial buildings, industries, and large-scale solar setups.

Dual Axis Tracker

Unlike the single-axis tracker, the panels can stand and move on two axes in this setup, facing north-south and west-east. The thought behind this design is to make the system as efficient as possible, allowing better harnessing of the sun’s rays all year round.4

What Is a Solar Panel Pole Mount?

Compared to the conventional rooftop installation, the solar panels here attach to the top or side of poles. It is a go-to where the roof space is too small to hold the required panels, and the best part is that these mounts are unique designs to maximize sun exposure and performance.

The poles are easy to install and perfect if you have a massive unused space. You can set up as many panels as you need since there are no limits based on your roof’s size.

Graphic that shows the solar panels mounting system with the mounting clamps, solar panels, solar rails, solar flashing, and solar mounts.

They are also more effective than rooftop brackets because they are easy to maintain and perform better, thanks to more air circulation.

On the downside, pole mounts are impractical in urban spaces with no access to unused land, and in some cases, various laws deter installing them in neighborhoods. You will also find them relatively pricier considering the high number of equipment you should buy.

Mounting Hardware for Solar Panels

A solar panel mounting kit must have the following components.

  1. Mounts: The mount and stanchion post are important for the racking system because they help keep the system secure from falling due to harsh weather.
  2. Rails: These are metallic items where you lay the panels horizontally. When making them, manufacturers ensure that they are sturdy enough to carry the heavy panels.
  3. Clamps: The clamps are strong stainless steel tools that serve as anchorage systems for solar panels and they help keep all the parts safe on the mounts.8
  4. Flashings: Flashings are waterproof covers that you place after panels installation to protect the roof from leaks. They are usually aluminum or rubber materials that go over the holes after panel installation.

How To Choose Solar Panel Mounting Hardware

Brands sell their products in kits and market them as the highest quality in the market. Some go for reputable brands that always deliver, but besides that, several other factors come into play when choosing a solar panel mounting hardware.

Two workers mounting multiple solar panels through racking.

(Image: Oregon Department of Transportation13)

The first thing is to check whether the products come with extended warranties because they often tell apart the high from the low-quality materials. It also guarantees that the product is durable and long-lasting and will serve you for years.

It also helps to check if the tools are compatible with the roof and the panels, and it is critical to always ask the installers about the details. Lastly, many homeowners overlook the aesthetic part of the hardware.

Although the goal is for the system to work, it may be an inconvenience if it is too bulky and interferes with your beautiful roof. To be certain, you can ask the installers for a picture of previous jobs they have done.

How Much Do Solar Panel Mounts Cost? (Solar Panel Racking)

The NREL rates the solar panel racking to cost about $0.10 per watt, but the cost usually depends on various factors.2 On average, the mounting should cost you around 10% of the entire installation cost, but it depends on the type of system you want to set up and the mounting type.

Ground mounting is relatively pricier than rooftop installation because it requires more hardware and special skills to install. Fortunately, it is more affordable if you utilize tax credits, which stand at 30%.

What Are Solar Panel Brackets?

Solar panel brackets are essential equipment that helps keep the panels safe from sliding or flying off the setup. The brackets feature long-lasting, high-quality material of aluminum or steel to harness the panels.

This technique is widely used because it is cost-effective, particularly for small-scale installation, and it works effectively to protect the panels.

Pros and Cons of Brackets for Solar Panels

Cost-effectiveness is one of the advantages of using brackets for installing panels on the rooftop. It is more affordable, especially for small-scale setups like residential settings.

Two haand in thumbs up and thumbs down.

(Image: Tumisu14)

You can use them to attach the panels on your shed, carport, or any other structure that needs electricity.

However, a downside to this method is that it means drilling holes into the roof, and unless a professional handles the job, there is a huge risk of leaks. It can also be tasking to make solar panel roof replacement because you must take down all the panels and reinstall them.9

Another con is that hooking the panels onto the brackets restricts airflow underneath which can affect their performance.

What Is the Spacing for Solar Panel Racks?

The best part about hiring professionals for panel installation is that they know all the tiny details about the job, including the ideal spacing required between the racks. It can be a complex calculation because the roof must have enough space, and there should still be room between the racking.

Usually, they leave a 4-7-inch space between the rows to allow the frames to contract and expand. Also, the panels should be at least 12 inches from the roof’s edge in compliance with building codes and safety regulations.

Solar Panel Mounting Ideas: Solar Panel Mount DIY Tips

If you are skilled in construction work and electrical installations, you will find DIY panel setups easy and fun. If mounting for the first time, the following tips will tell you how to install solar panels on roof.

Preparation

The first and most critical step of any installation is the preparation process, from acquiring the permits and checking with HOA rules and other potential laws that would restrict installation.

Choose Kits Wisely

The best way to go when choosing solar panel kits is to buy from trusted brands that have been in the market for years. You can confirm from reviews and referrals from people you know.

Pick the Right Panels

Picking panels should be a careful process because you don’t want to buy kits that don’t fit or end up with a faulty system that costs a fortune to replace.

Choose an Ideal Racking System

You should pick the best racking method when setting up the panels. A professional will advise you on the best way forward based on your needs and the nature of your roof.

For example, ground mounting works for homes with small or old roofs but not for urban setups where there is no massive land space.

Tilt Properly

The panels work by harnessing the sun’s rays, and the best way to improve their performance is by tilting them correctly towards the sun. You can tilt your panels at 40 degrees if living in Northern America or 30 degrees in Southern states.

How To Choose the Best Mounting Systems for Solar Panels

The factors below are essential considerations when choosing a solar panel racking system.

Aesthetics

No one wants their house ruined after solar panel installation, and it helps to consider how the impact of the racking method. It is also crucial when your neighborhood has strict HOA rules because you may have to take them down.3

You can ask for pictures to check what the final installation should look like.

Ease of Installation

Affordability is key when you are on a budget, and given the cost of the panel kit, you would go for a system that is easy to install. Luckily, you don’t need complicated equipment to install simple solar power for a household.

Nature of the Roof

Homeowners’ guide to going solar indicates that your roof is important when determining the ideal racking method.10 Installers must check its shape, age, size, and general condition before setting it up.

If the surface area is too small or the roof is too old, the best option would be ground mounting.

Solar panel installation is an excellent idea that many homeowners are adopting because it helps you avoid excessive utility bills. You can either DIY the set up or call professionals to handle everything, but still, it is prudent to know the various mounting methods.

Roof that shows the solar panels at night time.

(Image: Giorgio Trovato15)

Rooftop mounting is the most popular installation method where the panels attach to your roof. The process is simple and easy to maintain down the line, but you can go for ground mounting if you need more panels than your roof can accommodate.

Each user chooses a particular solar panel racking method that serves them best since each has a fair share of ups and downs; you can always discuss with your installation company to help narrow down to the perfect system.

Frequently Asked Questions About Solar Panel Racking

What Are the Types of Solar Panel Racking?

Four main solar panel racking methods exist; rooftop, ground, pole, and canopy racking. Rooftop brackets are the most common in households where the panel hooks to the top of the roof, while ground mounting is perfect for large-scale and commercial use.

What Are the Components of Solar Panel Roof Racking?

Experts know all the tools and equipment to use during installation, and you should as a new owner. You need components like clamps, mounts, flashings, and rails to install the panels, and each has a special role in helping secure the panels and the entire setup.

What Is a Solar Panel Stand?

Solar panels cannot stand on their own. A stand or mounting structure is the best way to keep them secure and grounded. These metallic materials secure them while on the roof or ground, and without them, they will fall off and get damaged.

What Are the Solar Panel Mount Types?

Professionals can help mount solar panels on your roof or ground based on several factors. The mounting type depends on how much power you need, the nature of your roof, the availability of space, and several other factors.

What Are Solar Panel Mounting Rails?

Mounting rails refer to the metallic brackets or harnesses where you attach the panels horizontally during installation. The frames are usually large and heavy, meaning the rails must be durable enough to secure them.

What Are Solar Panel Mounting Brackets?

The panels are most secure when hooked to the mounting brackets; otherwise, they will fly off the roof during extreme weather like storms and strong winds. The harnesses are made of aluminum or steel, which offer a stronghold.


References

1Alt E Stores. (2023). ROOF MOUNTS FOR SOLAR PANELS. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from Alt E Stores <https://www.altestore.com/store/solar-panel-mounts/roof-mounts-for-solar-panels-c460/>

2Green Lancer. (2022, November 11). Choosing The Best Solar Panel Racking System. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from Green Lancer <https://www.greenlancer.com/post/choosing-the-best-solar-energy-racking-solution>

3Palmetto. (2023). Solar Panel Mounting and Racking: An Overview. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from Palmetto <https://palmetto.com/learning-center/blog/solar-panel-mounting-solar-panel-racking>

4Pickerel, K. (2017, February 13). What are the different types of ground-mount solar racking systems? Retrieved April 7, 2023, from Solar Power World <https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2017/02/different-types-ground-mount-solar-racking-systems/>

5Sun Watts. (2023). All Types of Solar Mounts. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from Sun Watts <https://sunwatts.com/solar-mounting/>

6Energy Star. (n.d.). Rooftop Solar. Energy Efficient Products. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from <https://www.energystar.gov/products/rooftop_solar>

7Wikipedia. (n.d.). Geologist. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geologist>

8US Department of Energy. (n.d.). Roof Anchor System for Solar Panels. Building America Solution Center. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from <https://basc.pnnl.gov/resource-guides/roof-anchor-system-solar-panels#edit-group-description>

9US Department of Energy. (n.d.). Replacing Your Roof? It’s a Great Time to Add Solar. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from <https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/articles/replacing-your-roof-its-great-time-add-solar>

10US Department of Energy. (n.d.). Walk Me Through It: A Step-By-Step Guide for Consumers Going Solar. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from <https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/articles/walk-me-through-it-step-step-guide-consumers-going-solar>

11Dennis Schroeder. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Retrieved from <https://www.energy.gov/sites/default/files/styles/full_article_width/public/2021-04/22167%20Rooftop%20Solar%20Installation.JPG?itok=N9l-qejP>

12Ground mounted solar panels Photo by Grendelkhan / Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0). Resized and Changed Format. From Wikimedia Commons <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ground_mounted_solar_panels.gk.jpg>

13Installing solar panels Photo by Oregon Department of Transportation / Attribution (CC BY 2.0). Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <https://www.flickr.com/photos/oregondot/3049872814>

14Photo by Tumisu. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/pros-and-cons-compare-choice-5201376/>

15Photo by Giorgio Trovato. Unsplash. Retrieved from <https://unsplash.com/photos/mIlvCv21W1s>