A Solar Installer Explains the Many Ways Roofing Contractors Can Be Involved in Solar Installations

Roofing: It seems like it would be a good idea for a roofing contractor to maintain a “partnership” with a solar installer.

Bennett: It certainly is a good thing when we’re working together because we each have our own area of expertise. They do the interface between the solar and the roof and we come in and put up the modules and the electrical system.

An additional way for us to work together is through leads. Many solar contractors pay lead-generation companies to bring them qualified customers. If a roofing contractor is doing a roof for someone and asks whether they’re interested in having their building evaluated for a solar-power system and the customer agrees, we could pay the roofing contractor for the lead or pay the roofing contractor a commission if a project comes from that lead.

Roofing: On a new-construction project, do you have specific tips for coordination/ scheduling?

residential solar arrayBennett: It’s pretty much like any other project where you have multiple trades. Sometimes it’s a little tricky because we’re not always working for the general contractor. A lot of times the solar is kind of an afterthought or is being treated differently; the owner may be contracting with us directly.

When we are working through a GC, solar is often a pain in their butt. They’re not used to dealing with it and they don’t understand what’s required. There are structural reviews of the building and other issues and the GC will often be the bottleneck. That’s why it’s good for us to communicate directly with the people actually doing the work on the roof.

If we’re not going through the GC, then we have to coordinate directly with the roofer. It just requires a little bit more attention because roofers are used to going to their weekly meetings and getting their updates from the GC. Now all of a sudden there’s another company to coordinate with. A lot of times we are contacting a salesperson but have trouble because we are waiting for a quote or they can’t help us with scheduling. We need to be connected sooner with a project manager or whoever is in charge of scheduling.

Roofing: Do you see roofing contractors as your competition?

Bennett: A lot of roofing manufacturers are getting into solar and creating and selling solar products—racking, panels and specialty products—in parts of the country where solar has better incentives. We’re not seeing a whole lot of it in Ohio but I know they are hoping to train their authorized roofing contractors to install these systems themselves, maybe in conjunction with an electrical contractor. Often there’s no solar contractor involved. I think over time we’ll be seeing more of that.

Certainly in some cases roofers may get trained to do solar without an installer, but there are a lot of different aspects to installing solar—the system design, the engineering review of the roof structure, the array configuration, the racking, the grounding, the electrical system. Many electrical contractors have discovered you can’t throw a bunch of parts together and expect the solar-power system to perform well. Just like we don’t install roofing and flashing. We could get out the roof cement and stick the boot on there, but we want quality work so we hire a roofer because they do this every day and they know what they’re doing and they’re going to do it right. Roofers, electricians or any other contractor should think about all the issues when they get into solar.

That’s not to say other trades can’t get solar training, but it’s important good solar systems be installed. Anything that isn’t done well hurts the whole industry. Even if we’re not the ones completing the solar installation, we have a vested interest in it being done right, so we would encourage any roofing contractor who wants to install their own systems to go through the appropriate training and NABCEP [North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners] certification. But, mostly, I expect we’ll do what we do and the roofers will do what they do and we will work together to make it happen.

PHOTOS: Dovetail Solar & Wind

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About Christina A. Koch

Christina A. Koch is editor in chief of Roofing.

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