When I decided to become an expert at Green homes and Green Features in a home, I also made the commitment to Green my own home as much as possible. I’ve added insulation, installed a NEST thermostat, added rain barrels, installed a hybrid water heater, and much more.
But the big one, the improvement I was most excited about was my 9k Solar PV Panel install.
With each improvement I have made posts on the success and the excitement of seeing the power bill go down, the pride of knowing I was doing something to lessen my carbon footprint and that I was paving the way. However, with the solar project, so many things went wrong the excitement of posting was; as you can imagine, greatly diminished. In an attempt of sparing you the same headache, I’m sharing with you “my PV install gone wrong” story.
What went wrong with my Solar PV Install
Number 1) I made too many assumptions about the experience of my installer.
I have always looked for two things in any provider; passion and their organization. After this experience, I will add emphasis to researching past experience to my list of criteria. In my defense, I met my contractor at the Northwest Green Home Tour where they had installed a small PV solar system. Their company logo had the word “solar” in it which was everywhere on the literature and clothing apparel. And my salesperson was over the top enthusiast and passionate. What I came to learn later; was that they were just starting to branch out into the solar PV install business and had very little prior experience. Solar is a new big business and contractors are running to get a piece of the pie, make sure they don’t make your home their classroom.
Number 2) They sub-contracted to even less experienced electricians
On the day the install was to start, the entire team came out. There were very excited about the process and my husband and I were giddy as school kids on the first day. The panels were installed rather quickly and it wasn’t until the inspection process with King County as part of the final permit process started that we realized things were going wrong. I could rant all day long about the things that went wrong, but my goal is to be more productive and helpful to you. Make sure your contract for work with a solar installer states that all subs will be supervised by a PV expert.
The first electrician my solar contractor hired made basic electrician mistakes. For example, he ran a live wire through the entire length of my attic without putting the wire in conduit. After months of this electrician camping out at my home and wasting not only his time but the county inspectors time, I finally demanded a new electrician come to my home to remedy the project.
I can only assume the 2nd electrician was also lacking in actual Solar install experience based on the errors we discovered long after he supposedly remedied all the problems. The 2nd electrician was able to complete the job in order to pass the county’s inspections but it wasn’t until we had a separate solar installer out that we really got a grasp of just how bad things were. I’ll get back to the individual errors later.
Number 3) There was never an assigned project manager
One of the most discouraging aspects of hiring any general contractor is when they drop the ball and the homeowner has to become the general contractor out of necessity. Remember the over-the-top enthusiast and passionate salesman I told you about earlier. He was no longer my contact or even available, I actually thought maybe he was laid off or fired. Eventually, he came back to oversee the project and ultimately he didn’t see it through to the end. Make sure you interview the assigned project manager for your install, not just the salesperson.
Number 4) Lack of craftsmanship
The last and final upset was the utter lack of craftsmanship to the project. As a real estate agent whose been on 100’s of home inspections, you always cringe when you see someone has hacked up the original mill-work in a home or installed components unaware of how it might impact another function of the home. When the install on my home was in process, the contractor had run a stainless steel conduit across the top of the roof before it penetrated the attic access. While this conduit might have been ideal inside the attic, laying directly on the roof was both on eyesore and would now require maintenance to remove debris that was sure to be trapped on the upper side of the conduit versus leaving enough space to allow rain water and debris to fall off the roof. If you see shoddy workmanship call it out immediately.
Righting the wrong
The fact that so many things went wrong turned out to be a blessing. We decided to have another solar install provider inspect the system. Even after seeing the spotty craftsmanship, the lack of communication and the complete inexperience of the contractors, I was still surprised at the number of mistakes found. The below list put together by the new solar company will help you know all the things that can go wrong with a solar install.
Dangerous / Code Violations / Voided Warranty Issues
the 2.9 Eltek Inverter has 2 Strings (4 PV wires) going into it. On this day, partly cloudy, this Inverter was registering as high as 2.95 of electricity being produced.
– the 4.4 Eltek Interver has 1 String (2 PV wires) going into it. The highest electricity produced on this day was never more than 50% of what the 2.9 Inverter was producing.4 Junction Boxes on Roof near Solar Panels:
– 3 of the smaller junction boxes; each had ½” of water in them (unknown how it got in there); each of them also had improper splicing of PV Wire to PV Wire; splicing was held together by black electricians tape and the splice itself was resting in the water in the boxes
– the 1 big box was difficult to get the lid off because it was partially under one of the solar panels; inside the box was the same improper PV Wire splicing as above and this box has 1 ½” of water in it with all splices in the water;
– in that 1 big box the GEC wire from the Solar Panels was NOT connected at all to the GEC wire that exited the box and went to the Inverter area where it was then allegedly grounded; a very large coil of GEC wire was in the box, unknown why, but in no way were the two ends connected to each other
Rails (that Solar Panels rest on)
– 4 rails are longer than 24” from a brace on west end of their end point (40”, 47”, 47”, 63”).
PV Wires on roof:
– 10+ PV Wires are laying / running on the composition roof for extended distances
Pipe that collects the 3 Strings of PV Wire on roof:
– Pipe straps not flashed (they used clear caulk)
CRAFTSMANSHIP ISSUES / NON-AESTHETICALLY PLEASING ISSUES
– Solar Panels are in 1 row of 9 panels, and 3 rows of 8 panels (an eye sore from the approach to the front of the house); the 9th panel could easily be moved to a different functional and aesthetically pleasing location
– Solar Panels are not in straight rows (when looking from the front yard; minor adjustments)
– Rails themselves were not leveled causing panels not to be all flush with each other
– Rail ends on their west end, besides being too long as stated in code violation area, are also not cut evenly (when looking from the front yard)
– 2 different locations the holes cut into the Soffit are much larger than the pipe going through it and the open space is not covered with material to keep small animals (rats, birds) from entering attic spaces
– ¾” pipe converts to 1 ¼” pipe on the roof; pipe also rests on the roof, causing among other things leaves / twigs to be collected on the upper side of the pipe (moss and other issues could easily result over time if not cleaned out a couple of times a year)
– Unable to confirm if braces supporting rails on the roof hit trusses
– Red placards on Inverters, meters, not 1/8” raised as required (but it did pass inspection, eventually)
Newly Installed System
Sometimes you don’t quality until you see it firsthand. The day I came home after the new company finished their work, I was overjoyed with the results. The panels were level and laid out beautifully. The ugly metal conduit was no longer strung out across the curb side of my roof, in fact, the wiring on the new job is almost invisible. And most importantly, my 9k system was actually generating 9k of power.
Why I didn’t mention the contractors name
My original contractor was humble and did take ownership of their errors. They have also decided to forgo the solar install business. For these reasons, I decided not to mention them publicly. However, if you want to know my opinion on a contractor, you can always email me at Jana@JanaSchmidt.com or call me.