Solar Install Part 1: The Madness of Eichler Roofs

One Row of Solar Panels

As a part of our ongoing home improvement adventure, we are installing solar panels. Between the state and federal rebates, the increasing cost of electricity, and the improvements in solar technology, it is an investment that will pay for itself in a decade or two. Maybe less, if California really starts paying for excess production.

And, of course, Solar scratches my techno-geek itch. In particular, the system we are installing uses per-panel micro-inverters that leverage IP-over-powerline to network with each other to synchronize phase and deliver power back to the grid. As well, it makes the system easily expandable in that we can drop new panels in without having to replace a costly single inverter.

Single Micro-Inverter

Apparently, when this is all said and done, I’ll have access to a web site with a set of schematics that show our panel layout along with individual and overall power generation statistics.

Of course, being that we live in an Eichler, the path between concept and final installation has to have at least one adventure.




Hole In
How Not To Fix A Wire

Not surprisingly, the house’s electrical wiring is the source of our installation woes.

In particular, much of our electrical (and a bit of our water) infrastructure is on the roof of our house. During the original construction, wires were literally thrown over our roof from above the fuse box to wherever their destination might be.

To “protect” the wires, they were covered in metal angle iron quite literally laid over the top of the wires. On top of this, the builders laid down tar paper, tar, more tar paper, and gravel.

Of course, tar paper and gravel is just crap insulation. We have a neighbor who still has the original roofing material and their houses internal temperature stays lockstep with the outside in the summer! Ouch!

So, most Eichlers have been through two phases of insulation upgrades. In the 80s, most people laid down a relatively compact layer of fiberglass covered with more tar paper. An improvement, but still kind of pathetic.

Once foam roofing technology matured, many Eichlers have laid down foam with a thick plastic-y coating on top. Ours is one of them and, actually, we have had two layers of foam laid down. It is beyond 4 inches thick across much of the roof.

And, yes, it does a very effective job of obscuring where the wiring is.

Thus, when the solar installer were using their hammer drills (mistake, assuredly) to attach the mounting brackets to the beams of the house, they managed to hit not one, but two, of the random wires across the roof! An easy mistake to make. Actually, I had pretty much assumed that we would end up with at least one electrical break.

While the installer’s mechanical installation is quite clean and of excellent quality, their electrician simply didn’t know how to deal with an Eichler. His “fix” to the broken wire was to try and inject insulative goo into the broken area.

Unacceptable.

His second attempt at a “fix” was to pull some of the wires up into a box, match colors, and hope for the best. That didn’t work so well, either. Worse, the end result were more dead outlets in the house and other electrical problems.

In the end, we replaced their electrician with the electrician we used during the remodel. Our electrician, Rob, is a top notch professional, pays great attention to detail, and obviously has extensive experience with Eichlers.

Wire Under Metal

Not only did they hit some of the original wiring, the installers happened to drill through one of the two “upgrade” wires that were run over the roof when some previous owner added window air conditioners in, likely, the early 80s.

These wires were “throw and cover” that were tossed on top of the original gravel, the metal covers tacked down, and then covered by the insulation and, eventually, foam. The metal cover is extremely thin; paper thin, really. Thin enough that you cannot see any indication on the foam surface of where these damned wires run!

Akin to throwing a dime off the roof and randomly hitting a line of ants.

You can see the whole in the metal cover that just so happened to drill through the hot conductor of the underlying wire.

Properly Fixing the Wiring

To properly fix the wiring requires cutting away enough of the foam insulation to expose the problem areas along with enough wire before and after the break to make it possible to pull the wires up to weatherproof junction boxes on the roof.

I truly appreciate my electrician’s attention to detail. In particular, he recycled the old wire cover for the two wires that were left in the roof unscathed. While he could have just left the cover on the roof and let the foam seal it down, Rob took the time to properly tie it down to the roof, ensuring it won’t move and pinch the wires. Beyond that, Rob placed the tie directly over the hole that was accidentally drilled in the first place, ensuring that none of the foam goo spooges into the wiring channel.

During the remodel, Rob was also the electrician that placed metal wire protectors over basically every bit of framing with wiring through it. This was, quite literally, 3x or 4x more locations than code dictated and he did it to ensure that the cabinet hangers — during the remodel or any time thereafter — wouldn’t accidentally put a screw through his wires.

Roof

Of course, the timing for all of this just couldn’t be better (need that sarcasm mark right here) as the bay area is expecting Rains of Biblical Proportions. Translating from Stupid Newscaster speak, the does mean that we will be seeing a few inches of rain in the next week, relatively constant precipitation.

Exactly what we need when we have a bunch of holes in our roof! Especially since it’ll be at least a week before the foam company can make it out to seal our roof.

So, at the moment, we have fully repaired electrical system and 6 mil plastic sheeting sealed over the holes containing the fixed electrical. With the rain today, all seems dry on the inside.

Hopefully, we’ll have everything repaired and installed within a week or two.

Ice Skating Anyone?

I did have to add one more photo.

This is a picture of the roof area over the garage. It is also proof quite positive that the foam roof does a wonderful job of insulating the interior of the house.

In particular, that entire area is covered in a thin layer of ice. In the damp early morning air of California, the foam roof does an amazing job of condensing liquid out of the air. If it is cold enough, it freezes to the roof nearly immediately.

You cannot imagine exactly how much of a surprise it was stepping over the peak of the roof to discover that said gentle slope was a frictionless plane!



9 Responses to “Solar Install Part 1: The Madness of Eichler Roofs”

  1. Tweets that mention bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Solar Install Part 1: The Madness of Eichler Roofs -- Topsy.com says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bill Bumgarner and David Lee, chris. chris said: http://bit.ly/5BaA6P bbum's weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Solar Install Part 1: The … http://bit.ly/67NOwT […]

  2. Quynh Dang says:

    I’m glad that you have an electrician that you can trust, you have no idea how rare that is.
    P.S. Oh that sarcasm mark, if I had a nickel..

  3. Dad says:

    Interesting. Thanks for sharing the adventure. Sure seems like a challenging house to work on! What size array did you end up getting total? Any guesses on what percentage of your annual electrical use it’ll provide?

  4. Amie Gillingham says:

    After all that (and still not done–yikes!) are your panels actually collecting anything usuable yet? I have no idea how the stored-energy portion of solar works, although I suspect I’m going to vicariously learn a lot in the near future, lol!

  5. John C. Randolph says:

    BTW, since we live in a semi-arid climate where the humidity is very low when we need air conditioning, you might want to look into a vendor called “coolerado”, which has a very interesting updated evaporative cooling technology. Their coolers vent humid, cool air to the outside, which you can use to cool the solar cells.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMP0BiAt-yU

    -jcr

  6. bbum's weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Solar Install Part 1: The … | Future of Solar Panels says:

    […] this link: bbum's weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Solar Install Part 1: The … Share and […]

  7. Stuff You’ll Like | Chuqui 3.0 says:

    […] bbum: solar install on an eichler (Part 1). I love owning an Eichler — but they definitely come with challenges, the best being a house with no attic OR crawl space, meaning stringing cables is a challenge and a half. Ours fortunately doesn’t have electrical strung across the roof. We also don’t have foam roof; when we reroofed, we stripped it and had R14 rigid laid down and then tar and gravel over it, and it’s made life much nicer here. Except the garage, which turns out to be a faux savings, because the garage is now horribly cold or horribly hot depending on the season, and really should have been insulated as well. oh well, live and learn. (memo to self: ask Bbum for the name of his electrician. a guy who ‘gets’ Eichler is gold). […]

  8. Luc J says:

    Good luck with your roof! Was interesting to read, I never heard of those micro-inverters. I’ve got one single inverter for my 24 panels, working at its maximum capacity and adding panels is just what I’d like to do. But I suppose that I can keep the single inverter for the existing panels and add micro inverters for the additional ones, I’m going to look into that.

  9. Seann Connolly says:

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    [Editor: Yes — this is a marketing comment. I don’t mind marketing comments when they are on topic and appear to be from a legitimate company. I know nothing about Senergy.]

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