Solar Panel Installation: Roof Mount or Ground Mount?

Kenneth Wilson

Solar Panel Installation: Roof Mount or Ground Mount?

If you drive around your neighborhood, you may very well see homes with solar panels fixed to their roofs. These definitely catch your eye and are easy to see. However, roof mounted solar is not the only option. There are also ground mounted solar units. Which one is best for your needs? Let’s take a look. 

What is Ground Mounted Solar? 

Most people are familiar with roof mounted solar, which secures panels to the roof of your house. However, what is ground mounted solar? Ground mounted solar systems are just that – any type of solar array that is fixed to the ground. 

Typically, a structure is built to support the solar panels in a yard or field. This is designed in order to maximize the angle of the solar panels in relation to the sun, generating an optimal amount of power. Ground mounted solar arrays are more convenient in terms of access for cleaning and repair. 

For ground mounted solar panels to be a good option, there are a number of things that a person needs to consider. First, there needs to be space available. Secondly, the panels need to have clear access to the sun. While things like trees may create problems for rooftop solar, they can present more difficulty for units mounted on the ground.

Now, let’s take a look at the benefits and disadvantages of roof mounted and ground mounted solar. 


Benefits of Roof Mounted Solar

The biggest benefit of roof mounted solar panels is the cost. Roof mounted panels are cheaper for a number of reasons. First, they are easier to install. This may seem surprising as the installers have to work atop a roof versus on the ground. However, the roof provides an existing mounting structure. Additionally, they use fewer materials, which adds to the expense for ground mounted units. 

Additionally, a major benefit of roof mounted solar panels are that they utilize unused space. When you install solar panels on your roof, you aren’t losing any space. However, ground mounted units can take a significant amount of space from your yard, which is a major consideration for homeowners. 

Rooftop panels also have the benefit that they provide protection to the roof. They also cannot be easily accessed by unauthorized visitors. Another benefit of roof mounted solar is that it is typically easier to get a permit. This will obviously vary from place to place; however, roof mounted solar is typically more accepted. 

Disadvantages of Roof Mounted Solar

Despite the number of benefits, there are also some disadvantages to roof mounted solar panels. The most notable is the difficulty accessing the panels. Climbing onto the roof for cleaning and maintenance is less ideal than simply walking outside. This is compounded if a roof is very steep. 

Solar panels are warrantied for 20 – 25 years and can often last longer than that. Thus, it is quite possible to need to replace a roof before needing to replace solar panels. This can be a costly endeavor as you’d essentially have to pay to install your solar panels twice. 

For some homeowners, there may not be enough usable space on the roof that is a suitable location for panels. Rooftop units typically need approximately 500 square feet of usable space. Thus, the size of the system could be limited depending upon the size and orientation of your roof. 

Finally, putting holes in your roof could lead to water damage in some situations, particularly if the installation is not done well. Most installers will take many precautions during installation to prevent this, but it is still a consideration. 


Benefits of Ground Mounted Solar

The most significant benefit of ground mounted solar is simply the ease of access. While solar panels do not need frequent maintenance aside from cleaning every three to four months, being able to access them from the ground is a distinct benefit that can make your life easier. Solar panels tend to not need repair; however, if they do, ground access is another benefit. 

Another benefit of ground mounted solar deals with the structure and design. In relation to structure, ground mounted units have stronger racking, making the unit even more durable than the already strong rooftop arrays. In terms of design, ground mounted typically provides more workable space, allowing more options for installation. 

Another benefit typically seen by ground mounted units is higher efficiency. This may vary a bit; however, the general rule of thumb is ground mounted panels are more efficient. Higher panel temperatures lead to lower panel output. Ground mounted units are typically cooler than those on the roof. Ground mounted panels are also not limited by the shape of a roof, so they can be installed at an optimal direction and angle. 

Disadvantages of Ground Mounted Solar

There are some disadvantages of ground mounted solar panels as well. The most notable is the cost. Ground mounted units are more expensive and more labor-intensive. In addition to installing the panels, you must also install a racking, which requires more parts and pieces. The specific cost can vary by area, so checking with an installer is important for decision-making. 

Ground mounted units take up usable space. For people with smaller yards, this may be a particular disadvantage. However, for those with more space available, this may prove to be an acceptable tradeoff. Additionally, if you have a yard with lots of trees, there may not be many options for a ground mounted unit. 

When installing solar panels, you’ll need to obtain permits from your local government. Permits for ground mounted solar are often more difficult to obtain as well as more expensive as it involves the installation of a new structure rather than a change to an existing structure (your home). 

Finally, ground mounted solar panels are simply less aesthetically pleasing to some people. Obviously, this varies from person to person, but it is something that many installers often hear from customers considering the two options. 

Final Thoughts

While rooftop solar panels are more popular, ground mounted panels provide an additional option. When comparing the two, price is often the biggest difference with rooftop panels being cheaper as they are easier to install and require less material. The major benefits of ground mounted solar panels are ease of access for maintenance and repair as well as the increased efficiency from more custom mounting and cooler temperatures. 

When determining which type of solar panels would be ideal for your home, there are clearly many things to consider. In addition to those things discussed in this article, it is also important to consider the age and condition of your roof for roof mounted units as well as the long-term plan for the plot of your land for ground mounted units. Reflecting upon these things will help you better assess which type of unit is right for you. As always, discussing your options with your installer can help provide clarity to the decision-making process. 

Kenneth Wilson
January 22, 2021

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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