Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Solar Panel Install. Day 1: Murder on the Roof.

Today, I had one mission: Solar panel. Install. 

I knew it wouldn't be as easy as it seemed. From the instructions and the videos I've seen, the work is straightforward and uncomplicated. There are only a few warnings to heed, but thankfully little that can go wrong.

Attaching the provided feet to the panel was an easy matter of nuts and bolts. The hardware was provided in the kit that I bought, which is of the "Renogy 100 watt" description.

Next step was to take out the yellow stepladder. I lifted the panel onto the roof, and slid it approximately to the middle. I wanted the panel to sit squarely on the roof with no overhang, and sideways didn't look good. I turned the panel ninety degrees, and now it hung over the front. My reaction to this was "Fuuuuuuck...."

I was full to the brim of coffee and prescription amphetamines. "OK," I assured myself. "A small setback," I claimed to my brain. "All I have to do is move the vent."

I took off the solar panel, leaned it up inside, and returned to the roof and sat down. The vent could be moved back about four inches, which would allow the solar panel to sit back from the front edge of the roof. My primary concern was that an overhanging solar panel would catch highway-speed winds like a sail. Moving the vent would prevent that possibility, and I convinced myself this was important to get right.

I removed all the screws from the vent's flange, and used a razor knife and a putty knife to cut the silicone caulk and butyl tape. After some fighting and persistence, I pried out the vent. I taped some plastic inside the ceiling of the van to attempt to protect the interior from what was next. I used a jigsaw to expand the vent hole, which gets fiberglass dust everywhere. The plastic caught most of the debris, except where the jigsaw punched ten thousand holes. Moving on.

Now a couple hours had passed, and I stared down at the massive hole. I cut some scrap 3/4" plywood to fit the gap toward the front. I screwed the patch in place using some small flat galvanized plates with holes. It looked a little bit shy of what I'd call professional. I put the vent back in place with a new ring of butyl tape under the flange. I ran a fat bead of silicone around the edge of the vent, and in the gap around the plywood patch.

My plan was to use foil-backed roll roofing to cover the patch, but first I needed the silicone to dry. In normal conditions, that would mean a 30-minute break, but in 39 degrees, the estimate is closer to "forever."

I was running out of steam, and still didn't have the panel in place. The sun was already threatening to leave. I drilled holes in the roof for the wires from the panel, and marked where the feet would be screwed down. But I couldn't make a permanent connection yet, because the back of the panel would overlap the patch, and I would not be able to access the gap to put down the roll roofing.

So I was stuck.

My meds wore off, and my brain started to congeal. I raised both middle fingers toward the sky. I screwed down the panel in a temporary manner, and tried to ignore the instinct to shotgun a fifth.

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