One small hardware decision can cause -or prevent- water penetration & improve serviceability for the life of your SolaDeck!
Today I want to look at one small but critical element of what keeps your SolaDeck wiring water-“proof” on the roof and the difference between a $2 component (“the usual”) and a $15 component that we prefer at SolarNinjas.
In most solar installations you will see a SolaDeck wiring box on the roof that will contain either wiring passing through into the home directly, or circuit breakers to protect and isolate the rooftop work for service.
Done right, a Soladeck installation looks something like this (including permanent protection for wiring that keeps it off the roof surface, which is required by electrical code).
Now what you might not be able to see and tell, is how we’ve protected the customer for decades to come with small simple product quality choices that are not common in the industry, but we hope they will be. Do you see how the wires go into the SolaDeck box?
A “usual suspects” cable fitting for the SolaDeck is a cheap plastic bit that is often bought in bulk, comes with some material for free, or can be picked up at home depot for a few dollars. It is designed to be “weather proof” and when installed in the correct direction (like facing downwards) it will keep out rain, spray, drips etc and is supposed to hold the wire snugly in place. It looks something like this in grey or black:
These cheap connectors are easily ruined by overtightening and are often loose as a result, they’re extremely cheap (as little as $1 each if bought online in bulk) and are generally unreliable for heavier cables. They are not watertight.. they are “weather resistant”. Inside they have often paper thin rubber seals and plastic teeth to grip. The little seals tend to disappear and not get used. These connectors often break when you open them up once or twice and you can wreck them with your bare hands…
Perhaps most importantly:
THESE ARE NOT INTENDED TO BE USED HORIZONTALLY AND WHEN EXPOSED TO RUNNING WATER OR MELTING SNOW.
To be fair to everyone out there using these and similar products, the box itself provides some limited protection as well… and the angle of the roof also helps keep water from migrating in any real amount so snow is the more serious issue. This is a quality and future protection, serviceability and pride issue more than an immediate risk. The cheaper connectors are more risky on gentle roof slopes than steep, and other factors play in as well. We prefer to engineer the risk to effectively zero and have a universally better solution as long as the cost isn’t prohibitive. If you’re going to bury something in frozen water, we just feel it shouldn’t be something junky that isn’t intended for that situation. We hope others will adopt this better product or something similar, one of many small improvements nobody sees but we can all appreciate.
Now take a look at what the Ninjas prefer… Our preferred Soladeck connectors cost closer to $15 and are made of heavy galvanized or stainless steel. We see a long smooth rubber seal PLUS a steel ring seal on the outside to prevent water seeping in. They are custom sized for the cable so we buy an assortment of sizes and do you see something special about the locking ring nut for inside? It has it’s OWN rubber seal. These take more time to install and different tool technique. When installed properly you can pour gallons of fluid over them with zero penetration and they will easily handle the constant freeze and thaw of snow burying them on the roof. They can be opened and serviced indefinitely. These can only be bought through an electrical wholesaler. SolarNinjas would like these to be the standard in the industry but when checking other contractors work we generally see a mixture of other options from extremely failure prone and cheap to moderately acceptable. Share this article with anyone you get a quote from and ask them what they use! You might just save them trouble in the future and we should all be excited to learn about something that we haven’t seen before. There are cheaper ($5-$9) versions of acceptable cable entry products out there, we’ve just identified this one as the best of the best and have stuck with it wherever possible. The point here is to make it unacceptable to use the bottom end junk that’s most common in the market.
Just imagine how common it is for these Soladeck boxes to be buried in snow which then slowly melts and re-freezes. The SolaDeck boxes are rated for this, the connectors should be also. How about when it needs servicing years down the road or an installer only has one left that day and it breaks while installing, leaving it visually OK but loose and no longer weatherproof? This better product will be no issue where the throw-away plastic ones create opportunities for failure or corner cutting. We consider these conditions and we plan for them. This is a point of pride that many people miss, some might not want to use these because of cost, or the extra 2 minutes to tighten them properly, or the 30 seconds it takes to think and choose the correct size. But if you ask a homeowner “would you spend $100 more to protect your $20,000 investment much better than the bottom of the line product can do?” The answer is going to be universally yes.
Why am I sharing our secrets?
We want to share our best practices and even some of our secrets so that customers elsewhere are better served and that we are competing locally with professionals who have high standards so costs are closer to equivalent and fair. SolarNinjas do it better and we want to show you behind the curtain of our industry. Several of the installation techniques SolarNinjas (and other early companies) have developed and pioneered have spread through the industry over the last 6 or 7 years, so in the long run there are no magic bullets or advantages. What’s most important is that everyone evolves and improves. Sometimes it’s a technique or skill, sometimes it’s just knowing what to buy and being introduced to a new product. Customers that ask questions are the best kind, and it’s important to us that they can find information to ask even better questions.
For the electricians out there, suppliers, solar installers, engineers and demanding homeowners we love the most… Steal these pictures. Spec this level of product on your work. Teach your colleagues to appreciate the quality finish and help teach an industry that professional and caring businesses do not race to the bottom or fight over pennies. Reduce rushing and maximize quality. Empower your teams to innovate even the little things so everyone can feel heard and contribute. Every so often a brilliant idea comes out of the mess we deal with every day!
If you’re ever in need, even if you’re on a roof and you’re stuck and need help phone us. If we can give you what you need to serve your client better in a pinch and make a new collaborative partner in the process we are happy to help with whatever education, bits and bobs, or rescues you might need at a reasonable cost. If we all used these things, the cost would be half and nobody would even notice.