What’s in a Solar Installer’s Toolbox? Drills, pliers, cartridge guns, wrenches – all basic tools. What’s in an electrician’s tool belt? Electrician tools. A plumber’s toolbox? Plumbing tools. Where are the solar specific tools?
“It’s amazing how simple are the tools we need to make our jobs so much easier that we’ve never used them before,” said Kevin King, solar installer and founder of Solar Tools USA. “As mature as the solar industry may be, we have to do a lot for solar installers when it comes to tools that are specific to us.”
King has a full suite of patent-pending tools within Solar Tools USA, all of which aim to reduce labor and increase installation speed. The first to be made available to the public – the solar panel hanger – acts as a second set of hands on the roof, holding the panels in place and helping with alignment.
King has needed many extra hands in his 20+ years in the solar field. He co-founded the EvenGreen Technologies (EGT Solar) installation company in Idaho in 2009 as a very lean organization. Bryan Lawley did the sales, and brothers Kevin and Ryan King did the job – Kevin on the roof and Ryan on the electric side.
“What is difficult for a startup like this is that you are generally low on cash [because] It’s investing in more projects, trucks, or marketing, ”said King. “When two people are working on a job, one electrical, one on the roof, there are always points where you need an extra hand to lay panels or to do something. You have to climb off the roof, get the electrician, wait until he is at a stop, come back, get started, jump back down … “
That frustration led King to invent some tools so he wouldn’t have to wait for his brother to climb the roof.
“Necessity is the mother of all inventions. To save the relationship between my brother and me on these installations, I developed version 1.0 of the solar panel hanger, ”said King. “I kept redesigning and revising it, and we’ve used it in EvenGreen since then. The main [credit] I give our company to have and be able to have this tool when it comes to the speed of installation and accuracy [quicker install] with fewer guys. “
The solar panel hanger is an adjustable tool that hangs on a rail to hold and position panels. The tool will work with all rails, although each rail brand will match a specific type of jaw to attach to the rail. When installers buy Solar Tools USA coat hangers, they tell the company what brand of track they typically use and receive that particular cheek.
The main body of the hanger can be adjusted to the panel size (both portrait and landscape) so that the panel rests against the lower foot. A red button on the underside of the hanger performs micro-adjustments. While the main function of the solar panel hanger is to act as a second set of hands to hold the panels in place, it goes beyond that.
“While you hold [the panel] You can coordinate the solar panel perfectly with the roof on the spot, ”said King. “We were all there when you installed a 20-panel array and you got to the other side and your entire array is 6 inches off. It all looks like Catawampus. [The Solar Panel Hanger] This option allows you to align the panels. As you go through it, you have the red button that allows you to do 1/16-inch. Adjusting at any angle so it is perfectly square. “
The hangers also help with security. When a project is on a steeper roof, the solar panel hangers eliminate the concern of having someone on the edge trying to prevent a 50 pound panel from falling. Cable management and positioning of MLPEs is also easier when a tool helps hold one end of the panel in place.
If a plumber has enough hangers, a whole first row of panels can be positioned before anything is tightened. According to King, a smaller installation company can have at least two sets of tools (a total of four hangers) and still increase speed and reduce labor. EvenGreen uses 10 to 20 sets of tools for each job. One person positions panels while the other takes over cable management and tightens everything.
Since the upper jaw of the hanger does not touch the solar panel (the hanger sits under the panel), it is easy to remove with just a small twist. Once the plate is tightened, the entire hanger is rotated and the jaw releases from the rail and slides under the system. Then the hanger can be used in the next section.
King is still a full-time employee of EvenGreen, and that’s where all of his focus is. He hired people at Solar Tools USA to get his side gig going and give it the full attention it deserves. Solar panel hangers can be purchased from the Solar Tools USA website or through various distributors as relationships are established. A set of two hangers costs $ 500, a price that King justifies in terms of labor savings. The costs associated with an employee and their insurance for a year are exponentially higher.
Reducing operating and labor costs is a goal for every business. In an industry where fees are not calculated based on work but based on watts, the labor savings are directly attributable to the company.
“If you’re competitive and everyone sells for $ 4 a week, that includes your labor costs,” King said. “If you can cut your labor costs to do the same job as everyone else, that’s pure profit margin. You don’t give that to the customer. You still get price competitiveness at a reduced cost. “