How to Spot Solar-Ready Roofs

To knock or not to knock? That is the question. Energy Service Partners is not a sales organization, but we have thousands of successful installations under our belt, so we know what makes a good solar project. Here’s a handy guide of what to look for, to make sure your solar sales efforts are focused on good projects that will benefit the homeowner and avoid big headaches.

(Too busy to read? Download the infographic version for your reference out in the field!)


Shade, Azimuth, Pitch.
Solar works best when it faces the sun (obviously). How can you tell whether a roof is facing the right way? Sometimes it can be a little deceptive because the path of the sun changes throughout the year. Try this: open up your map app. Make sure the little red arrow is pointed straight up (North) and then follow the compass rose East to West along the South half of the map, 90 to 270 degrees (that’s the azimuth). If there’s unshaded roof space pointing any of those directions, you’re good. But what if most of the open space is pointed North? As long as the roof angle is under 25 degrees, or a 6/12 pitch, you’ll be ok to use some North-facing roofs, with the understanding that they won’t produce as well in the winter months.  This isn’t true across the country, but luckily here in California we get plenty of sun, so we can be a little more flexible. We offer some additional resources and tools that help you get comfortable with roofs, so just ask your Account Specialist if you want to learn more!


Simple is beautiful.

How “cut up” is the roof? Are there lots of hips, ridges & valleys, or is it nice and open real estate? An excess of architectural features, like too many gables or dormers, will mean fewer panels and a much trickier install to boot. You might think “oh, that’s a big fancy-looking house, the owner must have lots of money so this will be an easy sale.” Unfortunately, the “fancier” the roof, the fewer panels you can safely fit, and the more complicated the solar project will be to design.



Type of roofing material.

Most homes in California will have standard asphalt shingles or ceramic tile roofs. Because these are so common, it’s generally no problem to install on them, as long as they have at least 10 years of life left in them. If you’re one of our Authorized Dealers, we offer some handy training guides on how to identify roof type and roof age. Here’s two types you want to stay away from: first, spray foam (Spray Polyurethane Foam or SPF) is extremely unforgiving, so we don’t do it. This is common on commercial buildings with flat roofs, but also some homes out in the desert will use this as an alternative to tiles or adobe. Second, wood shake needs a re-roof because of the fire rating. We won’t install solar on top of a bundle of matchsticks. Even if it has had composite shingles installed over the shakes, the sheeting underneath the shake needs to be replaced, so it still mandates a roofing project (which is easy to quote using our roof tool, and comes with a lot of benefits, so don’t get too scared). There are other less-common roof types like fiberglass that this also applies to, so just be on the lookout if you see anything out of the ordinary. 


Condos, townhomes, or apartment homes.

These are tricky, so proceed with caution. Not only will you run into a higher chance of a renter living there (i.e. someone who can’t legally enter a solar contract), you also have to look at a couple of other things. If you’re one of our Authorized Dealers, we give you access to a solar sales app called Quativa, which lets you filter out renters vs. owners so you can double-check any home before you knock. Next, figure whether they own the roof space over their heads. Is the roof directly on top of the unit, with no shared or common space? Proceed with caution, because the electrical service needs to be connected directly to the unit as well – we can’t daisy-chain across multiple other owners’ roof spaces to plug it in. Also, it’s likely that they have an HOA, so you’ll need to go through any paperwork process for approval. Long story short, these aren’t low-hanging fruit because of the extra research (but if you gain a friendly advocate on the HOA board, it could pay off).


Unpermitted additions.

DIY can cause delays. It’s not uncommon to run across someone who put up a nice little patio cover or awning on their porch, to enjoy our beautiful California climate. Generally, our installation and design teams will completely avoid this type of addition and it won’t present a hurdle, but some municipalities are very particular about getting appropriate permits for any and all structures on the property. Watch out for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) or anywhere that has living space in it, whether attached or unattached from the main home. If it looks homemade, you might want to make sure the homeowner checked with the city beforehand, has completed any construction, and gotten it inspected before we start our solar project.


Mobile homes? Keep moving.

Unfortunately, most mobile homes aren’t built for modern solar arrays. This applies to manufactured homes, trailer parks, and/or “pre-fabs” that haven’t had extensive additional structural reinforcements (which you won’t know unless you look at a blueprint set). Universal building codes for single-family homes are more robust, and the same can’t be guaranteed no matter how nice the manufactured home looks. Also, if it’s not permanently attached to the ground with a traditional foundation, some lenders won’t even consider putting out a loan on it (in the event it’s not where they thought it would be). In short, mobile homes are destined for an instant disqualification, through no fault of the homeowner regardless of their enthusiasm for solar. Ground mounts are occasionally an option for this situation, but they need to own a decent-sized plot of land around the home to make that happen.


Here at ESP, we have a Project Acceptance team that filters all incoming contracts and makes sure the project can proceed as billed. We do our absolute best to catch anything that could set your project back or add unexpected costs up front, to make the process smooth for our sales partners and homeowners alike. Contact us today if you’re not already an Authorized Dealer to get access to everything we offer!