You are on page 1of 4



Side Business
Three solar contractors discuss selling, constructing solar-covered patios
By Chris Crowell

The Skylift is a new
mounting product
designed for
attaching to an
existing roof,
grounding one end of
the patio while
elevating the ceiling
and solar array.
olar-covered patios are a niche
product worth exploring as part of
your solar business. The first step in
pursuing these projects is knowing
they aren’t for everyone. Many solar custom-
ers are interested in cost per watt, so pitching
an addition that comes in around $7 per
watt will stop conversations. This doesn’t
mean it’s a dead end, just that they require a
different sales and marketing approach and
locating the right, easy-to-install solution.

What’s the market?
Andrew Read at Voltage River had high
hopes for pursuing solar patios out in south-
ern California, considering the high-income
customer base and year-round outdoor living
in the area, but he found that traditional
advertising didn’t get the return he needed.
“Finding customers for this is not easy,”
Read says. “I wanted it to be bigger than it is,
and I did push it for a bit but have backed off
trying to market it.”
Instead, he lets most of the business come
to him via referrals from a cadre of high-end
architects and builders. Approaching the
market this way has been a success.
“We sell them for a high price because of
what they are: a statement piece. Anyone
looking to get out from under an electric bill,
it’s not the system for them,” he says.
Region matters here more than in the stan-
dard residential PV business. John Hunter at
Florida-based Premium Solar Patios, for
example, is a bit more bullish on the current
market for the solar patio, calling it “astound-
“We have seen a major influx of interest
from your average homeowner to track home-
builders,” he says. “Today we are fulfilling
orders from dealers around the country as
well as installing sales from our inside sales
One angle that has worked for Hunter is in
HOA developments that make it difficult for
homeowners to go solar. The solar patios they
install are often a way around HOA rooftop
aesthetic issues. They also can be placed any-
where on a property to get the best direct
sunlight if the home is shaded.
But a word of warning: You think regular
solar permitting is annoying, try coordinating
between one person for the patio itself and then another person for time and footer/house attachment inspections where required.
the solar portion. Vince McClellan with Solar Energy Design calculates a typical job
“It can land on a desk of someone used to seeing one thing, they takes about a third longer than mounting the array on the roof.
don’t know what to do with it and then you get stuck in the washing “After the structure is up, our Solar Rainframe system installs in
machine of bureaucracy,” Read says, noting it took him six months about the same time as a typical solar array mounted on a roof,”
to get one project through in Laguna Beach. McClellan says. He notes the market for solar patios is just starting.
His company’s Solar Rainframe racking system (originally designed
Construction for parking structures) creates a water shedding roof using standard
Once you are ready to pursue solar patios, the question is framed solar electric modules — a design built with 10 years of
whether you want to also get into the patio construction business experience designing and building BIPV canopies. It uses no seals
and offer a turnkey solution or just handle the solar piece and or gaskets and creates a weatherized roof out of standard solar mod-
contract out the rest. ules, meaning there is no need for a separate roof under the solar
“The people good at doing this are the same that build regular array because the solar array is the roof.
patio covers because it’s an extension of what they do,” Read says. That’s the other thing: Each solar installer we talked to had
“From my experience, solar guys get hung up on patio covers. The developed and settled on their own structural and design approach
patio cover structure guys can build that pretty easily, and then I can for the solar + patio.
bring in a contractor just to wire up the panels and get it plugged “I’ve been toiling along with different solutions and finally found
into the main circuit.” something that works. Hasn’t come from a simple stroll down the
Premiums Solar says a solar patio installation, in most cases with aisle at Wal-Mart,” Read says. “This solution literally took years of
an experienced crew, will take three days, due to the concrete drying futzing around and figuring out because these are elegant systems

California subdivision gets ahead of the solar mandate,
re-roofs with CertainTeed
Across the country, more subdivisions are choosing rooftop solar as a way to
attract and retain earth-conscious home buyers. The California Energy
Commission voted to mandate rooftop solar for all new California homes and
multi-family residences under three stories starting in 2020, but many communi-
ties are ready now.
One such community is Blue Lagoon Condominiums in Laguna Beach,
Calif. Its luxury condos are located on the ocean side of the Pacific Coast
Highway on one of the sunniest beaches in California. The opportunity for Blue
Lagoon to go solar arose recently when the Blue Lagoon Homeowners
Association (HOA) made the decision to replace the roof shingles on the com-
munity’s 119 homes.
Luke Roofing Inc. of Laguna Hills, Calif., had worked with the HOA to
outfit the community with CertainTeed’s Arcadia Shake, a high-grade, weather-
resistant asphalt shingle designed to mimic and outperform split wood shake
— the roofing material previously used on Blue Lagoon homes because of how
it held up to the sun and salty ocean breeze better than traditional wood shake.
For its solar ambitions, Luke Roofing went with another CertainTeed solution,
the Solstice Solar System, which includes modules, racking, flashing and invert-
ers — all backed by CertainTeed’s installation workmanship warranty of up to
25 years for CertainTeed Credentialed or Master Solar Installers. Installing
CertainTeed solar and roofing products provides the added benefit of combined
warranties that cover all products on the roof.
Photo courtesy of Architectural Photography Inc.

16 N OV E M B E R / D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 8
and not designed to be cheap.” creates a stunning architectural detail for porches, patios, covered walkways, entryways,
“With our awnings, the wire is hidden etc. Coupled with the Skyjack system it’s a great way to add beauty to a home or business
behind wireways that are a part of the sys- while making clean renewable power.
tem,” McClellan says. “The extruded alumi- Pairing the right system design with the right sales and marketing plan (and sales
num rails of the Solar Rainframe product can expectations), solar patios could develop into a nice side business.
span about 20 ft with only two points of
contact. This creates an uncluttered look
underneath the awning because there is no Chris Crowell is the managing editor of Solar Builder.
need for additional beams supporting the
solar array.
Premium Solar uses its standard reinforced
aluminum 3 in. x 8 in. support beam, which
makes it an easy fit and retains the style of
their other solar patios. Wire management is
also key here. Be sure to select conduit or
other solutions that will keep the wiring out
of view.
“We have a more commercial system in
appearance that is a lower cost option to our
Premium Solar Patio. Each option can be
customized for the application the customer
desires,” Hunter says. “Due to it being a more
complex project, it does come with an added
cost versus a rooftop, but we have come to
find markets that sell rooftop for what the
patios retail for in the majority of markets.”
Key to each of these unique designs was
the Skylift, a new mounting product specifi-
cally designed for attaching to an existing
roof and grounding one end of the patio while
elevating the ceiling and the array. This makes
it easy to retrofit a patio cover onto an existing
building and attaching the solar while saving
money on installing the footers and posts on
that side. It also solves issues with eaves in
some cases being too low to allow for the
attachment of a solar patio along with the
need to slope for water runoff. The Skylift
allows for the needed height.
“We would have many patios that could
not be installed in many cases due to a pool,”
Hunter notes as an example. “Depending on
where you are in the country, the require-
ments to offset from a pool wall would be
damning to a project. The Skylift provided
the solution that allowed us to back further
away from the pool and get these special cases
“Another great option for building inte-
grated solar roofs using our Solar Rainframe
system is using clear backed or bifacial solar
modules that let the light shine through
between the solar cells,” McClellan says. “It