Solar posts

With the roofing membranes and flashing installed, we were finally able to get to the first component of our solar PV array: The solar posts.

PV modules are installed in rows, and mounted on rails, which are in turn attached to the solar posts. A shorter solar post is used along the south side of the row and a longer post on the north side, to give the module a tilt towards the sun.

The solar post assembly consisted of four components:

  1. A base
  2. The post
  3. A curb
  4. Sealant

The base was seated in a layer of sealant and anchored into the solar blocking, which we had previously installed. The post was subsequently screwed tight into the base. The curb was also seated in a layer of sealant over the base and post, and then filled with a sealant composite. This way the roof penetration for the base anchor should be completely waterproof.

I had taken scrupulous measurements for the location of the solar blocking, which was concealed since the installation of the roofing membranes. The big question was, would we be able to accurately trace the location of the blocking with the measurements?

It turned out that we did not need the measurements at all. The morning dew pattern that collected on the roof showed us exactly where the solar blocking was, due to the thermal difference between the lumber used in the blocking and the roof insulation on either side. If you look carefully at the time lapse, you may be able to spot that pattern.

Sometimes a little luck goes a long way.

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Parapet flashing

It took us a day to install the torch down membrane and seal the two vent stacks. We now had a day left to take care of the flashing along the parapet, which is a much more tedious task than laying down a roofing membrane. Why only a day? Because our luck with rain-free days was about to run out.

Whereas we installed two membranes on the roof (base sheet followed by the torch down membrane), the parapet flashing only received the torch down membrane.

Our roofer Pablo had extended the torch down membrane by around four inches above the cant strip and up the parapet. He now measured and precut torch down membrane pieces to extend from the parapet edge down to about four inches past the cant strip onto the roof. And as usual, installation started from the bottom of the roof to the top to have the overlap in the direction of the water flow, in the same manner as regular shingles.

Pablo lined up each piece, folded back the top half, heated the back of the membrane with the torch, folded it back up, and pressed until it adhered firmly to the parapet. Next he lifted the bottom half of the membrane and repeated the process. This way no direct heat was applied to the dimple mat vent strip. The exception was the downstream edge of each piece, which Pablo very diligently warmed up and then sealed.

I can’t adequately express how much I appreciated Pablo’s diligence. Safety meant everything to him. At no time was he rushing anything but made sure he didn’t melt the dimple mat and that each seam was impeccable.

Also, his timing was perfect! It literally started drizzling while he was finishing up the last two pieces on the front parapet. What a ride!

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Vent stacks

As usual, the devil lies in the details! And those readers who carefully watched the torch down installation video may have noticed that we had two roof penetrations that were not addressed yet: the two bathroom vent stacks.

To integrate the vent stacks into the roofing system, they were fitted with a lead sleeve.

Our roofer Pablo began by applying roofing cement around the collar of the vent stack and painting a square base that was the same size as the square base of the lead sleeve.

I had cut the vent stack down so that it would fit the lead sleeve. Pablo slid the lead sleeve over the vent stack and set the base onto the roofing cement square. He continued by folding the top of the sleeve over the top of the vent stack.

This does seal the top of the vent stack, but more work was needed to seal the collar, or the square base of the sleeve. To start, Pablo placed a square piece of base sheet over the square sleeve base. The base sheet piece was about twice the size of the square sleeve base.

He also had cut a piece of torch down membrane that was about four inches wider than the base sheet. He heated up the bottom of the torch down membrane piece, slid it over the vent stack and firmly pressed it onto the base sheet.

Did you notice the rounded corners on the torch down membrane? Pablo explained to me that it is best practice to round off corners, because square corners tend to come loose over time. He continued to go around the edges of the torch down membrane and made sure it was fully adhered and sealed.

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Torch down installation

With the base sheet installed, we moved right on to the torch down membrane, while the dry weather lasted.

This process resembled the installation of the base sheet. The torch down membrane came in 36 inch wide rolls and also were rolled out across the roof, starting from the low end. The difference was that the torch down membrane needed to be heated with a torch (thus the name). The heat was applied to the bottom side of the membrane to soften the asphalt, which acted like a glue, and immediately rolled across the roof. Once rolled out, the melted membrane bottom cooled down, firmly adhering it to the base sheet.

Let me state that I appreciated the skills and confidence of our seasoned roofer, Pablo. My mind was racing with thoughts such as, “how do we properly line up each layer?”, “how far up the parapet do you go?”, ”how do you manage the joints at the end of one and beginning of another role?”, “how do you know when the roll is heated enough?”,etc.

While my mind was racing, Pablo had already installed the first couple of rolls. It was time for me to stop thinking and start watching, and eventually grab a tool and give him a hand. And the answers all arrived automatically:

How do we properly line up each layer?

The overlap between the torch down rows should not be on top of the overlaps of the base sheet rows. Pablo started with half a sheet so that the overlaps were perfectly staggered. Like with the base sheet, we started at the bottom of the roof working our way to the top. This way the overlap was in the direction of the slope and waterflow. Like with the base sheet, the torch down membrane has markings that tell you how much overlap is needed, and allows you to overlap perfectly straight.

How far up the parapet do you go?

Pablo went up the same distance as he did with the base sheet, basically over the cant strip and another four inches up. He stopped with the torch down just a notch below the end of the base sheet.

How do you manage the joints at the end of one and beginning of another roll?

When one roll ended, we slipped the new roll under it to get the same overlap as between each layer, which was four inches. It is basically the same overlap, just perpendicular to the layers.

How do you know when the roll is heated enough?

I still have no idea, and I am still not interested in finding out. Pablo pointed out that you need to be “very careful.” And knowing that Pablo is a master of understatements, I had no intention to ever use that torch and heat up the roll.

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Base sheet installation

It was time to waterproof our roof. Several days had passed since we tore off the old roof. The dry weather did hold, but we didn’t want to push our luck.

We opted for a modified bitumen roofing system, which I mentioned in my roof insulation discussion. This system consists of a base sheet and a torch down membrane (or cap sheet).

The base sheet comes in the form of 39 inch wide rolls with an adhesive backing. When I say adhesive, I mean aggressively adhesive. I sometimes felt like a fly that got a little too close to a glue trap while working with the base sheet.

To install the base sheet, Pablo, our roofer, carefully lined up the sheet on the roof. The adhesive backing is protected with a light blue plastic cover that is split along the middle of the sheet. This way we could lift one half of the sheet, tear off the protective cover, glue it down, and repeat the process for the other half of the sheet.

The sheets were installed from the bottom of the roof to the top to have the overlap in the direction of the water flow, in the same manner as regular shingles. The base sheets came with markings to facilitate lining up the overlap for each row. This made it easy to keep everything neat and square.

Along the parapet, Pablo pulled the base sheets over the cant strips and terminated them a couple of inches above them.

To assure full contact and proper adhesion, the base sheet gets rolled a couple of times. That should assure a fully adhered roofing system that does not lift off during a storm.

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