Solar racking: Everything you need to know

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Solar racking on home solar.

Once you install a solar panel system, you'll generally only see the shiny new panels on your property. However, the solar racking beneath them is integral to any solar installation.

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Key takeaways

  • Proper solar racking safely affixes solar panels to buildings, so your racking system must be compatible with your roof.

  • The essential components of a solar racking system include flashings, mounts, rails, and clamps.

  • The top solar panel racking brands include SnapNrack, Unirac, IronRidge, Quick Mount PV, EcoFasten, and AllEarth Renewables.

  • Aesthetics, leak protection, wire management, and ease of installation all factor into racking system design.

  • Visit the EnergySage Marketplace to connect with vetted installers who can design solar racking systems compatible with your property.

A solar racking system safely affixes solar panels to different surfaces, such as your roof or yard. Solar companies use racking products to hold equipment in place during an installation. Solar racking, also called solar mounting, is usually made from aluminum, which works well for rooftop installations due to its strength and low weight compared to other materials.

Although solar racking is a vital part of any solar installation, the cost represents only a small portion. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), solar racking should cost approximately $0.16 per watt (W). Given that the average cost of a solar panel installation on the Marketplace is $2.95/W, racking should make up roughly 5% of the total system cost.

Not all racking systems are the same. However, there are several components common to most solar racking solutions:

1. Flashings

Installing solar panels on a roof involves drilling holes susceptible to leaking if they're not adequately covered. Solar installers use flashing as part of their solar mounting solution to prevent water damage to your property. Flashing is a material that stops water from leaking through your roof, usually as a thin, rectangular piece of aluminum sheeting. An installer will insert flashing underneath shingles on a traditional asphalt tile roof. For roofs made with tile, metal, rubber, or wood, your installer will use specially designed flashings that fit the unique shape of your roofing material.

Flashings for solar racking.

2. Mounts

Solar panel systems are attached to your roof with mounts. Mounts are sometimes referred to as "feet" and are usually attached to your roof with a bolt through the flashing and into a rafter, securing your whole system. There are many varieties of mounts used in different racking systems. Solar installers need access to your attic or the underside of your roof during an initial site visit to ensure that your rafters are structurally intact and appropriately spaced to accommodate the mounts for your solar panel system.

Mounts for solar racking.

3. Rails

Mounts hold up rails, the component of solar racking that your solar panels sit directly on top of. They are often long aluminum tracks installed vertically or horizontally on your roof plane. Several alternative rail setups exist to standard rails, such as rail-less or shared-rail. An added benefit of rails is that they provide a clear space to run the wiring of your solar panel system, helping to reduce clutter and improve the safety and aesthetics of your installation.

Rails for solar racking.

4. Clamps

To keep solar panels secured in place on racking, installers use clamps, which link solar modules to the rails below. Installers will often use both mid-clamps and end-clamps on an installation. Mid-clamps sit between solar modules and hold panels in place on two sides, while end-clamps sit at the ends of solar arrays and are typically larger.

Clamps for solar racking.

Curious about how a full solar panel installation works? Check out our complete overview and installation video.

There are a few major racking brands you should be aware of in the solar industry:

  • SnapNrack

  • Unirac

  • IronRidge

  • Quick Mount PV and EcoFasten

  • AllEarth Renewables

Many of these solar panel racking manufacturers make standard "penetrating" rooftop racking, which means that your solar installer will make holes in your roof to affix the mounting system. Most of the practical differences between the manufacturers have to do with the installation process. Let's dive into each of these brands a little deeper to understand what sets them apart from one another:


SnapNrack is a solar racking company based in California that specializes in making a snap-in racking solution. Their Ultra Rail Roof Mount System uses snap-in brackets for attaching rails, making any installation easy. They also produce ground-mounted racking systems and more traditional penetrating rooftop solutions without snap-in rails. To minimize risk and reduce time spent on the roof, they also have a mounting system where most of the installation process can be performed on the ground. 


Unirac has several product lines, all catering to different installer preferences for residential and commercial solar panel systems. They have an array of pitched and flat roof systems and ground mount solutions that can accommodate numerous landscape and terrain conditions. They have over 8 gigawatts (GW) of installation experience spread across 1,500,000 installations and have been active for over 25 years. Unirac is headquartered in New Mexico.


Generally thought of as making some of the physically toughest racking products, IronRidge offers pitched roof, flat roof, and ground-mounted racking solutions. IronRidge also tested components of their pitched roof systems in extreme environments, including Florida's high-velocity hurricane zones. IronRidge is based in California and has been operational since the mid-1990s.

Quick Mount PV and EcoFasten

You can install solar on most roof types, but penetrating roof mounts aren't the best option for every roofing material. Quick Mount PV and EcoFasten are two solar panel rack manufacturers that have developed more specialized products for specific roof types, including standing seam metal roofs and clay and Spanish tile roofs.

If you have a standing seam metal roof, your installer can use Quick Mount PV and EcoFasten mounting systems to clamp onto the roof's seams without making any holes. Drilling holes in the roof is a time-consuming process that has to be done carefully so your roof remains watertight after installation. Your installer can speed up the installation by using Quick Mount PV or EcoFasten racking on standing seam metal roofs.

Solar racking clamped to a standing seam metal roof.

Solar racking clamped to a standing seam metal roof

Clay and Spanish tile roofs are more brittle and easier to break than asphalt, composite, or metal roofs. Quick Mount PV has developed a Tile Replacement Mount to make installing solar on clay and Spanish tile easier. Tile Replacement Mount products are shaped like roof tiles and can be swapped with existing tiles on your roof. In addition to making the installation process easier, they have the bonus of ensuring that your solar installation is completely watertight since your installer isn't making holes in your roof to mount your panels.

Quick Mount PV Tile Replacement Mounts on a Spanish tile roof.

Quick Mount PV Tile Replacement Mounts on a Spanish tile roof

AllEarth Renewables 

Not every roof can support a solar panel installation. Some roofs don't get enough sun over the day. Others face the wrong direction or don't have enough space for a solar energy system. In those cases, you can install ground-mounted solar panel systems if you have room elsewhere.

If you want to take your ground-mounted solar PV installation a step further, you can install a mounting system that contains a tracker. AllEarth Renewables makes one of the country's most popular solar tracker products.

Solar panels mounted with tracker systems will follow the sun throughout the day as it moves across the sky. Some trackers adjust throughout the year as the seasons change to ensure your solar panels capture every possible second of sunshine. Tracking mounts are more expensive than stationary ground mounts or rooftop mounting systems, and systems installed on rooftops are fixed in place, so this is only available if you are installing a ground-mounted system. However, trackers can be a good investment if your primary goal is to maximize your energy production.

It can be easy to overlook your solar mounting hardware since it's mostly hidden under your solar panels. As with other types of solar equipment, there are multiple options to consider. Be sure to consult with your installer to ensure you're getting the right solution for your solar energy system and property. Here are some of the top factors to consider when you're evaluating solar mounting options.


Solar panels cover most of your mounting system, but some components may be visible. If you're concerned about the appearance of your future solar panel system, it's worth asking your installer which parts of the racking system, if any, will be visible on your rooftop and what each component looks like. Many installers can also provide pictures or videos from past installs if you want to see what the proposed mounting system looks like in real-life circumstances.

Leak Protection

Properly-installed solar panel systems should not cause leaks in your roof. However, you can take extra precautions with your chosen mounting system, as some provide better protection against leaks and roof damage than others. Ensuring that your installer uses suitable flashing can help ensure maximum protection. As you compare your solar options, it's a good idea to ask your installer what type of flashing they recommend for your roof, what sort of experience they have installing it, and whether they've had to respond to any service calls about leaks with this product. For added peace of mind, you can also ask your installer what sort of warranties they – or the racking company – offer for roof penetrations and the areas the installer works on during the installation.

Wire management

Wire management is an important step for every solar installation: This is the process to place, secure, and protect your solar energy system's electrical setup. Properly managing photovoltaic (PV) wires is imperative for operational and maintenance purposes. Wires that aren't adequately insulated, exposed to harsh elements, or stretched too tight can wear down and fail, impacting the performance of your solar panel system. Wire management can significantly impact maintenance costs and the longevity of your system; reputable installers put in the time and effort to ensure that these wires are not just visually appealing but placed in a safe, reliable position on your roof.

Ease of installation

While the basics of installing rooftop mounting systems are generally the same, certain factors can make them more difficult or time-consuming to install. Heavy components, the number of individual parts, and the effort required to affix the mounting system to your roof can all impact the amount of time it takes for your solar installer to finish your installation. The more complicated the system and the heavier the equipment, the more expensive your installation will likely be. Your installer will likely have a preferred mounting solution that considers these factors, but keep in mind that requesting a specific type of mounting system outside of their standard set of products may make your installation more expensive.

Whether you already know exactly what racking product you want for your system or you're still exploring your options, you should review multiple offers from different solar installers before you make your final decision. What is the easiest way to connect with solar companies that can design systems to your specifications? Join the EnergySage Marketplace, where qualified, vetted installers prepare quotes for property owners nationwide. You can easily specify the particular equipment you want during registration.

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2024
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  • 100% free to use, 100% online
  • Access the lowest prices from installers near you
  • Unbiased Energy Advisors ready to help
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