Streamlining Solar Water Heating Installations

Proper planning and well-coordinated crews minimize solar water heating system installation time and maximize financial returns.

Every contractor knows the formula for success: Efficiency, organization and preparation equal a job well done, a satisfied customer and a profitable bottom line. Solar installers who help their companies flourish reap the rewards of a profitable company, including better pay, benefits, tools and company vehicles. The less time you spend on steep, hot roofs and in super-heated, confining attics, the better. A well-rehearsed road show is only the tip of the iceberg. Optimized logistical planning and preparation behind the scenes make it all happen. While finishing a residential job in a single day is not always possible, it should be the goal. Installations get increasingly difficult with multistory buildings, but often the job can still be accomplished in a day. The key ingredients are starting early; an organized, well-stocked truck or trucks; an experienced crew and preassembled equipment.

CUSTOMER CONSIDERATIONS

Too often, new contractors, dealers and installers do not put enough emphasis on the customer’s convenience. The first foot forward is punctuality: From the sale, site visit, communications and scheduling of the installation, being on time sets the stage. Professional installers are always on time, every time, and if an unforeseen circumstance such as traffic prevents this, they always make sure their customer is promptly informed. Being a half hour late for an installation is not a big deal if the customer knows about it instead of wondering what is going on. Customers nearly always appreciate your being there early. Most of them work, and this enables them to let you in and start the job before they have to leave. In other cases, the client may schedule a day off to be at home during the installation. Having to reschedule time off can be a big inconvenience, and postponing an installation should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

STAYING ON SCHEDULE

Imagine a crew that arrives at the shop at 8am, loads the truck and talks with administrative staff about the day’s project. The installers are ready to leave the shop after 9am and perhaps arrive at the jobsite a little before 10am. Two hours later they break for lunch and then return at 1pm to a blazing hot roof. Production efficiency slows down in the heat. They realize they will not be able to finish in one day, so they decide to leave the job at 3:30 to beat the rush-hour traffic. A one-day job turns into two days simply because of a late start. The consequences are an inconvenienced customer and additional hours spent loading and unloading tools and ladders, plus double the amount of travel time. All of this reduces the profit margin of the job. The bottom line: Start early to cultivate happy customers and save time and money.

Most codes in the country allow for construction activity to begin at 7am, which means arriving at the job at 6:50, greeting the customer and giving an installation overview so that at 7am sharp drills start sounding. For solar installers working on hot roofs and in sweltering attics, it is especially important to get the work in those locations finished before the heat of midday. Afternoon temperatures in attics can easily exceed 120°F. Increased heat slows you down and makes for unpleasant working conditions. This can be minimized if you start early and beat the heat.

Another benefit of starting early is reduced travel time. Leaving the shop at 6am means you will do your driving before rush hour, possibly cutting your road time in half. Of course, in winter it may not be light at 7am when you arrive on-site. You can use the time until sunrise doing work inside, such as running pipe to the attic or setting and strapping the tank in place.

Packing a lunch and having lots of water on hand helps keep an installation on schedule. This may seem obvious, but it is not always common practice. Leaving the job to go to a restaurant, even a fast-food restaurant, can waste an hour or more in the prime time of the day.

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