The history and modern advantages of rail-less roof mounts

In this special edition of Contractor’s Corner podcast, manufacturer of rooftop solar panels and mounting hardware roof technology shares product insights as a company that has been manufacturing PV mounts for nearly 30 years. We’re joined by Mike Dunlap, General Manager of Roof Tech, to talk about the company’s product offerings, where railless roof assemblies are today, and what they mean for project inspections in 2022.

Below is a portion of the company’s Solar Spotlight podcast featuring Solar Power World, but be sure to listen to the full episode here or in your favorite podcast app.

I understand that Roof Tech Inc. has had success with its top-down, flashing roof mount, RT-MINI, and the company is moving towards railless mounts with RT-APEX. Why go in this direction now?

So basically, just to be clear, Roof Tech is basically a railless racking manufacturer first and foremost. That’s really where we got our start in Japan in the mid 90’s – 1994 to be exact, which basically makes us the oldest traceless manufacturer on the planet, not to mention North America. But when we came to the United States in 2012 as the first branch of our parent company in Japan to try to target the US market, we approached the market with traceless, and in 2012 traceless was something that was just unheard of. Nobody knew what it was, very, very early on the traceless market in the US

A few years later we adapted to the US market by offering a mounting meant for rails because we had this great flashing, this flashing that we’ve been doing since 1994. It’s been a huge success, we’ve got about 70% market share in other parts of the world and when we came to the US we’ve got this great flash, but in a method that wasn’t quite accepted by the industry. To cut that short, we came out around 2016 or so with the Mini, or the original product which was an adaptation of one of our railless bases to adapt to a rail mounted system, which had huge success. At that time, everyone could take advantage of our proven technology with our flashes and still not have to change the whole game with rail.

Does traceless make sense in any region, given rising aluminum prices and supply chain problems?

Absolutely, and those are actually the two main reasons. The larger companies have chosen to go without a trace. Reducing costs from material and supply chain issues as well as internal logistics as the third main reason. Instead of having a warehouse to store these giant rails, you can now fit everything into small boxes on a pallet. I think at this point you can do about one pallet of product – just a pallet four by four, 6 ft high – is mostly around installations, about 6 to 8 kW per installation. That’s amazing to come in one pallet, which can actually be stacked.

The amount of space you’re just trying to store products is a huge time saver, a huge space saver. The other thing is that aluminum costs have recently increased by about 57% in the past three years. That 57% was actually just in the last 12 months, so this was a huge cost that we’ve seen racking up overall. But the thing about rail is that most of their product is extruded aluminum and quite a bit of it. So only in simple analysis we use less material than traceless, so we can offer a fairer price for what we are dealing with, and also you can rack up every bit of money you have.

What does it mean for solar installers that RT-Apex uses fewer components than its railless counterparts?

As we have seen in recent years, other manufacturers come up with railless products or adapt their railless products to be more applicable to the market, and have almost complicated the system ever since. Roof Tech, in our origins, was all about simplicity and effectiveness. Frankly, with Roof Tech you can make a completely railless system with three components: a base, an end clamp and a middle clamp – very similar to a rail, although the rail has the bases, the rails, the end clamps and the middle clamps. Those three components are the only things you actually need to make a Roof Tech mounted system. That would be a four-point deck connection system: bases, ends, mids. That’s all.

How do inspections differ between rail-based and rail-less installations? And what are interim inspections?

I wouldn’t say this is an anomaly, but a recent development in recent years that some jurisdictions are now implementing what they would call a mid-point inspection or a bonding inspection. Doing a rail job means in those areas you can only put your bases, your supports, your flashings, your L feet and your rail, but then you have to do the work, wait for the building inspector to come out and do a bonding inspection for continuity. They had to make sure everything was properly connected and glued within that rail system before laying the modules.

When rail-less comes into play with the mid-point inspection, it’s all our bonding and all our continuity comes within the module itself. So since we don’t use rails, we use the structural viability of the module itself to make our spans, which also means we bond through the modules.

This podcast is sponsored by Roof Tech, Inc.

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