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Using the Aerial Trace Tool
Using the Aerial Trace Tool

Navigation tips and essentials for defining our installation area by tracing over an aerial image

Shawn Kranitz avatar
Written by Shawn Kranitz
Updated over a week ago

After we have started our new project, the next step is to define an installation area. One way to do this is by using the Aerial Trace tool.

Note: Defining an installation area using the Aerial Trace tool is a less detailed alternative to importing an XML model. If you intend to generate a complete, permit-ready package, please be sure to check with your local AHJ to see if they'll allow the use of trace-over aerial images to pull a permit. To ensure more accurate results, we recommend you import an XML model from a supported third-party vendor such as

To begin, let's click on "Trace over Aerial Image." 

Aerial Trace has a number of steps which are highlighted at the top of the screen: 

  • Tracing our roof

  • Locating our equipment

  • Defining roof properties

  • Finishing our trace

Although the property is usually already centered, we can click and drag the site on which we'll be installing panels to the center of the satellite image if we need to. We can also use the "+" and "-" symbols in the lower right hand side of the map to zoom in and out of our image. Once it’s centered, click the "Add Array Area" button in the top right.

Note: The site plan image in the documents we'll generate at a later step will save to the zoom level you set here.

Tracing An Installation Area

From here we'll just click one time on each corner of the roof face that we're designing for and double click once we've finished our shape. 

Above we can see a Trace in progress.

Once we've double clicked the final corner of our installation area, our shape closes. Now we can name our installation area and select whether it represents a sloped roof, flat roof or ground area. Then we'll click "Next" in the upper right hand corner.

Tip: If we misclicked, or our roof looks off for some other reason, we can always retrace it by hitting "Cancel".

Take care to note that we don't want to trace the entire perimeter of the roof, just the installation area where we are placing panels - if two roofs are facing different directions, we will have to trace them individually.

Now, we'll select a baseline for the roof by highlighting the Eave or the Ridge. These selections will determine the azimuth of the array. For better accuracy, it's typically best to use whichever side is longer. After we've selected our baseline, select the "Next" button. 

Now we can select the roof's pitch by clicking on the roof image which best resembles the actual roof's pitch. Most of the time, our satellite database will pull in a tilted satellite image to give you an idea of the roof's pitch. If this feature is unavailable for a given area, use your best guess or use the “Toggle Street View” option to get a street level view (see below).

Once we’ve selected the slope of our choice, hit "Done" in the top right. 

Tip: We can use the "Toggle Street View" as well to help give us an idea of what the slope might be. See the Street View Image below. We can even zoom in if necessary.

At this point we can use "Add Array Area" to outline an additional installation area (by following the steps above), or "Add Restriction" to block off obstructions such as vents, chimneys, or skylights.

Selecting Save and Continue will take us to the next step in the design process- specifying equipment locations.

Specifying Equipment Locations

The equipment location steps requires us to click and drag the Utility Meter and Main Service Panel (MSP) icons over the installation area. 

We'll be able to specify the locations of other equipment such as inverters, disconnects and junction boxes at a later step. Once we've added the locations of the meter and MSP, we'll be able to define roof properties such as the surface type and rafter spacing. After we've done that, click the "Save" button at the bottom of the screen and we'll be taken back to our Project page!

Next Steps

Want to continue the design? Find out how to refine installation area boundaries, or dive right into the System Builder.

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