As prices continue to creep up for heating, cooling, and keeping your home running, more and more people are turning to solar power. The cost-savings can be significant, and with proper installation, the panels can incorporate seamlessly into the roof system. Add to that the possible financial incentives from power companies and the government, and rooftop solar panels may help you keep money in the bank.
But as with many projects, proper installation is essential to avoid problems down the road. For solar panels, the key is to have a solid, long-lasting foundation, which for most people is the roof of their home. Through the years, as solar power has increased in popularity, there have been cases of rooftop solar panels causing damage to roofs and sparking leaks. The blame, however, often lies with the installer and not the solar panels which is why choosing an experienced roofing contractor is essential. Pacific West Roofing makes sure your roof is in tip-top shape before moving towards solar. Having us work side by side with your solar company will help reduce the risk of potential issues with a poorly installed roof system.
Common Problems With Installing Rooftop Solar Panels
At Pacific West Roofing we’ve seen the common problems with rooftop solar panels and we know what to avoid.
- New solar panels on an old roof
In an ideal world, a solar array and a new roof would be installed at the same time, but we know the ideal isn’t always an option. Solar panels and roofs can last a similarly long time, about 20 years on average, so it makes no sense to install a solar array on a roof that will likely need to be replaced within the next 10 years. Plus, an older roof is more prone to damage from the installation of solar panels. Roof repairs cost more if existing solar panels have to be removed and reinstalled so it’s best to keep the maintenance schedule similarly timed.
- Installing an array on a roof not suitable for solar
There are things to consider before you install rooftop solar panels. Perhaps the most important is first to ensure your roof can support a solar array. The panels are heavy and the installation will add some wear and tear to the roof. The panels have to be attached and that means new holes will be drilled into the roof leaving more locations for leaks. To be the most efficient, solar panels should be installed towards the south or west to ensure they capture the most sunlight, but the layout of your home may not be conducive to this. As experienced roof contractors, we can help you determine if a solar array is an option before you get too far ahead in planning or purchasing.
- New solar panels on an old roof
- A solar array interrupts the flow of water
By design, a roof sheds water away from the building — rain falls and is directed to the gutters. Solar panels have wires and racks that can disrupt this flow and keep water from draining properly. Improper roof drainage can lead to leaks. Roofing contractors and solar panel installers can factor in the flow of water in determining where solar panels are placed and how they are installed.
- Solar panels create a lifting effect
Solar panels need to be installed with the proper tilt to not just capture the most sunlight, but also to prevent wind from catching under the panels and ripping them off your roof. The panels and the roof could be ripped off. A solar array should be tilted correctly to prevent a lifting effect.
- Contractors treat your roof like a construction site
A roof is strong and fragile at the same time. It beats off the elements and protects your home, but it is susceptible to damage and even a little damage can mean a lot of problems. This is why it’s important that solar panel installers are careful to avoid dragging or dropping equipment and tools that can lead to holes. They also should clean up all debris so it doesn’t get swept into the gutters and cause blockages. The solar contractor should be familiar with your type of roof and what it can endure.
- There’s no maintenance plan
At Pacific West Roofing we say this a lot but it bears repeating: roofs need regular inspections and maintenance to keep them problem-free for many years. Because solar panels essentially become part of your roof, they also need regular care to ensure a good return on your investment. Dirty, dusty rooftop solar panels do not function as efficiently, nor do ones that are sitting in standing water. If you were not already on a schedule for roof care, the installation of a solar array makes it even more crucial that you schedule regular roof inspections and maintenance.
- The roof needs to be replaced after the solar panels are installed.
As we already said, ideally the roof and solar panels will be installed around the same time, but when that isn’t possible, a homeowner may find the need to replace the roof with affixed solar panels. If the solar panels and mounting hardware are in good shape, they can be removed from an old roof and replaced on the new one. If both the roof and the solar panels are showing signs of age, then replacing the solar panels when installing a new roof may make sense. Your roofing contractor and solar panel installer will help guide that decision.
Rooftop Solar Panel Installation Process and Cost
We’ve shared what can go wrong with an installation but just how are rooftop solar panels installed? The most time-consuming part is finding the exact center of each rafter. This is critical to ensure the weight of the panels is equally distributed. The solar panel installer will use special metal flashing, called Fastjack, to insert lag bolts from the mount into the framing or rafters of the roof. By installing solar panels to the structure of the home and not the roof, there’s no risk of the panels’ weight collapsing the roof. Next, high-grade sealant is placed around the sites of installation to prevent leaks. The solar panels are then fastened to the mounts and connected to the electrical supply.
Once installed safely on the roof, rooftop solar panels can be connected to the electric grid either with or without battery backup. If a house needs more electricity it pulls it from the grid and if you’re lucky enough to have too much electricity coming to your house, it can be released back to the grid, often resulting in a rebate of sorts for you. There is also an off-grid option for solar panels where electricity is generated, stored, and consumed without any external systems.
There are a few types of solar panels available. Solar photovoltaic panels or crystalline silicon panels are the most common as they use a bit less space and generate a lot of electricity. Thin film solar panels are thinner and more flexible than PV panels but not as efficient so more panels are required. Finally, solar thermal panels are available but are used generally to heat water to offset the cost of gas and not to generate electricity.
Cost varies with the type of solar panels you choose, but also by the type of roof. Installing a solar array on tile or wood shake will be more expensive than on asphalt because it takes more time to ensure a proper seal on the more brittle tile or wood.
The upfront cost of installing solar panels may seem a bit high, but with available rebates and incentives, and the energy costs you’ll save in the long run, they are well worth the investment. But as with most investments, the better it is taken care of the better it will perform and the longer it will last. With proper installation, solar panels will be problem-free for 30 years or more and will not harm your roof. The key is to find that proper company to install the solar panels and roof system.
Pacific West Roofing welcomes an ongoing partnership with solar installers in the area to ensure installations leave roofs in good condition and properly sealed. Contact us to find out how we can help you get rooftop solar panels on your home and begin doing your part to save our planet.