Can Solar Panels Cause Roof Leaks?

It’s extremely rare for the installation of solar panels to cause leaks in your roof. Since there are so many inspections necessary before the installation process begins, usually any existing issues with your roof will be identified and can be fixed before the panels are added. When panels are installed properly, the chances of them causing a leak is very slim.

Can Solar Panels Damage Your Roof?

While there is a very small potential for roof damage, experienced solar panel installers will take precautionary steps to avoid damaging your roof surface.

Solar Panels Don’t Damage Your Roof When Installed Properly

The first step to ensuring that your roof will not be damaged with a solar panel installation is to choose an experienced, reputable contractor.

“Our #1 service call is from people who installed solar panels with an inexperienced because those either the company is no longer in business or they refuse to service their customers. This is why we highly recommended to spend a little bit more for a more established company not one looking to make a quick buck.”  – Jordan Weisman | Sunbridge Solar

Choose a high-quality solar installer who is licensed and qualified for the job. A good place to start when looking for a solar contractor is the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. They screen all of their solar installer partners and through the marketplace, you can contact various installers to ask them about their process and their safety precautions to avoid damaging roofs. You can also ask about their workmanship warranties, which will protect you if an issue with your roof arises in the future.

How Solar Panels Are Installed On Your Roof

There are a few different issues of concern that are often raised with solar panel installation, primarily whether the added weight will affect the structural integrity of your home and how the bolt holes will be sealed to prevent leaks.

Solar panels will not compromise the structural integrity of your roof, as roofs are designed and overbuilt to hold much more weight than a relatively light solar panel array. Additionally, since solar panels are installed at an angle, there is little risk of snow building up on the panels.

Most panels are installed with mounting racks that are bolted onto the roof. While it can be nerve-wracking to have holes drilled in your roof, there are several steps that solar installers take to seal the holes and prevent leaks. The racks are held in place with heavy-duty lag bolts, which can withstand extreme weather. The bolt hole will be surrounded with flashing, which is a metal or plastic barrier that is fitted underneath your roof tiles and sealed with tar, providing an extra level of protection from water seepage. Once the bolt and bracket are in place, the seams and gaps are filled with sealant as a final barrier.

Solar Doesn’t Always Involve Holes In Your Roof

The solar energy industry is always innovating, and one of the latest technology options is solar roof tiles or shingles, which have the PV capability built into them. These tiles eliminate the need for drilling holes in your roof or installing panel racks altogether which is more aesthetically pleasing. However, this does require that you replace your entire roof, and this technology is still more expensive and less efficient than standard panels.

If your roof is flat, your solar panels will be installed using a ballast system, which simply weighs down the panels enough that they are effectively secured to the roof. You can also opt for a ground mount which can be especially helpful if your roof is very shaded, or you can join a community solar energy system, where the panels are offsite but you still reap the benefits.

3 Reasons Your Roof Could be Leaking

1. Old Roof

If your roof is over 30 years old, it is more prone to deterioration, dry rot, soft spots, and other problems. It may be holding up alright on its own, but when you add a solar array it could add too much stress, causing structural damage and leaks. Additionally, when you install a solar array, it will be costly and difficult to remove it later in order to replace your roof. Solar arrays are often in place for around 30 years, which is roughly the lifespan of a roof. So, to avoid problems down the line, it’s a wise idea to replace an older roof before beginning a solar array installation.

If you aren’t sure about the age or quality of your roof, contact a reputable solar installer to get an evaluation and recommendations on whether a roof upgrade is necessary before you install your solar energy system.

2. Roof Not Compatible With Solar Panels

There are certain types of roofing and shingle materials that just don’t lend themselves well to solar installation, such as wood shingles and clay, slate, and terracotta tiles. However, you don’t necessarily need to replace your entire roof – rather, you can replace only the area where the solar panels will be installed with composite shingles, since the variation will be hidden by the panels.

3. Poor Installation

Installer error is one of the main reasons that you may experience roof leaks. If your installer is inexperienced or if they hire inexperienced sub-contractors, the workers may inadvertently damage your roof or not install the panels properly, which can raise the potential for leaks, especially in inclement weather.

If you do notice leaks in your roof after having solar panels installed, you must act quickly to remedy the situation so that it doesn’t cause lasting damage to your home. Contact your solar installer or a roofer to fix the leaks and repair any damage that may have already occurred.

How to Prevent Roof Leaks When Installing Solar Panels

The best way to prevent leaks is to hire a reputable, experienced, and professional solar installer who offers a warranty on their workmanship. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, particularly when dealing with roofs.

Be aware of hiring a roofing contractor versus a certified solar installer, as roofers are often not experienced or even qualified to be installing solar panels, since it’s a totally different task than installing or repairing roofs. Ensure that your solar installer won’t be sub-contracting any work to un-vetted individuals.

Finally, ask around. Your neighbours and friends may have excellent recommendations for solar installations, which will save you the hassle of searching.