5 warning signs your solar panels are poorly installed
With a whiplash-inducing growth rate of over 400 percent since 2010, the U.S. solar industry is booming, and there’s no end in sight. This is great news for the environment and the economy, but there is a dark lining to the silver cloud of solar. Rapid growth often goes hand in hand with corner-cutting on the part of manufacturers and installers alike. These days, it’s not uncommon for cost-cutting solar panel manufacturers and unqualified installers rushing to get in on the solar boom to cause a host of component and installation defects.
If you are considering adding solar to your home, there’s no need to panic. You stand a very good chance of avoiding problems with your solar installation by choosing a reputable solar installer who uses high-quality components. However, if your system is already on your roof, you may want to inspect your system for faulty installation.
Here is a list of five of the most common defects to plague solar homeowners:
- Faulty electrical work: Fires associated with solar installations are rare, but they can be devastating. In almost every documented case, the fire was caused not by defective panels, but by poor installation, including faulty wiring or insufficient insulation. If you are concerned about electrical safety, you may want to have a qualified electrician, home inspector or reputable solar installer inspect your system. Any electrical safety violations should be addressed without delay to protect your home and family.
- Improper racking: Last January, a Toronto apartment complex’s solar panels made the news when they were dislodged by high winds and threatened to fall from the building. It is not unheard of for shoddy workmanship and inferior materials to lead to such dangerous situations. While the risk is greater with larger arrays, homeowners should make a point of inspecting their racking for loosened bolts and signs of stress.
- Water leaks: Most homeowners prefer rooftop installations for aesthetic reasons and to preserve yard space. However, most roofing types require penetrations in the roof in order to secure the panels. If these are not properly flashed, the resulting water leaks can damage the integrity of the roof, its underlying structure, and even the interior of the home and its contents. This can easily cost the homeowner thousands of dollars in repairs and lost property.
It is a good idea to check your roof penetrations regularly to make sure they are water-tight. If you do notice any moisture infiltration, have it repaired right away to prevent further damage.
- Low quality or defective components: Water leaks in the panels themselves can also cause problems. Defective panels have become a widespread issue plaguing the solar industry. One very common problem documented in many brands of panels is for the protective coating on the panels to disintegrate prematurely — sometimes in as little as two or three years. This can result in water seeping into the panels, where it can cause electrical shorts. Even if no water enters a panel, the defective coating can cause it to lose its effectiveness.
Most defective panels to date are of Chinese origin. This is largely because of the tight profit margins many Chinese solar panel manufacturers must contend with, leading to cost-cutting measures affecting product quality. However, there are some top quality panels coming out of China, and American panels are not immune to quality control issues. Panels are not the only solar components to come under fire in recent years. Poor quality inverters, charge controllers and other parts can also cause problems for the unsuspecting homeowner.
- Inappropriate siting: Perhaps the most egregious instances of poor solar installation are systems that never should have been sold in the first place. Even the best components and the finest workmanship will not deliver if the site does not have sufficient solar exposure to ensure a reasonable return on investment.
For existing systems, it’s a good idea to schedule routine inspections and maintenance. That way you can identify potential problems and take steps to remedy them before they have the chance to escalate.
If you have not yet purchased a system, the safest course of action is to beware of deals that seem too good to be true. You might pay a higher price by hiring an established solar installer, but you are far more likely to end up with a system that performs well for you.
Ryan McNeill is the president ofRenewable Energy Corporation, a Washington DC area solar panel company – committed to installing quality, American-made solar panels and energy products for homeowners.