Solar Panels and Roofs: How to Replace Solar Panels on Different Types of Roofs

Solar energy is leading the movement towards renewable energy. With numerous solar incentives coupled with the reduced cost of solar panels, more and more people are embracing this green technology. However, it makes one wonder whether solar panels are compatible with all types of roofs or not. If you’re one of these curious minds, join us as we go through what factors make a roof suitable for solar energy.

Why Do Solar Panels Not Work on Every Type of Roof?

It goes without saying that not all roofs are suitable for accommodating solar panels. A majority of the roofs in the commercial buildings around the US were installed decades ago when solar energy technology was still under development, and the idea of rooftop solar systems was just a far-fetched dream. As such, these roofs were not designed and installed for hosting rooftop solar energy systems.

There are various roof requirements for solar panels that your roof must meet for it to be suitable for having a solar energy system installed on it. Installing a system on an incompatible roof can lead to a variety of problems such as roof damage, leaking roof, the poor performance of the system, and in worst cases, even collapsing of the roof.

The right roof type for solar panels must meet material, strength, shape, age, and orientation requirements. Generally, the material of the roof and its strength go hand-in-hand; a weak and low-quality material translates to a frail and delicate roof. Additionally, the incorrect orientation of your roof can compromise the performance of the system by not allowing sufficient light to reach the rooftop solar panels, thereby preventing them from delivering optimal performance.

Roof Requirements for Solar Panels – What to Consider Before Installing Solar Panels

Installing solar panels on your commercial roof is an expensive, time-consuming, and sophisticated process. Even the slightest mistake during the design or installation of the system may warrant the need to disassemble the entire system and reinstall it. This will not just waste valuable financial resources and time but may also hinder your business’s operations. With that said, outlined below are X main things to consider before installing solar panels on your commercial roof.

How Old Is Your Roof and Does It Need Repairs?

According to the NAHB, roofs made of copper, slate, or tile can potentially last up to 50 years. In contrast, roofs constructed out of wood shake should last around 30 years, whereas fiber cement shingles have a lifespan of about 25 years, and asphalt shingle roofs should generally live up to 20 years.

However, the age and condition of your roof often don’t correlate. For instance, a commercial building located in a region with frequent storms may find the need to replace or repair its roof much sooner than the roof’s projected lifespan. This is because rough weather conditions such as hail, snow, and hurricanes can accelerate the deterioration of a roof, in doing so, shortening the lifespan of the roof.

Solar panels have an industry-standard lifespan of 25 to 30 years. With that in mind, installing solar panels on a damaged and worn-out roof will eventually require you to dismantle your system in the near future in order to replace or repair your roof.

This additional expense and inconvenience of dismantling and reinstalling your system can be avoided by getting your roof inspected by a professional and making any roof repairs or replacements recommended by them.

An additional thing to consider is the difference between the warranty on your roof and the warranty on your solar panels. Having a solar panel warranty that exceeds that of your roof may subject you to additional roof maintenance expenses, all of which will have to be covered by you. Investing in a new roof just before installing solar panels can go a long way in helping you reduce the time, effort, and money that will go into maintaining your roof and solar energy.

What Is the Best Roof Shape for Solar Panels?

The size and shape of your roof are one of the main deciding factors as to whether or not your roof is compatible with solar panel installation. A flat and wide commercial roof is the optimal roof shape because it allows for the easy installation of solar panels.

Moreover, it is important to remember that your roof must have enough area to accommodate a system that is sizeable enough to satisfy the energy needs of the building. However, a simple and straight measurement of your roof might not be able to give you the precise value for the space available on your roof. This is so because anything that protrudes from the surface of your roofs, such as chimneys, dormers, or other structures, can reduce the available area.

Seeing as how roofs can be found in countless combinations of shape and size, you should seek the assistance of a professional contractor who can assess your roof and advise you on whether solar panels would be a good fit and how much of your roof surface can be covered by panels. In addition, if you’re installing a new roof, a good contractor will be able to help you design and install one that is best for solar panels.

The Orientation of Your Roof

In order to obtain optimal performance from your solar panel system, the panels must be positioned facing a specific direction and at a certain angle. The consensus of a majority of solar experts is that for regions located in the northern hemisphere, solar panels deliver maximum performance when facing southward.

Keep in mind, however, that the geographic south differs from the magnetic south, which is shown on a compass. Using applications such as Google maps can give you a good idea about which direction your commercial space faces. Before proceeding with the installation of solar panels, make sure that the orientation of your roof allows for southward facing installation of solar panels.

 In the unfortunate case that the orientation of your commercial property does not allow solar panels to be installed in a southward facing position, the next best thing would be a southeast or southwest positioning of the panels, especially if your roof receives a considerable amount of sunlight. Special racks and mountings can also be used to slightly tweak your solar system’s positioning.

The Pitch of Your Roof

The pitch of your roof should be one of your top considerations when installing solar panels on your commercial roof. The roof pitch can be calculated by dividing the vertical rise of the roof by its horizontal run. The ideal angle for a solar panel, according to most people, is between 30 to 40 degrees. In terms of roof pitch, this translates to around 7/12, which means the height of the roof rises by seven inches for every 12 inches of length covered horizontally.

How Much Load Can Your Roof Handle?

The added weight of solar panels, mountings, and all other equipment will compound the load on your roof’s structure. If the load-bearing capacity of your roof is not sufficient enough to bear this extra burden, you run the risk of having your roof cave in under the weight of the solar panel system.

The prospect of this happening is immensely terrifying, considering the life-threatening damage it can cause. To avoid encountering such a dreadful scenario, have a roofing expert inspect your roof to determine whether additional supports are needed to reinforce the roof.

Where Will the Water Go?

In the case of an average commercial roof, when it rains, the rainwater gets directed into the gutters thanks to the sloping design of the roof. However, when solar panels and their required equipment, such as mounting and wiring harnesses, are attached to your roof, they might obstruct the flow of water into the drains.

In addition to this, solar panels and the accompanying equipment can even redirect the rainwater in the wrong direction. This can lead to small puddles of water on your roof, which would gradually seep through the roof material, in doing so, making way into the interior of the building. Over time, the gathered water will degrade the roof material paving the way for roof leakages and hence water damage to set in.

In order to avoid the above-mentioned problems, ensure that your hired contractor is made aware of these concerns prior to the installation. The contractor will be able to make adjustments to your gutter lines or to the installation plans in order to maintain a clear pathway for runoff rainwater to drain away.

Roofs Made of Solar Panels – Are Solar Shingles Better Than Rooftop Solar Panels?

One of the biggest drawbacks of rooftop solar panels is that property owners would often have to repair or replace their roofs in order to make them solar-ready. One way to alleviate the inconveniences of this problem was to choose a solar company that worked in association with a roofing company.

This eliminated the hassle of dealing with two individual companies for property owners. Instead, the property owner would only need to deal with the solar company in turn, which would handle both the solar and roofing-related troubles.

A more innovative approach towards solving the problem is to combine solar cells and roof sheathing into what is known as solar shingles. Solar shingles operate based on the same philosophy as roof-mounted solar panels. The solar cells integrated into the shingles absorb the incident solar radiation and convert it into electrical energy.

Solar shingles are great options for cases where the roof needs to be replaced in order to make the roof suitable for a solar installation. An added benefit of solar shingles is that they provide you with almost all of the benefits of roof-mounted solar systems but without all heft and bulkiness of roof-mounted systems. In doing so, solar shingles bestow the property with a sleek, elegant, and futuristic look.

Furthermore, roof shingles, in a way, are safer than roof-mounted systems as there is no external wiring running through your roof. This means that the likelihood of your wiring getting damaged or chewed up by rodents is much less. Also, a lack of external wiring means that the probability of someone tripping due to loose wiring is nonexistent. 

On the downside, solar shingles are more expensive and offer a lower return of investment (ROI) than roof-mounted systems, except in the case that your roof has to be replaced for installation. Moreover, solar shingles are also less energy-efficient than roof-mounted systems and, therefore, will have a more prolonged payback period than the alternative.

On a final note, solar shingles are a relatively new technology, and so very few solar companies in the US provide solar shingle installation services. So if you’re contemplating getting solar shingles for your commercial roof, you first need to make sure if there even is a solar provider in your area that offers these services.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the 2 main disadvantages of solar energy?

Solar energy is by no means a perfect technology and is a long way from becoming so. With that said, there are various flaws with this technology, the two main ones are:

  • Solar panels have low efficiency compared to conventional ways of power generation.
  • Solar panels do not work at night. Therefore, unless you have surplus energy stored in a battery, you’ll have to rely on the grid for power during the night and on cloudy days.

How much do solar panels cost for a 2000 square foot house?

Solar panels roughly cost between $4 to $10 per square foot of your property. The average cost for installing solar panels for a 2,000 square foot house will be between $9,520 – $11,900 after factoring in the federal tax credit. However, do remember that this is just an average value and the actual cost will vary from state to state.

Which roof is best for solar panels?

Roofs made of asphalt shingles are best for solar panel installation. The fiberglass or cellulose type of mat used to manufacture these shingles is very durable and flexible, making it ideal for hosting solar panel systems.

Do you have to remove solar panels to replace roof?

Unfortunately, yes! dismantling your solar panels is the only option you have when replacing a roof with solar panels.

Can solar panels go on any roof?

Solar panel systems can be installed on a majority of roof types in the US. However, a roof that is severely damaged does not have the correct orientation or pitch, or does not have the right roofing materials will not be able to accommodate solar panel systems.

Conclusion

While it is true that the installation of roof-mounted solar systems entails the property owner having to fulfill some roof requirements for solar panels. However, you’ll be glad to know that most residential and commercial roofs in the US already satisfy most of these roof requirements for solar panels, making solar energy the most universal renewable technology, not only in the US but in the entire world. The team at Solar Medix is ready to answer your questions and give you a no-obligation price quote. Feel free to call us at 732-7854814 or book a consultation online. And we’ll get in touch within 24 hours.

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