I loved the idea of adding solar power to my home to increase the energy efficiency. However, I was hesitant about installing them on the roof of my new home. If you are wondering if solar panels have to be installed on the roof, here’s what I’ve learned:
Solar panels can be mounted or installed in any location that receives fun sun, ideally south or west depending on where you live and your clearest line of sight. While many people choose to mount solar panels on the roof of their home, there are multiple alternative solutions to mounting panels as well as a few reasons why you may not want to consider a roof-mounted system.
Let’s delve into this and see if we can determine if roof-mounted solar panels are the right solution for you.
My goal is to provide you with as much information both for and against roof-mounted systems as well as to offer alternatives that you may want to consider. Before we battle it out between the pros and cons, however, let’s reinforce the key reasons why you should be incorporating some form of solar energy strategy into your home efficiency plan.
The Department of Energy cites cost savings, increased property value, and benefits to the environment as key reasons to take advantage of solar. Those are all very viable arguments. Having lived through three major hurricanes and multiple ice storms, however, I can tell you that there is another very important reason why you should explore solar options.
It’s a simple as this – when the power grid goes down for an extended period, solar can be the only viable energy solution for long-term survival and comfort. Gas generators are great until there is no gas. Propane or natural gas heat work wonderful for cooking or heating a home in the winter but don’t help keep a house cool in the summer.
Solar is in no way the end-all-be-all but it should be a critical component of a larger home efficiency and power outage strategy. With that understanding in mind, let’s explore mounting options for solar panels and see if we can determine which solution is best for your situation.
Why Mount Solar Panels On Your Roof
There are a number of very valid reasons why a roof-mounted installation may be the right option for you. Some of these are cosmetic while others relate directly to the effectiveness of your solar generation strategy.
The masses have come to begrudgingly accept the appearance of solar panels installed on the roofs of homes. There are still some zoning restrictions in certain suburban communities that have Home Owner Association rules against this but by and large, roof-mounted solar panels have become an acceptable norm.
Line of Sight
Because roofs are elevated, they usually receive a greater amount of direct sunlight throughout the day than a yard which may be partially shaded by trees and fencing.
This assumes, of course, that your home’s roof points toward the south or west. If not, the benefit of elevation is negated by the direction the roof faces.
My roof faces due west and is baked all day by the sun here in Texas which is what originally raised my interest in installing solar panels.
Proximity To Inverter
Probably the most practical reason for installing solar panels on the roof has to deal with the way electricity can lose strength over long runs. As a rule, you want to convert your DC charge (coming from the solar panel) to AC by use of an inverter as quickly as possible and in as short of a distance as can be achieved.
A lot of variables effect loss such as whether you are running your panels in parallel or in series. Those are decisions you’ll want to make based on your specific needs and situation.
There is a lot of contradictory information on this and it appears that the jury is still out somewhat but from a financial standpoint I’ve learned through reading countless articles from “experts” on solar power that the cable runs are less expensive to run from the inverter to the home (AC Power) than the power from the solar panel to the inverter is (DC power).
I’ll be honest, this part is confusing due to the contradictory opinions of “experts”. So much so that I nearly abandoned my quest for solar energy. I have read multiple scholarly articles and peer-reviewed papers and I find myself realizing just how young the solar industry still is, relatively speaking. What does seem to be agreed upon, however, is that the closer the solar panels are to the inverter, the better.
Out of Sight -Out of Mind
At the end of the day, installing solar panels on the roof is a way to benefit from the energy of the sun without having to look at the solar panels in your yard. I think this is one of the reasons that a lot of people opt for roof mounted installation.
Although I understand the appeal of having the panels on the roof, out of sight and out of the way, there are some very valid reasons why a roof-mounted installation might not be the best option for everyone…
Why You Might Not Want To Mount Solar Panels On Your Roof
Introducing opportunities for leaks
If there is one thing that give me pause about a roof-mounted installation, it is the idea of drilling holes in my roof. Certainly, there have been thousands of successful installations without issues with leaking, but unless you plan to regularly go into the attic and verify that those holes where the solar panels are screwed into the roof are remaining leak-proof, you may want to consider other options.
The cost of replacing a water-damaged roof, not to mention the damage to the sheetrock and who knows what else (
Age of roof / shingles
Solar Panels are said to have a life expectancy of at least 20 years with the concept being that they degrade in quality at a rate of about 1% annually. If you roofing shingles will be due for replacement sooner than that, you may face additional cost in replacing them as the solar panels will likely need to be removed and then reinstalled when the roofing replacement is complete.
Cost of Installation
It is highly recommended that roof-mounted solar panels be installed by professionals. Not only do you run the risk of personal injury climbing around on your roof, but – not do overstate this point – you are creating holes in the structure of your roofing system and you will probably want a professional to ensure that those are water sealed appropriately.
Maintenance Can Be Challenging
From time to time, solar panels may need to be cleaned off, following a wind storm where leaves and other debris have settled or just due to mildew or other buildup depending on the climate.
Getting onto your roof and crawling around to perform routine maintenance is both risky to your health and
Creative Alternatives To Mounting Solar Panels To A Roof
So it’s clear that a roof mounted installation may not be the best choice for everyone. Luckily, there are other options that are simple, affordable, and more DIY.
I really like this approach for someone who has a carport. These generally have metal roofing so there is no concern over wood rot if a leak occurs. Best of all, if it does leak, there’s no water damage to the home and it is really easy to look up and find the leak from under the carport.
The challenge with a carport installation can be the slope and angle of the structure. As with a roof-mounted installation, you need ensure a south or west-facing installation. Still, for the right situations, this could be an excellent approach.
I’m not sure what the correct term for this is, but here is Southeast Texas we call it a lean-to. It is a partial structure built onto the side of a home or shop usually consisting of poles and a metal roof that “leans-to” and attaches to the main structure. These are often used to park lawn mowers and tractors.
Regardless of the proper name, these can serve as another excellent alternative to roof-mounting your solar panels for the same reasons as a Carport. In the event that a leak does occur, much better to have water leaking onto a lawn mower than into your home!
I’m actually considering something like this behind my pool shed. I intend to install panels on that roof since I can check it easily (no internal sheetrock on the ceiling so I can see straight up to the roofing) and there is not much in there that would be damaged by water before I saw the leak and could repair it.
But the roof is small and if I want more solar power I am going to need more mounting space. I’m thinking that a Lean-To off of the West-facing back of the shed may be the perfect solution for me.
Granted, this is not as attractive as installing solar panels up high and out of sight but if it meets your needs you may consider a very simple South or West facing structure made of treated lumber that you mount your panels to. Just face them in the right direction at a good 20-30 degree angle and you are done.
The best thing about this solution, besides ease of building it, is ease of cleaning.
Actually, there is another advantage. In the event of a pending natural weather disaster such as a hurricane, you may be compelled to take those pricey solar panels down and put them somewhere safe. That’s not easy to do with any of the other alternatives but in this case it could be done fairly quickly.
Something to think about. 🙂
Temporary Installation / Placement
There is another option and it shouldn’t be taken completely off the table, although it mostly applies to folks who use solar for emergency backup power.
That is the use of temporary installation or placement. In the event of a power outage, solar panels are pulled out of the garage and placed in the yard facing the sun. The panels gather power and charge the portable solar generator or whatever device they are hooked up to and then they are returned to storage.
The reason I feel compelled to include this option here is that a complete home solar system is not within the reach of everyone. At the same time, I firmly believe that everyone should have at least a portable solar energy backup system that can be used to power critical devices during an extended outage. For these people, there is no need to worry with a permanent installation. Your panels will work just fine if placed in the yard facing direct sunlight for a day or two as a temporary power solution.
I really hope that this information is helpful to you. Everyone’s situation is a little different and there is one size fits all solution but hopefully I’ve given you some options and considerations.
If you have any questions or would like me to cover more information on this or another topic, please use the Suggest A Topic link. I really do read those and use them to determine what to write on next!
If you are looking for simple solutions to incorporating solar in and around your home on a budget without installing solar panels, have a look at How To Get Started With Solar Power (Simple Solutions!)
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As a homeowner, I am constantly experimenting with making the structure of my house more energy-efficient, eliminating pests, and taking on DIY home improvement projects. Over the past two decades, my family has rehabbed houses and contracted new home builds and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I share my hard-learned lessons so that you can save time and money by not repeating my mistakes.