Solar: Saving Energy Without Ruining Your Roof
While many solar projects have stalled, rooftop photovoltaics remain a viable way for companies to participate in renewable energy while limiting risk, hedge against future electricity increases, and minimize their carbon footprint.
But how do you do it without ruining your commercial roof? The prospect of roof leaks and expensive roof maintenance may seem like enough to deter interest, but done right, the roof and the panels will be performing for decades.
TIP #1: Don’t put solar on an aging roof.
If your solar system is going to last 25 years, your roof should too. Install solar within the first one to five years of the roof’s life. If the roof system is older than five years, you’ll need to consider how to extend the life of the roof. Your roofing contractor can evaluate the existing roof system and recommend whether coating is possible or if a new roofing membrane and underlayments are necessary for the installation of a 25-year solar system.
TIP #2: Hire a roofing company to install the racking system.
Do you really want someone other than a roofer to add penetrations to your roof? Partner with a contractor that both understands the functional requirements of the roof and is capable of integrating a solar system into it. Many solar companies have formed alliances with roofers; there’s even a Certified Solar Roofing Professional™ credential roofers can achieve. A qualified roofing contractor will install the racking system properly and seal penetrations to prevent leaks – doing everything but the electrical wiring; they even inspect the roof after the electricians get off. If your roof is under warranty, a roofing contractor will understand how best to install the solar system without voiding it.
TIP #3: Don’t just hire anyone to clean and inspect your solar panels.
Dust, pollen, bird droppings, ash, and smog are just a handful of the things that can diminish the output of panels; cleaning ensures peak performance and maximizes energy production. Anybody can clean your solar panels, but not everyone can do it right and do it safely. Think twice before you hire a window washer. The professional you hire should have defined processes to work safely on your roof. They should:
- Understand OSHA regulations and what’s required for compliance.
- Participate in extensive and regular safety instruction.
- Have a track record of maintaining a safe environment for their workers, as well as customers’ property and personnel.
A roofing contractor trained to perform the task knows how to work safely on the roof without damaging your roof system. While they’re on the roof, they can also inspect the penetrations and condition of the roof system.
TIP #4: Don’t put solar on a congested roof.
If you have a warehouse with a large wide open roof space, it’s a perfect candidate for rooftop solar. Facilities with a lot of piping, processing equipment, or HVAC systems are typically too congested for a solar application. Not only is there typically more maintenance and foot traffic on those roofs, but also only a small number of PV panels will be possible, dramatically reducing the desired energy output. Talk with your roofing contractor about whether solar is practical given the layout of your roof and how it’s used.