Homeowners want their houses to be safe, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. For many modern homeowners, though, being eco-friendly is just as important as creating a beautiful, cozy home. As solar roofing options become more popular, home inspectors must evolve with the green trend. Understanding the standards, installation process and maintenance concerns associated with solar roofing can help new and established home inspectors perform their duties more effectively. We spoke with industry experts about their experiences with solar roofing to learn more about this exciting and constantly evolving trend.

Why Solar?

“Solar power is one of the most considered sources of energy for residential homes,” says Dan Edmonson of Dronengenuity, LLC. Solar panels work to transition fossil fuel-based energy networks into cleaner and more energy-efficient systems. While hydroelectricity, wind energy, and biofuels are making similar strides in other fields, solar remains king in the residential home building world. The reason?

“From a design point of view, it is common practice that the solar panels are aesthetically pleasing especially for residential homes,” Edmonson says. As much as homeowners want to choose the more sustainable options, it is important to provide aesthetically-pleasing solutions. This involves details such as the color, placement, height, and pattern.”

Improved Efficiency

Ahmed SaadAli from Centriq echoes Edmonson’s enthusiasm for solar’s potential. “It’s a renewable source of energy that doesn’t rely on fossil fuel consumption and is widely available and environment-friendly as they cause little or almost no pollution,” he says.

Just how do solar panels and shingles improve a home’s energy efficiency? “The solar panel works by allowing photons to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. Solar panels actually comprised of many, smaller units called photovoltaic cells, they simply convert sunlight into electricity,” says SaadAli.

This conversion makes for cleaner, more efficient energy. But solar panels aren’t the only option available to modern homeowners. Jesse Silkoff, co-founder and president of MyRoofingPal, says solar roofing shingles excite him most.

“Like solar panels, solar shingles are made of photovoltaic cells that absorb light and convert it to electricity. They’re typically made of a silicon semiconductor that holds energy produced by the sun’s rays. The electrons become free-flowing and are acted upon by an electrical field produced by the photovoltaic cells that then moves energy in one current, generating a flow suitable for electrical power,” Silkoff says. They’re also easier to install than traditional solar panels, and a lot more durable.

Installation Best Practices

To install solar panels or shingles, contractors layout the locations of panels first. Then, workers screw each stanchion through the roof and down into a roof rafter. Upper and lower aluminum rails are attached to stanchions with stainless steel bolts. To ensure rails are square, measure diagonally across from the upper rail to the end of the lower rail. If the measurements are equal, the rails are indeed square.

To install the middle rail, align it with the upper and lower rails. Run electrical conduits and wiring through the solar panels and install a micro-converter beneath each one. Finally, secure a six-gauge bare copper grounding wire to each inverter. “This grounds the entire system,” says SaadAli.

A Word About Safety

Solar panels can be prone to electrical failures, warns Silkoff. “Faulty wiring can create fires that will quickly consume a roof or an entire home if you aren’t careful. Additionally, there’s some mild risk associated with the chemicals found in panels and the byproducts those chemicals create. You can mitigate all of these risks by hiring a licensed installer who specializes in solar panels or solar shingles.

SaadAli echoes Silkoff’s concerns. “Workers in the solar energy industry are exposed to a variety of serious hazards, such as flash burn, blast hazards and electric shocks that can cause injury and death. Solar energy employers are covered by the electric power generation, transmission and therefore may be required to implement safe work practices.”

Roof Inspections via Drone

For home inspectors eager to court homeowners with solar roofing panels or shingles, drone technology is key.

“There is an inherited safety risk with inspecting solar panels associated with ladders and electricity, says Edmonson. “As a result, our company has found that using drones for inspections helps to reduce human risk while also increasing the overall view of the solution.”

When reviewing drone footage of a solar paneled-roof, Edmonson looks for several key factors. “The overall effectiveness [of a solar paneled-roof] is dependent on the specific panels and components along with the placement of the solution. Choosing the wrong panels or

components for the environment can result in an early failure of the system. Improper mapping and analysis can result in the inefficient placement of the solar panels or damage to the roof.”

The Roofs of Tomorrow

Solar panels aren’t exactly new, but their surge in popularity in recent years demonstrates the staying power of the technology. As more and more homeowners opt to install solar panels and shingles, inspectors must educate themselves on how best to address these kinds of materials during inspections. ICA’s online home inspection course can teach you how to leverage drone technology during your inspections to protect your safety while maintaining your high standards for vetting roofs. Learn more now!

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