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Understanding Common Solar Installation Problems

Published Oct. 18, 2019

Far too often, California homeowners experience property damage caused by the installation of their solar energy systems. We know, because here at Citadel Roofing & Solar, we are called upon regularly to repair roofs (many of which we installed), on which another contractor installed the solar system. And, we are often called upon to fix or re-install problematic solar energy systems installed by others.

Over the past 30 years, we have put tens of thousands of roofs on homes throughout California, working from our offices in Vacaville, Roseville, and Valencia. We’ve put solar electric systems on thousands of homes in the Golden State.

That experience gives us both the professional roofer’s perspective and the professional solar installer’s perspective. We know what it takes to integrate a solar energy system into a roof, and we know there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. There’s also the best way, which we like to call the Citadel way. We’re not boastful. We’re just passionate about a job well done.

In fact, our decision to get into the solar business was partly driven by the frustration we felt upon seeing what less reputable and less qualified solar installers were doing to their customers’ roofs, and to the customers themselves.

Fortunately for homeowners, the common solar installation problems described and pictured below can all be prevented by choosing the right solar company – a properly licensed, experienced residential installer with strong references. If you already have solar and any of the situations below describe your home, give us a call. We can help set it right, whether it’s the roof, the solar, or both.


What We See

When we entered the solar business, we knew we could do better than our competition by installing quality solar energy systems that save you money while protecting your roof and your home. After all, going solar should add value to your property, not detract from it.

Sadly, many companies – especially the early entrants into solar, and many big-name companies -- made a mess of many roofs, to be blunt. Maybe it was a focus on speed and profits over quality. Maybe it was lack of training on how to assess the condition of roofs before installing solar. Maybe it was ignorance.  

All we know for sure is that we are on damaged roofs on a regular basis, shaking our heads at what we see. And the homeowners often say the roof was fine until the solar was installed.

The most common solar installation-related problems we see are:

  1. Solar installed on old, often decrepit roofs
  2. Excessive wear and tear on the roof during the solar installation
  3. Poor workmanship and/or inappropriate flashing details that lead to water damage

#1 Most Common Installation Problem – Old Roofs

Frequently, we witness shiny, brand new solar energy systems sitting on old, dilapidated roofs. They could be tile or composition shingle, pitched or low-slope. We see it all. The problem with this situation is that the roof will need repair or replacement long before the extremely durable solar panels are done delivering electricity to you.

Far too often, we pull down solar energy systems that are only four or five years old so the roof can be repaired or replaced. It’s relatively easy to do this, and to re-install the racking, wiring and panels after the roof work is done, but it takes time and money – your time and your money. The cost to remove and re-install a typical residential solar system can easily run between $3,000 and $5,000. Had that cost been factored into the original solar financial analysis, the homeowners likely would have chosen to fix their roof first and get solar second. We’re OK with that. It’s the better way.

The Citadel Way: Citadel won’t install solar on a roof with less than 15 years of estimated life left in it. Our solar surveyors know roofs and can better assess the number of years left in the roof compared to untrained individuals. We’ll tell you point blank if you need a new roof before solar. This approach occasionally leaves a homeowner annoyed, but not as annoyed as they would be if they had to uninstall the entire system a few years down the road.

Bottom line: If we wouldn’t do it on our own homes, we won’t do it on yours.

#2 Most Common Installation Problem – Excessive Wear & Tear

Residential solar companies who don’t know or don’t care how their installation methods damage shingles or tiles can easily take years off your roof’s life.

Tile and asphalt shingle roofs are not made to be walked on frequently, or to have heavy piles of material sitting on them for extended periods of time. They’re just not made to withstand that type of weight and pressure. Yet some companies do just that, leaving materials on the roof during the entire job, and walking back and forth across the shingles or tiles a million times. (OK, we exaggerate there.)

California weather exacerbates the damage from this bad behavior. Asphalt in particular does not like heat. Those rough granules you see on your shingles? They are extremely important to the longevity of your roof. But they are on the delicate side. When it’s hot, it’s even easier than usual for those granules to get ground up or scuffed off due to heavy loads being moved around on them, or crew members repeatedly walking over them.

The Citadel Way: Our solar installers are well versed in roofing. To avoid undue damage to the roof when installing solar, we minimize the area used as our rooftop work surface, we minimize our foot traffic on the roof, and basically we respect and understand the roof and its vulnerabilities. In those cases when an issue arises, we address it right then and there.


#3 Most Common Installation Problem – Water Damage

While California isn’t known as a rainy state, residents here know that rainfall can be significant and damaging, especially when a winter storm coming off the Pacific delivers flooding or torrential downpours. But even routine showers can cause issues if your solar isn’t installed correctly.

The process of putting a solar energy system on your home entails removal or alteration of the roof itself, and drilling holes into your roof so the mounting brackets can be attached to the roof structure. Rails are then mounted to the brackets, and panels are fastened to the rails. So clearly, the holes or penetrations are necessary. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

Handled incorrectly, a poor solar installation can lead to roof leaks, water damage to your home, and possibly the voiding of warranties from the roofing manufacturer and the original roof installation company.

Blog Pic 1 Every solar roof penetration is an invitation for moisture to enter your home. Shoddy installers using poor roofing techniques may attempt to incorporate substandard roof flashings (pieces of metal that slide up under the shingles or tiles to help waterproof the system) or caulking to prevent water intrusion, but that’s a Band-Aid at best, and certainly not a long-term solution. The better way uses high-quality flashings and sealants, and industry-leading roofing practices to waterproof every roof penetration on every installation, so that every great solar installation is also a great roofing installation.  

Water damage often occurs when flashings and conduit (wiring) are installed too close to roof “valleys” -- where two downward-sloping roof faces come together. Valleys see the greatest confluence of water on your roof, so if water is going to create an issue, you’ll often see it here. Installing flashing or conduit or any type of object in a valley only makes the problem worse.

The Citadel Way: We’ve been following National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) and Western States Roofing Contractors Association (WSRCA) best practices for sealing roof penetrations for several decades. We know roof penetrations! Our diligent approach has transferred over to our solar business as well.

We know the best protection against water issues is to install a completely waterproofed roof system in which the base roofing materials like asphalt shingles, roof tile, built-up or metal roofing, are combined with the correct underlayments, sealants, trim, flashing, and even insulation. All those pieces then work together to protect your home.

And of course the Citadel Way minimizes or avoids installing equipment in the valleys rather than invite problems that could have been avoided.


Those are the top three most common solar installation problems we see. But wait, there’s more.

Our field employees see all manner of solar energy panel layouts, and many are not pretty. Some mix portrait and landscape orientation creating a patchwork effect. Some scatter panels around the roof rather than arranging them in a neat rectangle(s).

Some designs just don’t make good use of the available space, e.g. they’re not centered horizontally or vertically. Panels encroaching on the required fire setback areas are worse than an aesthetic offense; they are a safety offense.

The Citadel Way: Designing a solar array to get the desired number of panels on the roof is part science and part art. You should demand a functional and attractive design, in which the panels blend into the roof as much as possible.


Wind Exposure


Did you know San Francisco is the 7th windiest city in the country, based on fastest average wind speed? And it’s #1 from May to August. So solar panels extending beyond the edge of your roof not only look bad, they expose your system to potential damage if a wind gust loosens or dislodges a panel.

The Citadel Way: All our systems are designed, engineered and built to withstand California’s substantial winds, even the intense wind that only occurs once in a blue moon. Our standard materials and methods exceed the minimum requirements. And in high-wind areas, we bolster the system to be sure it will withstand the worst the wind can deliver.


Other Solar Installation Problems

Blog Pic 3Other common solar installation problems we see on a regular basis include:

  • Incorrect sizing of the inverters for the panel output, which affects performance
  • Incorrect use of wiring, e.g. using indoor conduit on a roof
  • Installation of panels in spots likely to collect debris such as leaves and pine needles, which encourages nesting by birds and squirrels, and potentially creates a safety hazard
  • Unnecessarily unattractive conduit runs across your roof.

On that last point, we seem to have a lot of vaulted ceilings in California, so we can’t always hide the conduit or wire runs inside the attic and walls. But we do our best to minimize any impact on your home’s aesthetics when conduit is visible on your roof.


Why One-Stop Shopping Is the Safe Bet

Hopefully you now understand why you need a solar installer that understands and respects roofs. We don’t say that just because we do both types of projects. But clearly you want whichever solar company you use to have the ability to assess the roof’s condition, the knowledge to minimize impacts on the roof during the installation process, and the attention to detail that will deliver a long-lasting, quality product.

It’s relatively easy for someone to obtain a solar license and say they’re an installer. But the top professionals are more than that. Citadel Roofing & Solar has solar, electrical, roofing and general building contractor licenses. We’re more than a roofing contractor. We’re more than a solar contractor. And when you add the two, the total is definitely worth more than the sum of the parts.

Using us as your roofing and solar company gives you one-stop shopping, which makes your life easier. It gives you an integrated warranty for your roof and your solar. And it eliminates any chance of you having to play middleman if a problem occurs and the solar and roofing companies both shrug and point at the other company as the responsible one.

Call us today to see if solar will work on your home or business.