Should I Replace My Roof Before Going Solar?

Man working on roof installing rails for solar panels

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If you have decided to install a solar photovoltaic (PV) system on your roof, it is a good idea to do some advanced planning. Solar panels are designed to last 25 to 30 years. Some roofs only last 20 years or less depending on the climate. If you are going to install a solar system and the roof needs to be replaced soon, it is best to do this first.

Removing the solar panels to do roof work is a labor-intensive project in itself. A simple way to avoid this additional expense is by replacing an old roof before going solar.

Asphalt Shingle or Composite Roofs

Asphalt is the most common roofing material in the United States. These roofs are typically less durable than the solar panels and are designed to last 20 years. In fact, it is relatively common for solar panels to protect asphalt shingle roofs from hail damage. Attaching solar panels merely involves drilling into the roof and attaching the mounting hardware to roof studs. The roof penetrations are then sealed off to prevent water infiltration.

Tile or Ceramic Roofs

While it is possible to install solar panels on a ceramic roof, it requires care to avoid damage to the roof. First, the ceramic tiles are removed, then the brackets are installed with flashing to prevent roof leaks. Although there are other approaches, drilling through tiles can result in them breaking.

Standing-Seam Metal Roof

These are the best roofs for solar panels but do come at a higher upfront cost than asphalt shingle roofs.

Metal roofs are designed to last between 40 and 70 years, which is longer than solar panels. Because of their longevity, the roofs are inexpensive to maintain, resulting in long-term cost savings.

The seams in the roof can be used for mounting hardware for the panels, eliminating the need for roof penetrations. Because it is simpler and quicker than installing solar panels on other roof types, you might also have lower installation costs. If you do decide to replace your roof,  make sure the roof is designed for energy efficiency and indoor comfort.

Another advantage of metal roofs is that they are more eco-friendly than asphalt shingles. Metal roofs can also significantly reduce heating and cooling costs when a batten/counter batten system is used. This configuration promotes home efficiency because it helps stop heat from entering the home in the summer and prevents heat from escaping in the winter. Metal roofs last two to three times as long as shingles, thus they require fewer materials over the life of the roof. Another advantage is that they are recyclable at the end of life and commonly contain recycled materials. Metal roofs with gutters are also great for harvesting rainwater.

Like with any other major purchase, it is a good idea to do some advanced planning. Installing a solar energy system can result in significant cost savings, but needing to remove the panels a year or two after the installation to replace the roof would decrease your solar investment return.

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Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is a renewable energy and sustainability journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Earth911, Home Power, Triple Pundit, CleanTechnica, The Ecologist, GreenBiz, Renewable Energy World and Windpower Engineering. Lozanova also works with several corporate clients as a public relations writer to gain visibility for renewable energy and sustainability achievements.
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