Worker installing rails on roof for solar panels

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 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 solar 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 environmentally 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, so 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.

This article was originally published on June 7, 2019.

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By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.