Can Solar Panels Damage Your Roof?

Caucasian men installing panels on roof
Rooftop solar panel installation can be costly if not done correctly. Blend Images - Don Mason / Getty Images

Solar panels will not damage your roof if you take the time to consider your particular situation and have a professional install the panels. Knowing the requirements for a roof that can support solar before you begin can save you time, money, and headaches resulting from inappropriate solar installation.

If installed correctly, solar panels on the roofs of houses in areas that are prone to high winds from storms may actually protect the roof from damage, while at the same time providing a source of energy if access to the electrical grid is disrupted.

How Are Solar Panels Installed

Workers installing solar panel on roof framework of new home, Netherlands
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Solar panel installation usually requires electrical and mechanical hardware, a racking system, solar panels, and wiring to connect the panels together and to the junction box. 

The racking system is attached to your roof using bolts that are sealed to prevent water from leaking into your house. If the sealing is done incorrectly, water damage could cause your ceiling to cave in. Once the racking system and panels are installed, they are wired together and connected to a control panel and an inverter which changes direct current from the panels to usable alternating current. 

To prevent damage to your roof and ensure the longevity of your solar panels, they should always be installed by a professional certified installer that you have thoroughly researched and vetted. Asking questions about their experience, what other installations they’ve done in the community, and even requesting references is a good way to make sure the installation will be done correctly.

Do Solar Panels Make Your Roof Last Longer?

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, studied how solar panels protect roofs from the direct heat of the sun and found that they can help keep buildings cooler during the day and warmer at night. By blocking solar radiation from the roof itself, solar panels may also protect your roof from heat-related degradation.

Keep in mind that older roofs will eventually need to be repaired or replaced, and doing so means taking down existing solar panels. This can be costly and increase the possibility that either the roof or the solar panels will be damaged in the process. Solar panels can last between 20 and 25 years, so if your current roof will not last that long, consider getting a new one before installing solar so the timing of replacing both systems matches up.

FAQs and Other Considerations

Man Installing solar panels on roof
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Before you commit to having solar panels installed on your roof, there are several factors to take into consideration. Not all roofs are good candidates for solar panels. The age of your roof, the direction your roof faces, the slope and size of your roof, and how much tree coverage your roof has can all affect whether or not solar is a good choice for you.

South-facing roofs are usually the best candidates for solar panels because they will receive the most direct sunlight throughout the day. Roofs that slope between 30 and 40 degrees are best positioned to collect the sun’s rays. If a rooftop is partially or fully blocked by trees, it may not be a good candidate for solar panels. 

Be sure to always check local zoning laws in your city and county to see if there are any restrictions that might make installing solar panels more difficult. For example, in California, certain jurisdictions will have restrictions on solar panels in areas that receive large amounts of snow, are in windy areas, or are on hills with a grade steeper than 5%.

The solar panels themselves typically add no more than 4 pounds per square foot to the overall load of the roof. If too much weight is added to a roof that is older or is not rated to hold the weight, it runs the dangerous risk of collapsing. Additional screws and bolts may be needed to secure panels so they aren’t blown off the roof by the wind. If they are improperly installed, they can cause expensive leaks and a possible ceiling collapse inside your home.

Installing solar will normally require following local building, plumbing, mechanical, residential, and electrical codes. You will most likely need to apply for a permit before installation can begin. Your homeowner’s association may also have restrictions or requirements for installing rooftop solar panels. Gathering a checklist of requirements before you begin will help you stay organized and make sure you don't skip over an important step in the installation process.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Can solar panels cause a roof to leak?

    It's extremely rare that installing solar panels on your roof would cause a leak. Leaks only occur when the small holes drilled for mounting the solar panel brackets aren't sealed properly. On tin roofs, inadequate sealing could lead to erosion and leaks down the road.

  • How much weight do solar panels add to a roof?

    The solar panels themselves will add a maximum of four pounds per square foot to your roof.

  • Do you need to reinforce your roof for solar panels?

    Installing solar panels onto your roof increases its dead load by about 15%. It's important that the company you choose to install your solar system assesses the strength of your roof first. If the added weight exceeds 15%—a rare scenario—you'll probably need additional support.

  • Where can you install solar panels besides your roof?

    If you're too worried that solar panels might cause damage to your roof, you could consider installing them on the ground instead. Ground-mounted solar panels are just as efficient as their roof-mounted counterparts.

View Article Sources
  1. Aly, Aly Mousaad, et al. "Retrofitting Building Roofs With Aerodynamic Features and Solar Panels to Reduce Hurricane Damage and Promote Eco-Friendly Energy Production." Sustainable Cities and Society, vol. 35, 2017, pp. 581-593., doi:10.1016/j.scs.2017.09.002

  2. Dominguez, Anthony, et al. "Effects of Solar Photovoltaic Panels on Roof Heat Transfer." Solar Energy, vol. 85, no. 9, 2011, pp. 2244-2255., doi:10.1016/j.solener.2011.06.010

  3. Mow, Benjamin. "STAT FAQs Part 2: Lifetime of PV Panels." National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

  4. "Solar Panel Performance: How Much Does Roof Orientation and Angle Matter?" EnergySage.