Tuesday, 10 September 2013

How's Your Roof Coping With Solar Panels?

Mid summer storms, why are they heavier and more intense than other times of the year? 
It was late July 2013, the sky got darker and darker, the wind got stronger and stronger and finally a torrential downpour arrived. 

It only lasted 45 minutes, but the road outside looked like a lake and a small stream ran down the side of our house. More worryingly, the front bedroom window had water running down the inside of the glass, forming a neat puddle on the window sill. 

We obviously had problems with our roof...

My first thoughts were based on "can I make an insurance claim"? Forget it. As always the case with insurance companies, I discovered that "sorry Sir", you're only covered for accidental damage, not wear and tear.

My second thought was, could I make a claim against the installers of the system, based on them damaging the roof whilst attaching the PV panels? 
Unfortunately not...The company 'My Energy Station' (who seemed such a solid and reliable company in June 2011) are no longer trading, their phone rang endlessly, they didn't reply to my emails and finally after driving over to their Birmingham HQ, I discovered an empty building.

My wife and I had anticipated that suppliers' guarantees are not always what they seem, we have a "lifetime" guarantee on our double glazed windows supplied by 'Coldseal' in the 1990's. Presumable, when Coldseal gave us a lifetime guarantee it was based on the companies lifetime, rather than the lifetime of the windows! They went bust and the fully comprehensive guarantee was worthless.
Based on that experience we'd invested in a separate 5 year guarantee with an independent insurance company, perhaps we could claim on that? Unfortunately not...Their guarantee was ONLY on the component parts and didn't cover any liability towards damaged property.

We were on our own then... 

I don't know what its like where you live, getting tradesmen to quote you for jobs?  

Politicians and the media tell us we're in the midst of the biggest recession since the mid 1930's. Nobody is supposed to be spending money, yet builders, plumbers and every other craftsman you can think of, are all so busy that they don't even bother to return your call.

I had the slightly surreal experience of a roofer who came and looked at the roof (after climbing up his ladder) and gave me a quote of £80 to replace the rotten laths. He turned up the following week, rang the bell and said "you've got solar panels". I pointed out to him that they'd been there when he gave me the quote, but he quite rightly pointed out that I'd have to remove the panels BEFORE he could do his bit.
At this point I decided that this particular professional probably wasn't to be trusted in repairing my roof.

I decided to pay someone to remove and re-install the PV panels once the roof was repaired. After contacting several local solar panel installers (who weren't interested) I was fortunate in finding an ex installer who'd gone back to being an electrician, he offered to help me remove the panels.

I now needed scaffolding. Once again these guys seemed reluctant to quote me a price, never mind carry out the job. It seems weird that companies take the time to view the potential job, but can't be bothered to do the pricing exercise to give to the customer. 

Finally, I agreed to the first quote I received and was promised scaffolding installed "first thing" Tuesday morning. I don't know about you, but is 11:00 first thing? 

Getting started...

At 12:30 on Tuesday 3rd September we switched off all the switches and isolated the PV panels. I'm not great on ladders, but scaffolding gives you the impression of working on the ground, but 20 foot in the air. 

If you ever played with Meccano as a kid, you'll be ideally qualified to remove PV panels. Each of the panels are attached to a fixing rail with aluminium bolts and brackets. After a couple of hours we'd carefully removed the panels, ensuring we didn't touch or scratch the glass fronts. You move the panels holding the frame edges and after stacking and securing them against wind damage it was time to assess the leaking roof.

The old adage "you only get what you pay for" became apparent as soon as I removed the bottom row of tiles. Not only had the laths rotted away, the roofing felt had disappeared and 8 of the 12 roof truss ends looked VERY poorly. If the guy who'd quoted me £80 to re-attach the tiles had patched up the roof and driven off, I'd have still been in big trouble.

I'd been very fortunate with the weather in August as we'd had little or no rain. Unfortunately, I now had a bare roof and heavy rain was forecast on Friday 5th, two days to replace all the problem items. Time to get busy.

I won't bore you with the details. It was hard work, but anyone with a little DIY experience could lift off tiles, lever off old lathing strips and roof felt. I cut new 3" x 2" lengths of wood to replace the rotten roof truss ends and attached them with coach bolts. Putting the tiles back onto the roof was much easier than removing them and by Thursday afternoon I was weatherproof.

Even with professional help re-installing the PV panels was much harder than removing them. The difficult thing is ensuring the vertical and horizontal symmetry. The panels are a consistent size, but my roof (and the mounting rails) aren't... 

Finally on Monday 9th September, nearly a week after removing them we switched them back on. Worryingly, nothing happened. After a 30 minute panic (on my part) we discovered the consumer unit in the meter cupboard had tripped out. We flipped the switch and suddenly the suns shining and we're generating 2.2kW. 

Costs involved.

We went from £80, "fix it Saturday morning, guv." to over £700.

Scaffolding    £300

PV removal    £350
Materials       £80

Total       = £730

On the bright side, my system has earned approximately £800 since April 1st this year. Unfortunately, the downside means it's all been spent on the roof rather than the essentials of sex,drugs and rock-n-roll!

Did I save money doing it myself? I don't know, I just couldn't get anyone to do it for me. Would I do it again? NO.

Having said that, the house was built in the mid 60's to a pathetically poor design and the roof lasted 50 years. My repairs should mean that next time it's going to be somebody else's problem. 

I'm retired and in reasonable health, I'm not certain that the DIY option would have been viable when I was in full time employment. The time taken up by finding tradesmen, chasing quotes and sourcing materials seemed greater than doing the job itself.

I'm not suggesting that my roof was damaged by the installation of solar panels, my neighbors have had similar problems with their roofs despite the lack of panels.

I am suggesting that ANY problems on your roof in the future will be far more significant, if you have solar panels laid out on it. What could be a very minor repair can turn into a major expense.

If you're considering having panels installed, it would make sense to check the condition of the roof before you make it totally inaccessible. 

Twitter: (@solaricarus)


  1. Wow! That is an awful experience, the damage looks to have been really bad. It does indeed suggest that anyone should have the roof surveyed thoroughly before a PV installation. We didn't but ours was built in 1989. Glad that you got it sorted eventually but you would not catch me going up on the roof, scaffolding or not! Many thanks though, for this cautionary tale - you ought to get it published more widely I think.

  2. Hi,
    I insisted on a roof load calc from the instalers before I would let them commence with the install as I read this in the small print on the MCS/REAL website and it is a requirement for all MCS/REAL accredited installers to complete one but I dont think many do. In fact I think the only reason I got mine was the MCS were auditing him at the time !!!!

    1. A lesson for all of us from janz70.
      If only I had seen this before my installation took place. Hind sight is a wonderful thing, but I'd have saved myself an awful lot of trouble (and money) if I'd have checked out the roof condition before installing PV panels.

  3. I gather that ALL UK registered installers are *required* to assess the state of the roof before fitting panels and are not allowed to fit unless the roof is suitable. When an installer informs the householder that their roof needs strengthening/repair the installation cannot go ahead. Roof suitability was a problem in the early days of solar panels but the MCS regulations for installers were tightened later. Presumably your installers were in breach of the MCS regulations?

  4. Hi Chrisso.
    When we decided to install PV panels on our roof I "tried" to look at every eventuality, but in reality I reviewed system hardware and supplier credibility, rather than MCS regulations. I suspect they are nearly as complex and opaque as itunes contracts...

    As I've become more knowledgeable on installations I realise that my installers didn't attach my panels to the fixing rails correctly and certainly didn't check beneath the tiles to see if there were any potential problems.

    I suppose I was hoping that in the event of any problems i could call them back for any remedial work. As the company ceased trading 12 months ago that wasn't going to happen. A salutary tale for purchasers, "Caveat Emptor" Let the buyer beware!!!!!

  5. Hi...after recent storms the bodges left by my PV installer in August 2011 have led to the roof leaking. In short the installers broke many slates and simply used a mastic like substance to glue and stick the slates back together. This is now failing. Luckily most of the damage was at the bottom of the roof and was accessible. However I now need to replace one slate under a panel on the bottom row. I am a qualified electrical engineer, so this aspect is not a problem. I don't want to remove the whole row so advice about 'getting on top of the panel' to remove the fixing bolts would be appreciated. Is this possible? How robust are the panels..in this case Phono Solar PS190M-24/F. Any advice will be very much appreciated.

    1. Hi...You mention that you're a qualified electrical engineer and so I'm sure I don't need to tell you the dangers involved in electricity and in particular solar panels. You need to isolate the panels by switching off all of the switches in the correct sequence. I've posted a "generic" report on how I did mine.
      The panels are fairly robust. DON'T touch the glass fronts always move the panels by holding the metal frame. Wash the panels once removed with warm water and a TINY and I mean TINY spot of washing up iquiz to remove any greasy finger prints. Stack the removed panels one on top of each other resting on the frame lips.
      It depends on which fixing system you have regarding the fixing bolts. I would remove the entire row of panels relating to the problem slate as in the long run it's easier and you can check if there are any other problem slates that the installer has "bodged."
      Make a VERY CAREFUL NOTE of which connectors go to each panel and use coloured masking tape to ensure they go back the way they came.
      Reverse the switching on sequence and the system should start up and make contact with the grid in about 15 minutes max.
      I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. Let me know if you need any further information AND how you get on.
      Good luck.

  6. Dear Solaricarus,
    Many thanks for your advice, it is very much appreciated. At the moment I have done a 'bodge job', from the inside, which stopped the leak temporarily. I now intend to wait until the weather calms down a bit (I'm in the west country and it seems we have suffered constant gales and torrential rain for the last month). I will keep you apprised as to progress and outcomes.

  7. Their guarantee was ONLY on the component parts and didn't cover any liability towards damaged property. modified bitumen

  8. my chosen solar energy company arrive on 21st Oct 2014 to install a 4 kw system, they had no scaffolding working from ladders they proceeded to fix brackets and rails, broke slates and my sat dish, they came back the next day and were to fix the broken slates but they didn't, it was raining yet they were walking about on my 2nd story roof fitting panels so I told them to get off my roof, I then called a local roofer to replace the broken slates and a sat man to fix my dish, the roofer went up onto the roof and asked who the panel people were, he told me not to allow them on the roof again as in his words' they have F****** up your roof, he took photos to show the damage 3 slates shown around ever installed bracket are broken with no protection against water, the brackets have not been installed to MCS regulations or Building regulations they have broken in the region of between 80 and a hundred slates which will need to be replaced, they have placed panels closer to the ridge than MCS regulations all of these brackets are held with 1 screw through the slate into the sarking again not to MCS regulations, there are 8 screws meant to hold 4 panels which the roofer explained would be ripped out with the wind, I now have to get some-one to remove the work done and repair all the damage, trading standards, HSE, MCS and Recc will all be involved. these people are registered with both MCS and RECC yet they are complete cowboys, they have been told that they will not be allowed back on my property and will get their equipment back when they settle the deposit paid and cost of repairs, will see what happens before I name and shame, i have cctv on my house which shows the guy just hammering in through my slates, breaking slates and breaking my sat dish, i also have photos of every fixing with damaged slates.

  9. I have been in the roofing trade for over 35 years, and have been involved in pretty much every aspect of installation and repair, so I am conversant with the subject.
    There are several ways that a customer can try to circumvent the possible pitfalls. The first is to go to an accredited installer, which it seems the original poster did. But then, you need to ask some very pertinent questions about the method of installation and the current condition of the roof. This second point is vital if you are to avoid heavy bills at a later stage. No roofer on the planet is going to come round and mess with solar panels that have been installed by another party and are still subject to guarantees and warranties. It would be bad practice and could cost him dear should damage occur to the panels, or you then have connectivity issues after the roofing work is completed. So first and foremost..get the roof inspected BEFORE any panels are fitted. The condition of the posters' roof was basically unserviceable before the panels were fitted..rotten laths and perished underlays do not happen in a short time scale, they are an indication of general roof deterioration with age...This roof was beyond it's serviceable life, and should have been renewed prior to the panels being installed. The contractor would have been wise to advise the client to seek a qualified opinion on the state of the roof before installation, and the client should probably have thought to check, given the issues with properties in that area.
    Secondly, fitting of the mounting brackets is a problem area. Not many roofers want to do it, simply because they are not supplied with the necessary flashing kits, thus ending up with their having to create their own solution to keep the water out. It takes some degree of experience to be able to perform this type of work, and it is difficult to price, seeing as the solutions for each job can vary dramatically. I have been asked to price this type of work and been met with gasps of horror from panel fitters when presented with the costings. The more experienced guys amongst us are pretty busy on more major projects, and are rather disinclined to spend half-days fiddling with ill-thought out fittings, or creating our own solutions to bad designs, or simply running around pricing work that contractors simply do not want to pay for or hadn't allowed for; the industry needs to address this issue by creating effective sealing methods that are simple to fit for fitters with little roofing experience, or contractors should consider hiring full time roofers to advise in the roofing aspects of the fit.
    The chap that was prepared to do a repair for £80.00 was quoting to repair, not to renew your roof, or take off/re-install the panels..he did nothing wrong, other than not communicate that fact clearly. The panels are not his to remove or handle, and they are probably under warranties provided by the fitters. If the original fitters have gone out of business, then the onus for removal and re-installation is on the property owner. This aspect of solar panels is little thought about, as people rush to make energy savings, without thinking about, or being presented with the possible future service issues.
    As a foot note to the original poster..I assume you applied for building regulations approval on your re-roofing work? All roofing work (since 2006) to over 25% of the roof area, is subject to building regulations approval prior to commencement, and an inspection on completion. I am sure you are proud of your handy work, but would the building inspectors pass it off, and if ever you come to sell your property, do you have the certificate that shows the work was passed off?, because without it, you will not get a mortgage provider to mortgage on the property, basically making it unsaleable....add another £180.00 for the cost of this process.

    1. A very detailed and useful comment from the anonymous contributor.

      Caveat Emptor. [Latin, Let the buyer beware.] They quite rightly make the point that it was entirely MY fault. Although after the event I noticed that my neighbours were having problems with their roofs, it never occurred to me that mine might be showing its age. I posted the piece in the hope that others would benefit from my experience and ensure that their roof is ready to cope with solar panels.
      I wasn't aware of the need for planning permission if your replacing over 25% of your roof. Fortunately, in my case the amount of repair was significantly below a quarter of the square footage.
      Phew...You live and learn.

  10. They will be able to tile or slate roofs and do lead work, gutters, soffits, fascia boards, chimneys and felt. They will be able to deal with all internal roof repairs in London such as new beams in loft spaces if you're suffering from wood rot. http://www.sheltonroofing.com/capitola.html