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Are Rooftop Solar Tiles a Fire Hazard?

www.hometownroofingcontractors.com

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Yes, no, maybe so. One type of rooftop solar product has caused some havoc for residents in the community of Roseville, CA. Multiple reports of roof-mounted solar shingles literally going up in flames and damaging the surrounding shingles and roof deck have made residents uneasy, to say the least.

In this solar-conscious town, it’s rare to see a home that does NOT have solar panels or shingles on the roof – 1,300 homes are currently powered by the sun.

The problem: Overheating

The problem appears to stem from OE-34 solar tiles, which are a type of photovoltaic (PV) tile designed to integrate seamlessly with the existing roof shingles. The solar shingles were installed by Centex, a multi-state construction company focused on building energy-efficient homes.

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A design flaw in the OE-34 panels left them susceptible to overheating. As the panel overheats, it can damage the internal wiring, and worst case scenario, start on fire. These particular panels are no longer used in Roseville or anywhere else in California.

The OE-34 Open Energy SolarSave Roofing Tiles were placed on recall on March 25, 2014. Centex warned homeowners to stop using these solar systems several years before then due to the fire risk.

One man’s story

Edward Snyder told Fox40 of Sacramento he spent $17,000 for his solar setup. His investment wasn’t paying off; he was saving just $500 a year in energy costs. On top of that, his roof started on fire a few years after installation because of the overheating issue.

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He, like other area homeowners, was lucky no one was hurt, but the financial damage is significant. The maker of the solar shingles went out of business, so recovering the financial losses isn’t a guarantee.

Centex is trying to make good by installing safer raised-roof solar panels on affected homes for free. Insurance companies may also pay for damages caused by the fire.

Should you avoid rooftop solar systems altogether?

Absolutely not, but it’s critical to do your due diligence when purchasing a rooftop solar system. The problem in Northern California seems to be an isolated issue involving a flat-out horrible product.

Here are a few simple tips to ensure your solar installation is a safe and efficient one:

  • Choose a well-established solar installer or roofing contractor to do the install.
  • Go with a solar product that has a proven track record of good performance. A simple Google search can uncover problems you otherwise may not have known about.
  • Make sure you understand the warranty inside and out.
  • Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website for current recalls.
  • Go to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) website to find out which tax credits and incentives you’ll qualify for.

In conclusion

The solar roof tile problems in California appear to be isolated, and the solar tiles in question are off the market. Don’t let this incident turn you off from home solar energy systems. A high-quality solar setup can save you up to 60% on your monthly energy bills, so it’s definitely worth looking into.

As with any major investment, it’s important to do your own research and due diligence. Don’t always rely on what others tell you about a particular product – everyone’s a salesman!

Even though solar shingles were the culprit in this story, they are largely a safe and eco-friendly product. In fact, solar shingles are becoming popular as ever as prices continue to drop and the energy efficiency of these shingle-sized tiles begin to approach that of the larger solar panels.

The Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles are one example of how solar shingles are made right. These shingles are efficient and received safety certification from three different Underwriters Laboratories back when they were first announced in 2011. They are fire and weather resistant. 

It’s sad that in the early stages of residential rooftop solar shingle technology, good folks like those in Roseville had to in a way act as “sacrificial lambs” for everyone else to learn about the dangers of poorly made solar products. Let’s hope builders, solar installers, government entities and homeowners take notice and learn from these unfortunate circumstances.

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