Q. We have a home that can be hit by tropical storms and occasional hurricanes. I have always wanted to put solar panels on a roof but have no idea if it is economically feasible. — Paul
A. Your home must be a second home or you’re a reader from afar because we don’t get many hurricanes or tropical storms in Indiana.
Yes, we do get our share of major bad storms, but they are in the form of tornadoes and yes, your roof and anything mounted on it needs to be able to withstand these storms. Most major storms pack winds of 110 to 160 mph winds and these winds can hurl at amazing velocity anything they can pick up.
Roof mounted solar panels are mounted only a few inches off the home’s roof to limit the amount of uplift that affects your roof. Studies do show that roof mounted solar panels fare surprisingly well given that they are designed to withstand these weather forces.
Building codes have had to change requirements to keep up with the demand and popularity of these products. Most code requirements now require wind testing above 160 mph with impact testing included.
Solar panels are evaluated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) for hail, wind and storm performance. Building codes now also require that the bracketing that holds them on are secured to the roof rafters with long sturdy bolts. For years codes have been updated to provide hurricane straps for rafter fasteners along with bolts for wall studs to be secured to foundation. This means that the solar installation is as durable as the roof structure is secured to the rest of the house.
Now, if your home was constructed several years ago or some of these construction techniques were avoided, you will have more of a problem. For regular homeowners like us, there is not much risk; solar panels and the mounting racks are durable and designed to withstand storms. Do not attempt to remove them or cover them; panels will not cause your roof to fly off unless your roof was going to fly off to start with because of insane winds or poor construction techniques.
If there is a storm and you experience damage, most likely you are covered by insurance.
Typically, you cannot install solar panels on mobile homes.
Jeff Deahl is past president of the Builders Association of Northeast Indiana. Questions for the Square Corners column may be submitted to [email protected].