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Understanding the Best Roofing for Solar

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Jane Marsh's picture
Editor, Environment.co

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

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Not every material can adequately ground solar panels. Investing in expensive renewable technologies prioritizes longevity, durability and security for homeowners and electronics. Before installation, understanding the best roofing for solar panels could make a difference in flexibility and safety — but how and why?

Metal

People invested in renewable energy like solar should know metal roofs are a great option to install before adding panels. Their long life span and infinite recyclability make them ideal for environmentalists.

Installers love metal rooftops because sometimes they can avoid drilling holes altogether. Natural seams in metal roofs provide entry points for clamps. Homeowners love this because it reduces labor and material costs, making this option good for the planet and their budget.

Tar and Gravel

Flat tar and gravel roofs are advantageous for solar panels. However, to maximize energy storage as the sun moves, installers may recommend racking systems to position the panels at a 30-degree angle to capture most of the sun’s energy.

Grounding the panels is easy without fear of cracking any surface because the mineral coatings, roofing felt and tar on the roof are sturdy already. Ballast systems are another option for tar and gravel roofs, especially if homeowners don’t want to penetrate the roof. It adds additional weight, giving it even more strength against high winds.

Clay Tiles

Though other tiles materials exist — like slate or concrete — clay provides a more optimal surface for solar panels. However, it could cost more than other items because installers will need to place brackets and make further adjustments to work around it.

Most homeowners will want to minimize the upfront costs of solar panels. Rooftop panels are less expensive, but installation doesn’t necessarily require a roof replacement — it’s possible to work with the materials you already have, especially since clay is a viable option.

Accessing studs and assessing for potential custom racking will require highly experienced installers. They must remove shingles so they don’t crack and work with the roof’s rafters to secure the panels. A knowledgeable installer can make solar panels work on clay roofs while ensuring adequate waterproofing.

Asphalt Shingles

There are multiple shingle materials to analyze, and each provides varying benefits, but all hold panels well. First, examine the state of the shingle roof, especially if it’s old. Time could’ve caused individual shingles to warp, which will not support panels well. Inspect and replace as necessary before burdening them with panels.

Shingle roofing life spans rarely match the warranty on most solar panel brands —  around 12-30 years. However, owners may need to replace the roofing before warranty expiration, depending on wear and tear and quality.

Asphalt composite shingles are ideal for installers since their malleability allows for easy drilling for mounts. The holes can have metal flashing for additional security to minimize the likelihood of water damage. Their composition of fiberglass, cellulose and other minerals creates an easily workable surface, and their durability makes them exceptional for grounding the panel and holding it in place.

Solar Shingles

Alternatively, you could replace the roofing entirely or partially with solar shingles for building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) roofs. These are some of the most cost-effective and durable options due to their size and ease of installation. Plus, it encourages integrating technology with existing building elements, reducing the need for additional materials.

Homeowners can manipulate their roofs over time, adding, subtracting and replacing shingles as needed instead of concerning themselves with entire panels. Some solar shingles are coated with geopolymer, optimizing insulation and temperature management.

Roofing Preferences for Solar Panels

Solar panels can be installed on most roof types. However, considering installation intensity and costs alongside longevity and durability, certain materials suit them better than others.

Homeowners may need to replace roofing before solar panel warranties expire, or unexpected natural disasters could affect specific materials more than others. Knowing the best options will inform decision-making for future solar panel and roofing projects.

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