How To Protect Your Solar Panels in Pennsylvania Weather: Care, Maintenance, & Cleaning TipsIt’s no pun; solar power is hot In Pennsylvania! While this technology has been around for decades, installing solar panels on homes and businesses is more popular than ever in our state, and it’s easy to see why. More and more people are using solar energy because it’s a green source of power. Solar power panels generate electricity without creating air pollution or emissions. Instead, these technical marvels are powered by an endlessly renewable resource: the sun. Unlike some other power generation techniques, they require no water to operate and don’t need a source of water to keep them from overheating.
While many property owners feel that mitigating or eliminating the burden of high electricity prices and net metering is incentive enough to install a solar power system, having a self-sufficient energy source is also a plus in case of power outages. Solar energy is a necessity for homes and businesses that operate in places without an existing source of electrical power. Best of all, solar panels help families and businesses save money because the energy they generate replaces electricity from a public utility. Solar panels often pay for themselves in a few years by substantially reducing or even eliminating electric bills.
In Pennsylvania, properties with solar panels also qualify for tax credits. Over the years, many states with otherwise poor green energy policies have developed attractive tax incentives that offset the up-front cost of installing solar. Sometimes these savings are so significant that property owners find that they save money with solar, even before factoring in long-term savings on energy bills. These days, the most attractive tax incentive for most people is the Federal Solar Tax Credit that allows you to deduct 26 percent of the cost of your total system after one year.
According to EnergySage.com,
“Pennsylvania has a long and proud tradition of producing copious amounts of energy, from early oil discoveries and rich coal deposits to modern solar energy production. When it comes to energy, this state has a way of getting things done. Thanks to supportive government policies, going solar in Pennsylvania is easier than ever.”
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania currently ranks 22nd in the nation for the percentage of power coming from solar and provides enough solar energy to power about 60,000 homes. Those numbers mean that Pennsylvanians are a little less like to invest in solar power. In response, the state has implemented many green energy initiatives, including PennFuture. According to PennFuture.com,
“Dirty energy sources emit carbon, methane, and other pollutants that contribute to climate change, threaten public health and harm our environment. Pennsylvania is the third largest carbon emitting state, and we have a major role to play in reducing emissions.
Clean, renewable energy comes from sources that are naturally renewing, don’t emit significant greenhouse gasses and don’t contribute to climate change, including solar, wind and geothermal. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania only gets about 5% of its energy from renewable sources, but we have a great opportunity to become a clean energy leader. The future is in our hands.”
Solar energy is good for the environment and good for homeowners’ pocketbooks. While solar panel systems are generally easy to maintain, they do have some maintenance requirements. For example, in Pennsylvania, mildew can be an issue. After all, our state’s residents know the meaning of the word “muggy.” Our summers are warm, humid, and wet. We have over 300 cloudy days in a year, and temperatures rarely rise above 93 degrees. All this means that mold, mildew, and fungus love to grow in the Keystone state. So, it’s no surprise that most homeowners in Central Pennsylvania must be on the lookout for signs of mildew and mold on their homes, roofs, and solar panels.
While many PA property owners assume that the generous rainfall in our state will keep their solar panels clean, it takes more than rain to keep solar panels working at optimal levels. While some homeowners may find they don’t need solar panel cleanings often, most people in our area find that their solar energy systems work better and last longer with regularly scheduled cleanings.
Why do Cleanings and Maintenance Help Solar Panels Work Better?The light from the sun travels 93 million miles before it falls on the solar panel. Of course, light moves very quickly, so this very long trip only takes about eight and a half minutes. Once the sunlight reaches your home’s solar energy panels, experts agree that clean panels work better than dirty ones. Why? These systems need broad surfaces to capture sunlight in ways that allow it to hit the solar cells embedded in the panels.
Solar panels are usually installed at an angle on a sunny roof. Some are ground-mounted in a yard or open area. No matter where your panels are installed, the more sunlight the large panels absorb, the more solar power the cells can receive, and the more power they can generate. When solar panels are installed at an angle, the tilt allows rain and snow to slide off easily. Despite the pitch, these wide panels can still collect dust and grit. They also become clouded with bird droppings. And in Pennsylvania’s wet climate, mildew and mold can grow on the surface.
While your panels may look clean at a glance, even small amounts of dust or mildew can significantly decrease your panels’ efficacy. A light coat of dust will reduce the amount of light hitting the panel. Blobs of excrement also diminish the panels’ efficiency. And mold or mildew can quickly cover the smooth surface, reducing its ability to produce energy. Over time, these substances can also start rusting or degrading racks, wires, fixtures, and fittings.
If you have dirty solar panels, you could be losing up to 30 percent efficiency out of your system. Over time that can reduce much of the savings you want to achieve. Performing regular solar panel cleaning is one of the best ways to keep your solar power system performing it’s best, as well as ensuring the maximum lifespan for your solar panels. Along with keeping your solar panels clean, it’s a good idea to have your roof shingles cleaned as well. Keeping every part of your roof clean and free from debris will not only help keep solar panels cleaner, longer, it will also improve the look of your property and extend the life of your roofing.
Your Monthly Solar Energy Maintenance ChecklistIf you want your solar panels to reach the energy savings outlined by panel manufacturers and installers, you need to keep your solar panels clean. Don’t adopt a “set it and forget it” attitude. Make sure that you make regular cleanings and inspections a part of your green energy investment.
With few moving parts and few maintenance needs, your solar panels can last for decades without experiencing issues. However, you will need to take a bit of preventative care to keep them running at their peak performance levels. Regular inspections can also save you from having to deal with costly repairs down the road. This checklist will guide you through the top five things to check on your solar system each month to ensure any maintenance is taken care of before small issues have a chance to become more significant problems.
But first a word of warning: though they may look harmless, solar panels do conduct electricity, which means that attempting repairs yourself can be hazardous. Additionally, solar panels are often mounted on roofs or high off the ground, which present a severe safety concern. While this checklist offers inspection guidelines, we do not recommend DIY repairs of any kind. If you notice any issues with your panels, contact a professional.
Some solar installers offer a regular inspection package. While property owners can handle top-level monthly inspections, scheduling a comprehensive annual inspection is also smart. After all, despite its name, solar energy is an electrical system and comes with the same dangers and safety challenges as any type of electrical generator or source. Solar contractors have the experience and training needed to identify and repair issues safely. When you combine monthly checkups with annual professional maintenance, you will help your solar panels work for decades.
If you have a good warranty, or if homeowners’ insurance covers your panels, you should be able to have any damaged parts repaired or replaced with incurring extra costs.
Solar Maintenance Checklist: Inspect the Rack and Roof PenetrationsInterestingly, the type of weather that most commonly impairs the performance of solar panels is heat. When the temperature rises above 90 degrees, panels start to lose efficiency. That’s why installers elevate the panels a few inches above the ground or roof. The raised installation technique allows for air circulation above and below the panels. This airflow cools them down.
To achieve this elevation, solar panels must be mounted with a rack. The rack is a structure, usually metal, that supports the weight of the panels and secures them in place. This rack also ensures cooling air flows. When mounted on a roof, the rack is attached via bolt penetrations into the roof beams.
When solar panels are roof-mounted, the rack will be exposed to the same amounts of rain, snow, and runoff that your roof encounters. However, whether you have a shingle, shake, slate, or steel roof, over time any roof materials will degrade. Depending on the type of wear on your roof, you may start experiencing drainage issues with the rack.
However, a quick visual inspection each month of all the roof penetrations can help you identify problems that may turn into drainage or structural integrity issues. Drainage challenges on your roof are hard to locate from outside your home, or in your yard, without getting on the roof (which is unsafe) or using a drone (which may be impractical.) But any homeowner can spot drainage issues from inside the home when they discover leaks or wet spots in the attic or in the ceiling.
Over time, severe weather can compromise mounts. Panels can become loose in their mounts due to the weight of heavy snows or from the force of high winds. That’s why it’s especially important to do a visual ground check of your panels after a heavy snow or ice storm, or after a windy storm or tornado. If you do find a potential issue, contact your solar panel installer to inspect and repair the rack.
Solar Maintenance Checklist: Look for Signs of CorrosionSolar panel arrays use durable, long-lasting components that are designed to last 25 years or more. Most racks and solar panels use corrosion-resistant metals and materials. However, damage to your rack from snow, hail, or wind can create small nicks or cracks in the rack that are not easy to spot. Over time, corrosion can happen around these small nicks. And if your system is more than 20 years old, this kind of corrosion becomes more likely over time.
While you won’t be able to spot small nicks when you do your monthly visual inspections, keep an eye out for rust, corrosion, or discoloration in spots. If you see any of these issues with your system’s hardware, contact your solar installer for a more thorough inspection and to make any necessary repairs.
Solar Maintenance Checklist: Look for Cracks or Breaks in the PanelsSolar panels are made with extremely durable, tempered glass. They are made to withstand the elements, including hail, snow, wind, and small pieces of flying debris. However, even-tempered glass can crack or break when it meets with a small object at an unusual angle or exceptionally high speeds. Things like fallen branches also pose a real threat to the integrity of your system. Lightning can also damage the panels. In addition to the monthly visual checks of your systems, it’s smart to take a look at your panels after hail, electrical, or wind storms, including tornados.
Depending on your solar energy system, a broken panel may trigger a safety shut-off, which means that it may stop producing power until the panel is replaced. As with any type of solar panel issue, don’t attempt to repair it yourself. Call a professional to replace the panel.
Solar Maintenance Checklist: Look for Faulty WiringSolar energy systems use an inverter that uses wiring to convert the direct electrical currents generated by the panels, or DC, into the alternating currents, or AC, used in your home’s electrical system. In many solar panel installations, each panel is wired in a series, which means there are several points at which a wire can fail before the electricity moves into your home’s AC electrical system.
Faulty wiring is not an easy item to spot. Sometimes you may see a loose wire or a broken connection, but often the problem is not visible. However, there are other ways to identify a wiring issue. Most modern solar energy systems have a digital tracking feature that allows you to monitor real-time energy production. For these types of systems, a drop in performance may indicate a wiring issue. For older systems without digital monitoring, review your monthly electricity bill and make a note of any significant changes.
Attempting to repair wiring problems can result in life-threatening electrical shocks. This type of repair should be handled by a professional. Call your solar installer to address any potential wiring issues.
Solar Maintenance Checklist: Check for Dirt BuildupAs you complete your monthly check of solar panels, make sure the panels are clean and bright. Look for bird droppings, slime, mildew, changes in surface reflectiveness, pollen, clinging or rotting leaves, or other debris or films. Even minor grime can significantly reduce your panels’ efficiency. If your panels are ground-mounted, you may be able to clean them yourself safely. Roof panels may need professional servicing.
Can You Clean Your Solar Panels Without Using a Professional Service?Most residential solar energy systems are installed using flat, tilted panels mounted on your rooftop. Solar panels are incredibly efficient and should work well for decades. However, cleaning solar panels is one of the most common ways homeowners damage their system. Keep in mind that cleaning accidents may result in damaged or broken panes.
However, homes that are downwind from major highways, factories, or agricultural fields may get more dirt or grime on their solar panels. If falling leaves or heavy snow are problems, invest in a soft, roof rake to help you remove light debris or snowfall.
Additionally, most installations include automatic monitoring systems, which will alert you when panels are not operating at peak efficiency. It’s also smart to have a professional inspection and to schedule a professional cleaning annually.
For many homeowners, rain and snow will do the job of keeping your solar panels relatively clean for much of the year. While you shouldn’t need to clean your panels often, it’s a good idea to get a professional cleaning at least once a year, and twice a year if your panels are in place that gets partial or full shade, and are subject to mildew, mold, or moss buildup. Panels that are located on a farm or next to fields that are tilled will also accumulate dust buildup faster and may need more frequent cleanings.
Professionals have the tools and experience to clean your panels entirely and safely. When Atkins Decking cleans our clients’ solar panels, we avoid using cleaning solutions since they may damage the surface of the glass. Instead, Atkins uses a pure water system when cleaning solar panels. This pure water system uses filters to remove the particles and minerals that are commonly found in Lancaster County’s hard water. This ultrapure water is then pumped through hoses and into the boar’s hair brushes that we use to clean solar panels. After the soft brushes have removed dirt and debris, the panels are thoroughly rinsed, leaving clean, spot-free glass behind. We also have special equipment that allows us to clean panels on roofs without endangering your roof, your panels, or our employees.
If you don’t already use Atkins Decking to clean your solar panels, you may wonder what it costs to have us do an annual cleaning on your property. Costs are contingent on a variety of factors.
Where are Your Solar Panels Located?The system’s location will affect a professional’s ability to clean and maintain it. Cleaning ground-mounted units are usually less expensive than cleaning rooftop panels. Rooftop panels on second stories or hard-to-reach roofs may cost a little more because of the extra labor and special equipment that will be involved. Systems that are exposed to sticky sap, heavy bird droppings, or unusually high buildup of grime or fungus may cost more than systems that are more protected.
How Much Buildup is on the solar panels?Homeowners that have panels cleaned every year usually don’t have a lot of buildup. However, if your solar panels have not been cleaned for years, or even decades, the first professional cleaning will take more time. Additionally, removing years of buildup may require special equipment or processes, resulting in a slightly higher price.
How Big is Your Solar Panel System?When it comes to cleaning jobs, size matters. Solar panel systems can vary dramatically in size. Some homes have a few panels, while some businesses have a solar field with hundreds of panels. As with any cleaning service, Atkins must invest more time to work on larger systems and charges less for smaller setups.
How Much Travel is Involved?For most Lancaster County residents, we don’t charge more for travel time. In some cases, for homeowners or businesses that are further away, we may need to add a travel premium. However, every case is different, so call us to discuss costs before making a decision.
Do you Have Other Property Maintenance Needs?If your home is in the Lancaster, Berks, Lebanon, or York county area, Atkins Deck Treatment Services can offer you a wide range of home cleaning and maintenance services, including house washing, deck washing, deck and fence maintenance, home wood restoration, brick cleaning, rust stain removal, and more. For some customers, we offer maintenance agreements or bundle our solar cleaning services with a roof cleaning or other types of other property maintenance services. Contact us to talk about your property, and we’ll find the best price for your needs.
How to Spot-Clean Your Panels Between Professional CleaningsWhile annual cleanings by a professional are a good idea, sometimes homes and businesses find small cleaning issues that they want to tackle on their own. Other times, a homeowner may want to clean a panel immediately instead of scheduling an appointment. While using a professional is always a good idea, if it’s not practical to call a professional, there are some things you can do to keep your panels cleaner in between annual cleanings.
First off, choose a mild, overcast day to clean your panels. Don’t attempt to clean your panels when it is very hot or freezing. It’s important to remember that although solar panel glass is tempered and durable, it was not made to go from hot to cold immediately. Avoid putting cold water on a hot panel or using warm water on a panel in freezing weather. As a rule, avoid cleaning panels during the heat of the day or when temperatures dip below 40 degrees.
Warm weather can present other challenges as well. When the sun is shining bright, the direct, hot sunlight causes water to dry or evaporate so quickly you may not be able to actually clean the panels.
If you’re going to clean your solar energy panels during warm weather, choose a time in the early morning, before the heat of the say. Or complete your cleaning in the evening before dark. If you want to clean your panels during cold weather, there is a long list of challenges. We don’t recommend most types of cleaning in cool or cold weather.
If you plan to clean your panels, read your manufacturers’ instructions, and follow the recommended steps for shutting down the system before you begin cleaning.
Home cleaners should also play it safe. Don’t get on the roof to clean. Walking on a roof is very risky for many reasons, and mistakes can be deadly. Falling from a first floor or second-story roof can result in broken bones or fatal injuries. Even professional roofers must take extra precautions to stay safe. That’s because roofers have the fifth-highest work-related death rate in construction (29.9 deaths per 100,000, about twice the average for all construction.)
Even if you’re surefooted and have extra safety gear in place, walking on your roof causes accelerated wear to your shingles. Walking on your roof may damage the roof, the panel attachments, or even the panels themselves.
If you plan to clean your solar panels, using a hose and sprayer with plain water is best. Don’t use detergents or cleaners, since even mild detergents may scratch the glass, which will decrease their efficacy. Get a long-armed plastic or boar’s head brush and use it to remove the dirt gently. You may need to repeat the process a few times to remove stubborn grime like bird droppings. Once the surface is clean, remove the water from the panels with a long-armed squeegee.
Some homeowners will discover oily stains on their solar panels, especially if they live under a flight path or downwind from a major truck route. If you discover oily stains on your panels, you may use small amounts of isopropyl alcohol on a soft cloth to spot clean as needed. Rinse thoroughly with water after using the alcohol, and squeegee or dry with a soft cloth.
Checking the Efficiency of Your Solar Panel SystemHow do you know if your solar panels are working? How do you know if they’re operating at maximum efficiency? It’s easy to see if a lamp is working because you see the light. You can tell if an oven is working, because you can feel the heat, or use a thermometer to measure the heat. However, evaluating whether a solar panel system is working correctly is more complicated. When you look at a solar panel, you won’t see moving parts. You won’t hear clanking or strange noises as you might with a car. You won’t smell a slight burning smell, as you would with an overheated vacuum.
Instead, you have a passive energy gatherer that doesn’t look, sound, or smell different when it is off or on. It looks and sounds exactly the same when it is working perfectly and when it is not working at all.
Since your solar energy system is an electrical generator, the best way to check for signs of life is to measure a solar panel’s voltage. While checking the voltage isn’t incredibly difficult, it does require a little special equipment, including a voltmeter. Sometimes a voltmeter is part of a multi-meter, an electrician’s tool also used to read other things like current and resistance. Voltmeters and multi-meters are available in the electrical supplies section of most home centers. However, if you are unsure how to use a multi-meter, or are not familiar with electrical systems, ask a professional to handle this task as part of their annual maintenance program.
Another way to measure efficiency is to monitor your electric bills to see if there is a change in the amount of electricity your home needs from public utilities. A sharp increase might indicate an issue. New solar energy systems usually come with a digital monitoring component that will also help you detect voltage issues early on.
How to Deal with Snowfall and Solar PanelsWhile homeowners in Texas or Florida don’t have to worry about snow on solar panels, Pennsylvanians and other northeast state residents are experienced with snowy winters. While cold temperatures are not an issue for solar panels, heavy snowfall is another matter.
For residents of Pennsylvania, recent winters have sometimes come with record-breaking snowfall. In an average year, Pennsylvania gets 27.4 inches of snow. But in a single storm in 2010, over 30 inches of snow fell in Lancaster County over three days. When these kinds of snowfalls occur, homes and businesses in the Keystone state with solar panels should be prepared to take special steps to keep their systems operating correctly.
Property owners often assume that their solar panels are less efficient during cold weather, but the opposite is true. As the temperature drops, the efficiency of the modules increases. Additionally, the increased reflection of light off white snow increases light levels, allowing the panels to generate more energy.
Light snowfall is rarely an issue. If a thin layer of snowfall is covering your solar panels, the system will still generate electricity. However, massive snow buildup that blocks light will prevent energy generation. That’s why most solar panel systems are angled to allow for rain runoff and to reduce snow buildup.
Snow also cleans your panels as it melts. Because the dark, solar cells attract heat, they usually melt snow within a day or so. When the snow is extra deep, or the temperatures are extremely cold, you may need to manually remove snow from your panels using a long-handled squeegee or a snow rake. Make sure you are out of the way of falling snow before attempting removal.
While tempting, it’s not smart to throw things at the system to shake snow loose. This can damage the panels, the wiring, or the rack. Don’t spray water on your snowy roof since it may freeze and cause ice. Don’t use chemical deicers, and don’t walk on the panels or try to get on the roof.
If your squeegee or snow rake doesn’t do the trick, call Atkins Deck Treatment Services and we can send crews out to remove the snow safely.
Pennsylvanians May Want to Consider Installing Snow GuardsFor property owners who are concerned about heavy snow avalanching off their panels, snow guards may be the solution. A snow guard is a device that is used to slow or stop snow and ice from falling onto objects below. These ingenious little devices have been used on roofs in different forms for hundreds of years. They are still installed on certain types of roofs, especially steel, to prevent snow and ice pack from avalanching.
For roofs without solar panels installed, the roofing material itself is designed to cause snow to melt slowly. However, some steep roofs, steel roofs, or pitched roofs next to walking areas or sidewalks must use snow guards to prevent snow from falling quickly in large quantities, all at once.
Some solar panels can cause a pedestrian hazard, as described in this 2019 article by Allison Corneau in the Eagle Tribune based out of Massachusetts,
“Solar panels atop the Haverhill Police Department’s roof are again cause for concern in the wake of last week’s winter storm. Melting from the two-day blast rendered two of the Bailey Boulevard station’s entrances off-limits for safety reasons. An internal email sent to department staff by administrative Capt. Michael Wrenn notified officers that two doors at the back of the station are not to be used until further notice ‘due to safety concerns over ice and snow sliding off the solar panels affixed to the roof.'”
As this news clipping demonstrates, because the glass on solar panels is smooth, heavy snowfall can build up and then slide suddenly off the slick surface. These sudden, heavy snow slides can present a danger to people, pets, or even police officers on the ground.
Snow guards are an inexpensive way to help break up snow, preventing large amounts from falling at once. If you think that snow guards might help make your solar panels safer during the winter months, do not try to install them yourself. Improper installation of snow guard may damage the system immediately, but they can also damage the panels later on, once heavy snowfalls start testing their sturdiness. Contact your installer to discuss your options.
Keep Your Solar Panels Clean and Well-Maintained for Better PerformanceAs you now know, solar panels are generally long-lasting, durable, and low-maintenance. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore them completely. By investing just a few minutes a month in a visual inspection, you can identify many types of problems early. Scheduling a yearly maintenance check is also a smart idea. Make sure your rack and structure continue to be sturdy and rust-free. Do the same check after any major storm, especially if lighting, hail, or high winds occurred. While you’re at it, call Atkins Deck Servicing to clean your panels at least once a year professionally.
Remember that when it comes to solar panels, cleaner is better. Even small bits of dirt, grime, mildew, or oil can decrease the efficiency of your solar energy system. Homes or businesses that get dirt or dust from farms, heavy road traffic, flight paths, or flocks of birds may need to clean their panels more frequently. If you need to do periodic cleanings, play it safe. Solar panels are electrical generators, and you should use the same precautions you employ for any source of electricity. Stay off your roof to keep you, your panels, and your roof in one piece. Don’t try to clean panels in extremely hot or cold weather, and never use abrasives or cleansers.
If you must remove snow, use a long-handled squeegee, a long-handled roof rake, or a long-handled soft brush. If you find that heavy snow is a recurring problem, consider having professional install snow guards.
In our area, from Manheim to Mount Joy, from Lititz to Leacock, solar panels are becoming more popular in Lancaster County. Whether you live in Earl, Ephrata, Eden, or Elizabethtown, knowing how your solar panels work and how to keep them operating at peak performance will save you time and money in the long run. In Paradise, Pequea, Penn, and Providence, Lancaster County folks understand that regular solar panel cleaning and maintenance help their systems work better. If you find that your solar energy system is covered in dust, grime, bird droppings, mildew, or algae, you may be able to do simple touchups on your own. But for big jobs or roof-mounted systems, contact the experienced solar panel cleaning team at Atkins Deck. We’ll treat your home and property with care and respect.