My family was pretty excited when the team arrived to install our new solar panels. We greeted the truck with enthusiasm. We “oohed” and “aahed” as the shiny panels were lifted to the roof, one-by-one. We high-fived when the first electrons flowed into our home. The excitement was palpable.
Every few hours, I found myself in front of the inverter, checking out how much energy we were producing. Pretty soon, I realized that the inverter didn’t care whether I showed up or not, it just kept on working. As time went on, I visited less and less, until it became just another appliance in the garage. Was the thrill, as B.B. King once put it, really gone?
The truth is that solar, while a high-tech modern miracle, is so reliable that it’s boring. Boring in a good way. Unlike my dishwasher, which seems to need replacing every five years or so, solar is a dependable workhorse that can last decades. (In fact, some researchers are working on panels that could last as long as 50 years! Read more here: https://solarbuildermag.com/news/researchers-get-funding-to-try-and-push-solar-panel-performance-to-50-years/?fbclid=IwAR02XKqHhwlbGzJ80d4kQF4fM1WhvdRMKwsKuKhoCC61wpPYe4zcruwhrq8). Not only that, solar requires very little maintenance to keep functioning at peak performance. So, what can you actually do to help keep your system in tip-top shape?
Start by adding your system to your homeowners’ insurance. Solar panels are extremely robust and can handle even moderate-sized hail, but you’ll still want your system covered in case of severe events or fire. The cost is nominal, and you’ll sleep soundly knowing you’re protected.
Next, make the most of the solar energy you produce. By making your home more energy efficient, you’ll produce a higher percentage of your electricity with solar. Common sense energy efficiency measures, from LED lighting to efficient appliances to insulation and air-sealing, will also make your home a more comfortable place to live.
As time goes on, you’ll want to make sure the system stays clean. Generally speaking, cleaning is unnecessary, since a little rain will wash dust off of panels under most circumstances. But if you live in a particularly dry, dusty area, and have a flat or nearly flat system, you may want to consider periodic cleaning. This can be done with a garden hose alone, but try to do it on an overcast or cool day when the panels aren’t so hot. If you do need to use detergent and sponge, use non-abrasive types so you don’t scratch the panels. As with any work on the roof, this is dangerous, so you may want to hire a professional. Also, as the years go by, keep nearby trees and vegetation trimmed back to avoid shading.
Snow cover on a system is generally not considered a problem, since system designers factor an area’s snowfall into the estimated annual output of a system. Don’t use salt or warm water to melt snow, as you can damage the panels. In most cases, the danger involved in removing snow is high, while the economic benefit is low.
When I installed my solar panels, online monitoring wasn’t available, but all Sunfinity customers get access to an online system that lets you keep up with your system’s performance from the comfort of your couch. You can check as frequently as you like, to find out things like how much energy did my system produce today (or the last seven days, or last month, or over its lifetime). The system also lets you graph that same data (or choose a custom range), or choose from one of 13 different reports (like a Yearly Energy Production Report, broken down by month), which can be downloaded, printed or emailed. Like your solar panels, this information can be depended on to be there when you need it.
We love having solar to power our home and car, but after eight years and zero problems living with solar, it’s easy to forget the system is even there. Until, that is, I open the electric bill. Very low bills in the winter are nice, but when I open the summer ones that have big, fat zeros across the top, I know for certain that the thrill is definitely not gone.Jeff Wilson has hosted nearly 200 episodes on HGTV, the DIY Network, and PBS. His book, The Greened House Effect follows the deep energy retrofit of his family’s 75-year-old home to reduce their energy bills by over 90% while making the home a more comfortable, healthier place to live. www.jeffwilsonregularguy.com.