By Bob Smith, Co-founder and President of SolaTrim
Most residential systems are installed on home rooftops where there is efficient solar exposure and underutilized real estate. However, putting a solar array on the roof also makes it more difficult to reach, unless of course you are a squirrel, pigeon or another type of climbing or flying pest. Solar arrays are the perfect place for critters to nest because they are warm and dry, and they can provide shelter from predators. These nesting creatures can create real damage to solar that will generate service/repair calls and, on occasion, shorten the life of the system components. The right protective barriers can keep the pests out and add a finished look to the solar installation at the same time: a win-win.
The Triple Threat to Solar Systems
There are three primary threats to any rooftop solar system:
- Rodents – Squirrels, mice and other rodents like to build nests under solar systems, and that causes damage to both the solar electrical components and the home structure. Rodents can create a fire hazard by chewing through insulation and cable which can create a short circuit in the wiring. In fact, the 2015 revised Canadian Electrical Code added a pest abatement subrule specifically requiring a “rodent guard” for string inverter solar systems.
- Nesting Birds – Roosting pigeons and other birds nesting under solar panels generate large amounts of guano that creates a serious disease risk. Histoplasmosis, Cryptococcus and other diseases thrive in bird droppings. According to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, there are 60 diseases carried by birds and their droppings, and many of these diseases can be airborne. Bird droppings also attract insects that can create another unwanted infestation.
- Environmental – Leaves and other flammable debris can gather under solar panels which can add to a potential fire hazard. Storms and extreme weather can deposit leaves and pack snow and ice against the array, putting pressure on the system and the roof. The potential for electrical arcing, grounding issues or equipment failure is present where there are rodent intrusions, and having accumulated leaves and debris just offers fuel for a possible fire. Ice buildup has significant expansion strength and potential for damage. Installing protective barriers that can withstand pressure and weight from snow and ice can prevent thousands of dollars in damage, both to the solar array and the rooftop.
You Gotta Look Good
The right protective barrier design can also beautify solar arrays, giving the rooftop system a completed appearance that hides racking and wire tails.
Property associations in more regions are requiring array skirting for aesthetic reasons. In Maui, Hawaii, for example, some home owner associations and apartment owner associations are requiring that skirts be installed around array perimeters for both protection and aesthetics.
Installation Doesn’t Have to be a Chore
It’s clear that adding protective barriers to solar installations offers a level of protection, limits the number of service and repair calls and provides an aesthetic advantage. Still, many solar installers do not offer pest abatement or environmental protection for installations. Pest barrier manufacturer SolaTrim surveyed solar system integrators about skirting/barrier protection, and found that 68% of installers surveyed see a need for a protective barrier and 76% believe their customers want barriers to protect their solar investment, but only 23% actually offer protective barriers.
Integrators might be somewhat reluctant to offer protective barriers because they can be unattractive and difficult to install, especially if you are using something akin to chicken wire. That’s why choosing the right type of barrier system is important. Drilling or screwing into a solar module frame to fasten a screen can invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty. Friction clips for wire-cage barriers can loosen and be defeated by persistent pests, fail during inclement weather and aren’t applicable to every module type. Long-term exposure to the sun causes plastic snap-ties to turn brittle and break. What’s more, installing poorly designed protective barriers can be time consuming, taking valuable manpower away from more critical tasks. Wire-cage barriers are typically not designed to last the life of the system, meaning it may need to be re-secured or even replaced at some point.
To address all these issues, SolaTrim was designed as a protective barrier that’s both aesthetically pleasing and easy to install. SolaTrim is made up of all-weather aluminum barrier that provides a clean, finished look to any solar installation. The panels are stiffened to resist warping and bending, and it’s diamond-stamped to facilitate airflow. SolaTrim is applied directly to the solar module frame without tools or clips using a permanent, peel-and-stick adhesive that won’t void the solar module manufacturer’s warranty. Plus, the adhesive has been thoroughly tested for durability, even under the most extreme weather conditions.
Overcoming the Obstacles
As every solar company knows, there are many challenges in the residential market:
- Business is booming, but it is also very competitive; often there’s little differentiation between integrator sales programs.
- Aesthetics can be a real barrier to adoption, but there are no established methods to improve appearance.
- Online reviews are critical to sales growth, but bad customer experiences can lead to negative customer stories on social media.
- There is an increasing emphasis on cost per watt, but operating and maintenance (O&M) costs are eroding margins for years into the future.
Offering an attractive perimeter skirting can solve a lot of these issues by increasing closing percentages, improving system aesthetics, raising customer satisfaction levels and mitigating long-term O&M costs.
So when you are writing your next estimate for a residential solar system, include pest control barriers as part of your equipment package. You can demonstrate to customers how protective barriers will save them money in the long run, and your customers will love the look of a finished solar system.