Having solar panels installed at your property provides several advantages. Solar panels can lower your utility bills, increase energy efficiency and boost your property’s market value. Installing solar panels also helps you save money by allowing you to claim a 30% federal tax credit for a significant percentage of the cost of the installation.
But after the installation, what do you need to do to keep your solar system working? In this guide, we explain the typical maintenance a solar panel system requires, suggest a few cleaning tips and let you know when it’s time to call on your solar maintenance company for assistance.
How Much Maintenance Is Necessary for a Solar System?
Solar panels tend to last a long time. The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reports that under normal conditions, solar panels lose only about 0.5% of their output a year, so they are still running at about 90% effectiveness after 20 years. Harsh weather may speed their degradation. But under the right conditions, solar panels can last for 30 years or more. They’re an investment, and you want to get the most out of them. So many homeowners wonder about the best ways to keep their solar panels in good condition.
The good news is that most solar panels don’t require much maintenance. They are often made of sturdy, durable materials like anodized aluminum and tempered glass. And unless you have a tracking array that follows the sun to maximize the panels’ power output, they should have no finicky moving parts. A few quick checkups and cleanings should keep them going strong for years.
If your solar panels become dirty, you can do some easy, safe cleaning if you choose. But remember that your safety should always come first. If you have doubts about what maintenance your solar panels require, are worried about damaging your panels or don’t feel safe cleaning your panels yourself, you can always call your solar professionals for assistance. Especially if cleaning and maintaining your solar panels would require you to get onto your home’s roof, we recommend leaving the work to the pros.
Maintenance for Your Warranty
Even though solar panels don’t typically require much cleaning, there is an essential reason to stay on top of your solar panel maintenance schedule — preserving your warranty. In addition to your manufacturer’s warranty, you can often get a warranty from your solar installation or maintenance company as well — and the warranties typically run for as long as 25-30 years.
Under the terms of your maintenance contract, though, failing to maintain your system properly may void the warranty and make it more difficult for you to get the replacement parts or services you need. But you can keep your warranty intact by remembering to schedule the preventative maintenance your solar panels’ warranty requires.
How often should you service solar panels? It depends on the area you live in and the terms of your warranty. Contact your local professionals to make sure — they may want to come out annually, or potentially a few times a year.
Do You Need to Clean Solar Panels?
Do you need to clean your solar panels to keep them in good working order? The answer depends on the conditions where you live. Here are a few factors that play a role in whether and how often you need to clean your panels:
1. Local Climate
If you live in an area with frequent rainfall and snowfall, you may seldom have to clean your solar panels. The latest solar panel cleaning study, from researchers at the University of California, San Diego, suggests that unless they are exceptionally soiled, panels that do not receive cleanings or rain lose less than 0.05% of their efficiency per day. But if you live in a dry, dusty or sandy region, your solar panels may collect dust over time and need a quick hosing down now and then.
2. Debris From Nearby Industries and Infrastructure
If your solar panels are frequently exposed to agricultural or construction debris, you may need to clean them more often as well. And if you live near a highway or an airport, oil and fuel particles may collect on your solar panels and necessitate more frequent cleanings.
3. Solar Panel Angle
The angle of your solar panels also plays a role in determining the cleaning frequency they require. Because solar panels need direct sunlight to work most effectively, installers usually angle them toward the sun — with roof panels, the angle of the roof determines the panels’ angle, whereas with ground panels you have more options. But their upward angle also allows them to collect all kinds of debris, from bird droppings and pollen to blowing leaves, dirt or sand. Shallowly angled solar panels are likely to collect more debris more easily.
Cleaning Solar Panels
Fortunately, in most cases, you won’t have to do much work to clean your solar panels. Nature can take care of most of it, and what’s left for you to do is generally quick and easy to accomplish, requiring just a few minutes a couple of times a year.
Here are a few tips for how to clean solar panels — or let nature clean them for you:
- Hose cleaning: If your residential solar panels get dirty or dusty, you can give them a quick spray with the garden hose. The hose water won’t hurt them, but it should be enough to remove any accumulated dirt and debris. Mornings, evenings and overcast days are often good times for cleanings — spraying your panels with cold water when they’re in direct, hot sunlight can shock them.
- Rain: Does rain clean solar panels? In many cases, yes. Especially if you live in a moderately rainy climate, the rain will be enough to keep your panels clean between service appointments. Even a light rain is often enough to remove most of the dirt that collects.
- Snow: When snow falls on your slanted solar panels, it often binds to the dirt and debris stuck there. Then, when the snow begins to melt and slides off the panels, it takes the dirt with it. Because of the sun’s rays and the heat emitted from your home, the snow on solar panels typically melts quickly, usually in a day or two. So in most cases, you don’t have to worry about knocking it off and potentially damaging your solar panels in the process.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to consult your manufacturer or your owner’s manual to get recommendations for the cleaning methods that will work best for your specific solar panel models.
Other Considerations for Cleaning Your Solar Panels
Just as important as knowing how to get your solar panels clean is knowing how not to clean them. Here are a few precautions to take when you’re trying to clean your panels:
- Forgo soap: It’s best not to use harsh soaps or detergents on your solar panels. These abrasive substances can interfere with the wiring in the panels — and plain water from the hose should usually be enough to get your solar panels clean. You may be able to add a gentle soap as needed.
- No scrubbing: It’s best not to scrub your solar panels. You don’t want to risk causing your solar panels to malfunction. Aiming a gentle, steady stream of water at your solar panels should be sufficient.
- Stay on the ground: If you have solar panels mounted on your roof, we strongly advise not going onto the roof to clean them. If you fall, you could risk a grievous injury. Spraying water from the ground should be enough to get your solar panels clean — and if not, it’s best to call in the professionals.
- Remember that less is more: Solar panels are generally hardy and durable. Unless they become severely encrusted with dirt and debris, they probably don’t need heavy cleaning. You can spray them down once in a while if they look dirty, but otherwise, you can probably let them be until their scheduled maintenance times roll around.
- Use tepid or cool water: Hose water or lukewarm water is fine, but using hot water could damage your solar panels when they are cold. Use a gentle temperature that won’t shock the panels at frigid temperatures.
- Be careful with hard water: If your home’s water is very hard, be cautious about using it to clean your solar panels. Rinse them with soft water if you can, or if they’re on the ground, wipe or squeegee them dry afterward. Otherwise, calcium deposits may form and impede their function.
- Be cautious with household implements: Common household items like poles, brooms and even leaf blowers might seem useful for cleaning roof-mounted solar panels, but using them may void your warranty because of the damage they could inflict on your panels. Check with your manufacturer or installation company before proceeding with these implements.
Maintenance for a Ground Solar System vs. Solar Panels on the Roof
Ground solar systems and solar panels on the roof require slightly different maintenance. Here’s a look at how their maintenance needs differ and how you can best care for the type of home solar system you have.
Cleaning Ground Solar Panels
Because they’re installed at a lower height, ground solar systems tend to be much easier and safer for homeowners to deal with. Even with ground solar systems, it’s still a good idea to have solar professionals perform routine maintenance and cleaning. But in between appointments, you can feel more secure about cleaning your panels because you won’t have to climb onto the roof or stand on a wobbly ladder.
If you have a ground solar system, you’ll need to keep the base of the panels clear during the winter. If snow piles up under the panels, the snow that collects on the panels won’t have anywhere to slide off. So it will remain on the surfaces, block the sunlight, and impede the panels’ performance and output.
Cleaning Solar Panels on the Roof
With solar panels on the roof, you’ll need to be more cautious in your cleaning approach. If you can comfortably spray your panels with a hose from the ground, that’s an excellent way to go. If not, there’s a greater likelihood that you’ll need to call in professionals to ensure your safety and protect your panels from damage.
With solar panels on the roof, you might feel tempted to reach up with an implement like a squeegee attached to a pole. Be sure you can do this without damaging your panels, and make sure you won’t void your warranty.
Can You Monitor the Health of Solar Panels?
If you’re wondering whether helpful technological solutions can monitor your solar panels’ performance and maintenance needs, the answer is yes.
Solar panel monitoring systems are easy to incorporate into your array. With these systems, you can track how much power your solar panels produce and how efficient they are. You can also see how different factors affect your solar panels’ output — if they produce much less power in the winter, for instance, or in the fall if they become covered with leaves. Your service provider may also be able to monitor your system for you remotely and let you know of any issues as soon as they come up.
And what if you’re moving to a house with solar panels? That’s great news — it will likely lead to lower energy bills and increased resale value down the road. The first step you’ll want to take is to have a professional inspect the panels. A solar professional can let you know what condition the panels are in, how frequently they’ve been maintained and what you’ll need to do to keep them running smoothly and efficiently. You’ll then be able to enjoy the comforts of living in your solar-powered home for years to come.
Contact KC Green Energy for All Your Solar Panel Needs
To see the benefits of professional solar panel installation and maintenance in your home, partner with KC Green Energy. Our custom solar power solutions will help make your home comfortable and cozy while lowering your energy bills, and we offer routine maintenance and repairs to keep your solar array in outstanding condition. Whatever you need for your solar panels or roof, our dependable, family-owned operation — including our sister company, Kautz Construction and Roofing — can be your single-source solution.
Contact us today to learn more.