Winter Snow & Ice Dams Can Damage Your Solar Panels & Roof

by | Dec 11, 2017 | Uncategorized

Winter is here in the UK and like many countries, we have seen a massive growth in the number of buildings and fields with solar panels.  What harm can snow and ice cause to solar panels?  How can the snow and ice damage the solar panels and your roof?  What is an ice dam?  How can you remove the snow safely from your solar panels?

SEE ALSO:  Clean Solar Solutions Win Solar Operations & Maintenance Company 2017 Award

What Harm Can Snow & Ice Cause To Solar Panels?

In itself, snow will not harm well fitted, well maintained solar panels.  However, several problems can occur from snow and ice.  No one may like to admit it, but look around next time it snows and you’ll see that properties that have solar panels fitted are those that suffer the most problems from thawing snow.

  1. Loss of Electricity Generation.  It may sound obvious, but we receive numerous phone calls from solar array owners on days when snow covers their panels, wondering why their array is not working.  Solar panels work on light.  When they are blanketed in snow, the inverters will not start up as no light is hitting the cells.  Having just one solar panel covered in snow in a string can reduce the output of the whole string by up to 90%.  Obtaining a price from a professional snow removal company to have the snow removed may well work out cheaper than having your solar array not generate whilst they are covered in snow. 
  2. Water Expansion In Solar Panels.  As you know, water expands when it freezes, but you may not know that it expands by around 9%.  That’s considerable.  If a solar panel has slight water ingress, when it freezes and expands, it can break open further the seal on the solar panel and create further damage.  
  3. Water Expansion In Guttering.  Gutter cleaning is an often overlooked part of building maintenance.  If gutters are blocked, they may have standing water in them, the weight of which the guttering is not designed to hold.  When the water freezes, it can pop open the joints between lengths of guttering, or worse still, the weight of the ice will cause guttering to collapse completely off the side of the building.  This is an obvious health & safety hazard.   
  1. Ice Dams.  An ice dam occurs when after heavy snowfall and a couple of days of freezing temperatures.  Blocked gutters will have standing water in them and when it freezes, it forms one solid block of ice, an ice dam.  But gutters do not always need to be present for an ice dam to occur either.  Ice dams are easy to spot because it results in icicles hanging from the guttering.  Whilst they look very pretty, it is an indication that serious damage may be happening to your building.   When water tries to thaw, it runs down the tiles of the roof, but reaches a solid wall of ice in the gutters.  Two things happen.  1.  The excess water reaches the cold air when far away enough from the building and starts to freeze again, causing icicles.  2.  Water runs against the pull of gravity, back up the roof tiles and into the roof space.

What Damage Can An Ice Dam Cause?

This water ingress from an ice dam can be devastating to the internal fabric of your property and can result in flooding.  Before it can get to the inside of the building, the water can lift tiles or roof sheets, creating long term roof damage.  Because the water gets to the inside of your building, it can cause damage to your roof insulation, internal walls and ceilings and floors if you are unfortunate enough to have a ceiling collapse.

Please be assured that if you have icicles hanging from your roof, IMMEDIATE ACTION IS NEEDED because there is both a health and safety risk and a risk of serious damage to your property.

How Can Snow Be Removed From Solar Panels?

Snow removal is not a DIY job.  Here is a commonly seen way of how NOT to remove snow from your solar panels:

Snow should only be removed by professionals.  DO NOT allow your window cleaner to come with a warm water cleaning system.  This may result in thermal cracking of the glass and you may cause further damage to your solar panels.  Removing snow from solar panels requires knowledge of working at height and knowing what tools can safely be used, without damaging your solar panels.  

Clean Solar Solutions have experience in safely removing snow from solar panels and ice dams from guttering.  Please feel free to contact us for further information.