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Solar Panel Maintenance: Everything You Need to Know

Kaitlin LindrosAugust 1, 20191990

So you finally went solar! Or maybe you are still considering it. Either way, you want to know - what comes next after you install solar on your roof?

Other than reaping the energy cost savings and saving the environment, you'll want to make sure you properly maintain your solar panels to get the most out of them. Fortunately, it isn't difficult or expensive to keep your panels running smoothly.

Here's our comprehensive, step-by-step guide to maintaining your owned* solar system. 

Step 1: Monitor Your Solar Panels

To make sure your panels are giving you their all, you'll want to keep an eye on their productivity. This will help you troubleshoot any issues that may arise. If you notice a sudden decrease in efficiency of your system's electricity output, it may be an indicator that it is time for some maintenance. 

How to Monitor Your Solar System

Most solar systems come equipped with a solar monitoring system, located in the inverter. Your system will collect data about energy production and power levels and send this information to the cloud, where you can access it through an app or smart home gadget. Some solar systems also offer on-site monitoring.

For more information about what kinds of monitoring systems are available, click here.

 

Step 2: Troubleshoot Any Issues as They Occur

If you notice that your panels are suddenly not performing like they used to, it's a sign that they need to be checked out. 

First, inspect the panels yourself to make sure the problem isn't something simple. Often, you may simply need to clear some leaves or dust, or trim back your overgrown tree casting shade on your roof.

But occasionally, it may be a deeper issue, such as a malfunction in your inverter or the wires that connect to it. It's more rare for panels themselves to malfunction. If you see something wrong, or can't find the cause, you'll want to have someone look at it right away.

 

Step 3: Call for Help

Assuming the issue isn't shade or debris, you'll want to call an inspector or your solar installer to investigate. For problems with writing and electrical systems, it's always better to call in trained professionals rather than risk your safety. Also, check to see if the problem is covered by a warranty.

 

Step 4: Schedule Routine Cleanings

Just as regular dentist visits can help your overall health, regular cleanings are the best preventative measure for solar panel health as well. You'll want to be sure to clean your solar panels a few times a year to ensure best performance, year-round. 

How often you clean your panels will depend on where you live, what the weather is like, the season, and other factors. So you'll need to tailor this to your own home's needs. Alternatively, you can simply make a note for yourself to check once every few months to make sure everything is in tip-top shape. 

If you live in an area with a lot of dust, pollution, ash, birds, or pollen, you may need to clean your panels more often than others to keep their efficiency from degrading, as particles on your panels can reduce the amount of sunlight they receive by up to 20%.

How to Clean Your Panels

The easiest way to clean your solar panels is to take a hose and spray them lightly with plain old water. You can also take a cloth or some light detergent to clean off any stuck-on buildup. Avoid using strong solvents or abrasive cleaners, as these can damage your panels and void your warranty. When in doubt, check with your installer for best recommendations on cleaning products and processes for your system.

If you come across too much debris or snow, you can invest in a leafblower or roof rake to help you move any obstacles.

If you find yourself having to clean your panels often, you may want to look into getting a sprinkler system installed for your roof. Cleaning solar robots are also on the rise. Some come on tracks, and others run on their own. 

How to Clean Inverters and Wiring

Panels aren't the only solar equipment that you should maintain. Every once in a while, you'll want to clean off your inverter and wiring, too. For systems with string inverters, all the panels are connected to a string, making it easy to clean. With mircoinverters, you may have more difficulty, as these are located under the panels. 

Be sure to inspect wiring for corrosion, cracking, or breaking before cleaning. If you notice an issue, call your solar installer immediately, as electrical issues should be handled by trained professionals. You don't want to hurt yourself, or damage your system. 

How to Clean Batteries

For those who have a battery for backup energy storage, it's important to give this a wipe every once in a while as well. Even with “maintenance-free” batteries, regular inspections of the case, terminal connections, voltage, and wiring are important. A couple times a year, look through to make sure everything is fairly clean and that there is no corrosion. Again, if you see anything odd, it's better to leave it to the experts.

Seasonal Cleaning

Different seasons call for different maintenance measures. Again, this depends on where you live.

In the summer, while you may enjoy increased electricity generation from those long, sunny days, you may also need to clean your panels more often, as it's less likely to rain and clean off your roof naturally. If you notice your roof is dirty, give it a quick spray while you're watering your garden or lawn, and you should be good to go. 

In autumn, watch out for falling leaves that may cover your panels. You can invest in a leafblower, or hire somebody to clean off your roof, if it isn't safely reachable. 

Winter may bring snow and ice, depending on where you live. While panels handle snow pretty well - and, in fact, get an extra energy boost from the cold - snow on your panels will obviously cause issues, or completely disable them, if they are covered. And you'll want to be sure to clean off snow quickly before it forms into ice and sticks, as this can damage your panels. 

If your panels are installed at an angle, the snow may just slide right off. For others, you may need to get a roof rake to brush off snow, wash it off with a hose (make sure you use warm, not hot or cold, water - otherwise you may get ice or crack your panels), or use a leaf-blower to warm and melt it. Some people have even used nerf guns to get snow off - a fun, if not-so-efficient way of clearing things off. Do not, however, use RainX, rock salt, or car wax on your panels. If ice does build up, and you can't get it off yourself, you may need to call a professional for help.

Spring is likely to be the least worrisome, so it is a great time to do preventative maintenance and get in an a more thorough inspection. You may still need to clear off some pollen or bird poop, but overall, you can expect an easier time in spring.

 

Step 5: Hire a Cleaning & Maintenance Service, If Needed

If your roof is particularly difficult to get to, don't risk falling - you can hire a local professional cleaning and maintenance service to do it for you. Ask your solar installer for a recommendation, or you can Google nearby services.

Costs

Costs of servicing solar panels vary from company to company, and also depend on factors like the slant of your roof, how many panels you have, height of your house, etc. Expect to spend anywhere from $3-10 per panel. Some companies will charge you a flate rate to clean all your panels, which usually ranges from $150-350. Most contractors will not accept less than $100, regardless of the size of your array, as they want to ensure they are paid for their time, risk, and equipment.

For an annual inspection (before cleaning costs), expect to spend about $150. 

For repair work, the average cost is $650 - though, again, be sure to check and see if it is covered by your warranty.

 

Step 6: Use Your Warranty!

If something does go wrong, don't panic - most problems are covered by the warranty that comes standard with most solar systems. If your inverter stops functioning, your wires get damaged, or your panels simply aren't living up to the hype, call your solar installer to check and see if it is covered by a warranty and get the problem fixed. Your warranty will cover repair and replacement. 

Warranties also cover unforeseen accidents like hail or falling tree branches, so if a freak accident does occur, you won't lose your investment. 

Most solar panels are covered for 25 years. Inverters are usually covered for 10 years, but many companies are extending them to 25 as well. So you can be sure to get the full value of your system for the entirely of its life.

 

*NOTE: Leasing Solar Panels

This guide is for people who own their solar panels. If you lease your panels, good news: your solar company is responsbile for cleaning and maintenance of your system. Give them a call if you have any issues, otherwise, you should be all set.

 

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