30 Mar How To Tell If Your Solar System Has Hail Damage
Springtime in Texas is beautiful; full of warm sunny days and oceans of wildflowers.
Springtime also brings thunderstorms, and with them, hail. It hails somewhere in Texas every year, with the size of the hailstones ranging from 1/8″ up to 6″ in diameter or more in extreme weather events.
So what causes hail anyway?
Well, we’re no weather ‘experts’ but the short version goes something like this: Water vapor gets caught in the updraft/downdraft cycle of a thunderstorm, pushing the vapor high enough in the cloud that (when it eventually collides with some sort of debris or other water vapor) it turns to droplets, which continue rising until they eventually freeze at a high enough altitude. These tiny, frozen hail stones continue to get pushed up and down in the cloud, gathering more water vapor and growing in size while doing so, until they are either large enough that gravity takes over from the updraft, or the updraft weakens enough, and they fall to the Earth.
The length of time the updrafts can keep them cycling up and down in the clouds dictates how large the hailstones become.
Right up until 2014, damage to solar panels from a hail event was pretty rare. Starting in 2015 though, storms started producing large diameter hailstones. It appears that hail events are more severe and wide spread these past several years and have impacted all of our service areas.
The good news? Your solar panels are manufactured to withstand most hail events.
The bad news? Most people’s roofs aren’t as tough. Every year at Longhorn Solar we perform dozens of “tear-off and reset” jobs where we get called in to remove a perfectly functional solar array so that a roofer can replace a severely hail damaged roof.
With the uptick of these storms in recent years, we felt it was time to put together a “How To” page for determining what to do if a hail storm hits your solar-powered home or business.
Before we dive off into this, it’s important to note that most insurance policies cover the removal and re-installation (and potential replacement) of your solar array, but it’s always smart to have a conversation with your insurance carrier to make sure. We’ll talk more about this later in this post.
Checking your solar system for hail damage
Step One: Visual Inspection
If you can see your solar panels from the ground, or safely from a ladder, a simple visual inspection will determine whether or not your solar panels were damaged.
There was only one damaged panels in this array. You have to look close!
This is what 4″ hail stones will do to a solar array.
Severe hail storms bring severe damage. Not to worry though, the damage to these arrays were covered 100% by the owners’ insurance carriers as part of the claims they were filing for their roof replacements.
Step Two: Check your Online Monitoring Portal or Mobile App
If your solar installation has monitoring capabilities, compare your current usage curve to data from another recent confirmed sunny day to see if your system’s output has changed. Damaged solar systems will show a noticeable drop in production, or not be producing energy at all. If you’re not sure of what you’re looking at, call your installer. They should have access to your monitoring system via a master service portal and can usually tell right away if there’s an issue.
What if you don’t have monitoring and you can’t see the panels from the ground to inspect them?
If you can’t see your solar panels from the ground and don’t have monitoring capability (common for systems installed before 2014), please consider turning your system off temporarily and contact your solar installer. If that’s us, you can reach our Service Department by phone at 512.837.4800, or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We can either walk you through the process of viewing your system’s vitals on the inverter display (if you are comfortable doing that), or we can schedule a technician to come out and perform a visual inspection.
Step 3: Turning your solar system off
Damaged solar panels do potentially pose an electrical risk if the hermetic seal on the protective, tempered glass is compromised in any way. Since Texas weather can be a little unpredictable, you may want to go ahead and turn your system off until damage to your panels has been ruled out, before more rain comes through. If you see or suspect damage, definitely turn your system off asap and call your installer.
So, how do you turn your system off?
Every solar system has a levered AC (alternating current) Disconnect. Below is a photo showing how to turn off your AC Disconnect.
The AC disconnect will be located next to your solar inverter. It will be a grey rectangular box measuring approx. 10″h x 6″w and will have a black or red handled lever on the side of it. The one in the photo above is in the “OFF” position. Yours should be in the top “ON” position right now. Simply lower the lever to the lower “OFF” position and your solar system will shut down.
There are several safety features integrated into your solar system. Under most circumstances, turning off your AC Disconnect is completely safe, posing no threat of electrical shock. If touching your electrical components makes you nervous and you want to speak to someone first, call your installer.
You can also open your main distribution panel (breaker box) and move the solar system’s breaker to the off position. It should have been clearly labeled by your solar installer. Recent changes in the National Electric Code have made this a requirement. If you system is less than 10 years old, there’s a good chance both your AC Disconnect and your solar breaker have distinct labeling on them.
My solar panels are fine, but my roof is going to have to be replaced. What’s the process?
We know how stressful the process of replacing your roof and/or solar system can be.
The good news is your homeowner’s policy should cover the cost associated with replacing damaged components and/or removing/reinstalling the rooftop portion of your solar system as part of the overall roofing damage claim, even if the solar system is functioning fine.
This means the deductible you pay for your roof will cover the solar costs as well.
Longhorn Solar, as with most seasoned solar contractors in Texas, has a wealth of experience navigating this process with homeowners throughout the years.
Over the least few years some pretty awful storms have come through Texas and done some significant damage. A lot of people have needed their roofs replaced.
We have completed hundreds of “Tear Off and Reset” projects and are well versed in working with insurance companies and roofing contractors. That being said, ALWAYS call your original solar contractor to perform this work.
As you begin the process of dealing with a damaged roof, please do not allow anyone to tamper with your rooftop solar array until you have spoken to your installer.
At first glance, it will seem convenient to have them take everything down and put it back up when they’re done, but solar is a very specialized technology. If it’s not removed and re-installed properly, it can cause problems ranging from significant drops in solar production to major electrical system damage. Solar DC voltages in your rooftop array regularly exceed 400V (which can be fatal) and should only be handled by an experienced, solar industry professional.
If you need help finding a roofer, we have a working list of reputable, local roofing contractors who have experience working with solar contractors. We would be happy to offer a referral. These roofers understand the logistics of working with solar as we remove/re-install your solar array as part of the roofing replacement process, which can greatly diminish downtime.
If you’re a Longhorn Solar customer, please note that allowing anyone other than Longhorn Solar to remove/re-install your solar system will void your workmanship warranty with us, and could void individual manufacturer’s warranties on components as well. Please don’t allow anyone to touch your solar system without contacting us first.
We hope you never have to deal with hail damage to your home, vehicles or property. If you do, and you’re a solar owner, we hope this helps.
Steve Petrik has over 10 years solar experience, serves as a board member for the San Antonio Solar Alliance and holds a NABCEP Technical Sales Professional certification (#TS-102415-012889)