The housing market is booming right now, and New York Solar Maintenance (NYSM) owner Matthew Messer says that homeowners are calling by the dozen to book a last-minute inspection before purchasing the home or after buying one. Surging local demand has led to a 200% growth in each of the last 3 quarters. Unfortunately, many of these older solar systems are headaches in waiting, riddled with mechanical and electrical hazards ranging from fire starters to leaks-in waiting, Messer notes.
“A huge number of solar installers have gone out of business, leaving solar homeowners (solar orphans) uncertain about who to call about maintenance. I’ve been shocked by the demand for inspections this month, we have already conducted 35 inspections around the tristate area and we’re booking out 2 weeks right now. 55% of systems we inspect have issues that we recommend addressing immediately.”
NYSM is a dedicated solar maintenance company based in New York and has overseen the repair of over 65,000 solar systems. NYSM’s full scope services include removal and reinstallation, critter guard installation, system inspections and repairs. Messer started NYSM because of the high volume of calls he was receiving while working at Tesla and other solar installers over the last 10 years.
The problems he’s seeing are obviously bad at any time, but they are especially messy during the home buying process. Here are some general issues he’s seeing, and who is paying for it.
Who foots the bill? Usually the home buyer.
“Too often I get calls from customers who just purchased a house, and they are shocked by what we find. The fact is, solar is starting to age and owners with older systems are left without many options,” Messer says.
A $350 inspection is well worth the price to discover an issue ahead of time and factor it into your new home negotiation. A removal and reinstall to address a severe leak could cost between $9,000-$12,000, since a new roof is needed. A repair for critter damage can cost $450-$5,000 and a general repair can range in cost from $350 to $1,500.
Early adopters are paying a price.
In the early days of solar, 2006-2012, most systems were fastened to the roof with lags and sealant, a practice that is now frowned upon. In the last decade, the industry has shifted to using aluminum or flexible flashing because the sealant installed around those lags are starting to break down and let water intrude into attics.
Squirrels are unusually destructive this year.
NYSM reports that they have seen a big spike in calls from homeowners with critter problems, including squirrels and pests. The squirrels chew through wires, which then arc the dangerous electricity to other current carrying materials on the roof. NYSM has responded to two systems that were smoking this year because squirrels had chewed wiring, built a nest in that spot, and when it rained the electricity was arching through the nest and it caught fire. The company has installed 4,000 feet of critter guard, a protective barrier attached to the perimeter of the panels, in the last 3 months alone.
Squirrels are attracted to the underbelly of the system 2 reasons. The first is climate shelter, the panels keep the roof cool in summer and the wires and panels let off heat during the winter. The second, is because the wires are made with a little soy, making them a tasty treat. A third bonus? The squirrels use the wire shavings to help build their nests.
Is it even working?
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult for a homeowner to tell if their system is working at all. Most older systems (2006-2012) have a string inverter that only displays a red or green light. Systems installed since often have online monitoring, but the access information gets forgotten or overlooked by a busy homeowner.