When it comes to considering solar, many a savvy homeowner will have questions about the direct cost of the system. Direct costs are easy to identify off the top of ones’ head. How much will the system materials and installation cost? Labor? What incentives are available to me in my area? How much is my system set to offset the costs of my power bill? What if I want battery storage? How much solar is too much?

One consideration that may not immediately come to mind, however, is roof replacement cost. For any solar system to function for its full lifetime, it needs a nice, stable home on your roof! If your roof is older than 15 years old, you may want to consider factoring roof replacement cost into the cost of your overall system. Many solar companies specialize in both solar array installation and roof replacement in house. Others have preferred roof replacement partners which may offer discounts or promotions to solar customers. So, if you’re lucky, you could end up saving time and money tackling both projects with one company! To begin your home solar journey with a fresh roof, here are some factors to consider in the design:

Let’s start off with a brief Solar 101 for anyone who may be in the beginning phases of their solar journey. First things first – let’s understand the anatomy of a solar system a little better; then we can better understand its relationship with your newly replaced roof! A solar system is composed of panels, inverters, racking, and conduit. 

The most easily iconic element of a solar system is the solar panels, referred to in the industry as “solar modules.” One of the two stars of the solar show (the other being the sun, of course) these clever devices do the work of harvesting the energy that the sun bombards the surface of our planet with every day. They are going to need a lot of exposure to direct sunlight to function properly. Their position on your rooftop is critical to maximizing their productivity and, by extension, your energy savings.  

Where will your array of solar panels be happiest? First things first, she’s going to need access to the sun! Google provides a handy little tool called Project Sunroof (link) where you can check your home address and see which part of your roof gets the most sun throughout the year. Many homeowners have beloved old trees in their yard which they would never want to take down for the sake of solar. If this is you, check Sunroof to determine which spots of your roof are free and clear for solar and which spots get consistent shade from your arboreal friend. You’ll want to make sure that the sunniest part of your new roof is free and clear to host your even newer solar array!

Direction is a big factor to take into consideration here. Because of the way the Earth dances around the sun throughout the year, certain directions will always get more sunlight. For solar, South is the best direction for sure! There’s a reason many ancient cultures associate 

this direction with warmth, fire, and Summer. South facing solar arrays will receive the most direct sunlight throughout the year and therefore can generate the maximum amount of power, enhancing their productivity.  

But what if you’ve got an A-frame roof with faces pointing East and West? Don’t fret! South is the preferred direction but East and West both get plenty of sunlight too. In this case you’re going to want to prioritize East over West since East tends to get a bit more light. However, if West is your only option, you will still get plenty of power from that array. The only direction you really want to avoid is North. North facing roof faces will always get the least amount of sunlight throughout the year. There’s a reason we associate this direction with winter, cold, and darkness! To maximize how much solar can save you on your electricity bill, you will want to build your array facing South or East or West in that order!

Solar panels generate energy in the form of DC electricity. Your home runs on AC electricity. Inverters do the work of converting the DC electricity your solar panels generate into AC electricity. The model of inverter you select with your solar company will determine whether it is mounted onto the side of your home (a string inverter) or whether several smaller inverters are mounted under each solar panel (microinverters). It is important to consider this when you are making decisions about your roof replacement. Materials like Spanish tile or copper plating do not work well with microinverters. Traditional shingles, on the other hand, are great for microinverters – and this option tends to decrease the cost of replacing a roof!

Then there are the mounting racks to consider. Mounts give your solar system the stability it needs to consistently access sunlight and power your home. Solar mounts have two basic types: railed mounts and rail free mounts. Rail mounted systems are very easy to put up, cutting down on install time and labor costs. However, because the entire array is attached together on the same rack it can be a less “flexible” installation. If your new roof has obstacles such as vents, stacks, or a chimney, it could be difficult to position your panels in the optimal spaces to get the most sunlight. Rail-free mounting systems are much more versatile in this regard. They will require some minimally invasive roof penetrations though, so these racking systems are not so suitable for some types of roofing materials. 

Roof replacement cost is no small expense to add to your household accounting ledger. And, although the long-term economic impact of a solar system is almost always positive thanks to abundant energy savings, the up-front cost of a solar system is a good chunk of change. Because of this, you may want to hold off on installing the 40-panel solar array of your dreams. Fortunately, home solar systems are entirely modular. This means that if, directly after your roof replacement, you only want to commit to a more modest 5 panel solar system it is entirely possible. Whenever you are ready to move forward with expanding your system, your friendly solar provider can hop up on your still new roof and add those panels with no problem. 

Solar systems rely on the roofs they sit on for stability and access to the sun. Your roof is your solar system’s most valuable partner. Don’t neglect it in your excitement to achieve energy independence for your home – when you start to think of solar, don’t forget to ask yourself a few important questions about your roof as well!

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