Roof Leaks with Solar Pool Heaters

We are asked frequently about the potential for roof leaks by prospective solar pool heating buyers, and understandably so. The roof over your head, and the house under it, are precious. The headache of a leak can by frustrating and expensive. So how do we address this major concern?

Properly installed solar panels will provide leak-free and worry-free performance on your roof.
Properly installed solar panels will provide leak-free and worry-free performance.

First, it is important to note that the solar pool heating industry as a whole does not have a major roof leak issue. If it did, the industry would not be booming. Professional solar contractors are very good at making sure proper techniques are used, and materials and sealants have come a long way. If you read about roof leaks from solar pool heaters, it’s probably an older system, or it was just done wrong. In the local Southwest Florida market, frankly, the whole industry (including our competition) is pretty good about ensuring roofs are protected, but problems do occur occasionally.

Although there is a very low chance you will experience and issue, we do a lot more to ensure you have a trouble-free experience than others.

Most prospective buyers are worried about the solar panel attachments and the fasteners used to attach solar panels to the roof. The insider’s secret is that this should really be the least of your worries (although improper technique, materials, or sealant can cause attachment leaks). The real worry should be:

  • Panel couplings rubbing into shingles.
  • PVC Plumbing rubbing into shingles.
    • At fittings
    • At hips and ridges
  • PVC pipe clamps improperly installed or sealed.

That right — all of those “holes” in your roof from stainless steel fasteners are extremely reliable if done right. The most common and serious issues come from the plumbing and couplings between panels, and their interaction with the roof surface!

I don’t want to scare you — for the faint of heart, please look away. In these pictures below, plumbing installed by other contractors has caused serious roof leaks. These pictures demonstrate what not to do, but some keep doing things the “old fashioned way” for some reason, even though better materials and methods are available.

The best way to address plumbing causing abrasion on the roof is to raise the plumbing off of the roof and take special care around fittings and couplings. That sounds obvious, right?! We take every precaution and use special spacers to raise plumbing and secure it at proper intervals. Below are some pictures showing how our materials and methods are far superior, and will work to protect your roof.

Inevitably some plumbing will rest on the roof. The key is to reduce the potential for abrasion at key points and to secure plumbing properly. We are the ONLY local dealer in Southwest Florida that takes precautions by using specially designed plumbing spacers to reduce the potential for abrasion.

Metal Flashings Protect Roof From Abrasion
Metal Flashings Protect Roof From Abrasion

There are some other things we do along the same lines that are important. By virtue of using a header clamp along the top header, the panel couplings are naturally suspended above the roof, cradled above the roof surface and allowed to expand and contract as needed. We install aluminum flashings at the lower header junctions to eliminate the risk of long-term abrasion from hose couplings. We also use ultra-premium roof-compatible sealants liberally. These are just a couple of the added steps we take to protect your roof.

Why doesn’t everyone do it? Money — that’s the only reason we can think of. There is no magic here. We charge a little more for our installations, but we feel that it’s worth every penny, and you can’t put a price on protecting your roof. After all, you will have your solar panels for well over a decade, and doing it right is the only way we will do it.

 

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  • Joe Klein says:

    Jason, I have a 16 year old shingle roof, with a 7 year old solar array of 5 panels for my salt pool. We are considering a new roof, either shingle or standing seam aluminum. The aluminum roof companies are recommending I get rid of the solar, because eventually the solar will leak and the chlorine can damage the aluminum and invalidate any warranty. Alum roofs are nice because no holes; solar mounts to a subframe that clamps on the standing seam. Shingle roofs are cheaper and easier, but since holes are made for the stand-offs, there is leak potential, which i am currently experiencing this exact problem. I am looking for some feedback on these issues with aluminum roofs and solar.

    • Jason Szumlanski says:
      Your comment is awaiting moderation. This is a preview; your comment will be visible after it has been approved.
      Hi Joe, I doubt you are looking at standing seam aluminum as a choice. In Florida, standing-seam roofs are usually sheet metal (steel) with a finish (like Kynar for example). These metal roofs are great. However, they are NOT highly suitable to mount solar pool heating panels. It can be done, but an aluminum substructure is required to do it right, and it’s expensive to do. Mounting solar electric systems on standing seam metal roods is a fantastic option. That said, saltwater pools can be more corrosive to a metal roof, and if you do not notice a leak quickly it can cause lasting damage. Extra care should be taken by your solar installer, and you must remain vigilant. If your shingle roof is leaking due to solar mounts, find a new solar contractor. Properly installed solar panels should not cause roof leaks for the lifespan of a shingle roof. Shingle is easier to mount solar pool heating panels, but plenty of installers don’t use the techniques and products we do to ensure long-term leak-free performance. If you invest in a new standing seam metal roof, I would recommend against solar pool heating. You might consider solar electricity paired with a pool heat pump. The solar panels can offset your additional energy use.
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  • Jason…… I am in the middle of a solar panel redo. The old one was leaking after 20 years. As I live on a golf course in Nokomis pine needles are an issue. I was not home when the started the job but they only were working for 1 1/2 hours. As it turns out they didn’t even blow the (2 inch thick) debris off and put the new units on top. They are coming back because I told them that was not acceptable…….and they also do not remove the old brackets.
    What are your thoughts on this type of work?
    Thank for any reply…..

    • Jason Szumlanski says:

      You should not have that kind of debris buildup in the first place. That sounds like separated tube panels, which tend to collect a lot of pine needles. We don’t install those.

      Depending on your scenario, you may want them to leave the old brackets. Removing them may cause problems, especially if they were installed poorly in the first place. Most contractors who remove them just squirt some sealant in the holes. We flash all penetrations where we remove fasteners. This is one of the most worrisome parts of a removal and reinstallation. It’s a tough call because your new contractor doesn’t want to be blamed for the poor workmanship of your original installer (if they are different). The key is to hire someone who does the removal correctly and takes due care in patching up anything that is removed, if they remove it.

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  • Jennifer Fahlsing says:

    What brand/manufacturer do you like. We need to replace our Fafco panels due to extensive hail damage. With our current panels every year we would need to repair half a dozen panel leaks. We are getting a new roof installed and don’t want to damage it.
    Thanks!

    • Jason Szumlanski says:

      We represent and recommend iSwim panels, but there are other options you could consider depending on where you live. If you are in our service area of Southwest Florida we would love to help you. Contact us here.

  • Kim says:

    Jason–
    We are in the same situation as martin above. We have somebody from said solar company coming out to assess the situation tomorrow, but doubting they will do anything at all. We will probably need to remove the solar, fix the roof, and re-install, which can be pricey. Since we don’t want to give this company more money to remove the solar for an improper install, I’m wondering if you could provide an assessment to help repair what’s already existing up there.
    Thank you.

  • martin says:

    Hi Jason,
    Thank you for your reply the company is *******, very poor in fact nonexistent customer back up, I told them of my problems with the system and it has been ongoing for over ten years with multiple service engineer call outs that I had to pay for, I did in the end start to maintain and repair it myself.
    However they were also advised of the very poor installation and the fact that it has caused damage to my roof, I have just finished removing the panels and the damage to the shingles and under lay is beyond belief

    Martin in Kissimmee

  • martin says:

    well I am now removing my solar heating due to one problem after another and poor operation constant leaks and now I find that my roof is leaking due to poor installation even worn my shingles away, the makers of the panels say lifetime warranty on the panels but as I found out they refuse to answer emails or anything else, as an engineer I pointed that the leaks in panels where all following the same line across every panel and it looks liked a manufacturing process fault

    • Randy says:

      Same problem here, FAFCO Solar panels refuses to stand by their warranty.. I not only had poor installation (worn shingles) but the FAFCO panels have leaked constantly… I have one leak fixed, and a month later i have 2 more.. just had panels removed so I can re roof, but wife wants the solar back.. but unless a company can make a panel that has an “actual warranty”, don’t know what I will do.

    • Jason Szumlanski says:

      Martin,

      That is sad to hear. It looks like you are well north of our service area, so I won’t be able to give you an opinion in person, but it sounds a lot like what we see frequently. The roof protection aspect of our product is what makes me most proud of our installations. After seeing hundreds of roofs with worn shingles, I knew there had to be a better way, so we sought it out and we are now the exclusive dealer in our area implementing these improvements. It’s not rocket science, but it does require time, attention to detail, and extra cost. Despite that, we will not compromise and do it the old way. There are too many people in your situation.

      As for the constant leaks and manufacturing defect, that sounds like a rare issue, but I can probably guess what brand it is. The thing about lifetime warranties is that they are pretty restrictive, bordering on useless. You still have to contribute to the replacement cost, and it does not cover labor. You will end up paying a similar price to a new system after taking into account removal costs. Nobody can offer a lifetime warranty realistically on something that does not and cannot last a lifetime. It’s marketing mumbo jumbo.

      If you get your roof repaired, want a new solar pool heater, and want it done right… let me know and I’ll find someone to install it right for you, and if I can’t I will personally get it done for you.

  • Jason Szumlanski says:

    Ugh… we just ran into another system installed by a competitor where the plumbing has worn away shingles due to poorly installed plumbing.

    PVC Plumbing wearing through shingles

    Solar Pool Heater Plumbing Wearing Away Shingles

  • Dan Passmore says:

    This is a very good article and might be something that people are not thinking about before they decide to go this route with solar pool heaters.

  • David says:

    You really do get what you pay for, so if you go with a cheaper place you will get a cheap installation that doesn’t work right. It’s best to spend a little more for the quality. Very helpful post!

  • Amy Satori says:

    You guys seem to really have your stuff together. You’ve obviously been doing this for some time. I appreciate your thorough explanations that help me understand how it all works and am glad you offer assurances against this type of thing happening!

  • Jude says:

    This information really helped me decide whether to go with a solar panel system. You make some great points here. The risk and reward is completely worth it.

  • Britanica says:

    Paying more equals better quality! I have seen a lot of videos and pictures online and most of the roofing is in contact with the shingles directly somewhere and I always thought this shouldn’t be that way. How do you guys go about making sure the shingles will not get damaged long term?

    • Jason Szumlanski says:

      Britanica — the key is keeping wear points away from the roof. Roofs tend to wear at panel junctions and fitting in plumbing lines. Plumbing at hips, valleys, and ridges is especially problematic if not done correctly. Sometimes elevating plumbing is the best solution where providing aluminum roof protection sheets stops abrasion at others.

  • Hannah says:

    This was so informative. That would certainly be my biggest worry because the money you save on having solar panels for heating a pool could easily go out the window if you find yourself with a serious leaking problem. You make some great points and I think you’re right that although you pay a little more for quality service, it is so worth it. As with anything with money, you pay more for the quality and in a situation like this, that’s completely worth it!

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