A Blister in the Sun – Solar Technology Still Doesn’t Live up to Its Promises What You Need to Know before Installing Solar Roof Panels

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By Angela Hayden

Apr 29

When I was a young, budding attorney in Boston, there was no shortage of optimistic, green energy supporters around me. Solar sounded like a great idea and I kept hearing again and again all of the virtues of going solar.

It all sounded so full of sunshine and rainbows. In a good way.

One of the more analytical of my colleagues, however, shared with me the many horror stories he encountered in his real estate practice. From the not-surprising roof leaks to failed home sales following a potential buyer’s review of the long term lease they were expected to assume to non-functioning panels left on top of buildings because there was no economical option to remove and dispose of them.

Those stories left me feeling less optimistic about solar.

But I didn’t have to deal with any issues myself for years.

With the last big uptick in solar installations and the tax incentives that spurred them on, I made the natural assumption that the 15 or so years since I had last taken a serious look at the down side of installing solar panels in residential housing had been a period of innovation and improvement.

And it was to a certain degree.

Certain market risks, however, still remained.

Having a smaller company install solar panels increased the odds that any warranty you may have purchased or that may have been the incentive for choosing one vendor over another would be useless. Because that company may go out of business long before you need to call upon that warranty.

Roof penetration was still a risky activity to install those panels, but surely the industry has figured out a way to deal with that, right? Otherwise, why would so many people be doing it today? If it was not going well, we would be hearing loads about that, wouldn’t we?

Apparently not. When I heard this most recent tale of woe from a homeowner and his fiancée, I was shocked at how the warranty process actually works.

Hasn’t the industry come far enough to do better?

No, not really.

My clients’ situation caused health issues from the mold that started growing in the house undetected and continued to do so for a very long time due to a shoddy installation. And it raised awareness of how badly the claims process works with one of the major (perhaps the largest) solar company in the country.

I want to share what the process looks like for getting problems fixed with you, in case you are considering installing solar panels on the roof of your own home. So that you will be an educated consumer. And make the right choice for you with ALL of the relevant information the solar company isn’t going to tell you.

Here's how the claims process has gone for my clients:

They initially experienced a leak in a bedroom within the first year after installation of solar panels that occurred about 4 years ago

They reported the leak

The big company sent someone out

Big company’s guy went into the attic, came back down, and told them the leak was fixed

He also told them that he checked everything else out and it was all good up there

And that was that, until…

The homeowners went into their attic late last year to look for something

And found their entire attic was visibly covered with mold

The underside of the roof, the joists, the whole thing

They began investigating the source of the moisture, they called contractors to look

They discovered that none of the mounting brackets on the panels were actually sealed.

At all

Except for the one panel that was located directly over their bedroom

Where the first leak was

They reported the claim

The big solar company forwarded it to the insurance company that deals with big company’s warranty claims

The warranty that the big solar company touts as one reason to use them for solar installations

Now, over four months later, here is where my clients are in the process:

The claim has been bounced to multiple adjusters, the first of which had a full voice mailbox and never answered his phone

Weeks have gone by in between follow up communications from the insurance company

Nobody ever told the homeowner exactly how the process is supposed to work

Do they get the contractor?

Does big solar company fix the work?

Can the homeowner move out of their mold infested house or do they have to get approval before doing so?

And more!

The insurance company gave half answers, failed to get back to the homeowners for weeks at a time, dragging the process out more than three months before it made an unreasonable low ball offer to make a single payment in exchange for a release signed by the homeowners

That release means that the check is all the homeowners could ever get from the insurance company

Before the work even began

That means the homeowner would be on the hook personally if the contractor began the project and found the scope of the work to be greater than initially expected

Like if the ceilings are actually covered in mold inside and need to be replaced

Or if there is more to do than initially expected

Now, the warranty includes reimbursement for relocation costs

Insurance company says they will pay only for four weeks of relocation

For a project that is estimated to take 3-4 weeks

It could take longer

And the homeowners have now been out of the unhealthy house for several weeks waiting for the work to begin. In part because of the insurance company’s lack of communication. In part because of weather.

The insurance company hasn’t offered to pay for any of that additional housing cost

Maybe they will. They haven’t yet. 

What the insurance company has said so far is that they will not make any partial payments to the contractor – this is not consistent with my own experience in the insurance industry when it comes to property claims

It means the homeowner is footing the bill in hopes that the insurance company will pay for all of the cost of the work  

Because they haven’t responded to any of the submissions about the expanded scope of work that is necessary already due to the delays

Mold keeps growing, even after that claim is filed

How does all that sound to you?

Frankly, that doesn’t sound like much of a warranty, does it?  

The homeowner is now aware of their options and how all this will shake out. What can go to court, what has to go to arbitration. How to make choices with the contractor. 

Now that they hired a lawyer.

But should it be this way? 

I don’t think so. 

I have other things I can spend my time working on that add more value to the world in general. 

These people shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer just to get a company to honor a warranty. 

That is a big part of their sales pitch. 

And it’s made me mad. Mad enough to make sure that EVERY SINGLE PERSON I can reach knows how this works before saying yes to solar. 

If you still feel committed to moving forward with installing solar panels on your roof after reading this far, and you are saying yes to your own installation, please be aware of the following if anything goes wrong:

  1. 1
    Your own homeowners policy will not likely cover any damage caused by a bad installation.Homeowners’ policies typically exclude coverage for mold or for work done by a contractor (that’s why you always want to use a contractor with insurance)
  2. 2
    The insurance company for the solar company who steps in to handle warranty claims probably will not pay you until you agree to one lump sum paymentIf you need the money to get the work started (like for a deposit to get the contractor going, or to help with relocation expenses while the work is being done), the insurance company will know this. And they will likely use that to their advantage to get you to accept a lowball offer.They will also remind you that you, the homeowner, have an obligation to mitigate your damages. That means that you, not they, have the duty to secure your property and keep the problem from getting worse. Or from your health getting worseThey won’t tell you this in advance, though. They will only bring it up when they get to argue it as a defense to your claim. The claim you may be relying upon them to guide you through. They, not you, know best what they can get away with and how to set you up for failure to whittle away at what they will pay you
  3. 3
    YOU MAY HAVE TO PAY A LOT OF MONEY OUT OF YOUR OWN POCKET. To continue on from No. 2 above, if you say no to the lowball offer the insurance company makes, be prepared to pay for the whole darn job out of your own pocket and then try to settle up with the insurance companyWho is in the better bargaining position then?By the way, moisture and mold damage could require the replacement of your entire roof, joists, insulation, ceilings, etc.. It could cost you anywhere from $20,000-60,000, maybe even more. Are you ready to fork that out and hope you get repaid? What if it costs you $60,000 and they agree to give you only $40,000? Did the time you had the panels on save you more than $20,000 on your electric bills? Will it be worth it then?

So, if you say all of those things are A OK with you, then by all means go ahead. Get the panels installed. I’ll be happy to talk with you if things go bad to help you navigate the claims process. Because I do not have a lot of confidence that this process is going to change any time soon.

In the meantime, let's all start demanding more from this industry

Let’s demand that they clean up their manufacturing processes to comply with real green standards.

Let’s demand that they figure out how to recycle the panels that are no longer functional – because there’s not much of a recycling market for them right now. Or a good solution to the problem of what to do with them when they stop working. Demand that they disclose the current cost of disposing of the panels when they stop working.

Let’s demand that they figure out a way to make the problem of leaky roofs easier to solve, to navigate, to prevent, and avoid. Because it can be done.

Let’s figure out how to have installations inspected properly – the one I wrote about above was inspected by the local authorities, who looked only at electrical, not the installation itself.

We need alternative energy sources. We need to continue to develop them. We need to demand more from the industry itself so we can embrace them. And move forward to lower dependency on fossil fuels.

And so we can say yes to alternative energy options.

But for now, I remain firmly in the “no” camp when it comes to roof installations of solar panels.

If you are dealing with a poor claims process following a bad solar panel installation, I would be happy to speak with you more. Or if you just want to learn more about this particular situation.

My hope is to make this better. And I am happy to work with you and them to work towards that end.  


About the Author

Angela discovered the joys of taking deep breaths, stopping to listen for the sake of listening (instead of for the sake of waiting for a chance to respond), assuming the best of intent behind people’s actions, and general mindfulness after experiencing a major life change in recent years and brings a bit of that to every client interaction. She has found her life (personal and professional) and tennis game have improved dramatically as a result. Namaste!