How to install a PV system

How to install solar panels on tile roof: Short overview

Tile roofs are among the most difficult for PV installations. Ironically, they are the most common in California, Texas and Arizona — the best states for solar. Challenge accepted: let’s learn how to install solar panels on tile roof. 

DIY installation: Disclaimer

Usually, homeowners don't set up solar panels on their own. In the US, you typically need the government's permission to place solar panels on your roof. Only trained experts are allowed to do the setup. This guide is just to give you an idea about how solar panels can be attached to a tile roof.

Installing solar panels yourself is fine when it comes to small projects: an RV or a boat system, or a small project in your garage. Remember that by choosing DIY installation you may forfeit warranties for your solar panels and miss out on incentives from the government and utilities

Tile roof for solar panels: Drawbacks and benefits

Tile roofs are most common in the Southwest: Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Texas and the surroundings. These are the most popular states for solar because of sunlight abundance and incentives for PV system owners. However, mounting solar panels on a tile roof is a tough task.

The problem with tile roofs is that tiles are fragile. They don’t withstand extra weight well and even stepping on a roof may break them. Because of this, the job requires an experienced contractor, more time and more money. When discussing the installation of solar panels on a tile roof with a contractor, ask who is going to be responsible for the damage to the roof that it may suffer in the process.

Winston Watt
Solar installer, CEO of Soular Brothas

Where a typical 7-kilowatt metal roof job can easily be done in one day, the same size tile roof job would typically take an additional half a day at that system size. You will see a big difference in larger systems. Large tile jobs require an additional 1-3 days. Because of extra materials and labor, such as flashing, tile roof jobs are more expensive than, say, metal roof installs.

Flashing refers to thin pieces of metal installed to prevent the passage of water into a structure

Any good news? A tile roof lasts for 50-75 years. This means you don’t need to worry about roof replacement while the solar panels are still functional.

Installing solar panels on tile roof: Techniques

Putting solar panels directly on top of tiles is a no-go — they’ll break. Drilling through the tiles may result in damage to the underlayment, the base layer of your roof.

Some installers choose to take out specific roof tiles and put in special mounts for the solar panels or even add a racking system. If tiles are fragile, there is still a risk of breakage because of the vibrations from wind passing through the panels and the system holding them.

Winston Watt
Solar installer, CEO of Soular Brothas

Here is how I would approach it: either cut the tile to install the base/mount or pull the whole tile out and use replacement tile flashing. New products such as Solar Stack save time on tile jobs by eliminating roof penetrations in favor of adhesive foam.

Inset solar installation or “comp-out”

The most sophisticated approach is called inset solar installation or “comp-out”. The installer removes the tiles from the area where the solar array will be installed and lays composite shingles in its place. Then he can use a traditional mounting system.

The contractor adds metal sheet flashing in transitions and seals the gaps to ensure the roof is waterproof. The result looks like an indentation in the roof with a solar array in it. That’s the way SunPower installs their systems.

3 tips for installing a solar system on a clay tile roof

1. Find a good installer. Experience and competence are especially important with tile roofs. Maintain open communication with your solar panel installer throughout the process. It should be clear who is responsible for the damage caused to the tiles that may during the process.
2. Check the warranties. Installing a solar system may void the warranty for your tile roof. Contact the provider for more information.
3. Make sure the roof is waterproof. Proper flashing and waterproofing are crucial to prevent leaks. Use sealants around mounting brackets and penetrations to prevent moisture from seeping under the tiles.

Andrey Gorichenski
Senior Editor

Andrey had been a news editor and freelance writer for a number of medias before joining A1SolarStore team. Climate change and its impact on people's lives has always been among his interests and it partially explains his degree in Philosophy and Ethics.

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