In a distributed generation project involving solar PV, identifying the status of the roof and the details of its warranty is critical, says Chris Lord, instructor of HeatSpring’s Solar Executive MBA Training course.

If solar installers don’t do their homework, an aging roof or a roof warranty without the right coverage can threaten the viability of a project, says Lord, who is managing director of CapIron, Inc., which helps clients with financing deals involving solar energy.

As installers are planning rooftop projects–on a home or business–it’s critical to gather this information as soon as possible, he says.

Begin by Assessing the Age and Condition of the Roof

Begin by assessing the age and state of the roof. Will the roof stand up for the life of the solar system and power purchase agreement? If not, you have to decide whether installing a new roof will be too costly. You may have to scrap the project, says Lord.

“For truly small systems, it’s hard to justify the cost building a new roof. For larger projects, you don’t want to leave the customer worse off for having solar on the roof; you don’t want to have to replace the roof during the term of the power purchase agreement,”  he says.

If you’re building a new structure with solar panels, be sure the design follows the guidelines required by the roofing manufacturer for installing solar. Be sure to have the roof inspected before and after installing the solar to ensure the roof meets all requirements, Lord says.

Meanwhile, it’s critical to understand the terms of the roof warranty, which is generally issued by the roof manufacturer. Roof installers are also important players.  Check to ensure they filled out the paperwork needed to ensure the warranty is valid.

“If it’s a newer roof, what are the terms of the warranty and which company issued that warranty?” says Lord.  “The warranty has rules and recommendations about how solar can be installed without voiding the warranty,” Lord explains.

Without this information–or without the paperwork associated with a warranty–a solar installer can encounter trouble, says Lord.

How Installers Can Get Blindsided

“We dealt with a company that had a new roof put on five years before, and were astonished to learn they didn’t have the roof warranty they paid for,” he says. That was because the roof installer hadn’t completed the paperwork that would have activated the warranty, he adds.

“It was a big surprise,” Lord says.

Some solar companies include in their contracts clauses that say how much it will cost to remove a solar system if a new roof is needed, Lord notes.

Don’t Assume Roofs Qualify for the Solar ITC

Meanwhile, installers need to understand whether the roof qualifies for the investment tax credit (ITC) eligible for solar systems.

“One of the things that people don’t focus on: A new roof is typically not eligible for the ITC.  Let’s say you have five years left on a roof and you decide to replace it. The cost of the roof is not eligible for the ITC that goes with the solar project,” Lord explains.

The bottom line: Understand the customer’s roof, its warranty and what qualifies for the solar ITC. Nail all this information down as early as possible–and avoid big surprises, Lord says.