Most experts recommend allowing snow to melt and slide off solar arrays naturally. Snow removal falls under two basic philosophies — leave it until it melts or uses a tool such as a roof rake to take it off manually. However, if your climate is extremely snowy, learning to remove excess snow from solar panels safely is necessary.
There are several methods for removing accumulation from a solar panel safely and efficiently. You may opt for a snow rake, installing an adjustable tilt kit, or one of the other methods outlined below. The climate and annual snowfall in your region will play a role in how you handle snow on solar panels.
Exploring The Two Philosophies of Snow Removal
Whether you leave it alone or decide on manual removal, use your head and consider all your options.
Leaving it Alone to Melt
The first and most recommended method is to leave it alone. The sun will assist in melting, and snow will gradually slide off solar panels. The idea is to allow nature to take care of the problem, warm the panels, and wait.
Solar panels will resume energy production with only a small portion of the panel exposed. The period of time while panels are covered is typically less than 24 hours. During this period, your panels may not be producing solar energy, but your battery storage system should be able to continue supporting your power needs.
Removing it Manually
The second philosophy is to help nature get the snow off the panels. Removing snow does have some benefits, as it does restore energy production more quickly. Getting snow off the panels could also ease the added weight burden on your panels to reduce the risk of stress damage.
But there are also many disadvantages:
- Removing snow from roof panels can be dangerous
- Using tools such as a roof rake may void the warranty on your solar panels
- Hiring a company to perform the task could cost a lot of money
While engineers are currently working on a solution to alleviate the need for snow removal, so far, one of the only available options is manual removal.
Is It Necessary to Remove Snow From Solar Panels?
Although it may never be necessary to remove snow from your solar array, it does cause concern when your panels are covered. Snow and ice can build up on solar panels during winter storms. Continued periods of cold and snow can keep panels snowbound for several days.
While battery storage systems will keep the energy flowing initially, your level of concern may increase after several days. If you are connected to municipal power supplies, you might be able to rely on that as a backup. However, older grid systems may be subject to inclement weather also, causing area-wide outages.
At that point, deciding whether or not to remove the snow from solar panels becomes a matter of necessity. Finding yourself in that position is never optimal. Knowing how much snow your array can handle and the correct procedures to safely remove snow could mean keeping the power on for your family.
Benefits of Leaving Snow on Solar Panels
In areas where snowfall is lighter, there are benefits to just leaving snow on your solar panels:
- It will normally melt and slide off due to the tilt of the panels (which also cleans panels)
- Snow only interrupts energy generation temporarily if panels are completely snowbound.
- The colder temperatures actually increase solar production as long as there is sunlight.
- Snow is reflective, which increases the effect of sunlight hitting while snow-covered.
By allowing snow to self-mitigate, you don’t create any risk to the warranty due to damage from snow rakes, brooms, or other removal methods.
Problems with Heavy Snow Accumulation on Solar Panels
In areas with heavy snowfall, there are some problems that solar arrays may develop. The weight of the snow can cause frame damage, micro-fractures, and mounting structure stress. While some solutions can be incorporated pre-installation, they may not be feasible for an existing system.
To avoid problems from heavy accumulation, it may become necessary to take action to get excess snow off your solar panels manually.
We would be remiss if we did not mention safety before discussing the methods to remove heavy accumulation from solar panels. Gravity is not always a friend and can bring a lot of snow cascading down on you while using a roof rake. Don’t forget to move your car out of the drop area.
Snow-covered roofs, ladders, and even sidewalks can be slippery. Wearing proper boots, gloves, a sturdy coat that allows free movement, and extra precautions are necessary. We also recommend that you never work on snow removal without someone nearby. They should be able to check on you every few minutes at the very least to summon help if needed.
If you have a two-story or taller home, consider calling in a professional rather than trying to climb onto the roof to take care of clearing ice and snow. If you are in an area with a lot of snow, it may benefit you to install snow guards in your home. While not much help clearing snow from your solar panels, snow guards will protect your family from heavy snow sliding randomly off your roof panels.
How Much Snow is Too Much?
This amount will change based on the actual weather conditions in your area. For instance, if it snows 10 inches overnight, but the temperature rises to 40 degrees the following day with a bright sun, your panels should be fine. However, if it stays overcast and below freezing for several days following a storm, you may need to consider snow removal.
The recommended method of snow removal is allowing the sun to do the work for you. When that isn’t possible, there are safe methods that can be used to clear snow from your panels.
Methods of Getting Snow Off Solar Panels
When your solar panels are covered, your system can’t function properly. Once the snow starts sliding off the panels, they will resume energy production, even if only a small portion of a solar panel is exposed.
Be aware of the warranty provisions for your array before performing manual snow removal on your own. Avoid using any method that could void the warranty on your system.
Let Gravity and Sunlight do the Work
If your solar panels are installed at or can be adjusted to a 35-degree or greater angle, snow will slide off easily. Typically, melting begins as soon as the sun rises, and once even a small portion of your array is clear, your energy production will resume.
Using a Broom or Snow Removal Roof Rake
Many people use a broom, snow removal roof rake, or squeegee to clear solar panels with heavy snow. To use a roof rake from the ground, you will need an expandable pole that can extend to the height of your panel array.
Using a roof rake can cause damage to your solar panels. To minimize the potential for damage, you can install a piece of soft foam (also spelled “pool noodle” or copper pipe insulation) to the edge of the roof rake over the squeegee to pull snow and ice down while lowering the potential damage to your panels.
Avoid “slapping” the roof rake down on your panels, which can cause cracking. Use caution while pulling snow as it can break free quickly, at which time gravity will take over. You should move your car out of the way and stand clear of the drop zone as you pull snow from roof panels.
A broom can be used similarly as a rake, but snow tends to collect in the bristles adding weight and making your efforts more difficult.
Installing a Tilt Kit
A tilt kit can be included when a solar system is installed. This allows panels to be adjusted to optimize their orientation to the sun during warm and cold conditions. Tilting support structures are more commonly found on ground arrays, but they are also available for roof-mounted panels and add extra cost to the construction.
Use All-Weather Panels
This is another installation choice. All-weather panels use a small amount of stored energy to heat panels to melt snow before it accumulates. If you live in an extremely snowy area, the added expense during installation will provide a cost-saving solution every winter.
Use a Leaf Blower
This unconventional method will work with dry snow but will struggle with wet snowfall or with one or more feet of accumulation. The leaf blower produces pressurized air that will warm the panels slightly as it blows the snow away. While this method won’t melt the snow, it will decrease the accumulation.
You can extend the reach of a standard leaf blower by adding a simple piece of PVC piping to the nozzle. The idea is to extend the nozzle so that you can remain on the ground. PVC is relatively lightweight but sturdy enough to provide the reach needed to clear snow from your roof panels.
Spray it Off Using a Hose
If air temperature has warmed up above freezing and will not be dipping down below freezing, you can use a hose to spray excess snow off your panels. Do not use this method if temperatures are expected to dip below freezing before the water can evaporate. This would also not be effective if you have one or more feet of accumulation.
Things You Shouldn’t Do To Remove Snow From Solar Panels
With more free time in the winter, many people hit online sources for entertainment and knowledge. Unfortunately, they also risk finding incorrect information on a random blog with a strange idea or tips on how to remove snow off solar panels.
While the methods mentioned below may produce results, they may also damage your array, can be dangerous, and may void your warranty.
Nerf Football Toss
This is an idea that should make you want to shake your head in disbelief. Theoretically, you stand on the ground and toss a Nerf football at your system to knock snow off the panels. While this may produce the avalanche desired, it could damage your system. If you have ever been hit with a Nerf football, you know they are not as soft as their advertising proclaims.
Ice Melt Socks
This is one of those tips that may sound good on the surface but will most likely produce more problems than it solves. The premise is to fill “socks” or plastic tubes with a calcium chloride compound or another snow melting medium and placing them on the roof at the top of your array. If you use plastic, you need to create holes to allow moisture to activate the melting material.
Supposedly, as you wait, these “socks” will cause the snow to melt at the top of the array, creating an avalanche that removes the remaining snow. The problem is that calcium chloride compounds and melting mediums are corrosive and damage your panels’ support systems and frames.
This is an untested method that may or may not produce results. Heat tape refers to the flexible cords that can be installed around pipes to keep them from bursting. It has been used to protect gutters from developing ice damns. While effective for its intended purpose, the method of applying heat tape directly on a solar panel has not been tested on solar systems.
When to Call in the Professionals?
Regardless of your winter conditions, knowing when to request the assistance of a solar professional is important. Consider your personal safety, the severity of a storm or pending storm, and the angle of your array. If snowfall melts quickly, you won’t need to worry. However, if a winter storm delivering several feet of snow is predicted, you should schedule an appointment before the storm.
Manufacturers recommend simply allowing the snow to melt on its own. We hope that the information you learned here will assist you if your solar array should become snowbound.
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