Solar Guards

Solar Guards: Avoid the Avalanche!  

Sometimes we see a big blizzard with heavy snow that sticks around for a while. Fortunately, the average solar panel can support up to 800lbs. of snow. There are side effects to snow on solar panels, however: Solar avalanches! Adding solar panels to your roof changes the way snow interacts with the roof itself. Read on to learn more about these changes: the dangers and what you can do to prevent them.  

Why Solar Guards are Important  

Asphalt shingles are what most roofs are designed with here in the states.  Asphalt shingles have high friction and after a snowfall, snow typically grips to the rough surface as melt water from the bottom of the pile slowly melts the snow away. The solar panels installed on your roof replace this rough, grippy, asphalt surface with smooth, even glass. This means when snow builds up on this this low-friction material, the melt water underneath the snow acts as an accelerator. This causes snow to slip off your roof all at once. These “avalanches” have the potential to do damage to landscaping, cables, vehicles, gutters and even you or your family.  

What are Snow Guards 

A snow guard is a device designed to prevent damage caused by snow slipping  off solar panels. Solar panels have snow guards affixed directly them to prevent large pieces of snow from cascading down and falling off your roof all at once.  



Not all homeowners need solar guards  

  • Our Engineers can design your system with ample asphalt roof space around the edge of your solar PV system. This rough roof space acts as a barrier to snow slipping off your solar panels and roof.  If you’re working with limited roof space, however, the size of your solar system will be reduced. 
  • If the area underneath your solar panels doesn’t have doorways, vehicles or landscaping, and there are no safety threats, snow guards may not be necessary. 
  • The pitch of your roof will be a factor in determining the necessity of snow guards. 

In Conclusion… 

Due to these variables, your solar installer will work with you to understand if snow guards are a good fit for your solar system. Ultimately, Third Sun Solar will recommend the instillation of snow guards on solar systems where there is risk of damage or harm.  

There are places in Ohio, for example Cleveland, Akron and the northern part of the state, where significant snow buildup during the wintertime is a real concern. Consider how much snow falls annually in your area when you weigh the risks of not getting snow guards. Learn more about solar in the snow here.

In the end, snow guards are relatively low-cost additions to your solar purchase. Insuring your property and the people you love are safe given the chance of a solar panel snow slip might be worth investing in this low-cost upgrade 

Here at Third Sun Solar we have been working in the Midwest for the past 19 years. Our experienced installers can assess your roof and determine if snow guards are right for you.  

Snowfall and Solar Systems

If you’re considering going solar, you might be wondering if cold and snowy midwestern winters should affect your decision. This is one of the most asked questions we get.  Third Sun Solar has 19 years of experience installing systems on all types of buildings across Ohio. To date, our portfolio includes nearly 900 installations in the mid-west. These folks didn’t let our cold winters or snowfall discourage them from going solar, and you shouldn’t either!    

Can my solar panels produce energy if they are covered in snow? No, a solid covering of snow all but shuts off production.  The good news is that overall production loss from the snow is very small when looking at performance on an annual basis. Losing a day of production in January is a fraction of a day in July.  Here at Third Sun Solar, our team takes winter’s shorter days, snowfall and the orientation of sunlight all into account when estimating the output of your system. 

Residential Solar System Covered in Snow

Depending on the tilt of your roof and the slant of your panels, snow will typically slide off on its own. Even in the heart of winter solar panels give off a small amount of heat, which helps to warm and melt the snow. Additionally, snow on the ground can reflect light, amplifying the sunlight absorbed by your solar panels. During sunny winter days, the sun will warm the dark solar panels and the snow will melt and snow will typically slide off the smooth surface. An added bonus? Cleaning the panels won’t be necessary, snow can get this job done easily!  

Are cold temperatures bad for my solar panels? Unless covered in snow, solar panels are actually more efficient in cold conditions.  Like most electronics, solar panels function better at colder temperatures than under intense heat.  Most arrays hit their highest power generation of the year on cold clear winter days at noon.   

Should I try to clear the snow off my solar panels? Snow will usually melt quickly off your panels. There is the occasional blizzard, however, that leaves snow lingering on rooftops for an extended period of time. Overall, yearly production loss from snow cover is very small. At Third Sun, we do not recommend trying to clear the solar panels. Getting onto a roof in inclement weather is dangerous and using any type of tool on the panels themselves can damage the panels. Snow falling off of the panels can be a nuisance, and if the lower edge of a roof mounted array is close to the edge of the roof, we will recommend “Snow Guards” over doorways or areas with pedestrian activity. 

Remember that, living in the Midwest, the worst of the winter months and the short days only last for about three months. Time with reduced solar output is limited. In the sunny summer months, your system can generate more solar energy than you use, which will be reflected in a surplus energy credit. At the end of the year, our customers are happy with their overall annual production.   

Now that you know this, consider…  

2019 is the final year to get the full 30% federal tax credit before it drops. Ohio homeowners are realizing the savings and the return on investment will increase when you go solar before the end of 2019.   

If you would like a quote for your home, business, or non-profit please sign up for a free solar estimate or call 877-OWN-SOLAR today.   

residential rooftop solar panels

Groups Going Solar Together via Solarize Programs

What are these talks of solarize programs and solar co-ops all about?

There has been a lot of press in the Midwest surrounding communities creating group solarize and solar co-op opportunities. But what does this mean for you?

What are solarize and solar co-op programs?

Both programs are locally-organized group-buying opportunities provided by a city, neighborhood, or organization where multiple homes and businesses go solar together as a group. In addition to getting a bulk discount, the group members benefit by learning about solar together and sharing the task of evaluating and selecting a solar installer. These programs have established periods of time for joining, so they are limited time offers.

Why are these programs forming?

Solarize and solar co-op programs can quickly deploy a large amount of solar, and make the process easier and more efficient for all parties. Organizations often offer this type of opportunity as an employee benefit. An important benefit of a group going solar all at one time is that everyone can learn together and share knowledge in addition to the discount.

What are the benefits of these programs?

If you live in an area that has a solarize or solar co-op program already being offered, then:

  • You are in a position to not only take advantage of the 30% Federal Tax Credit, but you will also have the opportunity to purchase a solar array for your home or business at the group-negotiated discount rate. These rates vary by program, and some solarize opportunities present additional grants for eligible homeowners.
  • Joining a solarize or solar co-op allows you to rely on the expertise of your group in choosing a reliable solar installer. Working together with accountants, lawyers, engineers and construction experts in your community helps members feel more confident about choosing solar and a reliable installater.
  • Lastly, taking advantage of these opportunities while they are occurring dramatically increases the environmental benefits for the entire community in which you live or work.

There isn’t a solarize or solar co-op happening where I live or work. Should I wait to go solar?

The time to buy solar is now, even if you live in a community without one of these group-buying opportunities because:

  • Costs for solar have dropped significantly over the last decade, making solar an affordable energy solution.
  • There is currently a 30% Federal Tax Credit being offered.
  • Our clients dramatically lower their annual electric bills by 50-90%, keeping money in their pockets.
  • You might consider organizing your own “group purchase”. Even having a few homes go solar together can lead to savings and efficiency (see below).
  • Easily start your free evaluation by completing this form.

How can I start a solarize or solar co-op program for my community?

Third Sun Solar has experience working with neighbor groups, businesses and churches to offer group-buying opportunities to their neighbors, employees and congregations. We can help walk you thru the process, and offer an incentive package where discounts are spelled out depending on how much solar gets installed. Working with a group saves us money and time, so it’s an easy decision for us to turn this saved money into a discount.

Third Sun Solar has also been selected as a preferred installer for multiple community co-op and solarize programs (for example: GCEA & OH SUN programs). We would be happy to answer your questions about gathering a group together to go solar. For more information, call us: 877-696-7652.

Can solar work well for my house?

Interested homeowners often begin looking into solar by going on the web. There are many good resources on the web for investigating solar, for gathering basic information, and for beginning the process of considering whether a PV solar electric system is a good choice for you. You’ll find some good links below for continuing your research.

Here are some basic qualifiers for solar — if you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, then solar is worth investigating further:

  • Do you own your home?
  • Do you pay high electric bills? More than $100 in the average month?
  • Are your electric bills higher in the summer than in the winter?
  • Is your house unshaded or only lightly shaded (by trees or other nearby structures)?
  • Does your house have a large roof surface facing south, southeast, or southwest?
  • Does your property have open, unshaded ground near the house (within 100 feet)?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is “yes,” then you may be a good candidate for solar.

Here are a few questions that answering “yes” means you are a prime candidate for solar:

  • Does your house have a large, open, unshaded roof facing directly south?
  • Does your house (or garage) have a standing-seam metal roof?
  • Do you think your electric rates are likely to rise in the next 5-20 years?
  • Do you plan to be in your home for the next 10+ years?
  • Are you green-leaning? Do you want to take steps to live a greener lifestyle?
  • Are you concerned about power outages? Would you like to have power during grid blackouts?

If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should definitely take a good, hard look at solar. You can begin by getting in touch with us through our web form:

Our website has some good information for you:

Why buy solar?

“…even if solar isn’t the lowest cost energy you can buy, and even if it doesn’t provide the best ROI, you should still buy solar for the same reason you need to have Bonds and T-Bills making up ~20% of your investment portfolio. It’s not about how you feel, it’s just the math. The math is the same for energy as for financial investments. You’ll get the best long term performance by investing in a mix of instruments.” Amory Lovins

Amory Bloch Lovins is an American physicist, environmental scientist, writer, and Chairman/Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute. He has worked in the field of energy policy and related areas for four decades. Lovins is a McArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship winner and the author of Reinventing Fire, Natural Capitalism, Small is Profitable, and Factor Four.

Are solar panels worth it?

Solar offers a fixed-cost hedge against future energy cost increases. It makes your future energy costs more predictable, and lower.

Solar energy systems have high up-front cost, but once installed, the fuel (the sun) is free forever. Due to the thirty-year system life and very low maintenance costs, once the system is purchased, the cost of energy is fixed at a known quantity. This compares with conventional electric energy costs, which have been rising at around 5% per year and may be expected to rise even faster in the future. Conventional energy prices, with their dependence on fossil fuels (coal, gas, and oil) are subject to the volatility of those markets, as well as any future costs of environmental remediation or carbon emissions penalties.

Several states have tiered energy prices in which the price per kWh of electrical energy consumption is lowest at night (when demand is lowest) and highest during the afternoon (when demand is highest). Because solar systems produce maximum energy during midday and afternoon hours, solar electric systems offset the highest-priced energy in a tiered pricing market. In Ohio, a solar electric system is a great bet on future adoption of tiered pricing in the Ohio electric utility and co-op markets. Install solar now, and if tiered pricing comes in, you’re equipped to offset the highest-cost energy and thereby save the most money on your electric bill.

Solar is a smart investment that rises each day with the sun. There are not many other investment vehicles showing returns as good as solar now, on a mid- to long-term basis. The savings from a smart move to solar now could add up to tens of thousands of dollars in the 10-25 year outlook, and if utility rates rise faster/more than projected in our financial models, the savings will be higher and ROI will arrive faster. Solar is a smart, secure power buy and a great long-term investment in your family, home & planet.

Is Solar Power Dangerous?

When it comes to evaluating the dangers of solar, fire safety is one of several key reasons why experience, proper training and attention to detail matter when it comes to quality solar installations.

We can point you to several solar system fires that have occurred on commercial solar systems. ALL of these fires were preventable. But an unfortunate set of factors came together to spark the fires. In general, all of these fires can be attributed to a combination of two or more of these three elements:

  1. Inadequate solar installation standards (NEC and others)
  2. Inexperienced solar designers and/or installers
  3. Severe pressure to cut costs

The solar industry has grown so fast that it has outpaced development of industry standards. Unfortunately, there are far too few standards all across the board (from National Electric Code issues and building code issues to development of standards for solar performance predictions, solar system reliability, and solar financial accounting).

This lack of standards means safety and quality are in the hands of the designers and installers of solar systems. Worse yet, it also means that potential customers have very few means with which to evaluate the veracity of competing claims from everyone peddling solar, and very little protection from incompetence.

Couple the above with the massive number of new solar companies entering the market with little or no depth of experience, and you have the recipe for problems.

Having been in the business of building solar systems since 1997, we foresaw a lot of these problems unfolding. These issues have been an ongoing topic of internal company discussion for us.

At Third Sun Solar we are passionate about solar energy, and solar PV is our sole line of business. So we take the long term health of the solar industry very seriously. Our president, Geoff Greenfield, sits on the NABCEP board of directors (NABCEP is one of the original bodies working to develop industry standards and best practices for solar) and we have engaged wherever we can in supporting solar industry best practices. We have long partnerships with some of the solar industry’s most experienced veterans and we are constantly striving to learn from everyone’s mistakes and improve our game.

We have given local fire departments solar-specific training on actual solar installations and we have been following development of solar fire code issues in CA since they got started. We’ll continue to do so.

Eventually, the standards will be put in place to alleviate these concerns, but that is yet several years away. Meanwhile, we are confident that our attention to detail, strict refusal to cut corners, and our devotion to safety and quality have always and will continue to bridge the gap between where the industry is today and where it needs to be in terms of solar safety, reliability and quality. The simple fact is, a well-designed, well-constructed solar power system poses no more risk of fire than any other commercial building component. Know your solar installer. Hire an experienced solar company and get good advice when installing solar.

Money Savings with Solar Too Good to Miss

Why buy solar now? Solar power is currently the fastest-growing industry in the USA, and solar on homes has become a very hot sector. New, much lower solar prices are catching homeowners’ interest, with the price of solar panels dropping 80% in the past 6 years. Looming trade sanctions against China for selling solar panels below cost in the US could force prices up soon, if punitive tariffs are applied.

Solar on the roof is now the best energy source financially for many homeowners. Low prices combined with a great tax incentive make the climate ideal now to go solar at home. The Federal Tax Credit for renewable energy (paying back 30% of the system cost) is currently in law through 2016, but is under attack from some lawmakers.

So now may be the best time ever to save money by producing your own energy. Stop paying a utility company. It is both smart and timely to install solar now.

Going solar is easy. We make a free analysis of your home to gauge sun exposure, shading, roof conditions, and existing electrical service. We look at a recent utility bill to see how much power you use, and when. We match your available space, electricity needs, and budget to find your solar sweet spot – the best system size for you, with the best pay-back. You want to make the most clean power for the least money – and that is what we can do for you.

Our Smart Solar Finance options – offered by a respected New England bank with expertise in renewable energy lending – offer no or low money down, good rates, and no pre-payment penalties. Our customers often apply the Federal Tax Credit refund directly to pay down their solar system, lowering their monthly payments. Home solar can produce positive cash flow from day one, as soon as it’s turned on.

Chances are, you can finance your solar panels for less than you currently pay on your electric bill. And once the system is paid off, the fuel is free – it rises every morning!


Will solar panels improve?

Any thoughts on solar panel obsolescence, solar panel upgrades, etc. – i.e. 25-30 year lifetime is great, but do you anticipate material or other advances to provide a justifiable upgrade projection in 7, 10 or 15 years?

The solar industry is still evolving. Solar modules of the format we are currently using (crystalline cells sandwiched between glass sheets and framed by aluminum) are here to stay for at least the next decade if not the next three decades. The performance of the cells has pretty much been maxed out. The real advances now are simply bringing the cost of manufacturing down. So yes, in 7 or 10 years there will be lower cost solar panels, but I strongly doubt they would have sufficiently improved performance to justify a change-out or upgrade.

Our industry does not yet have sufficient standards in place to make solar panels mix and matchable or plug and play commodity items. Each project is still a custom project and the specific panels are matched to the specific inverters. There are about 600 different makes and models of solar panels and they are all different electrically and in their physical dimensions. So swapping one out for a “better” one in the future will likely not be possible.

The most likely upgrade you could expect would be improved inverter controls which would allow your system to keep running during grid troubles. Given the large number of inverters already deployed, I foresee such improvements being made available as retrofits to existing inverters.

Yes, there could be some step changes in performance improvement in the next ten years. But from what I’ve seen repeatedly since 2006 is that the overall economics of the package don’t improve. If the project makes sense to do now, you should just do it. Those customers I know who waited for something better to come along now generally regret that decision. They could have been saving money all along.


How long does a solar inverter last? What’s the replacement cost?

Inverter warranties are 10-15 years, depending on the make and model. Inverter replacement costs are hard to forecast 15 years out. The inverter manufacturers are just now starting a price war similar to what the solar panel manufacturers went through over the past three years. So costs for equivalent models will likely fall considerably over the next 15 years. However, more and more value-added features are getting built into inverters, so those additional features will likely offset the price reductions going forward.