By Jennifer Lubell

Homeowners buying a solar system for the first time may worry about the sustainability of the solar panels and whether they can hold up to harsh weather conditions.

Experts say it’s not necessarily the panels you have to worry about – because all solar panels come with weatherproofing. “They’re made with the same tempered glass as the windshields on your car,” explained Ruben Ugarte, director of business development at Horizon Solar Power in Temecula, Calif.,  which means that they can handle rain, snow, hail and other extreme weather conditions. For the most part, these are very durable pieces of equipment. They have no moving parts and they can last for decades.

“I never hear of people complaining that water got into their panels,” he added.

A bigger concern for solar owners is their home’s roof, Ugarte says. Installers need to ensure that the holes they put in people’s roofs are weather tight. “That’s a big liability on your home. Nobody wants to save money on their electric bill with solar, and then have a leaky roof.”

Installing solar panels with minimal penetration has become a bigger priority as the technology has evolved. The process of mounting panels to the rafters is called “flashing,” and many types of systems exist to accommodate different roof types, Ugarte explains. The flashing is a piece of aluminum or steel that’s built in a way that allows no water to penetrate, either on the base of the roof or on the panel.

“Different types of flashings work with the type of roofing system you have,” Ugarte said. The most common type of flashing is for a shingle roof, but there are systems for flat, tile, slate and other types of roofs.

The goal is to install a solar system efficiently and do it in a way that the roof doesn’t leak. Companies these days use advanced technologies to use as few penetrations as possible.

“You want to make sure that an installer uses the right type of flashing system and quality products at every piece of the system,” Ugarte  advised. Homeowners shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions about these elements.

Most people want to know about the types of panels and inverters the installer is going to use, but it doesn’t hurt to find out about the flashing system, since this is the part of the solar system that’s going to prevent leaks. An installer’s salesperson should be able to explain how the flashings work, and answer any other questions about weatherproofing.

Any solar contract should address weather-related issues such as rain penetration or damage in the warranty. The bottom line is: The more you know about the key elements of a solar system, the more equipped you’ll be to get the best quality product.