If you’ve been considering installing solar on your flat roof, you might have been wondering about how the condition of your existing roof could impact an installation. Many homeowners have concerns about whether they need to make repairs or get a new roof before installing solar power, but most of the information available is geared toward pitched roofs with shingles as opposed to our flat roofs in NYC. 

We want you to know that while these concerns are legitimate – it’s one of the first things we’ll look at, in fact – roof condition is typically not an obstacle to going solar on a flat roof. In the case that your roof needs repairs or replacement, you have options that do not prevent you from proceeding with your residential solar panel installation. Let’s dive into the details.

The Importance of a Quality Roof When Installing Solar Panels

Needless to say, your roof is the foundation of a flat roof solar installation. Naturally, having a stable foundation is of the utmost importance when installing solar panels – in fact, one of the first things we’ll evaluate before moving forward with your solar project is the condition of your roof. But in most cases, there are no issues that require roof replacement or repair before going solar. Our solar installations are lightweight, and do not require a rooftop to be reinforced. 

Every project we do is approved by a structural engineer, and the details we collect on site are used in their calculations. When we perform a site evaluation, there’s a few main things we check to ensure stability and optimal solar performance.

A Brooklyn SolarWorks crew evaluates a flat roof's condition and solar potential.
When our team performs a site evaluation, we’ll assess your roof’s condition and solar potential.

Your Flat Roof’s Age

When you contact us about solar, one of the first questions we’ll ask is how old your roof is. With that said, there is no true “ideal” age for a solar installation as every roof has a unique aging experience depending on wind exposure and weathering over time. We’ve installed solar systems on roofing membranes that are 15 years or older without issue. Because every roof is different, we’ll want to evaluate your specific roof to determine its current condition.

Damages to the Flat Roof Surface

Over the course of a roof’s lifetime, it will likely incur damages to its surface. When we evaluate your roof, we’ll keep an eye out for things like curled or corroded flashing, water damage or “ponding,” cracks in the surface, and broken seals. These are generally of little concern and can be repaired at any point before or after going solar.

Flat Roof Orientation and Layout

Another important quality we evaluate is a roof’s solar potential. When it comes to flat roofs, this is often dictated by the amount of shade casted by neighboring buildings and any obstructions on the roof’s surface. Because we have two different solar panel mounting options, both the solar canopy and tilt racks, we can typically work around obstructions and angle your panels for the maximum energy output.

Questions about solar potential on your flat roof? Contact us to speak with a solar specialist.

Why You Don’t Need a New Flat Roof Before Installing Solar Panels

It is generally not necessary to fully replace a flat roof before choosing to go solar. The damages we see most often with our customers’ roofs are minimal and can be repaired at any point, even after the installation.

In this way, flat roofs have an advantage over pitched roofs when it comes to solar. Flat roofs allow for easy maintenance after a solar installation, while solar panel removal is required for repairs on pitched roofs.

But, there are some exceptions. In the rare case that your flat roof has more serious deterioration – an area is sunken in, there are recurring leaks, the surface feels uneven or unstable – we would always advise you to do what is necessary for the health of your roof before offering a solar installation. Though these issues are not common, the condition of your roof comes first. We would not move forward with an installation of solar panels if we believe your roof to be unstable.

What options are available for repairing or replacing your roof before or after your solar installation?

Many of the issues we see are the more slight surface level damages needing minor repairs. In these cases, you have options that don’t delay your flat roof solar installation. For example, many of our customers choose to reseal their roofs while waiting for the permitting process to be completed (which can take three to four months). 

If parts of your roof need to be reflashed after installation for instance, solar panel removal is not necessary. Our solar panel systems use standard roofing materials and equipment that can be flashed around just like any other protruding objects on the roof.

Many homes in NYC have complex HVAC systems that make repairs and roof replacement far more challenging than solar does – and those rooftops are maintained just fine. 

Are the additional costs of my roof repairs included in my solar installation cost when filing for the federal solar tax credit?

You may wonder if any roof repairs you have done before your solar installation can be claimed when you file for the federal solar tax credit. In past iterations of the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), there has been some gray area as to what expenses are covered. However, the IRS currently has a clear definition of qualifying expenses:

Qualified solar electric property costs are costs for property that uses solar energy to generate electricity for use in your home located in the United States…

Some solar roofing tiles and solar roofing shingles serve the function of both traditional roofing and solar electric collectors, and thus serve functions of both solar electric generation and structural support. These solar roofing tiles and solar roofing shingles can qualify for the credit…

This is in contrast to structural components such as a roof’s decking or rafters that serve only a roofing or structural function and thus do not qualify for the credit.

IRS Instructions for Form 5695

By this definition, the following expenses are covered:

  • The cost of the system, including panels, racking, inverters, and other equipment
  • Labor costs, including installation and permitting and inspection fees
  • Solar batteries
  • Any applicable sales taxes

Further, the tax code explicitly states that “structural components such as a roof’s decking or rafters that serve only a roofing or structural function” do not qualify for the credit. For this reason, it is our interpretation that roof replacement is not a qualifying expense.

Some solar companies may tell you that you can repair or replace your roof in tandem with installing solar panels and claim the roofing costs under the ITC. It’s a good idea to be cautious of this – we don’t want you and your family to be audited. Consult with a tax professional for guidance.

Who can repair or replace a roof in NYC?

If you do choose to have roof repairs or replacement done, it’s important to recognize that roofing and solar are two separate jobs. Some solar installation companies offer roofing services and some roofing companies offer solar installations for cost-saving purposes. We do not – we believe in leaving roof work to the roofing experts while we handle the solar. We install almost exclusively on hundred year old flat buildings in the city, and are experts in how to safely and effectively attach to century-old homes.

Because roofing and solar are two separate projects, it’s best that you choose a quality installer for each one. You wouldn’t want a roofer installing solar as an afterthought, or vice versa – you’ll want to make the best choice of each type of contractor. We’ve worked alongside a number of local roofing contractors that we are happy to recommend if you choose to go that route.

Installing Solar Panels on Your Flat Roof in New York City

We want to reiterate that although we don’t deny the necessity of a quality, stable roof before installing solar, flat roof condition is generally not something that will impede your ability to go solar. In the case that your roof has a broken seal or needs to be reflashed, for example, there are options that won’t delay your solar installation. 

Brooklyn SolarWorks is committed to a high-quality solar panel installation in NYC. This means starting with the foundation. If we determine your flat roof to be in need of replacement or bigger repairs before installing solar, we won’t rush into a solar installation until your roof is complete.

Ready to go solar on your flat roof? Schedule a free consultation today!

nyc homeowners guide to flat roof solar free download

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