Solar and Metal Roofing: A Perfect Pairing

In recent years, there has been an overall growth in the solar market, with more rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV) being installed every year. As Rob Haddock, CEO and founder of S-5!, Colorado Springs, Colo., notes, it’s natural to choose metal roofs for installing solar PV because metal roofs provide an ideal platform as metal roofing is the only roof type with a service life that actually exceeds the service life of a solar PV system. “It is also the most sustainable roofing type,” he says, “and is conducive to lower solar installation costs.”

As the use of solar continues to grow, metal roofing also increases

By Marcy Marro

Photo courtesy of S-5!

Renee Ramey, executive director of the Metal Roofing Alliance, echoes these sentiments, saying the reason why solar and metal roofs are so well matched is because of the return on a residential roof-mounted solar investment is only as good as the quality and longevity of the roof where it’s installed. “Metal roofs are the best option for photovoltaic systems, greatly reducing the risk of a roof failing before a solar panel system does,” she explains. “The estimated life span of solar panels is typically about 20 to 25 years, while metal roofs can last for 50-plus years, two or three times the average life span of other types of roofing materials. That means a metal roof should easily outlast the solar panels. Metal also is exceptionally strong and durable, able to support the weight of potentially heavy solar systems by using a simple attachment and clip solution that does not require drilling holes into the roof or the need for self-ballasted systems, reducing the possibility of roofing failures and potential leaks.”

According to Dan Javan, CEO, Suntuity Solar, Holmdel, N.J., over the past decade there has been an expanding number of homeowners as well as building owners that have become more energy conscious. “On the commercial side, many building owners and business owners realize that metal roofs are an ideal platform for solar integration, and they understand the savings potential when installing solar on their roof,” he explains. “On the consumer side, the same awareness has also taken place. We especially see this in the states that have more aggressive energy programs. I believe a combination of greater public awareness—with more homeowners and businesses installing solar—and the media—both traditional and digital—are two key factors. Add to this the increased number of solar providers entering the marketplace and the message regarding solar is spreading.”

Photo courtesy of S-5!

Financial Benefits

As the interest in energy efficiency increases, so does the interest in solar. Solar energy is recognized as a viable option for both businesses and homeowners to substantially reduce energy costs year in and year out. “Solar arrays are now being installed and being seen by potential customers on a greater number of homes and buildings around the country,” Javan says. “We definitely see greater growth in markets that have favorable energy programs. The great thing about solar is regardless of an individual’s economic situation, as long as they qualify, there is an affordable payment program available to them.”

With the cost of solar decreasing significantly over the last decade, Haddock notes the breakeven and return on investment (ROI) improves every year, making even greater financial sense. “In addition, federal and local incentives are significant drivers to making solar more popular, as well as solar mandates in various municipalities throughout the United States, resulting in an increased use of solar.”

In addition to consumers being able to become more energy independent, while lowering their utility expenses at the same time, many utility companies offer incentives in many regions, which is helping to drive solar demand. “Additionally, in 2020, California became the first state to mandate that new homes produce more clean energy than ever before, which includes the installation of rooftop solar panels,” explains Ramey. “The state’s leadership on this front was a giant step forward to bring solar power into the mainstream for all homeowners no matter where they live. It also promises to cause a major shift in the building and construction industry for how to adopt methods and materials that are better suited for solar systems.”

Metal Roofing Longevity

As homeowners become more educated about the benefits of solar, the use of a metal roof makes economical sense. And, a metal roof is the perfect platform for installing solar, due to interest in a longer lasting, better performing, more sustainable roof option. “During the last 20 years, the popularity of metal roofs has grown in many pockets of the country as well as in the islands,” Javan says. “This trend has not slowed down and surprisingly it appears that even during the current health/economic crises, the number of metal roof installations continues to grow. On the solar side, we are seeing a similar trend as well. Even though most of the country has closed down due to COVID-19, homeowners are continuing to install solar on their homes. While many businesses are furloughing employees, we are actually hiring more sales personnel and installation crews to handle the demand for solar.”

A recent study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) puts the average service life of photovoltaics at 32.5 years. Therefore, it makes sense that homeowners would opt to replace their asphalt shingle roofs before installing a photovoltaic system. And the long service life and sustainability of a standing seam metal roof make it a viable option for residential roof replacement. However, if a homeowner opts not to replace their roof prior to putting on a photovoltaic system, Haddock notes there are high costs involved with completing a re-roof for a traditional roof system that already has a photovoltaic system installed. This process includes removing the modules, mounting and racking system, decommissioning of the system during the re-roofing process, completing the re-roof, reinstalling the photovoltaic system and recommissioning the system, all of which results in system downtime.

Haddock adds that metal roofs are a cost-effective solution for mounting solar photovoltaic panels with mechanical solar attachments. “Mechanical attachments provide fewer components, materials which are lightweight and provide a zero-penetration system with no holes or leaks, so it does not violate roof warranties,” he says.

Photo courtesy of S-5!

Metal Roofing Benefits

According to research from the MRA, metal roofing is now the second most preferred roofing material in the U.S. As Ramey explains, some of the reasons for that include climate threats, long-term ROI, improved performance, better sustainability, and curb appeal and style options. And, MRA’s recent study from Dodge Research & Analytics study shows a jump in metal roofs for new home construction. “We believe that programs such as California’s mandate have certainly been a contributor for this rise in demand and will continue to help increase interest in metal roofing,” adds Ramey.

With performance, durability and aesthetics all attributing to the rise in residential metal roofing, it also goes to note that metal roofing is preferred in many areas of the country. As Haddock explains, metal roofs are the preferred choice in many challenging Northern and Alpine climates where rooftop snow and ice are a part of daily life. “Not only are metal roofs known for their durability, sustainability and versatility, but for their superior response and tolerance to many of the characteristics of these frigid environments,” he says. “For the past four decades, in total, well over 2 billion square feet of metal roofing has been installed in the U.S. each year, and that number grows year-by-year.”

Another advantage to metal roofing is that it requires almost no maintenance. According to Haddock, the baby-boomer generation is leading the charge for more durable construction materials and methods that require reduced maintenance and have longer service lives. “These facts are born out by statistics clearly indicating that metal has a much larger share of replacement roofing than it does in new roofing within the residential market,” he explains. “These attributes are being actively messaged to the marketplace through the MRA. In the commercial/industrial market sector, the service life study published by the Metal Construction Association (MCA) indicates that in these applications, the service life of standing seam-coated steel is in the range of 70 years. This is at least three times the next best.”

Energy Codes

Energy codes change over time and can be both positive and negative for the use of solar. For instance, Ramey says codes and incentives are helpful for market adoption and homeowners to learn about the long-term benefits behind solar and other energy-saving programs. “They can also help drive market advancements and demand, which is helpful for increasing the availability and ultimately driving down costs as the technologies increasingly get more mainstream,” she adds.

On the flip side, Haddock notes that some codes and regulations can increase hurdles, making it more complex and difficult to install solar. “As the use of solar increases, so do the number of codes and standards,” he explains. “This is inevitable and the right thing to do, but may inadvertently increase the hurdles to deploy solar. Even some of the energy codes are focused on energy efficiency first, which can reduce the demand by homeowners to install solar.”

In recent years, more cities, counties and states are enacting regulations and building codes mandating the installation of solar PV or solar-ready designs on new building construction. “This is a big change from the past when there was no consideration to accommodating solar on new construction design, and then retroactively fitting solar the best it can on the roof,” Haddock says. “These mandates will result in the accelerated growth of rooftop solar, with the intent also to reduce costs and maximize energy output of solar installations—leading to higher ROIs and lower hurdles in deploying solar PV.”

The key to complying with these mandates, Haddock says, is in the upfront planning and design of new buildings with respect to factors focused on the anticipation of a solar installation. “For example, according to St. Louis’s solar-ready regulation passed in December 2019, the area of a new commercial building’s roof, which is usable for solar must be at least 40% of the total roof area, often referred to as the solar-ready zone,” he says. “For new residential homes, the solar-ready zone must be at least 600 square feet and oriented between 110 and 270 degrees to true north. The orientation of the solar-ready zone is important too; panels facing the southernmost point as possible will produce more energy.”

“For the most part, these codes result in solar equipment manufacturers developing products that are safer and perform more efficiently, and solar installers who develop new and more creative methods to build out a safer and better performing system,” adds Javan.

Photo courtesy of Suntuity

Net Zero Goals

With the increased interest in reaching net zero energy, solar and metal roofing go hand-in-hand to meet that goal. “Solar is absolutely a major factor for net zero homes, but so are more energy-efficient metal roofs,” says Ramey. “Net zero homes not only produce and save a great deal of energy; they also are typically designed to be more protected and durable. Quality metal roofs are ideal for homeowners who want to go net zero, because they offer a longer lasting and more secure base for solar systems, are exceptionally energy efficient and they reduce waste/are recyclable at the end of their long life. Using metal roofs designed to reduce environmental impacts and stand up to climate extremes such as wildfires and damage from hail and high winds also makes them a better long-term investment.”

And, according to Javan, the cost of building a net zero home is not as expensive as one may think. And building a home that generates its own energy can be an even greater investment, ensuring an even higher payout at resale. While it is approximately 7 to 10% more expensive than a traditional home, a net zero home is only 2% more expensive than a net zero ready home, and the benefits go far beyond strictly energy savings, cost of ownership savings and ROI. “Net zero homes offer a much healthier environment, better air filtration, more comfortable indoor temperatures, less noise, better moisture control, sturdier construction and independence from the power grid,” he says. “The solar energy aspect however is one of the more compelling variables because it ultimately results in cost savings that contribute so heavily to the pay back of the project.”

In addition to solar energy, the reduction of energy usage, energy storage and building efficiency, in the use of efficient insulation, are all important aspects of achieving net zero energy. “The trend for individuals, businesses and corporations to strive for net zero energy is increasing. Solar solutions are financially feasible, and the awareness of climate change and the desire to take action is accelerating in our culture,” Haddock adds.

A Perfect Fit

Over the years, an increased focus on energy efficiency and sustainability has led to an increase in the use of solar in residential homes, as well as an increase in metal roofing. Together, the two go hand-in-hand for their durability and low maintenance. Javan says he does not see this trend changing, while over the next decade and more, anticipating more architects, homeowners and businesses seeking to beautify their roof designs while incorporating long-lasting, better-performing and more energy-efficient solutions. “Evidence shows that the growth will be even more profound than what we have experienced during the past two decades,” he says. “It should be a very exciting time for the metal roofing industry and the solar solutions that complement the metal roofs.”

And as Haddock notes, it’s easier and less expensive to put solar on a metal roof than any other roof type. “Rooftop solar is not a fad,” he says. “It is here to stay. Ecological concerns aside, it just makes good economic sense—here and now. When the solar asset pays back in five to seven years and turns cash positive for the ensuing 25 years, it’s a no-brainer!”