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Can Solar Panels Catch on Fire?

July 23, 2020
By John Cole

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If you’re considering investing in solar panels to power your home, you likely have a ton of questions you need answers to before you can commit to installing them. And with the safety of your family in mind, one of those questions is probably if solar panels can catch on fire.

Solar panels do have live wires running through them, meaning there will always be some risk of fire. However, it’s the same small risk of fire that comes with any electrical appliance like your home’s air conditioner or refrigerator. As long as your solar panels are properly installed, you can have peace of mind knowing your solar panels are likely to operate seamlessly with little to no issues.

Do you have questions about solar panels and if they’re safe to install on your roof? Keep reading for answers to your questions about solar panel safety. Green Energy Geeks is your one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about using solar energy to make the community and planet a better place to live.

solar panel fire

Are Solar Panels a Fire Hazard?

Safety is your utmost concern when it comes to your family. So if you’re considering installing solar panels on your home, the question remains: are solar panels ever to blame for house fires? If you have solar panels installed on your roof, should you be worried? Should you be concerned about solar energy fire hazards? Are there any precautions you can take to avoid a fire outbreak from your solar panels?

Data supports the statement that rooftop fires caused by solar panels are extremely rare and that solar panels are safe to install on your home’s rooftop. According to a report of Green Tech Media, there are about 2 million solar panel systems installed in the United States in both residential and commercial capacities. Similarly, countries like Japan have more than 2 million homes with rooftop solar panels installed, and Germany has over 1 million residential solar systems installed.

Over the course of a decade, Japan reported 127 rooftop fires caused by solar panels. In a 20 year period, Germany reported 350 solar panel systems that caught on fire. Do you know what that means? During that time only 0.006% of all solar power panels resulted in an electrical fire.

Only one in every five of those reported solar panel fires caused actual damage—meaning that the percentage of damage caused by solar panel fires is much lower.

Comparatively, the U.S. Fire Administration reports that there are 2,900 home dryer fires each year in our country. 

Solar Panels Are Safe for Residential Installation

For most homeowners, solar panels don’t need to raise any safety concerns. Solar panels are essentially an electrical appliance in your home—they should be compared to your refrigerator, microwave, or any other electrical appliance in your home.

What Causes Solar Panel Fires?

If you’re considering installing solar panels, you want to know exactly what you’re getting into. Solar panels are a big investment—with tons of benefits! But understandably, you want to make sure there are no safety concerns you need to be aware of.

Though very rare, solar panel fires can be caused by a few factors:

  • Natural hazards like lightning
  • Overvoltage or power surges
  • Faulty or improperly sized equipment
  • Incorrect installation
  • Poor insulation

It is important to note that solar fires are usually the result of electrical issues like incorrect installation, poor insulation, and damaged wires. While there are several reasons for solar panels causing house fires, it usually ends up coming down to poor installation—which is luckily easily avoidable by properly researching and selecting your solar panel installer.

How to Choose Your Solar Panel Installers

When choosing your solar panel installer, you should consider the following:

  • Expertise – Look for an installer that has years of experience working with solar panels and understands the ins and outs of the job.
  • Licenses and insurance – You should only work with a reputable company that is properly licensed and insured.
  • Industry reputation – Word of mouth is extremely important. Ask your friends who have solar panels if they would recommend the contractor they used. Read through industry reviews to see what your neighbors have to say.

Choosing the right company to install your solar panels is an easy way to reduce the risk of fire over the lifespan of your solar system.

solar installer

What Solar System Safety Issues Should You Be Aware Of?

As with any electrical appliance (i.e. toaster, microwave, oven, etc.), problems may occasionally. Two of the most common concerns around solar panels are electrical surges and fires—both of which can happen with any electrical systems.

Solar Panel Fires

Solar panel fires typically arise because of electrical problems. Like any appliance with an electrical connection, if wires are damaged, improperly insulated, or incorrectly installed, an electrical fire can occur.

Electrical Surges

An electrical surge happens when there is a brief spike in electrical voltage that flows through the appliance’s electrical wires. Depending on the voltage and duration of the electrical surge, there could be damage to the solar panels as a result. Minor surges may cause no apparent damage but can take their toll on the solar panel system over time.

What to Do If a Solar Panel Fire Breaks Out?

Although very rare, once a fire has taken hold in a solar system, it can be very difficult to resolve. There are a few steps to take to increase the chances of the fire being properly put out.

To reduce the risk of electric shock, your solar panels must be disconnected. This task will be handled by the fire department.

An important factor to consider that if the fire breaks out during the day, the solar panels would be in the process of generating electricity. When putting out a fire on the roof, you should never spray water on the solar panels until they are disconnected and completely shut off.

In the rare instance that your solar panels causes a home fire, your solar panel warranty or home insurance will likely cover any damages that occur.

How to Minimize Risk If a Solar Panel Fire Occurs

If your home has solar panels installed on the rooftop, we’ve put together some tips for minimizing risk in case of a fire.

  • As your solar panel contractor is installing your solar system, ask them to properly label your system. Each component should be marked and disconnect instructions should be included on the main service panel.
  • Install a rooftop shutoff switch to allow for instant shutoff of electrical current running from the panels to the inverter.
  • Leave space around the solar panels to ensure that, if a fire is present, there should be enough room for firefighters and inspectors to navigate between the panels. Similarly, there should also be enough room for ventilation.
  • Once your solar panels are installed, inform your local fire department of any important information they need to know. Provide them with a set of plans and instructions for how to deal with your solar panels in an emergency. This will give them everything they need to handle a fire should one occur because of your solar panels.

As with any electrical equipment, precautions should be taken to protect your home and your family against fire when installing a solar panel system. It’s important to remember that the solar industry has an excellent safety record and solar panel fires are extremely rare and not a cause for concern. 

What Precautions Should You Take to Avoid Solar Panel Fires?

When hiring a solar panel installer, make sure you ask for a few referrals and read through all their reviews. You want to hire a team of installers that are experienced and understand the ins and outs of solar panel installation to avoid any problems down the line.

One example is that you need a contractor that installs each solar panel with the correct seaming. The incorrect seaming of connectors during the installation process may generate electrical arcing. Electrical arcing is when electricity jumps from one connection to another and reaches extreme temperatures of 35,000°F, which can cause overheating and lead to a fire in your home. Because of this, solar panels must be installed by experienced professionals who can reduce the risk of fire by properly following installation instructions specified by the manufacturer.

Electrical faults and reverse currents are a risk with all types of electrical appliances, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust solar panels to safely power your house. As long as your solar panel installer follows the proper procedure, the risk of a fire is extremely small.

If you’re interested in more information on procedures and rules to reduce the risk of fire and keep homes and people safe, visit the National Electrical Code. If you have additional concerns or worries, ask your solar company more about its solar panel safety features. Your solar panel installer should be able to walk you through the risks and benefits and mitigate any concerns you have.

Additional Precautions You Can Take

Apart from doing thorough research when searching for a top-rated solar panel installation company, there are additional precautions you can take to minimize the chance of a solar panel fire:

  • While the choice to get solar panels can seem expensive, you don’t want to cut costs in the name of safety. Don’t invest in cheap solar panels which could result in faulty operation or cost you more money for maintenance and repairs over time. Almost every documented case of fire caused by defective solar panels has occurred in low-cost, off-brand equipment.
  • During your search for a solar panel installer, ask them about the methods they take to reduce the risk of solar panels fires. Not only should your solar panel modules be non-combustible, but the mounting system and frames should be as well.
  • Regular maintenance is important. One of the major benefits of solar panels is the fact that they don’t need to be cleaned often—an annual cleaning is enough to minimize the grime and debris. However, you should regularly check your solar panel system for possible damage caused by storms, rodents, and more. A qualified solar inspector should examine the system for faulty connections, rodent damage, or other fire hazards once a year at a minimum.
  • Take your time choosing your solar panel provider and installer. Your solar panel installer should have the required certifications and relevant experience. Don’t hesitate to ask them for references and to read through their reviews. Proper installation is the most important thing you can do to mitigate the risk of solar panel fires down the line.
  • You should consider installing microinverters. This is because a microinverter converts DC power to AC power directly at each solar panel, resulting in AC power traveling down from your roof to your basement electric panel instead of DC power.

The Big Question: Are Solar Panels Safe?

Solar panels are an extremely reliable investment for anyone who wants to reduce their monthly electricity bill while working to protect the environment. Since solar panels are like any other electrical appliances in your home, they’re no more likely to start a fire than your microwave, HVAC unit, or other appliance.

There is rarely a reason to worry about safety when it comes to installing solar panels on your home. While fires from solar panels can happen, they are very rarely the cause of a fire. If your home is safe with your electrical appliances, then it’s just as safe with solar panels. Properly-installed and maintained solar panels are no more threat than any other electrical appliance in your home, so you can have complete peace of mind when installing solar panels!

Have Questions About Solar Panels Safety? Green Energy Geeks Can Help!

If you’re in the market for solar panels or have questions about utilizing solar energy to power your home, Green Energy Geeks is your one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about using solar energy safely.

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