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solar is installed on clay tile roofs

How Solar is Installed on Clay Tile Roofs

Clay tiles cover most of the rooftops across America’s Southwest. They're elegant, an important cultural element of Spanish life, and they can last for generations. They can be a real headache for solar installation companies to deal with.

Until recently, Clay tile roofs were traditionally considered more expensive and riskier than other roofing materials, such as composite shingles or metal.

This is why tiles are expensive and fragile, and opening up the roof to remove them for installing roof mount solar panels can cause problems with the waterproofing of your roof.

You shouldn't let these challenges discourage you from installing solar panels if your roof is made of clay tiles. We’ll discuss some of the best installation techniques and equipment available for installing clay tile roofs and highlights some things to consider when upgrading your tile roofs with solar power.

Installing Solar on Clay Tile Will Cost More

solar is installed on clay tile roofs

Roof tiles are brittle; they break easily. If anyone ever has to climb onto these roofs to get something done, they're likely to damage a few tiles.

Replacing a broken tile isn't necessarily a quick process, and sometimes finding the right type of tile for the job can be difficult; some tiles can cost quite a bit to replace.

Because of these factors, most solar installers would be much more cautious when installing a solar panel system on a clay tile roof. However, they will take longer to complete, so you'll have to pay more for their time.

Avoid Using "comps" or Tiling Cuts for Your Clay Tiles 

Some solar installers may use the technique "comp-out" to install solar panels easily on clay tile rooftops. This method involves removing all the clay tile underneath the solar panel installation site, installing composite shingles there instead, then putting in traditional solar panel mounting hardware, rails, and solar modules at that location.

After installing solar panels, an installer will then put similar-shaped tiles in between the panels to make things look neat again.

Some installation companies attach solar racks to roofs using special brackets that take out individual tiles and cut or drill small holes. This allows them to drill holes into the solar mounts and screw directly into the wood sheath under the tiles.

If you go down these paths, you may experience some issues because there will be a small gap between where the tiles were before and where the solar panel is now.

Even if your new shingles cover the area where they were installed, water will still leak through them and get under your tiles on the lower part of the house. In addition, small holes in your tile roof aren't ideal for water leaks either.

We all know that having any moisture under your roofing materials is a bad situation. It could be even worse if you live in an area where temperatures often drop below freezing because trapped water can cause structural damage if it converts to ice and then back into the water.

Because of these reasons, we don't suggest installing solar panels using either of these two methods for clay tile roofs.

What is the Best Method for Installing Solar Panels on a Tile Roof?

solar is installed on clay tile roofs

For concrete roofs, an experienced solar installation company will temporarily remove just a few tile pieces where special hooks need to be placed into your rooftop joists. They will then place special metal bases onto your rooftop membrane and attach special hook pieces.

Next, install flashing on top of the hooks to prevent any water from entering the holes where the bolts go through the base plate and the hooks. Attach rails to each hook and mount your solar panels to them.

If your base plate and/or hooks require installation in an area without access to a roof joist, your contractor will need to cut some lumber and install it in your ceiling in the appropriate locations.

Many quick-mounts are available for concrete roof tiles with various tile patterns.

Clay tile roofs should be installed using double-flashed methods instead of hooks. Because the panels and hooks they’re connected to can rattle a little in the wind and break the more delicate ceramic tiles.

If the shape of your clay tile matches one of Quick Mount's replacement options, that could be another possibility.

Innovations, such as tiled-replacing mounting systems, make installing solar panels easier for installers by reducing their creative cutting needs. They replace the tiles under your solar panels mounted to your roof. 

What does the Future Hold for Clay Tile Solar?

If aesthetic considerations are important to you and if you have a lot of money to spend on this type of installation, they might be worth looking into. It doesn't matter whether you start now or later; either way, you should look into installing regular solar panels for your clay tile roofs.

About the Author David Roberts

I'm a Mechanical Engineer who's obsessed with solar energy and sustainable living.

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