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What are the hidden costs of solar panels?

There are some long-term costs associated with solar panels. We'll explain everything you need to know.

Taylor Freitas
Taylor Freitas Contributor
Taylor Freitas is a freelance writer and has contributed to publications including LA Weekly, Safety.com, and Hospitality Technology. She holds a B.A. in Print and Digital Journalism from the University of Southern California.
4 min read
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Solar panel repairs and maintenance can add up over the years, but keeping them in good condition can help.

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Many people are aware of the upfront costs of installing solar panels, including the price of the system, permits and contractors. However, something that isn't discussed as often is the ongoing expense of maintaining a residential solar system.

Fortunately, while there are some extra costs associated with keeping your solar panels running, they are generally low and infrequent. Plus, the benefits of solar energy will almost always outweigh the expenses that you'll incur in the decades-long lifetime of your solar system.  

Regardless, it's important to understand all of the potential expenses before you buy a solar system. Here's an overview of additional costs to bear in mind when considering a solar investment.

Read more: Want to know how long your solar panels will last? Find out here

Maintenance

Despite their impressive capability of converting sunlight into usable energy, solar panels have a relatively simple construction, with no moving parts or complicated machinery. When installed correctly, solar panels are designed to last for 20-30 years with minimal upkeep. As a result, there's not much to worry about in terms of regular maintenance.

However, you will need to keep a close eye on the physical condition of your system, making sure your panels are clean and free from debris. If your panels are dirty, you can let the rain wash them naturally or rinse them with a garden hose (from the ground). 

You should also watch your system's energy production levels to monitor for any issues. Often, reduced power output is caused by short-term issues like rain or clouds blocking your solar panels. But if these problems are occurring for an extended period of time, it could signal a problem with your panels.

Luckily, solar system warranties include a performance guarantee. So assuming you're still under warranty, you shouldn't have to pay to get your panels fixed if they aren't generating as much power as they should (more on that in the next section).

Repairs and replacements

It's unlikely, but in some cases, you might need to have your solar panels repaired or replaced. There are several reasons that this could happen, but the most likely culprit would be damage caused by extreme weather, such as hail, lightning or fallen trees. Defective panels could also be to blame.

Most solar panel product warranties are valid for 10-25 years after installation, so if you're still in that period, your manufacturer should cover the cost of repairs from accidental damage or defective goods. However, labor and shipping costs aren't always included in a product warranty. And if your warranty has ended, you may need to pay for your system repairs out of pocket.

Fortunately, one broken panel doesn't necessarily mean you need to overhaul your entire system. In fact, even if one or two panels aren't working, it's likely that your overall system will continue producing power. Still, you should contact your solar company about a replacement panel as soon as possible. On average, a single solar panel costs around $225 to $375.

Other potential costs

Outside of maintenance and repairs, there are a few additional costs that you may or may not face as a solar panel owner.

For example, you may want to hire a professional to clean your solar panels instead of cleaning them yourself. If so, you can expect to pay a couple of hundred dollars per cleaning.

You will also need to pay for tree trimming services if you have tall trees on your property that stop the sun from reaching your panels. It shouldn't be a significant expense, but it's something to factor in when calculating the ongoing costs of your solar system.

How to mitigate unexpected expenses

You can't predict when a storm or freak accident might cause damage to your solar panels. However, there are preventative measures you can take to minimize the risk of expensive repairs in the future.

At a minimum, you should check the condition of your solar system at least once per week. You don't have to get onto the roof and inspect the panels, but you should walk around your property and make sure that your panels are clean, un-cracked and not completely covered by shade. Any damage should be reported to your solar provider to prevent more serious long-term issues.

Similarly, if you notice any animals around your system, ask your solar installer about adding a critter guard. Otherwise, local wildlife can make their home underneath your panels, potentially resulting in costly repairs for chewed wires and panel damage (as well as pest control). Critter guards also reduce fire risks by preventing debris from gathering underneath your panels.

Finally, be sure to monitor how much energy your system is generating each week. If you observe any significant changes, there may be something wrong with your solar panels, inverter or solar battery (if you have one). Contact your solar provider to troubleshoot and identify solutions.

Bottom line

Despite these extra costs, solar panels remain a popular choice for homeowners looking to cut down on utility bills. They're also an eco-friendly solution for anyone trying to move away from traditional energy sources and heating devices.

For more information about solar energy, explore these CNET articles: