Solar Panels And Fire Safety: 3 Things You Need To Know

Rooftop solar panels can save you money on your energy bill by generating their own electricity, which can be a great thing for many homeowners. But are they really safe? If you've seen headlines declaring rooftop solar panels the "new enemy of U.S. firefighters," you may be wondering about the safety of having them installed on your roof, and who could blame you? However, before you cancel your energy saving plans, find out the real facts about rooftop solar panels, fire safety, and firefighters.

Solar Panel Fires are Rare

While no electrical device is completely free of the risk of fire due to malfunction, fires caused by solar panels are quite rare.  According to the British Photovoltaic Association, solar panels themselves are no more of a fire hazard than any other common electrical device.

On the rare occasions when rooftop solar equipment is responsible for a fire, the cause is usually poor installation or faulty equipment. That's why it's important for you to do your research before having solar panels installed on your roof. Simply choosing solar panels that are manufactured by a reputable company, and having them installed by experienced solar roof contractors can significantly reduce any risk of solar panel-caused fires in your home.

Solar Panels Challenge Firefighter Safety

The problem isn't really that solar panels may cause fires. The problem is that solar panels can be a hazard to firefighters trying to put out a fire in a solar-powered building, no matter what actually got the blaze started.

Part of the problem stems from the difficulty in shutting off the electrical power generated by a solar powered roof. The cells in the panels can generate up to 600 volts of electricity. Solar panel shut-off boxes are often not located in the same place as the home's fuse boxes, so it can be more difficult for firefighters to locate them and make sure that they're turned off. Therefore, firefighters may be more at risk of electrocution in solar-powered buildings.

Firefighters also cite an increased risk of structural collapse during a fire, due to the weight of the panels on the roof, as a safety concern. And in many cases, standard firefighting techniques require firefighters to have the ability to access the roof. That access may be limited or impossible in a home that's outfitted with rooftop solar panels.

What does all this mean for you as a homeowner? Well, if firefighters are unwilling or unable to put out the fire due to safety concerns, they may focus their efforts on preventing the fire from spreading to neighboring homes or buildings by allowing a controlled burn of your home. In other words, you're at risk for a lot more damage if your local fire department is unable to safely work around your solar roof to put the fire out.

What's the Solution?

There are several solutions to the safety dilemma posed by solar panels. In New Jersey, fire officials and energy companies are focusing on additional training for firefighters. Education about strategies for putting out fires in solar-equipped homes will become more and more important as more and more homeowners turn to solar power to conserve energy and money.

There are also technologies that may help. Automatic switches that isolate solar panels and immediately cut off the power to the solar cells in case of emergency are something that you should consider when having a rooftop solar power system installed.

You can also help by providing fire departments with the information that they need to prepare to fight the fire safely. It's not a bad idea to let your local fire department know when you've had a rooftop solar system installed. And if a fire does break out and you have to make an emergency call, inform the 911 operator that the house has a rooftop solar power system. Having the information they need in advance can help ensure that firefighters arrive prepared for the conditions they'll encounter at your home.

Concerns about fire shouldn't be any more of a dealbreaker when it comes to choosing a solar roof than they are when it comes to choosing any other electric device. But it helps to have all the facts and to understand how you can reduce any risk of fire damage that accompanies solar roofing. Experts like those at can help you install panels safely and correctly.