As a homeowner near Tornado Alley, it was important for Jason Lee to install solar panels at his North Dallas home in case of power outages. Now when he’s not fixing computers, he frequently posts solar panel cleaning and maintenance videos to his YouTube channel to help fellow DIYers.
“My panels are on my shed in my backyard and have the ability to power the shed, as well as a couple circuits in the house for emergency use,” he said. “It’s pretty important for my family. I have two special needs, young children with medications that need to be refrigerated. The panels make sure we have something to keep the lights on, so to speak.”
Recently, he posted a before and after video to prove how cleaning his solar panels boosted his solar power percentage. Even he was surprised how a little soap and water could make a difference.
If you want to get the most bang for your solar equipment buck, keep reading for Lee’s tips. We also talked to the owner of a solar company that specializes in residential and business cleaning and inspections.
Clean Solar Panels Regularly
It makes sense that solar panels would work most effectively when their view to the sun is not obstructed with dirt and debris. But Lee wanted to test the theory after he installed a meter that gives him a read out of energy production at all times.
“Six-hundred watts is the highest (amount of power) I can get with my panels, but I was only getting two-thirds of that,” he said. “I would have expected at least 500 watts.”
After washing the panels, Lee saw his solar power increase from 421 watts to 495 watts. That’s nearly 18 percent! Lee wasn’t expecting more than a 10 percent change, and he said the results encouraged him to be more proactive about his panel cleaning routine.
While it was easy for Lee to clean his panels, since they’re installed on a low roof on top of a shed, it’s not the case for most homeowners. Companies like Stanley Certified Solar in Southern California provides this service for those who don’t have the time – or the roof-walking skills – to keep up with their solar panel cleaning and maintenance.
“You want to clean solar panels at least every six months,” said Brad Hunt, vice president of the maintenance company. “But if you’re closer to freeway, or construction site with excessive airborne debris, you’ll want to clean them more often because of damaging petroleum-based debris that can make a panel up to 40 percent less effective.”
The company deploys certified technicians to homes and businesses with proper safety equipment to handle tricky cleaning jobs.
Use Safe Soaps, Water and Tools to Clean Solar Panels
You don’t want to damage your panels while cleaning them, so make sure you use the proper supplies to scrub the dirt and debris away.
“Don’t use tap water because it’s high in minerals, like calcium, that will leave residue,” said Hunt. “You want to use deionized or mineral-free water and environmentally-friendly soaps that won’t harm your plants or animals if it splashes off the roof onto rosebushes or water bowls.”
Lee got some flak from a few YouTube subscribers after he posted his cleaning video where he used dish soap, a push broom and his garden hose to clean his solar panels.
“I probably should have done more research,” he said. “Next time, I’ll order something more purpose-built for that.”
He now plans to clean his panels once a month in the summer, when dust is flying around, and more in the winter since rain tends to make them dirtier.
“People think when it rains, it’ll wash the stuff on it and it will clean it,” he said. “But it will get worse, because the dust will stick to it.”
Coastal areas should also consider marine-layer residue, which can build up on solar panels and leave an obstructive film, added Hunt.
Inspect Solar Panels Between Cleaning Routines
Keep electricity bills down by inspecting panels for damage often to make sure they’re soaking up as much sun as possible.
Technicians at Stanley Certified Solar inspect every panel before cleaning for cracks and damage, but also for common animal nests.
“In our area, the underside of solar panels have a tendency to become opossum condos,” said Hunt. “And it’s not uncommon for rodents and birds to build nests there.”
But don’t forget: Safety first! Never climb on a roof without the proper equipment.
“Most homeowners aren’t prepared or equipped to get up on the roofs,” Hunt added. “You need safety harnesses and ladders to make sure you’re doing it safely. And knowing how to walk on a roof so you don’t damage it.”
Make sure to read up on safety precautions before you make an ascent! Or leave it to the professionals.
Photos courtesy of Bill Hunt, Stanley Certified Solar.