Over the past 20 years, more and more homeowners have turned to solar power to heat up water and provide light and warmth in their homes. It is also becoming increasingly popular in sectional title complexes and estates as owners seek to reduce energy costs and to become less dependent on municipal power supplies.
“Solar is much cheaper than running generators, for example, and also much ‘greener’, but homeowners and trustees should focus on the long-term savings and not try to cut costs too much when getting solar geysers, panels and storage batteries installed,” warns Gerhard Kotzé, MD of the RealNet estate agency group.
According to Kotzé there has been a steady increase in the number of reports from all over the world of home fires being caused by faults in solar power systems and especially banks of rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panels.
“Most of these faults seem to originate not in the panels themselves but in poor quality isolator switches, faulty wiring, and worn or damaged components,” he adds. “Therefore it is very important to use knowledgeable and qualified installers who make use of good quality materials and adhere to all the necessary safety codes.”
It seems that solar panels could potentially pose a multitude of fire dangers. Kotzé says that fire departments in many countries have noted that rooftop panels incorrectly placed and cables and switches that are not properly insulated can also make their job much more difficult and dangerous if a fire does start. In addition, the weight of the panels means that burning roofs will collapse faster.
Kotzé says that the starting point to safeguarding your home against this potential fire risk is the realisation that the solar geysers and power systems forms an integral part of your home’s electrical network and having any existing systems certified as being safe by a qualified, independent electrician. “Also ensure that panels are cleaned regularly and inspected for damage from the weather, birds or rodents, along with their associated switches, cables, inverters and batteries,” he adds.
And if you are planning the installation of a new unit you should avoid being guided by price only or could possibly risk being taken advantage of by those using sub-standard products to undercut qualified installers.
Kotzé recommends only using suppliers who can provide references, such as membership of the Sustainable Energy Society of SA. Don’t be afraid to ask exactly what brand of panels and inverters will be used, what qualifications the installer has and ensure that the work is guaranteed.
Equally important, please discuss your solar panels with your insurer to determine if or how your cover could be affected by your solar unit.