Do You Need a Critter Guard for Solar Panels on Cape Cod?
Last Updated January 5, 2024
By Michael Jones
Michael literally wrote the book on solar (it’s called The Homeowners’ Guide to Going Solar) and has been a solar consultant for over four years.
Have you ever had an uninvited guest who just wouldn’t leave? Hey, we live on Cape Cod, we’ve all had some of those, right?
Now imagine them taking up residence in your expensive rooftop solar setup. The abundance of squirrels and other rodents in this area has many wondering if it’s necessary to have a critter guard for solar panels that are installed on Cape Cod.
A solar critter guard is a barrier – often made of galvanized steel or PVC coated material – that wraps around the outside of your solar array to prevent squirrels and birds from nesting underneath the panels.
Why a Critter Guard Might Be Necessary
There are two things about solar panels that make them particularly attractive to birds, squirrels and even raccoons:
- For ventilation purposes, and because they are attached to the roof by a racking system, panels have to be installed a few inches off the surface of the roof
- When solar panels are operative, they get slightly warm.
These two features combine to make them a wonderful place for small critters to make their nests, particularly during cold Cape Cod winters.
While a nest under your panels may not seem to be all that serious a threat to its operation, the real problem is not the nest itself, but the fact that the nest’s inhabitants might chew through your solar system’s wiring.
Critter Guards (sometime referred to as bird netting) help to prevent this. They are metal meshes that look a lot like high-end chicken wire, and they stop pesky squirrels and birds from sneaking under your panels and causing expensive damage.
Plus, they keep leaves, twigs, and other debris from piling up beneath your panels and close to electrical wiring.
Including Critter Guard With Your Solar Installation
If you think a critter guard will be necessary, your solar company may offer to include one with your solar installation. Obviously, this is the best time to have them installed, since the crew is already on the roof installing the panels.
It’s also the least expensive option for having them professionally installed, adding perhaps a few hundred dollars to the cost of the system, although, naturally, price will depend on system size.
Adding a Critter Guard Post Installation
As you might expect, installing a critter guard for solar panels that have already been installed is a lot less convenient for the solar company and, therefore, likely more expensive.
In fact, it’s more likely that the solar company will hire a subcontractor to install your critter guard in that case, since their highly skilled solar installation crew can be more profitably employed working on the next solar job.
With subcontractors, you may not get as high a quality of work as with the solar company you so carefully vetted prior to installation. So it’s a good idea to to bring up the topic of critter guards with your solar company prior to getting your solar panels installed. That way, they can install the critter guard with the solar panel installation.
Adding a Critter Guard Yourself
Getting up on your own roof and adding a critter guard to solar panels that were previously installed by a solar company is almost always the worst idea. You can purchase critter guards quite inexpensively from places like Amazon but installing them yourself is risky, both from a safety point of view and because you might damage your solar system.
Rooftop solar systems can get pretty complex, and any slip-up like nudging a panel or tugging on a wire might throw your whole system out of whack.
Worse yet, getting up on the roof and attempting to do the work yourself might void the solar company’s workmanship warranty so any damage you do cause might not be covered and the cost of having someone come out and fix it will be on you.
Seriously, don’t do this. If you feel you need a critter guard with solar panels, leave it to the professionals.
Deciding If You Need a Critter Guard With Solar Panels
Going solar is a big investment and having your system damaged by critters when preventing that damage is such a simple fix may seem a little ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean that every solar system needs a critter guard.
Here are some questions you should ask when deciding whether to invest in a critter guard for solar panels.
Did You Purchase the System or Sign Up For a Lease or PPA?
You only need to consider a critter guard for solar panels that you have purchased, either with cash upfront or by taking out a solar loan..
For a lease or PPA, the homeowner is not responsible for the maintenance of the solar panels. In fact, the entire system remains the property of the solar company for the term of the agreement.
Therefore, it stands to reason that repairs to any damage caused by rodents or birds doesn’t fall on you but on the solar company. If they’ve determined that critter guards are not necessary, do you really want to go to the expense of installing them just so you can protect their panels?
Are There Large Trees Near Your House?
Most birds, of course, can fly, but squirrels and other rodent invaders typically make their way onto your roof via nearby trees – and it’s those guys that do most of the damage.
If you don’t have any nearby trees large enough to provide this kind of roof access to rodents, then all you have to worry about is nesting birds, and maybe they’re not enough of a nuisance for you to go to the expense of critter guards.
Do Neighbors With Rooftop Solar Have Issues With Critters?
If you have neighbors with solar (and most people do nowadays), you could always ask them if they’re having trouble with critters. If they do, then there’s a pretty good chance that you will, too. If not, you may not want to spend the money
Is the System Already Installed on Your Roof?
For all the reasons outlined above, the best time to install a critter guard for solar panels is when those panels are being installed. If it’s already too late for that, then you might not want the hassle of adding them unless you have a real problem with critters.
Final Thoughts on Installing a Critter Guard for Solar Panels
If you purchase your system outright, solar is a big investment. And if you live in the kind of area where squirrels abound (i.e.most of Cape Cod), then you might want to consider installing a critter guard for your solar panels.
If you’ve leased your system, or signed up for a PPA, you want to at least have a conversation about critter guards with the solar installer but, ultimately the decision is theirs, since they’re the ones who own the system.
If you do decide to install a critter guard, the best time to do that is as the panels are being installed, Waiting until later will likely be less convenient and more expensive.
And don’t even think about installing them yourself. It’s potentially dangerous and might void warranties that you’ll need if you damage your system. (You know, that same system you were trying to protect by installing a critter guard).
If you would like to have a conversation about going solar, with or without critter guards, you can contact us to set up a time to chat (we promise not to chew your wires).
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