solar pv

Solar Roofing – Flat and Metal Roofs with Integrated Solar Panels

In this article we will discuss solar roofing systems, which integrate roofing materials with solar PV panels or solar thermal systems. Specifically we will cover, metal roofs, PVC flat roofing membranes and asphalt shingles. Although most roof-mounted solar systems are installed on top of an existing roof – be it an asphalt shingles roof or any type of flat roof – these solar systems are not integrated into the roofing material, and therefore are not solar roofs.

Why Are Solar Panels Installed On Roofs?

Most solar systems are installed on a roof of a house or a building. The exception are solar farms or ground-mounted solar installations, but these are rare, and are usually 100% commercial solar systems. There are a number of reasons why most solar systems are installed on roofs. The primary one being limited space – especially in an urban setting, where roofs represent significant unused space. Another reason is that usually roofs are not shaded by trees, nearby buildings, etc – they are the highest point of a building with great sun exposure, which makes them perfect to install solar panels on.

Image of solar panels installed on a commercial flat roof

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Massachusetts Roofing – Recent Flat and Metal Roofs Installed in MA

Update – Dec. 12, 2010 – recently we’ve uploaded a gallery of many metal and flat roofs that we’ve installed in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island – see the roofing jobs gallery. All roofs mentioned below are listed on the roof gallery page, with references to job profiles, and before / after pictures.

Before we go into job reviews, here are a few additional articles you may find useful, when choosing a roof product for your home and a contractor to install it:

How to prevent Ice Dams – a comprehensive guide focused on the rout cause of Ice dams, which is usually a combination of poor ventilation and inadequate insulation in the attic space or between roof rafters. This guide will help homeowners minimize heat leaks in the attic, improve ventilation and eliminate the effects of ice dam leaks by installing a Metal Roof or an IB low-slope roofing membrane.

Low-slope roofs – Overview of the common problems associated with low slope residential roofs, such as shed dormers or roofs on most cape-style homes located in the northern MA. Common issues with such roofs include rotten roof decking / rafters and Ice-dams. Since these roofs are prone to Ice dam leaks, most of the rot damage is an effect of ice dams. Although many roofing contractors will insist that using Ice and Water shield will do the trick, our experience shows that most of the time I&W fails to protect the roof even if the entire roof deck is covered in Ice and Water. Therefore, we believe that the best solution for permanent protection of low-slope roofs and eliminating ice dams is to install a metal roof or an IB flat roofing membrane in conjunction with solving ventilation/insulation issues described in the article above.

Roofs we installed in Massachusetts:

Low slope shed dormer roof in Westminster, MA

Leaking low-slope roof on a shed dormer in Westminster, MA

We installed this roof in early May of 2009. The house is located in a heavily wooded area of central Mass, just north of Mount Wachusett. Westminster, MA is located along Rt. 2, and not very far from the New Hampshire border. These areas get major snowfall in the winter, together with colder temperatures than those in Boston. Consequently, ice dams become a major problem in Westminster, even for high slope roofs. Low slope roofs, such as the one we replaced there, are very likely to have ice dam leaks and other problems such as a rotten roof deck, wet insulation, and mold.

The roof has been leaking for some time around the chimney in the center of the roof and was patched many times with tar, but rather unsuccessfully. Also, due to Ice Dams and roof leaks caused by the ice formation along the roof eaves, the homeowner installed heating cables to stop the Ice dam leaks. These did not help either, and after one more unsuccessful roof repair, the homeowner decided to get an IB roof installed.

Flat roofing Westminster, MA

The homeowner and his cousin, who is a roofer in NH, did the roof tear-off and replaced all rotten plywood decking, to reduce the cost of installation, while we installed the roof itself, insulation, chimney flashing, ridge vent and snow guards (snow retention system).

Note – before we installed the IB membrane, the homeowner’s main concern was to get ice and snow off the roof. After the IB system was installed, our concern was that due to the roof’s pitch, which was about 3 in 12″, the snow and Ice would just slide off the roof in a large pile, crushing down onto the deck and perch bellow it. Also, there was a grill on the deck, which was not removable, since it was tied to a gas line.

IB flat roof westminster massachusetts

The chimney flashing, which may seem like a quick job, actually took about 6-7 hours to properly flash. The reason it turned out to be so time consuming, is that it is located in the center and separates the ridge vent, as well as creeping onto another side of the roof. Due to its position, size and the way an IB roof is installed, it not only took long to work around, but also slowed down the rest of installation. Because the ridge vent butts into the chimney, we had to make sure that not only the ridge vent was raised an inch off the roof level to prevent the wind-driven rain from leaking into the house, but also that it was completely tied to the roof, and flashed up the chimney. Once the chimney flashing was installed, counter flashing reglet had to be installed as well.

Chimney flashing on a flat roof in Wetminster, MA

All in all it took us 3 days to install this roof, though the 3rd day was rather short. What really slowed us down, was the first heat wave of that spring and an overwhelming amount of bugs / flies / mosquitoes in this wooded / swampy area of central Mass.

Roofing membrane used: 50 mil mechanically attached IB PVC flat roofing system.

Insulation used: 1/2″ fan-fold Styrofoam insulation with clear plastic / metal facing.

Total roof square footage: Approximately 500 sq. ft.

Standing seam metal roof in Wayland, MA

Right after the roof in Westminster was installed, we started getting ready for a big metal roofing project, in Wayland, MA. On this job, we installed a .032 Aluminum standing seam metal roof in 1 3/4″ snap lock profile with 16″ wide pan and stiffening ribs. This roof took about two weeks to install, including tear-off of old asphalt shingles, siding removal, replacement of rotten wood replacement, delays with material shipments and the wrong type of flashing being delivered.

Standing Seam metal roof in Wayland, MA

Actually one of the delays happened because our supplier ran out of Grey aluminum coil after 80 % of roofing panels were rolled out of their mobile standing seam roll-forming machine, which was based in Manchester, NH. As the supplier received more aluminum coil 3 days later, he sent a different truck, from New London, CT. As that truck arrived and rolled off the first test panel, just out of curiosity I decided to compare the first batch to the second one. It turned out that the machine on the New London truck was set up to be 1/8″ wider than the Manchester truck. This, over the course of 23 panels gave us an extra 3″ of panel, which converted to two extra panels – 1 1/2″ wide – on either side of the rear roof section and exactly 23 panels on the front. We had to send the truck back and wait for the Manchester, NH truck to deliver and roll out the same coil. Even the guys working for the supplier were not aware of this mismatch between the two machines.

F-Rail rib-mounted snow retention system from Berger snow-guards.
F-Rail rib-mounted snow retention system from Berger snow-guards.

Finally, the Manchester truck delivered the right-width panels and we were able to finish the job without any more delays. The homeowner,Glenn, was also very concerned with snow and ice falling off the roof and damaging the gutters bellow, so we installed a commercial-grade double rail snow retention system to eliminate the possibility of snow falls from the roof.

We already posted a full review of this roof installation on our blog, a few months back, so if you want to know more details, read the standing seam metal roof in Wayland, MA job profile.

IB PVC Roof installation in Boston, MA

leaking rubber roof boston ma

In August of 2009, we completed a rather small, but very tricky and complicated flat roof installation in Boston, on one of the traditional Boston-style homes/buildings, which you can see all along Mass. ave, Comm. ave, as well as Blue Hill avenue, on which this house is located. It was originally an EPDM rubber roof, which had over 50 percent of seams separated due to adhesive failure. The two-tower wood design made this roof much more difficult to repair and our client, Jim, chose to eliminate the hassles of frequent roof repairs and decided to have an 80-mil IB roof installed.

Although this should have been a pretty much straight-forward roof replacement, with rubber tear-off performed first and a new IB roof installed, I sensed that it will not be an easy job. Until we opened up the roof I could not say for sure what obstacles we were going to face, but once we did remove the rubber, we found that the entire length of the masonry parapet wall was damaged by water and poor quality of brick mortar. We also found that we would have to rebuild the parapet walls as much as 4 layers of brick deep.

Rubber roofing Massachusetts

Because I chose a careful approach to the rubber removal, by only pulling back the rubber membrane off the parapet wall, and not cutting it, we were able to do the entire brick repair work and roof preparation, while having the roof watertight each night with the original rubber membrane.

Once all brick repair was complete and mortar had sufficient time to cure, we installed a 2×8 pressure treated perimeter wood nailer to which IB wall flashing and drip edge would be attached. Only on the last day did we remove the whole rubber roof, installed new insulation and laid down the new, mechanically attached IB PVC flat roofing membrane.

rubber-roofing-boston-ma

We had to come back one more time to install the new gutter and downspouts, IB two-way membrane vents and 9″ IB attic vents over specially cut holes in the roof deck. These attic vents were installed to vent out the moisture that accumulated in the small attic space when the old rubber roof was leaking. Once in place,these over-sized vents will eventually dry out the attic and prevent any future mold growth.

Now Jim can enjoy his watertight roof and get sun baths sitting in his beach chair on the roof of his home, and not worry about damage to the membrane – he chose a very durable, commercial grade 80-mil IB roof. He will also enjoy a cooler home, due to the IB’s cool roofing features.

rubber roofing boston ma

You can read the complete job profile about this Flat roof in Boston, MA on our Cool Roofing Blog.

Flat roof in Framingham, MA

One of the more recent flat roofing jobs was in Framingham, MA, where we installed an IB roof on yet another shed dormer roof for Ed Kelly – a high-end remodeling contractor out of Northborough, MA. The builder had his crew remove old asphalt shingles off this roof and replace most of the old decking with new 3/4" plywood. We were there to install just the membrane and flash it 2 feet up the sloped roof.

Flat roofing Framingham, MA

During my conversation with Ed (the builder), he told me me why he chose the more expensive IB roof over a cheaper rubber EPDM membrane. His main reason was the IB’s hot-air welded seams, and hassle free roof performance. Before, Ed used rubber roofs on a few of his projects, and all but one of them leaked due to problems with seams, and required expensive rubber roof repair. Ed decided to end his flat roofing nightmares and constant leaks, and chose an IB roof.

IB flat roofing.

The entire job took us one day to complete. The roof was prepared when we arrived to the job site in the morning, and before dark, we packed our tools and were ready to leave, as the installation was all done. The roofing crew which did the tear off and deck replacement was putting the new asphalt shingles and aluminum fascia trim back on, as we were driving away.

Roofing material:50 mil white IB roof, mechanically attached.

Insulation: 1/2″ fan-fold Styrofoam.

Total roof size: Approximately 450 sq. ft.

Flat roof deck in Wellesley, MA

Just before the Framingham flat roof job described above, we did another job for Ed – an 80 mil IB roof that would be a water-proofing membraneroof deck over a garage being built as an addition to an already huge home in a very secluded area of Wellesley.
roof deck wellesley ma

Once again, a complete job profile for this roof deck is already on our blog, so there is no point to rewrite it here – read the Wellesley, MA  flat roof deck installation overview.

Solar flat roof in Medford, MA

This job, was actually sponsored by Cool Flat Roof (us) and IB Roof Systems, as it was a non-profit project, competing in the 2009 Solar Decathlon competition, sponsored by the US DOE. We installed an IB roof on a Boston solar home with some help from the project volunteers and Architecture students from BAC and Tufts.

Solar flat roof of  Boston solar home in Medford, MA

Once again, we have a complete coverage of the installation of the IB flat roof and the Solar PV panels on this roof – Solar roof installation in Boston, MA.

Low slope shed dormer roof in Hingham, MA

Yet another shed dormer roof and also with major ice dams problems and leaks. This roof was just a year old when we removed the old asphalt shingles, and installed a new 50 mil IB traditions roof with an asphalt shingles pattern printed onto an IB white roofing membrane. This roof was completely covered with Ice & water shield, which failed miserably and forced the homeowner to climb up the slippery ladder all winter long, sometimes two times a day, to brake off the ice along the roof edge.

Shed dormer roof in Hingham, MA - a quiet town on Massachusetts South Shore.

The homeowner, Paul, tried everything from sodium-filled socks above the skylights to heating cables – nothing seemed to help, as with a lack of proper ventilation and inherent limitations of asphalt shingles, his roof was still leaking, as it faced north, and the sun never shined over it in the winter.

Paul wanted a permanent solution to stop leaks and not a single contractor that Paul contacted could explain to him how they would stop the leaks or promise that their roof will work. Some even offered to install asphalt shingles with Ice & Water shield – Really? Paul already had shingles with Ice and Water and it was not working.

IB flat roofing membrane being installed on a low-slope roof in Hingham, MA

Initially, Paul contacted us about getting a metal roof installed on his house, but after examining the roof, I suggested he install an IB roof instead, and residential flat roofing solution form IB  – Traditions Classic seemed to be the best option as it combined all the benefits of an IB roof with the classic look of architectural asphalt shingles printed onto the membrane. After a little decision making, Paul and his wife chose to go with a seamless one piece IB roof. In this case, there would be zero possibility of ice dam leaks.

All skylights now have seamless 1-piece flashing welded to the roof, and the ridge vent is raised by an inch above the roof level to prevent wind driven water from penetrating the roof.

All skylights now have seamless 1-piece plashing whelded to the roof, and the rodge vent is raise by an inch above the roof level to prevent wind driven water from penetrating the roof.

Now that Paul has a new IB Traditions Membrane, which is in effect a seamless, one piece blanket over the entire roof, he and his wife won’t have to worry about leaks and breaking ice off the roof any more.

Getting an IB Membrane or a Metal Roof installed on your home in Massachusetts:

If your roof is leaking or you have Ice dams, and are tired of fighting with the ice, using heat cables, sodium-filled socks, raking your roof, and risking to fall off a ladder, you need to contact the low-slope roofing experts ( us :). Request a free roofing price quote and schedule a roof inspection / estimate. You can also use our online roofing calculator to estimate your roof replacement cost and compare prices of IB PVC membrane to Rubber roofing, Modified bitumen / Tar and gravel roofs.

Boston Solar Decathlon Home: Solar PV / Hot Water Panels and IB Flat Roof Installation

Boston Solar home in Washington DC

As I’m writing this, the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC is nearing its completion. Twenty teams from around the globe are competing to build the best Solar Home, judged in ten different categories, including: architecture, engineering, net metering, living comfort as well as others. This year, Massachusetts – home to some of the greatest colleges and universities in the world – is represented by Team Boston – the joined efforts of Tufts, Boston Architectural College and a team of volunteers, all with the common goal to create green and sustainable home designs that could be readily available and affordable for actual home buyers and home builders.

2009 Solar Decathlon

Cool Flat Roofs and IB Roof Systems are proud sponsors of Team Boston’s solar home.  We provided the project with IB flat roofing materials (provided by IB Roof Systems) and a professional installation, as well as last minute roof design changes, and modifications to roof penetration placement and drainage setup. Continue reading

Industry Gossip: Solar PV Roofing (IB-PV Roof) Failures

The word on the “roofing contractor street” is such that a large PVC roofing manufacturer has problems with their Roof-integrated Solar PV systems. Apparently, the way they designed and installed these solar roofs, the electrical wiring which connects Solar PV panels to the inverter and essentially to the Electric Grid, is overheating and poses serious risks of fire. Since this information is still in rumor stage, and I doubt there will be an official announcement or acknowledgment of this, I for many reasons cannot name the manufacturer, the specifics of the problems or the source. However, there is evidence that it is real. If you are a large roofing contractor in Boston, MA area or in the rest of New England, you are getting the roofing bid lists, such as the Blue Book. Large commercial and government roofing jobs are a little out of our league, and we get plenty of work without paying huge sums of money for these bid lists (it costs anywhere from $3000/year to get periodic updates). However, in the last 3 weeks I’ve been contacted twice by two different gentlemen from Suffolk Construction. Basically Suffolk is arguably the largest GC in Boston area with $1.57 Billion in sales in 2008, has over 800 employees and are rated #313 of America’s Largest Private Companies by Forbes.

The picture below, shows a Solar roof produced by IB roof systems. This roof does NOT have overheating problems, and is intended to demonstrate what Solar Roofing is.

IB SolaWise roof integrated PV System

In any case, the two gentlemen from Suffolk, asked me to bid a new job in the pipeline of roof bidding lists:  A 4,000 squares (400,000 sq. ft.) on the IRS building in Andover, MA, and also they wanted 500 KW solar PV system that would be roof integrated – essentially they were interested in our IB Solar Wise PV system, which in some ways is similar to the one above, but without the wiring overheating of course :) Continue reading

Is Solar for you? Comprehensive Solar PV System Design Guide

Electricity in the 21st century.

Do you know how your electricity is generated? For a long time I kind of knew, but was too lazy to actually ask my father, who is a physicist, what exactly is going on in the power plant. Now it boggles my mind to live with the fact that in our modern time when an all-inclusive communication and Internet devices (iPhone, BlackBerry, etc.) is smaller than a deck of cards, we still use 19th century technology and basic principles to generate our electricity. Once you actually give this idea a thought, it becomes a shocking notion that our best minds have not been able to design a better way to generate electrical power than to burn coal and natural gas – two most commonly used sources of energy to create electricity.

Just in case you were wondering, coal or gas is BURNED to heat up water, which then becomes hot steam and drives the turbines. This is a basic principle and the actual process is more complicated, but even the “sophisticated” nuclear power plants work in a similar manner.

Note: I did know that electricity can be generated in the old fashioned way, but I actually thought that there was some kind of a mechanism to directly convert energy stored in gas / coal / oil directly “into” electricity, instead of emulating the old steam-engine – oops… It is a shame that our 21st century society is still burning fossil fuels to make the turbine spin.

Aside from the fact that we get our electricity the same way as before WW I, natural gas, oil and especially coal are extremely dirty fuels, emitting dangerous pollutants, which affect our environment in such a drastic way that just a couple of generations from today, our children may not be able to enjoy the outdoors the same way we can today. I won’t even start talking about climate change and global warming. On top of everything mentioned above, humanity is quickly approaching a worldwide energy crisis. Our oil reserves are getting depleted, and if you believe in “Peak Oil” theory, we are about to approach the peak of the curve, which means that oil will continue to become more scarce and prices will keep on rising.

Although coal is very abundant, it is also becoming more expensive to mine, and delivery once again involves burning petroleum based fuels, creating more and more pollution. It is obvious to most intelligent people (except those heavily invested in oil, coal, cars, etc.) that we need a clean, renewable source of energy. Despite what may seem like rhetoric about renewables, I do honestly believe that this is the way we will power our world in the future. However, the renewable energy must be affordable and/or competitive with current sources of energy.

Why Solar?

So what is the answer – what is a modern and clean way to generate electricity? Well, there are a few, and the most popular ones are Wind and Solar. My personal favorite is Solar, and here is why.

Wind Turbines require lots of open space and lots of (you guessed it) wind to work effectively. Although wind is a great source of renewable energy, and unlike solar can work at night, it is not “customizable” or adaptable for the urban environment. There is just not enough space or wind in the city.

Solar, on the other hand, works just as well in city as in the countryside. All you need is southern exposure with none or minimal shading. Solar can be installed on a roof of a skyscraper, on the ground or even on a roof of a car. Solar is also a scalable system, and you can add or remove PV panels and/or inverters at any time. The bottom line is that solar photovoltaic power generation is much more practical, and can be implemented almost anywhere that power is needed. Besides that, both ways of getting “free” electric power from renewable sources are great.