Hailstorms are becoming more frequent. This combined with a growing number of solar hot water systems can lead to a lot of broken glass on roof tops and very expensive solar hot water system repairs. The ferocity and the size of the hail stones has always been unpredictable.
In January 2020 the Australian Capital Territory endured a very sever hailstorm, with large hail stones that ripped through a ribbon of Canberra suburbs. This hailstorm destroyed many cars and damaged the roofs of thousands of Canberra homes. This hailstorm also destroyed the collectors and dented the manifolds and tanks of hundreds if not thousands of solar hot water systems. This was not the first season that Canberra and its surrounding regions has experienced hail damage to solar hot water systems, and it will not be the last.
In the first 6 months of 2020, our company had two solar hot water technicians working full time replacing shattered evacuated glass tubes and panels, dented collector manifolds and storage tanks. In many cases homeowners will still be unaware of the damage, and we expect to still be undertaking repairs from that hailstorm well into 2021. This is because of the number of houses with flat roofs where the solar hot water collectors cannot be seen from the ground and because the electric or gas booster will have kicked in to provide hot water.
Given the unpredictability of hailstorms, there is not a lot that homeowners can do to protect their solar hot water systems from hail damage. Luckily, most solar hot water systems can be repaired, and hail damage to solar hot water systems does generally not result in water leaks. This is because flat glass panels and evacuated tubes only serve to concentrate heat, either into water filled copper tubes or heat transfer rods.
Dents in solar hot water collector manifolds and tanks will not affect the operation or efficiency of a solar hot water system and will not shorten their life. This is because the important internal manifold tubes and water storage tanks are surrounded by a layer of foam protected inside a sheet metal jacket. It is the sheet metal jacket that suffers the damage. This damage is purely aesthetic.
Fragments of broken glass from hail damaged solar hot water collectors can wash into gutters, downpipes and stormwater drains. This can result in blockages in stormwater drainage systems. Therefore, homeowners should wear gloves and be careful when gleaning up after hailstorms.
Some brands of evacuated tubes are no longer available, so we often have to rely on second-hand evacuated tubes that still work perfectly well, but are expensive to obtain, transport and safely store. In most cases broken glass on flat panel collectors require the replacement of the entire panel. Therefore, repairs for both types of systems can run into the thousands of dollars.
If it is safe to get on the roof or the solar hot water system can be seen from the ground, homeowners should check the condition of their solar hot water collectors, manifolds and tanks immediately after a hailstorm. Insurance usually covers the cost of repairs as a result of hail damage and homeowners will require a written assessment, pictures and quote to give to their insurers before repairs can proceed.
Most insurers will cover the cost of a (Make Safe) visit by a suitably qualified tradesperson without the requirement to get quotes first. The Make Safe visit should cover cleaning up loose glass fragments, and an assessment of the solar hot water system. Homeowners should ask those undertaking the Make Safe to take pictures of the damage while on the roof.
We are sourcing and storing as many of the hard to find glass evacuated tubes as we can get. We do not know when the next hail storm will hit, and we cannot provide any advice about preventing damage to solar hot water systems. But, we are trying to be ready for the results.