Who is responsible for replacing the slates surrounding the solar panels on our roof?

April 2013

Question

We built our house in 2006 using direct labour. We had two solar panels fitted in the centre of the roof. We can now see that some slates surrounding the panels appear to have come loose and need to be replaced or secured. Our roofer has since emigrated but would it be the responsibility of the solar panel fitter to rectify this problem?

Answer

The problem you describe is not uncommon and occurs whenever tradesman such as a chimney sweeps or TV Ariel installers are allowed access onto roofs. Of course they all have a duty of care to ensure that precautions are undertaken to minimise damage.

Traditional pitched roofs are delicate structures due to the brittle nature of the materials involved. Natural slates vary enormously in their ability to withstand the elements and loads imposed on them. Their longevity depends on their quality and the ability of the roofer to correctly lay them. In the past we imported very good quality slates from Wales; latterly, due to price constraints they have come from Spain or even China and some of these recent imports are prone to a number of faults.

Fixing anything to the roof such as a solar panel imposes additional loads and strains on the roof structure causing movement and increased potential for failure of the components. Competent solar panel installers usually use good quality proprietary fixings to minimise the possibility of any damage and sometimes even strip back and replace small areas of the roof to ensure a proper job is done. Another problem is how they get the pipework inside and this is most often the problem area. Once again a proprietary entry fitting should always be used.

The tradesmen on your roof will probably claim that they acted responsibly and the fault lies in the slate. The passage of time is probably supportive of that argument and without full details of the problem and seeing exactly how the failure presents, I would consider they possibly have a case.

If the fixtures are substandard, you may have a claim against the installers. However, given the time frame I suggest that you will probably be left to resolve the problem yourself and you should seek professional advice to determine the exact cause and appropriate remedy.

Fergus Merriman is a member of the Building Surveying Professional Group of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland