How to protect your solar panels from birds and squirrels

I wish I had a photo of the angry squirrel that was hissing in my face.

In the six years I’ve owned my solar panels, there have been two times where I’ve looked up at my array and noticed something dark lodged underneath one of my panels.

From the ground, I have a clear view of the space between my solar array and the roof. The gap is not wide, maybe 5 inches, but when I look at it from the ground, I normally expect to see clear sky along the full length of the array.

But one day, when I looked up, I saw… something. Hard to tell what, but something dark was blocking my clear view along the underside of the panels. Against the bright sky, it was hard to see what it was, but it looked lumpy, so I immediately suspected a bird nest.

Sigh.

I climb up on the lower section of the roof, aluminium extension pole in hand, and start poking at it.

Probably shouldn’t try this at home.

Now, I should be clear, poking around like this underneath your solar panels isn’t a good idea. The backside of each solar panel has a junction box where cables are attached. The thing I was trying to whack at was the back of the array, so that meant I had to reach up through 3 rows of panels and all their associated cabling.

Also, my system uses Enphase microinverters, so those are even more electronics I could damage with my 16 foot long pole.

Anyway. I manage to reach it. Whack. Leaves fall out.

Whack, whack. Hmm, this thing is pretty solid. Whack, and leaves and twigs fall out.

After several minutes of whacking and sweeping with the pole, I pull out a lot of branches and leaves. It’s not a bird nest. It’s a squirrel nest.

Luckily, no creatures were home. I manage to clear almost all of the debris out, get back inside and check my system status. Good, all the microinverters are still reporting, so my clumsy work didn’t break anything.

And a second time…

In the days after, I keep checking to see if the pests are gone. A week goes by, maybe two. Nothing.

And then - the nest is back!

Up on the roof again. Whack, whack. Leaves, twigs. Cursing.

And then the animal(s) must have gotten the message. The nest didnt return again that year.

A third time, and a really angry squirrel.

It was next summer when I saw a nest again. Sigh. Back up on the roof.

Whack, whack. Leaves everywhere, and twigs.

Whack.

Hiss! Hiss!

If you’re never been face to face with an angry squirrel, this is what it sounds like:

So there, perched just a few feet away on the edge of the gutter, was a very angry and very hissing squirrel.

I’m certain that if it knew the precarious situation I was in, the squirrel would have went for it. Gone for my face. I would have tumbled backward off the roof, crashed onto my deck below. I probably wouldn’t ever think of messing with one of those furry balls of teeth and claws again.

Thankfully, this squirrel never learned how to fight humans, so I took the opportunity to whack it with my pole. Not hard enough to hurt it, but just enough shove it aside.

It scampered off the roof, and I finished removing its nest. It never came back.

Squirrels are dangerous to solar arrays

Should I have just left the squirrel nest alone? Was it really hurting anything?

Yes, the little creature had to go. Squirrels have teeth that grow non-stop, which means they need to continuously gnaw on things to keep their teeth in check. They will chew on absolutely anything, including electrical wires, and even the wires in your car.

It’s because of this propensity for chewing on electrical things that squirrels and similiar rodents cause thousands of blackouts around the country every year.

If squirrels are bold enough to break into a substation and gnaw on equipment, you can bet they will not hestitate to chew on the many wires underneath the solar panels on your roof.

A solar panel wire chewed by a critter. Photo courtesy Squirrel Guard

The space between your solar panels and the roof are a nice sheltered spot, perfectly suited to building a squirrel home that’s dry and hidden away from predators. If a squirrel sets up there, it’s just a matter of time before they start chewing on wires and cause some serious damage, possibly even a short circuit, leading to a fire hazard.

That’s not safe for either your home or the squirrel, so if you live in an area with a lot of tree squirrels, you should definitely take steps to protect your solar array.

Birds are also a concern

For the same reason that squirrels enjoy nesting under solar arrays, birds often choose to build their homes there too. While birds aren’t as destructive to wiring as squirrels are, they can still make a mess underneath your panels.

Also, the dirt and debris of a nest reduces airflow underneath the panels, which can cause them to heat up. High temperatures make a solar panel less efficient and can shorten its lifespan, so keeping any kind of nests away from your system is a good idea.

Quick note: Ultrasonic pest controls don’t work

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: ultrasonic pest control doesn’t work. These are devices that emit a very high frequency sound that humans can’t hear but animals (like rodents) can.

Sellers of these products claim that the sound is so annoying that rodents leave the area.

But studies show that these products simply don’t work. At best, a rodent might be mildly annoyed at first, but they quickly get used to the sound and then it has no further effect.

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission has warned manufacturers of ultrasonic pest control devices that they may be engaging in false and deceptive advertising.

How to protect your solar panels from critters

To prevent critters from getting into the space between your panels and the roof, use a wire mesh product that can attach to the frame of a solar panel. The mesh should go around the entire perimeter of the array and give no space for a creature to squeeze through. Rodents, especially mice, can push their bodies through surprisingly small gaps.

The mesh should then snugly overlap onto the roof. If the product is attached around the complete perimeter of your array, including any sections where a panel had to be excluded because of roof protrusions such as plumbing vents, there won’t be any opportunity for any critters to set up their house under your panels.

There are a few of these products on the market, but I’ve found that many of them don’t have wide distribution. For that reason, I like the products from My Squirrel Guard, which are available on Amazon with free shipping.

Example of My Squirrel Guard installed on an array.

The product comes in 100 foot rolls in either 6 inch or 8 inch widths. Select the size that fits the gap between your modules and the roof, keeping in mind that you want some extra wire where it meets the roof.

For a better idea of how it works, check out the step-by-step installation instructions online.

As you can see, the installation isn’t technically difficult. It’s certainly possible for a homeowner to do it, but be sure you’re comfortable on a ladder and working on the roof before attempting it.

If not, a roofer could certainly do the install: you don’t need to call your solar company since it doesn’t involve electrical work. But even better is to have this done when your system is installed.

Squirrel guard kit

  • Includes 100 foot PVC coated galvanized steel roll
  • 100 aluminum fasteners
  • Available in 6” and 8” widths

6 inch width kit: $134.95 + free shipping from Amazon.com

8 inch width kit: $139.95 + free shipping from Amazon.com

Before ordering, be sure to take a measurement of your array so that you order enough. 100 feet sounds like a lot, but remember that it will need to go around all sides of the array in order to be fully secure.

Since the 8 inch product is only $5 more than the 6 inch, I’d recommend buying the wider one. The extra wire can just fold against the roof and will make it harder for a critter to scootch under.

Got a solar panel critter story to share?

Got a solar panel critter story of your own? Send me a note. I’d love to hear about it.

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