Solar Powered Roof Fans in York, ME

I was recently contacted by a woman from Georgia that had found me on Angie’s List about helping alleviate unbearable summer heat in the upstairs bedrooms of her family’s cottage on York Beach, Maine. The cottage has been in the family for generations and she recalled lying in sweat as a kid, trying to get to sleep after the upstairs had been collecting heat all day long. She asked what suggestions I had to help the comfort levels of renting guests. I suggested the good ‘ole wind turbine. Why not?

Well, when I was researching the wind turbines to calculate the approximate cost of the project I decided to dig a little deeper and see how much air these things can really move, knowing the massive task it was needed to do. It turns out that some of them don’t spin that well at all, and the ones that do don’t move a ton of air.

Next, I came across the solar powered roof fans. It seems that there is much price fluctuation ranging from $90 to $500. Many reviews claimed that the more affordable ones felt flimsy and cheap. The last thing I want is to spend a client’s money and for them to not be happy with the performance of the product over a long period of time. I searched for highest rated solar roof fans and came across the U.S. Sunlight model 9910TR. They were about $300 a piece and eligible for a tax credit of up to 30% of the price of the units, before installation. Once shipped to my home, I took it out of the box to familiarize myself before installation day. I was amazed at how well it met the main secondary criteria: It was so quiet that I could hardly even tell it was running while I held in my hands up to the sun.

We decided to install two: One in the largest bedroom; and one for the 2 other bedrooms to share. Here in New England, you’ll want to install them on either a south or west facing roof plane. We got lucky and have a roof plane that faces due southwest. Once installed, I waited until about 1:00 pm to adjust the rotation and tilt of the solar panel to about dead perpendicular to the sun.

From the inside, drive a screw through the roof for locating on the outside, and then protect from the mess with a drop cloth.

The fans seem to work very well, not requiring any wiring of any sort. During the heat of the day, I could easily feel the air blowing on me from the fans while I was working on the roof. They are sun activated- so when the sun hits the solar panel, the fan moves. When it’s overcast or cloudy, it slows. For our purposes, we knew it wasn’t going to be like central a/c, but wanted to keep the bedrooms tucked up under the roof from ever getting so darn hot that they can’t cool down.

Strip back the shingles and set aside for re-use, then cut the hole with a jig saw. Notice the drop cloth caught the debris.

I got the both of them installed in one long day. We may opt to install an optional thermal switch that ensures the unit runs only when the attic temperature hits 80 degrees. This will prevent the fan from running during the winter, thus prolonging the life of the fan. I’ll keep you posted as I hear feedback from the clients.

 

 

 

 

This is the final product! The shingles were a little brittle, and being right on the coast we decided to glue them back down as well as nailing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Common Roof Error I See

Photo #1- This home in Portsmouth features an outside corner to the immediate left of the trash barrel that is exactly the scenario most likely to be done wrong. The inside corner that’s just a touch up the roofline is also a common culprit.

Photo #2- If you click on this image to enlarge it, you will see there is a gap between the copper step flashing going up the roof line and the horizontal copper apron flashing.

You may have learned by now that I’ve never been known for brevity. This blog post, however, should buck that trend a little bit. Why? Simple, because this common error is very easy to identify and resolve. So easy, in fact, that it doesn’t make much sense why these things are almost never done properly in the first place.

The scenario is this: Any time an out side wall corner or an inside wall corner comes down to intersect with a roof plane, assume it’s not flashed properly. Now, this does not mean that it leaks, necessarily. It may not leak due to a proper insurance layer of ice and water shield underneath the shingles. Conversely, the lack of water signs inside the corresponding portion of the home does not mean that it is not leaking. Wood, especially real wood as opposed to “particle board”, has the ability to absorb water, and then dry out. This can happen over and over again, as long as it can dry out. Or, The initial plywood and framing components that are coming in contact with the water that is infiltrating are sometimes not able to properly dry out, and thus rot. The components that lay below these “first absorbers” will get wet, but not necessarily beyond their saturation point. If the lower levels of wood are absorbing the water without exceeding their saturation point, the water may never make it to the drywall layer to display to the homeowner that damage is being done. This explains how a home can be taking on water without showing signs of it on the drywall, for instance.

Photo #3- Just a simple piece of lead flashing to transition between the planes.

What is the error at these corner/roof intersections that is causing these problems? Well, the lack of incorporating nice, wonderful, beautiful, malleable lead flashing into the mix. Am I in love with lead? Maybe just a trifle, but hey, what’s not to love? Standard aluminum step flashing runs up the abutting cheek wall that the roof shingles butt into. And aluminum can sometimes also be used to flash the siding down over the roofing at those wall planes that run parallel with the shingles. But what aluminum cannot ever do is to turn that corner seamlessly. Lead, however, has the ability to hit all these multiple planes seamlessly. Mmmmmmmmm.

Photo #4- This is a home in Hampton. Look how easy this stuff is to spot, yet home inspectors rarely pick up on it, even though this home has stained drywall in the garage underneath.

Photo #5- See the close-up of the hole there. Simple to identify a lack of lead.

It’s comical the things that I sometimes see. I will pull apart these layers to correct and end up seeing layer after layer after layer after layer of aluminum flashing. Each one torn right at the crux of the corner, every time. So, the predecessor’s solution for recognizing that the flashing was tearing: Keep throwing more layers at it. Awesome.

These are flaws that are easy to identify, simple to fix yourself if you’re comfortable on a roof, or inexpensive (unless there is widespread rot) to hire a professional to solve. It may only cost $200- $300 to un-weave some shingles, remove a corner board, install some lead flashing, install a new corner board, and weave the shingles back in. The most difficult challenge you may face might be finding the professional that knows how and when to incorporate lead flashing. Here’s a catchy little reminder when vetting a repair contractor: Find someone with a passion for flashin’. No. I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon.

I must leave you with one last tidbit of information. I mentioned that aluminum can usually be a good flashing choice for the planes that don’t need to wrap around a corner. When it’s not a suitable choice is when there is copper in the vicinity. Copper is ranked higher on the Galvanic Scale of Nobility and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, copper and water runoff from copper interact with aluminum and cause the aluminum to rot right out. That’s also why aluminum is no longer acceptable to use as a deck flashing, because pressure treated lumber is treated with copper. Now you’re prepared to go tackle this one, safely of course.

 

 

By John Bradshaw