Buyers May Face Hidden Costs for Homes with Solar Power By Kerry Smith

“Solar-powered home” sounds like a great money-saving deal, but buyers should study possible costs before committing. Not all property insurance companies will cover solar panels, and the ones that do have a wide-ranging set of rules and inconsistent coverage pricing.

ORLANDO, Fla. – According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, solar panel use in Florida jumped 57% in 2020. Beyond a desire to save the planet, increased demand sprang from low interest rates, pandemic-locked homeowners who targeted improvement projects, tax rebates and lower costs for the technology.

As a result, more homebuyers see listings that offer solar power and the promise of long-term savings on their power bills.

However, potential savings could be offset by another higher cost: property insurance rates.

“There’s not a lot of history on solar panels. There’s not a lot of data, so a lot of carriers won’t cover homes with solar,” said Christy Wolfe, sales development manager with Florida Peninsula Insurance and Edison Insurance, to the Insurance Journal. “And when you start drilling holes in a roof, it’s problematic.”

Some Florida insurers say they have enough problems already, thanks to the rising cost of supplies for replacement jobs like roofs, and they fear that their ongoing legal problems could become exacerbated if they’re faced with new lawsuits over solar-panel issues.

Some insurers simply include solar panel coverage under Section A in homeowners’ policies, said B.G. Murphy, director of government affairs for the Florida Association of Insurance Agents. Others add conditions, such as not covering photovoltaic panels damaged by wind or hail. And others offer no solar panel coverage at all.

Florida-owner Citizens Property Insurance will cover some – but not all – solar homes, a spokesperson told the Insurance Journal. The state’s largest private insurer, Universal Property & Casualty, will cover solar panels if a roof is in good condition, according to John Lykins, the Alabama and Florida marketing manager for Universal.

Lykins calls liability “the tricky part.” What if solar-panel electricity injures a utility worker, for example?

Insurers’ solar panel considerations

  • Frontline Insurance won’t cover homes with “net metering,” meaning projects that allow the homeowner to sell excess electricity back to the power grid. That includes almost all solar-powered homes, says Scott Kremkau, a sales representative for Frontline in the Florida Panhandle, unless they only use solar to heat hot water or swimming pools.
  • A home that generates more than 10 kilowatts of power faces a Florida requirement for $1 million in liability coverage. Many insurers won’t do that, and “something we absolutely won’t cover,” Kremkau says.
  • Some local utilities require homeowners to name them in their homeowners policy. Some don’t.
  • Some insurers say that a homeowners’ policy isn’t even legitimate if they sell electricity back to a utility. They claim that makes the home a business. Other insurers disagree, likening that logic to owners who get an insurance discount because they updated their home to withstand hurricane-force winds. Insurers have asked the Florida Public Service Commission for clarification.
  • Insurers also say that property appraisers often don’t factor in solar panels when calculating a home’s value – but for coverage, insurers must consider replacement costs.

On almost every issue, opinions run hot and cold. However, many Florida insurers, already skittish about current problems they’re facing, choose to err on the side of caution.

Amber Bradford, a We Insure agent/owner in Navarre, Florida, says many Florida insurers require a new roof every 10 years now. If that’s the case, she suggests, get a new roof before having solar panels installed.

She also admits that not all insurance agents are up to speed yet on solar options and the industry’s quick growth. She says it’s led to unneeded liability in some cases and too little insurance in others.

“It is kind of a mess right now,” she told the Insurance Journal.

Source: Insurance Journal, Nov. 1, 2021; William Rabb

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