Caravan Solar Panels - Are Your Mounting Brackets Just Glued On?

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Caravan Solar Panels - Are Your Mounting Brackets Just Glued On?

Image source: Graeme Twine via ABC

“Glue and screw” is the message a camper trailer owner has for those installing solar panels on caravan roofs – it could save lives.

Early this month, three people died and four more were hospitalised after a multi-vehicle crash near Ross in Tasmania’s Midlands. Police believe the tragedy occurred after a driver lost control when trying to avoid a solar panel that became dislodged from a caravan. It’s not clear from the initial report how the solar panel had been fixed to the caravan.

The situation spurred Tasmanian Graeme Twine to check the solar panel mount brackets on his camper trailer – and he was shocked by what he discovered. Speaking with ABC Radio Hobart’s Mornings’ Leon Compton on Wednesday, Mr. Twine said:

“When I sort of looked at the panel, I was expecting to see some screws fixed to the roof and couldn’t see any – and it just appeared on the outside of it that it was glued, for want of better words, to the roof.”

Mr. Twine then carefully exerted upward pressure on a corner of the solar panel, which lifted.

“I proceeded to lift the other corner, and with very light pressure – an eight-year-old could have done what I was doing – and the whole thing just popped off the roof virtually.”

Image source: Graeme Twine via Leon Compton ABC/Facebook

Mr. Twine had been considering using the camper trailer in the next couple of weeks for a trip to a location around 100 kilometres away.

A builder for more than 50 years, Mr. Twine said he believed the adhesive was a type used in construction. He then checked various online forums where he found much of the advice was to just to “glue” solar panels onto caravans. He also contacted the manufacturer of the camper trailer who said they (now) “glue and screw” when panels are being fitted at the factory.

“I reckon there would be a lot of caravans and campervans out there with just glued-on solar panels – and that’s a real worry.”

Mr. Twine said if a home handyman was to install solar panels on a caravan and just purchased a normal silicone sealant for the job, that might only last three years – and even a high-end “sikaflex” type construction adhesive product wasn’t sufficient. In the case of his camper trailer, it only lasted 4 years.

“They don’t last forever and the only way to guarantee the panel to stay on the roof is to mechanically fix it with screws and adhesive sealant – and that way you’ve got peace of mind.”

Mr. Twine believes anyone with a solar panel on the roof of their caravan – even if the caravan is brand new – should confirm it has a mechanical fixing and if in doubt, consult a specialist.

After listening to the discussion, I found a number of Australian web sites advertising solar panel corner mounting brackets for caravans with the claim the brackets can be safely bonded to a surface only using a good quality silicone sealant/adhesive.

Taking the time to check how solar panels have been affixed and then remedying where necessary could avoid a road tragedy.

You can listen to the full conversation between Leon Compton and Graeme Twine here.

UPDATE OCTOBER 21 – Leon Compton spoke with Jayco’s National Sales Manager, Scott Jones, yesterday. Mr. Jones says everything the company fits to the roof of a caravan “has a screw or a bolt”. However, the situation regarding Australian Standards and fixing solar panels to caravans wasn’t made clear. You can listen to the discussion here. Side note: it’s not clear what brand of camper trailer Mr. Twine has.

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Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

It looks like the corner brackets came off the adhesive, but the adhesive is still attached to the roof. Maybe the adhesive wasn’t compatible with the corner bracket plastic/ABS?

There’s quite often nowhere to screw to securely on a caravan roof, even if there is, it’s likely not in the places where the brackets would be.

Correct adhesive for the surfaces, and proper preparation are very important.

It’s a good idea to check them occasionally.

The only appropriate adhesive to use on or in vans or boats is “Sikaflex 391” marine grade which is treated to minimise breakdown in strong u.v. conditions and marine environments. Remember, that once it is applied it is extremely difficult to remove base traces. The sections of my 12 year old van where I have used this stuff are still intact, and yes they are regularly inspected. For bracket mounting simply drill holes and ensure a nub of glue protrudes through each hole.

I had to relocate the panels on the roof of my van in order to accommodate additional panels. The mounting brackets, in this case, were 50mm aluminium angle, cut to 200mm in length. These were screwed to the panels and glued to the roof of the van with some type of silicone adhesive. I can tell you, these brackets were NOT coming off any time soon. I had to use a very sharp fish-filleting knife to separate the brackets from the roof of the van.

I made new brackets using the same technique (although I did cut the aluminium angle to 300mm lengths) and I use sikaflex marine silicon adhesive, to re-fit the original panels and mount the new panels. The roof surfaces were thoroughly cleaned and the surface etched in order to guarantee maximum bonding.

I did this three years ago and, after reading this article, decided to check the panels to see how the bonds were holding up. I can tell you this, they are not going anywhere.

Screwing in to caravan roofs is problematic. Aluminium roofs are wafer thin and have very little “holding” ability when it comes to screws and whether or not you find a frame to screw into is the luck of the draw. Fibreglass roofs suffering from stress cracking around screws. Then there is the risk of drilling and/or screwing into power wiring or TV antenna cables to consider. Lastly, there is a potential for future leaks in the roof and coming from the position of having had roof leaks in the past, I don’t want to go there again.

In my opinion gluing, alone, is fine as long as the correct brackets, adhesive and preparation happen. Regular checking and “tug testing” should also be performed.

One reason for this type of failure is that panels have doubled or tripled in size but people are still using the same size corner brackets. Another is unknown composition of those corner brackets and unknown compatability with the adhesive. Poor preparation too

And using silicone adhesives which should have been banned 30 years ago

Have seen a bus wrecked in Europe, (roof sheeting torn off) trying to remove glued panels, if fitted properly they will not come off if the correct adhesive, and preparation is used. I have mine tethered also.

I’m a local and it was a tragedy. Also have been privy to being behind a flying panel. Simple folks, screw and seal into roof support structures ONLY. Fit panels that will align with the internal supports, no exceptions. Otherwise use portable panels on the ground. It’s as simple as that.

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Caravan Solar Panels - Are Your Mounting Brackets Just Glued On?

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