July 9, 2013 had been a relatively quiet day for Alicia Barranco. She had recently been released from the hospital and was recovering at home. She smelled smoke and thought it might be toast or a coffee pot burning. She went back to bed after being unable to find the source of the smell.
But then a neighbor called. Aaron Barranco, who was working at the Mercedes dealership in El Dorado Hills, said it was “one of the scariest calls” he and his wife ever received. The neighbor informed Alicia that the roof of 2065 Larkstone Place, Aaron and Alicia Barranco’s home, was on fire.
Being only three miles from home, Aaron was able to get there from work quickly, arriving the same time as the fire department. The roof was smoking and smoldering, he said, and he “thought the home was almost lost.” But, the fire was put out, and there was only some smoke and water damage. Barranco said they were “very lucky.” There were no injuries to Alicia or their four cats and four dogs.
The cause of the fire was determined to be the home’s integrated solar panels. The panels were built into the roof, rather than raised off the roof, with no space between the panels and roof itself. Ironically, Barranco said, they were repaired a month before. The repairs were brought about by a 2011 recall from the manufacturer and homemaker, Solar Applied and Centex Homes, respectively. The Barrancos were told that after the repairs, they could turn their solar panels on again.
But with no space for air to circulate and cool down the panels, there was still a risk of fire.
Alexis Moore, another homeowner in the Blackstone development the Barrancos live in, spearheaded the fight for Pulte Homes — taking over after buying Centex, which had declared bankruptcy — to fix the panels of 250 residences.
“Many of our area residents were widows, single mothers and devastated because the minimum cost was $7,500 to repair the existing tiles with the same dangerous integrated type or design, so having the builder do their part and install the units that sit above the roof and are safe and not a fire hazard is very important,” she said.
Moore, a former firefighter, current real estate broker and third-year law student, contacted the Contractors State Licensing Board and enlisted Jacob Gabrie and his Blackstone Realty Group to provide “the postage paid self-addressed envelopes to Blackstone residents so that all that they had to do was sign their name and mail in their complaint to the contractor state licensing board,” she said. “The majority of the Blackstone residents had no idea what to do and didn’t know where to start in regards to filing the state contractors board complaint so rather than me sit with each and every homeowner — some seniors without computers, etc. — Jacob solved the problem by covering all of the costs associated with printing, postage and delivery and helped me get the job done.”
In 2013, Pulte conceded, despite a lack of an injunction or court order, and voluntarily began assisting in switching out the integrated units for traditional elevated solar panels.
The process is still ongoing, Moore said, and not all residents are aware of the danger of their solar panels. Moore gave advice to both Blackstone homeowners and anyone with a residence that has integrated solar panels: “Some steps you can take today to be sure your solar roof tiles are not part of the solar roof tile recall: Contact your homebuilder in writing to determine the brand of your solar roof tiles; and contact a licensed roofing contractor and solar contractor, ask for an inspection of your roof tiles to determine their make and manufacturer.”
If the panels are part of a recall, “Turn off your solar system immediately,” Moore said. “Contact your homebuilder in writing and file a complaint with the CA Contractors State Licensing Board immediately so that they will open an investigation and pressure the homebuilder to make the repairs rather than ignore. You and your family’s lives could depend upon it.”