The Building Requirements for Solar Panels


Regulations for installing solar panels are set by individual states. The federal government, however, will grant tax credits to homeowners who install solar panels that provide electricity for the residents and meet local fire and electrical codes. While those codes can vary by jurisdiction, most localities use fire and electrical standards set by the National Fire Protection Association and other public guidelines, which are a good indication of what most basic requirements will be.

Roof Loads

  • Solar panels will add at least three pounds of weight on your roof for every square foot of collection area, according to a 2009 report published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The increased load can be compounded by snowdrifts, water runoff, wind, and other natural factors. The report recommends calculating the weight your roof can support using manufacturers' guidelines and the American Society of Civil Engineers building codes. These calculations should be confirmed by your local building official before you install the system.

Safety Equipment

  • According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, some local fire codes will not allow roof-mounted solar panels to be installed at the edges of a roof, leaving enough space that the system can be safely accessed from all sides for repairs. Modules mounted on ground-supported frames might also have to be surrounded by a protective fence. Some local ordinances also require lightning protection on the panels.

Other Fire Code Considerations

  • A California state task force, working with experts from the solar industry, created guidelines in 2007 for local governments to follow when setting fire codes for solar panel installations. These guidelines included clearly marking all components of the solar system, providing room for smoke ventilation between roof-installed panels, and planning pathways between panels along the horizontal and vertical axes of the roof. The guidelines also included specifications for installing the electrical components of roof-mounted panels, including installing wiring and electrical conduits as close as possible to the hip, ridge, or valley of the roof, and designing the system to minimize the total amount of conduit on the roof.

Electrical Requirements

  • The national electrical code has a specific section designated to solar panel installation, which should be followed in addition to individual state electrical codes. The requirements are copious, and there are several publications dedicated simply to interpreting them. One 2008 guide to the code says common breaches include: using the wrong types of conductors; using unsafe wiring methods; failing to install or improperly installing over-current protection on conductors; not having enough disconnects; not having enough short-circuit or over-current protection on battery circuits; using unlisted components when listed components are available; and improper equipment grounding.

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