Solar panels require a complex permitting and inspection process in most localities.
The result is that someone with a newly installed solar system will need to request multiple inspections within a specified period. This article discusses the process for ensuring the success of this permitting and inspection process in your locality.
In most areas, three types of inspections are required when installing or replacing solar panels: electrical, structural, and building. These will need to be coordinated, scheduled, and approved within a finite period.
A typical permit process usually has four steps: electrical inspection, structural inspection, building inspection, and final approval. Some localities may not require electrical or structural inspections; however, they can still be required by the utility company if there is concern about poor wiring or improper installation of a solar system.
Some utility companies have subscription-based services that automatically send an inspector when someone requests to connect their solar panels to the electrical grid. In this case, the utility company requires only final approval after the inspection from either the building or the structural department. Many times this expedites the process of adding the new solar system into the grid.
Regardless of the process required, it is wise to request inspections from these departments as soon as possible; they can be very time-consuming if done at the last minute. To expedite this process, it is good practice to send each department a letter stating that you have an inspection performed by another department and need this department to perform a final approval.
It is wise to communicate throughout the process with your local building or structural department. They can be accommodating for you coordinating inspections and will usually advise how much time they need before performing their inspection. There is a fee associated with each permit or inspection in most areas that may vary depending on the county.
Solar permitting requirements.
In most localities, solar panels are considered an electrical device and require a permit. Some building departments will require this permit after the electrical inspection is performed. Some may request that this be done simultaneously with the electrical inspection; it depends on your area’s specific regulations. Each step in the solar panel permitting process could have different requirements from one locality to another. In some cases, solar panels are regulated by the Department of Electrical Inspection (or similar department), while others will be in the hands of the building inspection team.
To determine how complex your permitting and inspection process may be, check with your local government offices to see what is specific to your area. Typically, this information will be available online through the government website.
This article will provide an overview of the typical process for permitting with most localities. However, it is essential to note that each locality is different, and depending on your unique situation, they may require a different process.
Step 1: Electrical Inspection The first step in any solar panel installation is the electrical inspection. This inspection is required to ensure the safety of any electrical devices within the vicinity, which may include solar panels. This includes but is not limited to wiring running through or along with drywall and exposed wires.
The electrical inspector will perform a series of tests and evaluations to determine if any issues need to be addressed before proceeding with your installation. Typically, they will check for proper and safe wiring of the solar panels to ensure that it complies with the local code. Permits may be required after you have passed this inspection if there are issues requiring repair.
Step 2: Structural Inspection Often, second permitting is required by the structural department. This inspection is done to ensure that the roof or structure can handle the weight and strain of adding solar panels. In some localities, this may be done after you have passed your electrical inspection, while in others, they must be performed simultaneously; check with your locality for their specific requirements.
The structural inspector will perform a visual evaluation of your home’s construction and conduct tests to determine if it is structurally safe to add solar panels. If issues with your home need to be fixed, this permitting process may delay the entire installation while you make those corrections.
Once your solar panel inspection process has been completed, the next step is to find the best location for your panels.
The best locations are those that get maximum sun exposure, so they will produce more electricity and cost less money on system design and installation. The ideal places will have a south-facing roof with uninterrupted rays of sunlight. However, if your home’s design does not allow for this, make sure that you get the most exposure to sunlight possible. In some cases, solar panel placement will be decided by a qualified engineer after looking at many different factors, including:
1. Exposure to the sun
2. Roof and structural integrity
3. Electrical load of home; can the panels supply the electricity needs or be a supplement.
Step 4: Install Electrical Wiring This is where the solar panel components are affixed to your home’s structure, and electrical wiring is run between them as well as to your home’s fuse box. The installation includes:
- Setting up mounting brackets.
- Bracketing off any areas that may produce damage to the panels and electrical wiring.
- Running wires from each panel to their respective place within your home to connect them to your fuse box.
Typically, it is best practice for an electrician or solar contractor to handle this for you as they will ensure that everything is done correctly and up to code.
Step 5: Install Solar Panels The final step of the installation process is installing solar panels. This step will involve your solar contractor or electrician affixing each panel to its designated location to create an array that produces electricity for your home.
Size and type of installation
The first question to ask yourself is what type of system you will have installed and how much power it is going to produce. Size plays a big part in permitting and getting permission from the utility. Also, size will affect your cost of installation a great deal. The more expensive the solar panel means savings for you over time.
Typically, a residential system will be sized to produce 2x the energy that your house consumes annually. This is by far the most accessible type of solar panel for you to get permitted in your area and with your utility company because there are no complex calculations or paperwork to complete; you take full advantage of all the incentives available at this time. To make sure your system is sized enough to get you the maximum benefits, it is best to use one of many available solar calculators; they are not only free but can save you thousands on installation. They will size your system for you based on two factors: the amount of sunlight and how much energy your house consumes each year.
A lot of people think that bigger is better when it comes to solar panels, but this isn’t necessarily true. You want a system large enough to produce at least 80% of your power and then some; however, don’t go overboard, or you will spend unnecessary money. Understand that there are ways to reduce the size of your installation with various battery backup options and by raising your panels off the ground, but that is a topic for another day.
Costs of solar permits and inspection
If you are installing a residential solar system, then there are costs associated with permitting and inspection. You can check this out by calling your local utility company or city hall; they will help guide you into getting the permits required to operate your new panels. In general, these permit fees won’t be an issue if you stay within the guidelines outlined by your local jurisdiction.
Most solar panels are installed on the roof and require a permit to perform work on city property; this is why they cost more than your typical do-it-yourself project because there is liability involved, and someone has to inspect your work during installation. The inspection will ensure that you did not damage or remove any parts of your house during the installation process.
The last thing you want to do is remove your existing shingles to install the solar panels only to find out they are not covered by any warranty if there is damage or leaks. Worse yet, many older homes have a metal roof with built-in gutters; access holes need to be cut for the mounting hardware, making your installation much more complex and expensive.
When you have a City inspection, they will often require a full electrical permit if any modifications or new wiring are being installed to take care of the solar panels. If you are upgrading to newer breakers, it is recommended that you get an electrical inspection.