Planning Ahead Pays Off With Solar Energy

As builders continue to aim for net zero (ZERH) by making homes more efficient and adding renewable energy sources, solar energy is the most accessible option for most projects.

Solar Meets Stylish in Sweden

This story from Inhabitat showcases a stunning project of modular row houses, with solar panels built in from the start, designed and built in Sweden by Street Monkey Architects.  The innovative and attractive design allows for the solar panels on each roof to face south, even though not all the houses are oriented in the same direction. 

Photo of Swedish solar/modular homes
Courtesy of Street Monkey Architects

Stateside Solar

Closer to home, local laws in California and the city of St. Louis require new construction to be solar-ready. Massachusetts is also considering such legislation, while other states are introducing voluntary standards for builders who want to adopt them.

No matter where you live, though, if you’re building a new home, you should definitely have a conversation with your architect about your building site and how your house and roof can best be situated with solar in mind. Solar technology is getting more affordable all the time, but it still pays to make sure you get the best possible return on your investment by planning ahead.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory offers some general guidelines for new, solar-ready construction:

  • Avoid shading from existing trees and buildings
  • Check zoning laws to avoid shading from future construction nearby
  • Determine where solar equipment would be placed
  • Don’t put other equipment on south-facing portions of the roof, and generally keep rooftop equipment to a minimum
  • Choose the best kind of roof for the solar equipment you have in mind (and take into account the weight of the equipment and possible wind loads)
  • Record the specifications of the roof on drawings
  • Add safety equipment to facilitate future access to solar equipment
  • Consider whether mounting hardware can be installed when the roof is installed, even if the solar equipment will be installed later
  • Make sure the roof warranty covers solar installation
  • Check that solar equipment complies with the National Electrical Code

Untapped Potential

While most existing buildings have been constructed without the potential for solar energy in mind, this interesting article shows how if every suitable existing roof in the U.S. had solar panels installed, we could produce up to 40 percent of the power we use annually. (California, with its dense construction and abundant sunshine, could generate up to a whopping 74 percent!).

These graphics show the potential for solar energy generation from existing rooftops in the U.S.
Courtesy of arstechnica.com

Start Where You Are

So what if you aren’t building a new home and you’re interested in solar, but your existing roof doesn’t seem ideal?  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In an article on solar-ready rooftops from Builder Online, Charlie Morgan of Eastern CT Solar in Stonington, Connecticut notes: “…you have to work with what you’ve got. A lot of times that roof is not oriented toward perfect south. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good roof for solar. If you had an optimum south-facing roof, you’d be at 98% production; if you had an east-facing roof at a 35-degree pitch, you’d be at 80% production. And if you were east at a 21-degree pitch, you’d have about 84% because there’s less shading by the roof. So that more flat roof helps you out a bit.”

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