Solar Panels: What You Need to Know About Zoning

March 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

If you’ve ever considered investing in a solar panel system and have the handyman skills to try putting them together yourself, make sure that you find out everything you can about local zoning regulations first. Solar panels are a great way to harness clean, sustainable energy from the sun, and the last barrier you need to start enjoying the benefits to your system is an unexpected fine. There are sometimes restrictions, especially at the local level, but also the state level if you have a large parcel of land or live in an area that is unincorporated. It’s always best to ask questions first and do all the research you need before embarking on your project, so that there are no unwelcome surprises.

The first place to research zoning is the most restrictive authority for your situation. In the U.S., zoning restrictions are strictest at local levels. If you have a homeowner’s association for your community, that’s where you start. Inquire to see if any rules are set up regarding the installation of solar panels or roof structures. There also might be rules regarding the type of roofing materials allowed. If you do come across restrictions, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of it for all of your solar energy plans. Research and develop an effective proposal that outlines the benefits to the entire community, and chances are good that you will be approved. You might even find yourself a positive trendsetter in green living for others to follow suit.

If your community doesn’t have a homeowner’s association, begin with the planning office of your city or town. They will be able to advise you what the local zoning laws are for solar panel installations. You might be referred to a specific department, such as planning, building code, or zoning. Once you find out the right authority to help you, inquire about the correct process and if there are any permits required. If your city or town has no existing zoning regulations for solar panels, you need to go to the county level.

Most counties have online websites, and you might even be able to find answers to questions without an in-person visit. Whether on-line or in-person, you have to determine what department handles permits and zoning first. Then look for your answers. If there is no existing zoning code in your county for solar panels, try to get the information you need for the state level as well. Someone in county zoning should know what laws the state has in place.

Another great resource for researching zoning questions is local suppliers and installers of solar equipment. Because their businesses are affected by such regulations, they are likely to be very knowledgeable. A caveat, however: make sure anyone you consult is licensed and reputable in their field, and always fact check what you’re told to the best of your ability. The best defense against being scammed or unintentionally misled is to do your own research.

Zoning restrictions should not be a deterrent to installing a solar panel system. Just do your homework in the planning stage so you know what your zoning codes are. Then you will be able to install and enjoy your solar energy system without worry.