Know the issues around Solar Ready in your area

Shawna HendersonDecember 08, 2014

Solar ready sounds pretty groovy.

But what does it mean?

There is no uniform definition.

At one level, it applies to minor changes in the design and construction of individual houses or buildings to ‘rough-in’ the necessary elements to accommodate a future photovoltaic (PV) or solar hot water (SHW) system. At another level, it applies to right-to-light legislation, zoning, code compliance and municipal policies relating to solar. Solar ready ‘rough in’ guidelines exist in the form of voluntary ‘green building’ programs for builders and developers to feature in their new house offerings, as one item on a picklist for energy efficient or sustainable house rating systems, and as a mandatory item for code-compliance in local building codes and ordinances. So you could be dealing with several different levels or scopes when you offer Solar Ready to your clients. Here's what you need to look for in your region:

Solar Ready Guidelines – guidelines published by national agencies in Canada and the US, used by builders and referenced by building energy standard programs.

Solar Ready Programs – optional/voluntary and mandatory programs run by municipalities. These programs build on the guidelines noted above and often are part of a broader ‘solar readiness’ initiative.

Solar Ready Regulations and Legislation – bylaws, ordinances, regulations or code-compliance requirements for solar ready in new construction.

Solar Readiness – the broader issues related to successful solar policy and planning initiatives.

Solar Ready Guidelines

In their most basic form, Solar Ready guidelines address:

  • adequate roof area
  • appropriate orientation to the sun
  • minimal obstruction and shading
  • a direct route for conduit or piping from the roof to the utlity or mechanical area
  • enough room to install the balance of system for photovoltaics and/or solar hot water
As solar ready has moved from being a concept to actual practice, more complex guidelines have been developed to address details that are difficult to work around once the buildings is constructed:
  • site planning
  • building form and massing
  • space planning
  • mounting strategies
  • structure
  • roof pitch

Many details go into optimizing a building for solar at the planning stage, and then there are solar readiness guidelines, which have been developed to optimize larger solar initiatives at the municipal or regional scale and to address broader issues related to municipal ordinances and zoning issues.

In Canada, Solar Ready Guidelines for both PV and solar thermal were developed by Natural Resources Canada in partnership with the Canadian Solar Industries Association. In the US, guidelines have been developed under the wing of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The EPA's Renewable Energy Ready Homes (RERH) program is broken out into two distinct sets of specifications and checklists, one for PV and the other for SHW.

While most municipal and regional programs refer to the guidelines developed by NRCan and NREL, most of the building programs in the US, such as Energy Star for New Homes and the DoE Challenge Home Program, reference the EPA developed Renewable Energy Ready Home guidelines. The Earth Advantage Net Zero Ready Certification and LEED for Houses Solar Ready credit reference the RERH guidelines as well.

Along with NRCan’s Solar Ready Guidelines, a Solar Ready Truss design procedure was developed by the Truss Plate Institute of Canada (TPIC) in 2012 to deal with concerns about additional loads associated with solar collectors. Technical bulletin #7 establishes compliance with the National Building Code of Canada; the CSA O86, Engineering design in wood and TPIC design procedures.

Model Construction Specifications

The guidelines developed for the Twin Cities Solar Ready Requirements, while based on the NREL guidelines, have become a well-referenced resource for solar ready initiatives. The Solar Ready Construction Specifications, documents the solar ready system so it can easily be incorporated during the construction process. The guidelines and specifications address two specific building types: urban new single family and duplex houses with pitched roofs; and 1 to 4 storey flat roof structures (multi-family residential, commercial/office or mixed use buildings).



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