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Not every community or municipality initially welcomes residential renewable energy installations. Although this is often due to ignorance or the comparative novelty of renewable energy systems, you must comply with existing building and permit procedures to build your system.
Before installing any solar energy system, you should investigate local building codes, zoning ordinances, and subdivision covenants, as well as any special regulations pertaining to the site. You will probably need a building permit to install a solar energy system onto an existing building.
The matter of building code compliance for a solar system installation is typically a local issue. If your city, county, or parish has a building code, call your local building enforcement officials. Even if a state-wide building code is in effect, it is enforced locally. Find out if any local modifications to the state building code adopted model building codes are in effect for the site.
Special area regulations such as local community, subdivision, or homeowner's association covenants also demand compliance. These covenants, historic district regulations, and flood-plain provisions are a few of the more easily overlooked restrictions.
The following is a brief outline of preliminary steps you can take to assess ordinance/code compliance for a solar energy system:
Contact your local jurisdiction's zoning and building enforcement divisions. Briefly describe your intended construction, asking for other relevant ordinances/codes that might be in effect. Be sure to find out if there are any additional local amendments or modifications to the regulations in effect.
Ask how to determine whether you are located in a historic district, flood-plain area, or any other special category regulated by a government body. Then follow up on contacts provided.
Ask where you may find pertinent ordinances/codes (local library, government office, etc.). Read pertinent sections of the regulations, making photocopies of information you wish to file for future review and design/installation analysis.
Check with your homeowner's, subdivision, neighborhood, and community association(s) regarding compliance with their own set of ordinances, provisions, or covenants that may affect the design and installation of the system. Copy and file pertinent sections for reference.
You can also obtain this information by meeting directly with your local officials, although it may take considerably longer.
Common problems homeowners have encountered with building codes include: exceeding roof load, unacceptable heat exchangers, improper wiring, and unlawful tampering with potable water supplies. Potential zoning issues include obstructing sideyards, erecting unlawful protrusions on roofs, and siting the system too close to streets or lot boundaries.
Credits: US Department of Energy (http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/factsheets/j104.html)