Article written by Mark Becker for Danville/Alamo/Lafayette Today, March 2017.
On Yet Another Mission
Recently there has been a glut of unappealing solar PV projects installed into my neighborhood, negatively impacting the individual home and the neighborhood’s visual appeal. Per California Law, Home Owner Associations (HOA’S) do have some amount of control over the aesthetic impact of solar PV projects. It may sound strange to the reader that a business owner in the solar industry is seeking more regulation or enforcement. However, solar professionals know it’s best for the solar industry to be represented by aesthetically appealing installations, and have pride in ALL solar work, even if performed by others. HOA Architectural Review Committees (ARC’s) are often demonized. But ARC’s do important work to maintain community aesthetics. A solar project’s potential visual impact to the community should have some oversight through design review. For those with homes outside of HOA’s, you may consider yourself lucky. However, unless your neighbors are well educated as to how to ensure a visually appealing solar PV system is installed, a “solar ugly home” may be soon coming near you. Homeowners and business owners choose to “go solar” for financial reasons. There are well over 580,000 solar projects in California for these reasons. A properly installed solar PV project will provide excellent financial return and stand the test of time for 25 plus years. Twenty-five years is a long time to be generating typically well over 6 figures of income in savings with solar. It’s also a long time to be subjected to the visual impact of a poorly installed solar PV system. With knowledge, you CAN have excellent savings AND maintain the visual appeal of your home or business.
The solar PV industry will continue to grow, a great thing for homeowner’s finances, and for the environment. With growth will come more unappealing installations, unless efforts are made to improve the appeal. By experience, I’ve realized it’s going to take a community to positively improve solar aesthetics moving forward. With this effort we will protect our home values, the visual appeal of our neighborhoods, and ultimately, the solar industry will benefit as well. After all, a well-installed solar PV system can be a beautiful thing. How do we achieve this?
Homeowner Education: A homeowner should be aware of the aesthetic options a properly qualified solar PV installation team can offer. A homeowner should ensure that the layout of the planned solar PV system is well understood and conceptualized before contract signing. Expect exact design drawings from a solar PV contractor after contract signing but BEFORE approving an installation date for your project. Of course, ensure your solar PV contractor is properly licensed. Proper solar PV licensing and installer qualifications is critical: Water intrusion is the #1 homeowner damage claim.
Solar PV Contractor Compliance: The California State Contractor’s Board (CSLB) has singled out the solar segment of the contracting industry as one that generates some of the “biggest sources of complaints from consumers.” Search Google for “CSLB, Solar Reminders.” The complaints run from falsification of cost savings, shoddy work, unlicensed work, selling more than a customer needs, etc. “Selling more than a customer needs” is a tactic that maximizes the profit for the contractor. There is virtually zero return on investment for the portion of a solar project that has been sized too large for the customer’s needs.
Home Owner’s Associations: The Solar Rights Act law is intended to help encourage the adoption of solar PV systems. Conversely, The Solar Rights Act also provides HOA’s a legal means to enforce aesthetic guidelines for solar PV installations. When these guidelines are not enforced in an HOA, the result is (to speak frankly) oftentimes the appearance that some contractor simply puked solar panels onto a homeowner’s roof. In my opinion, it’s the contractor’s responsibility to perform with diligence and professionalism. Unfortunately, in the real world, “buyer beware” has become the norm. HOA’s “Codes, Covenants and Restrictions must actually be enforced to be effective.
Homeowner interaction with the HOA: If an HOA does not have and is not enforcing their rights to protect your neighborhood, it’s incumbent on the homeowner members of that HOA to petition the HOA to do so. HOA’s represent the will of the homeowner group.
Whether or not you are in a neighborhood with an HOA, the most effective tactic to ensure appropriate compliance with aesthetic guidelines is indeed homeowner education. Find GoSimpleSolar’s “Solar Aesthetic Commitment” document here: www.GoSimpleSolar.com/AestheticCommitment. DEMAND your solar installer follows similar guidelines; your neighborhood appeal and your home’s value will be positively impacted.