Solar panels for condo roof: A how-to guide

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Solar for condos

There are many reasons to go solar. A solar panel system is a wise investment that can reduce electricity costs, increase the value of your property, and reduce the environmental impact of your electricity use. Luckily, solar power isn't just for single-family homes – you can transition to solar even if you live in a condo association.

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Because solar projects in condominiums involve multiple stakeholders, they are inevitably more complicated than installing solar on a single-family home. It’s good to know that you're set up for success before you start the process of going solar. Most successful solar condo initiatives have a few things in common:

  • A solar champion: Having a resident who acts as the primary advocate for the project will ensure that everyone involved understands the value of installing solar.

  • Support of the condominium association: Association support is necessary for any project to go forward. Without it, the complicated process of installing solar on a condominium can become an impossible task.

  • A contractor experienced in working with condominiums: Having a solar installer who understands the unique circumstances of condominium solar projects will give you support throughout the process and access to the information you need.

  • A high percentage of owner-occupied units: Unlike owners who rent their property to tenants, unit owners who occupy their units will see direct benefits from a solar PV project, making it easier to get their support for a solar investment.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution to solar power for condos. When living in a condo building, your condominium agreement and bylaws determine your solar options. Most solar projects for condominiums can be categorized under one of two approaches:

Association projects

With an association project, a solar PV system provides electricity for common areas of the building. Association projects typically connect to the building's common electric meter, and any extra electricity the PV system produces can be shared with individual condo unit owners.

Association projects are a popular option for large condominium buildings because all unit owners share the benefits of solar. However, any extra electricity the PV system produces can be dispersed equally among individual unit owners, which can also make it a good choice for unit owners in small condo buildings who want to equally share the benefits of a solar energy installation. For an association project to succeed, all of the building's unit owners need to understand the financial and environmental benefits of solar and be willing to invest.

Single or joint unit-owner projects

In a unit-owner project, one or more unit owners pay to install a solar panel system on the condominium's roof for their personal use. If you propose a unit-owner project, you will need to get approval from the condo association and obtain an easement to authorize system installation and maintenance. Sometimes, the association may also charge you a separate fee for using the roof.

Unit-owner projects don't require that all of the residents invest to install the solar energy system, so they may be easier to negotiate in large condo complexes. However, there may be constraints on your right to use the roof depending on the size of your building and how your agreement is structured.

If neither of these options is viable for you, you can also consider community solar power, either by finding an existing project or by working with the community to create a new solar installation.

What about solar in small condo buildings?

Going solar doesn't have to be complicated if you live in a condo building with just a few units. You can still choose to go solar with an association project or a unit-owner project. The most crucial step is to engage with your fellow unit owners at the beginning of the solar shopping process to find an agreeable option.

First things first: Know your roof rights

Before seriously reviewing your options, you need to understand who has rights to your building's roof. Your condo agreement will delineate roof ownership and maintenance responsibilities. Typically, the agreement will categorize the roof as a common space, with maintenance costs and responsibilities shared equally between unit owners.

If you live in a small building or a duplex, you might own part of the roof. Regardless of whether you have sole or shared roof rights, it's good practice to work with your neighbors to find a solution that works for all of the unit owners involved.

Online resources can help you gather information on going solar

In the early stages of the solar shopping process, conduct your research so that you can communicate options with fellow unit owners and condo association members. Using a solar calculator that provides you with savings estimates can provide you with valuable information to make the case for solar to your fellow unit owners and trustees.

Your installer will be an essential resource and can provide more detailed information about the options that will work best for your property. Remember – every condo situation is different, and finding a contractor with expertise will go a long way in helping you with the process of going solar.

For greater chances of success, get buy-in from neighbors

Once you have a sense of your equipment and financing options, start gathering support for your solar project. Begin by meeting with your condo association – without their consent, a successful solar project will be very difficult. Emphasize the potential for savings and the benefits for unit owners to make the case for a solar installation.

Regardless of whether you want to pursue a project exclusively for your use or your entire property, be proactive and share your idea and motivations with your neighbors. If you are pursuing an association project that would benefit your entire complex, getting buy-in from fellow unit owners is an essential part of the process. Make yourself available to answer questions and have information prepared that addresses the costs and benefits of moving forward with a solar PV installation.

Even if you are pursuing a unit-owner project, sharing your idea and motivations with your neighbors is necessary to gain their support. You might find that some of your neighbors are like-minded and interested in participating in a solar project with you. In some cases, you may even be able to get a discount by installing a more extensive system that serves multiple units.

Further resources for solar condo champions

To provide detailed guidance on solar power for condominiums, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources developed A Solar Guide for Condominium Owners and Associations in Massachusetts in 2015. While this guide is intended for Massachusetts residents, it offers useful advice for condo residents nationwide. If you're a solar champion ready to start considering solar for your condominium building, this guide will provide you with comprehensive information for every step of the process.

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