How to Go Solar in a Historic Home

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People living in historic houses encounter extra obstacles to going solar. The National Trust for Historic Preservation offers some guidelines for adding solar in historic districts.

People who live in a historic house or district sometimes think it’s impossible to go solar. But we’re seeing more stories about people who are making it happen.

That doesn’t mean they don’t encounter obstacles. Many homeowners face objections from a preservation commission, or even from their own family members.

 

In a town like Annapolis, Maryland, homeowners can’t make the most basic changes to their home’s exterior without approval, if the changes will be visible from the street or even from the city’s waterways. Consideration must also be given to preserving an older roof. Applications for solar in areas like this are generally reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

 

Historic house with solar panels in Santa Cruz, CA. Source: The Old House Web

 

Historic house with solar panels in Santa Cruz, CA

 

Source: The Old House Web

 

 

Even when a historic commission approves solar on a historic home, some homeowners hesitate to install panels because they fear losing the tax credits that come with owning those homes. That can happen if the historic nature of the home is compromised. And some people just don’t like the look of panels on an older home.

 

Issues aren’t limited to historic homes. Some new homes have been known run into hurdles just because they’re located in a historic neighborhood. Neighbors tend to be concerned about maintaining the character of the area.

 

There are some mitigations that owners of historic homes can put in place to make their request for solar more likely to be approved.

 

 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recommends following these guidelines:

 

  • Consider placing solar panels on the ground in an inconspicuous place, such as behind existing architectural features.

  • Place panels on new buildings or additions.

  • Place panels flush with, or no more than a few inches above, an existing roof. On a flat roof, set the panels back from the edge.

  • Ensure that the panels and their supports blend in with the surrounding features.

  • Don’t place panels on street-facing walls or roofs.

  • Don’t alter roof lines or dormers.

  • Don’t damage the structure, and install solar panels so they can be removed without damaging the structure.