As more rooftop solar systems are installed across the U.S., municipalities and installers face numerous challenges ensuring quality and efficiency in the permitting and inspection process. To benefit permitting authorities and installers, and ultimately energy consumers who invest in solar, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. (IREC) just released the first Model Inspection Checklist for Rooftop Photovoltaic (PV) Systems.
Many municipalities are struggling to keep up with the increased number of PV permitting inspections; inspectors may not be familiar with PV installations and code requirements; and installers may not be aware of all the elements that need to be verified in order to pass a thorough inspection.
Adoption of an inspection checklist provides benefits both to municipal staff and solar installers.
“In the end, it is the solar energy consumer who benefits from inspectors and installers working with the same expectations to ensure quality,” says IREC President and CEO Jane Weissman. “Use of an inspection checklist can reduce the time it takes to permit a project and reduce installer costs associated with multiple inspection visits and post-inspection system changes.”
For municipalities, an inspection checklist can serve a variety of important functions. First, it can serve as a supplementary educational tool for new or experienced inspectors to ensure they are aware of the many code requirements that must be verified on site during an inspection.
“The best way for both the Jurisdiction and the PV installers to be successful is to have a common understanding of the code requirements,” says Don Hughes, senior building inspector, County of Santa Clara, California. “This inspection checklist is a vital tool for inspectors, and can be used as a handout to assist local installers.”
The checklist can increase the consistency of inspections, by both a single inspector and different inspectors working for the jurisdiction. Consistent inspections ensure high-quality, safe installations. The municipality can also use an inspection checklist to highlight particular issues that seem to be repeatedly problematic for installers. As code requirements change and municipalities adopt unique local rules and interpretations, an inspection checklist can highlight these.
“Checklists are a very important part of the field inspector’s tool kit,” says Hughes. “This Model Inspection Checklist makes it easier to ensure that vital elements are not overlooked. It also saves time, making it possible to complete comprehensive inspections in the scheduled timeframe.”
For installers, a checklist can help to prepare them for the inspection in advance, reducing the number of items that might need to be addressed afterward. This saves both the installer’s and municipality’s time and resources by reducing the number of repeat inspections that would otherwise be required.
The inspection checklist can help to educate and refresh installers about the number of requirements they must meet, and to help inform and remind them of what inspectors will be looking for. For new installers or those new to the jurisdiction that may not be as familiar with the code requirements, a checklist can be particularly valuable, which can reduce the number of times inspectors have to do on-site education of new installers.
It is important to note that an inspection checklist is not a replacement for careful review and understanding of the actual code requirements. A checklist is merely intended to act as an abbreviated tool, which can be used on site for verification of compliance with code requirements and as a quick reference guide to help inspectors quickly find the correct code sections.
“The Model Inspection Checklist aggregates much needed code requirements in a single document,” adds Hughes. “It is a useful resource for both the electrical inspectors and combination inspectors.”
This IREC Model Checklist is a template based on relevant national code sections that are generally used as a starting point for state and local codes across the U.S. It is expected that some modifications would be needed to match specific state and local code requirements.
The Model Inspection Checklist for Rooftop PV Systems was prepared by Sky Stanfield, Keyes, Fox & Wiedman, LLP, and Don Hughes through generous support from the Tilia Fund. The model was developed after reviewing existing checklists that have been created by leading jurisdictions across the United States. The document was peer-reviewed by qualified inspectors and building code officials from across the country, and by UL representatives
In addition to the Model Inspection Checklist, IREC offers a number of other important training tools to help increase the quality, efficiency and safety of rooftop PV inspections. For additional IREC resources on Solar PV Inspections, please see:
- Photovoltaic Online Training (PVOT) for Code Officials, prepared by IREC and IAEI
- Field Inspection Guidelines for PV Systems, prepared by Bill Brooks for IREC, June 2010
- Sharing Success: Emerging Approaches to Efficient Rooftop Solar Permitting, May 2012
- Simplifying the Solar Permitting Process: Residential Solar Permitting Best Practices, IREC and the Vote Solar Initiative, September 2013