Making Solar Energy Work for Historic Buildings

October 26, 2012 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

Many homeowners and businesses who occupy historic buildings may wonder if solar energy is right for them. With the right considerations, older structures can reap the benefit of photovoltaic power without ruining the integrity of the location, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

For example, ground-mounted projects or installations on newer buildings adjacent to the historic edifice are ideal ways to gain the benefits of PV power without potentially ruining a building’s historic character. However, even ground-mounted modules can cause concern if the installation somehow damages the aesthetic of the surrounding property.

Installing Solar Panels on Old Rooftops
In instances where rooftops are the only available space for a PV installation, homeowners and businesses should exercise the utmost care when incorporating solar power infrastructure into older architecture. The key, according to the NTHP, is to incorporate the power system in a way that does not damage the structure nor alters its outward appearance. For flat rooftops, the modules should ideally be set in from the edges so the installation cannot be seen from the street.

With sloped rooftops, the panels should be flush to the shingling and located ideally on a part that is not highly visible. For example, the New Jersey solar installation located on the historic Spring Lake Inn in the oceanside community of Spring Lake has panels positioned flush to the rooftop, and is roughly the same color as the original shingling.

“The National Trust has talked about doing everything we can to integrate solar panels in historic districts on historic properties in as sensitive a way as possible, because we recognize that solar can be a very crucial way of helping people reduce their carbon emissions,” Patrice Frey, NTHP’s director of sustainability, said to Solar Industry magazine.

The National Park District’s guide on historic edifices and sustainability echoes the same tips offered by the NTHP, saying that solar panel installations are fine so long as they do not affect the outward appearance of the historic property. For example, while ground-mounted panels and installations on rear-facing rooftops are normally considered ideal, even these types of power systems can ruin a structure’s character if they obstruct views for enough people.

Another consideration homeowners and businesses should make is in whether a solar energy installation is allowable under local ordinances. According to Solar Industry magazine, property owners should first consult with local landmark commissions and historic district organizations to make sure the guidelines in place permit a PV power system.

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