In 2015, Brooklyn SolarWorks landed in Gowanus with a mission to bring affordable flat roof solar to local homeowners. We’ve overcome barriers to develop industry-leading approaches to permitting, design, and installation that are specifically adapted to New York City. 

Along the way, we’ve discovered a lot about what makes NYC an outstanding place to go solar. Here are some fundamentals that sustainably-minded homeowners exploring flat roof solar in the city should know.

Background of Flat Roof Solar in NYC

For many years, solar contractors in the area embraced installation methods and system designs that were developed for the suburban home, making the unique features of the urban environment a poor fit for conventional business models.

Unlike suburban homes, flat roofed homes here are often closely surrounded by, or attached to, other homes and commercial buildings. They also often have obstructions like skylights, hatches, HVAC equipment, and required FDNY fire paths. These characteristics were traditionally seen as major barriers to installing solar. As a result, NYC was stuck in solar limbo while its suburbs saw some of the highest solar adoptions rates in the country. 

Flat roof homes in Brooklyn.
The housing stock of New York City’s residential neighborhoods differs greatly from suburban environments.

On one hand, there has been huge demand in the city due to sky high electricity rates and growing climate consciousness among locals. But on the other hand, the growth of solar here was stunted by challenging features of flat roof buildings, restrictive building and fire codes, and the City’s notoriously complex permitting bureaucracy.

Fortunately, we came on the scene in 2015 with the mission to change that!

To this day, some companies still claim that installing solar panels on flat roofs in New York City is impossible. But the truth is, installing solar on flat rooftops just requires different design considerations and installation methods than installing on pitched and sloped roofs. And while it is true that the City’s building and fire codes can be prohibitive, they’re not at all impossible! Plus, flat roof solar provides the same value – if not more – than solar on any other rooftop.

How to Know if Your Home is Compatible

Many of our customers have been told by other installers that their flat roof is not suitable for a residential solar installation. If you’ve heard this too, you’ve come to the right place. 

Solar system design for flat roof buildings – particularly on 100+ year old brownstones – is our core expertise. It is very rare that a flat roofed home in the city is not able to go solar, though there are certain criteria that your roof should meet in order for solar to make sense. Factors such as roof structure, workable roof area, and shading come into play. But in order to know for sure, you’ll need to have your roof surveyed by a certified solar professional. (We offer free assessments for this!)

Many Brooklyn neighborhoods have high concentrations of landmarked and historic homes. If you own one of these homes, you likely already know that New York City has some of the most stringent historic preservation rules anywhere. Many of our customers logically assume that adding a space-age technology to a historic home with landmark designation won’t go over well with the city. But as long as the solar panels are concealed from view from the street, flat roof solar is permitted. In fact, about 25% of Brooklyn SolarWorks projects are on landmarked homes.

Solar Design Options for Flat Roofs

Installing solar on flat roofs – especially those with obstructions like hatches, skylights, and required FDNY fire paths – requires a bit more creativity than other solar models. We pioneered two unique solar panel racking solutions for flat roofs, allowing us to provide customized solar panel systems for so-called challenging roofs that other companies won’t touch.

Our most famous innovation for flat roof installations is our award-winning Brooklyn Solar Canopy. Canopies elevate solar panels above roof obstructions and required fire paths, while also creating space for roof decks, green roofs and other amenities. It’s so popular that we now distribute our solar canopy to other installers all over the country through a separate company, Brooklyn Solar Canopy Co.

If a solar canopy is not your style, we’ve also mastered the art of maximizing solar with limited space through our tilt rack option. Tilt racks can be installed closer to the roof surface and allow the solar array to be split into sections, avoiding any obstructions. Tilt racks are great for landmarked homes, whose solar installations need to be invisible from street level.

How Do I Start the Process of Going Solar?

Get in touch with your local solar company to get started. (If you’re in NYC, our phone lines are always open!)

Our process involves an initial discussion with a member of our team to get to know your home and roof situation. Then, you’ll have an appointment with one of our solar experts, who will assess your roof and talk about what solar could look like for your home. From there, our team will create a custom solar proposal for you.

Once you decide to move forward with your project, you can sit back and relax. There are a lot of steps involved with going solar in NYC, as construction projects here involve complex permitting and take time to complete. But it’s the solar installer’s job to complete these steps – not the homeowner’s.  

Solar is a turn-key business, meaning it’s on the installer to manage all permits and permissions on behalf of the customer with the city, Con Edison, and all other entities. Because of the time it takes to permit a project, the installation process takes about 3-4 months to complete from contract signing. During that time, the customer is required to do almost nothing until the day of the installation.

Solar Panel Installation Cost

The cost of a solar panel installation in NYC can vary depending on a number of factors, and it’s not as straightforward as it may be in other areas of the country (even Long Island or New Jersey!).

Making solar work on homes in the City is an art – there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Unfortunately, many installers in the area lack the specialization required to give an accurate estimate for flat roof solar upfront. And looking into solar panel pricing in any other area of the country won’t give you the best idea of what your finances will look like for solar here – not only because pricing is more variable in the city, but also because we are one of the most incentivized solar markets in the country.

NY solar incentives can cover around 70 percent of the total cost of your solar power system come tax season. But for that remaining 30 percent, the way you pay is up to you. There are different financing options available – you may choose to pay in cash up front, or finance it over 20 years at 1.49% APR.

When considering the cost of a solar installation, it’s important to remember that it’s an investment akin to any other home improvement project. Solar’s been proven to raise the value of homes in NYC, and savings from avoiding electric bills can exceed $35,000 overtime.

Solar Output and Power Generated on a Flat Roof

You may have heard that solar panels on a flat roof won’t produce well due to the lack of angle toward the sun or shade from neighboring buildings or trees. The truth is that there aren’t any inherent disadvantages to flat roof solar as compared to a pitched or slanted roof system.

While there may be different design considerations and equipment needed, these things don’t affect the quality of the system or energy production. But because flat roof systems require specialized designs, it’s a good idea to choose an installer that knows how to maximize solar performance on these types of roofs. 

Flat roofs are our specialty – get in touch!

Many of our customers report that they haven’t paid Con Ed ever since their system was installed. Many of the flat roof systems we install cover all, if not more, of our customers’ energy needs.

How to Choose the Right Solar Installer

Like any major home improvement project, it’s important to choose the right company to work with. You want a contractor that creates a high-quality product while making the process seem like a breeze. 

When it comes to flat roof solar installations in NYC, it’s imperative that you choose an installer that understands how to work in lockstep with the city’s complex building codes and permitting processes so that you get the best solar system possible. 

We’ve built our business from top to bottom to do all of these things for each and every customer of ours – contact us today!

Your Savings When You Go Solar

Utility rates in NYC are some of the highest in the country – and the cost of electricity is on the rise. As a solar owner, you’ll remain connected to the grid. But thankfully, Con Edison awards retail credits for the excess solar power your system exports to the grid through a program called net metering. This means that the solar energy your system produces translates to savings on your monthly electric bill. 

Plus: solar energy becomes more valuable over time as electric rates increase, meaning your savings will grow. Going solar reduces the cost per kilowatt hour of electricity to pennies, and the savings from avoiding utility rate increases typically exceeds $35,000 over time.

Local and Federal Solar Incentives

Having super high electricity rates like we do in NYC is usually enough to make solar a worthwhile investment. But living in New York means homeowners can take advantage of several state, city, and federal tax credits that can offset up to 70% of your out-of-pocket costs. This makes for fast payback times and super attractive ROI. 

Solar tax credits available to NYC homeowners
Thanks to the solar tax incentives and rebates available in NYC, homeowners can get up to 70% of their solar installation costs covered.

NYC homeowners can take advantage of the following incentives to help cover the cost of their solar installations:

Check out our list of different NY solar incentives to see what your project may qualify for.

Solar Panels and the Resale Value of Your Home

According to an April 2019 study by Zillow.com solar homes sell on average at 4.1% higher than comparable homes without solar. The study also found that the solar boost was higher in the NYC metro area than the national average, topping out at 5.4%. That’s an extra $23,989 in value for solar homeowners in the five boroughs. The study corroborated similar findings of an early report funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Solar Warranty and Maintenance

All Brooklyn SolarWorks solar systems come with an industry-leading 30-year warranty that covers all aspects of the system including the panels and inverter. Additionally, we guarantee your solar production – if your system fails to perform as expected, we’ll provide cash compensation to cover the loss in savings.

Many folks are surprised to find out that solar panels require little to no maintenance. Because there are no moving parts to a solar array, there is not much to actively keep an eye on. You’re not required to clean your solar panels, as your solar array will be angled to allow rain water to run off naturally, taking with it any build up. However, if you do choose to clean your panels, avoid harsh detergents and metal or hard plastic brushes that could scratch the glass.

You don’t need to worry about removing snow either, as the power lost during snowstorms is extremely small. Not to mention, it can be dangerous climbing up to a snowy, icy rooftop. Snow will melt or drift off the system naturally.

There’s not much you’ll need to do for solar panel maintenance. Essentially, once your panels are installed on your roof, you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the savings!

Costumer logged into Sunny Portal to monitor solar performance.
Monitoring your solar performance with Sunny Portal can help you understand how well your system performs.

Monitoring Your Solar Energy

Brooklyn SolarWorks provides 24/7 system monitoring as part of our warranty package. When you become a customer of ours, we won’t leave you high and dry. Our team actively monitors our entire fleet of solar systems on a regular basis, and are alerted in case of any irregularities in system functionality.

You’ll be able to monitor your solar panel system as well. When your system is connected to your WiFi on installation day, it’ll get registered in Sunny Portal. Once your Sunny Portal account is set up, it allows you to track your solar production through metrics like real-time output, total energy output, and CO2 emissions avoided.

Get Started with the Local Experts Today!

If you own a home in New York City, switching to solar energy is one of the best ways to make an impact on climate change. Going solar means reducing your carbon footprint and your electric bill.

If you’re looking to install solar on your flat roofed home, trust an expert. Brooklyn SolarWorks has been designing and building flat roof solar systems in NYC since 2015, with over 1,000 complete projects. 

Schedule your free consultation to get started today!

nyc homeowners guide to flat roof solar free download

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