Can you install solar panels on a flat roofed home in New York City?

The short answer is: absolutely! For a long time, local solar contractors avoided installing solar panels on flat roofs in NYC due to the city’s notoriously strict codes and difficulties in maximizing solar potential. This left a huge gap in the local solar market where so many of the homes have flat roofs.

BSW’s mission from the beginning has been to make solar accessible and appealing for flat-roofed homeowners. We’ve developed design and installation methods – and a mastery of NYC building and permitting codes – that overcome these challenges and ensure that flat roof homeowners benefit from solar power just like their pitched roof neighbors.

What equipment is involved in installing solar panels on a flat roof?

Flat roof solar system design is similar to pitched or sloped roof solar design, in that it consists of only a few main components located on the roof and in the basement of the home. However, because flat roofs in NYC often have shade from the building next door or obstructions like hatches and skylights, we had to get a little more creative with our system design – utilizing two different racking system options.

Solar Canopy

One of our racking options is our proudest innovation, the Brooklyn Solar Canopy, which elevates the panels nine feet above the roof, avoiding fire paths and any obstructions. The canopy can not only produce energy, but also a great rooftop living space.

Solar Tilt Rack

Our other mounting option is the tilt rack, which is close to the roof surface and splits a solar array into separate sections. Because the panels are sectioned off, the solar array can be positioned in various ways to avoid roof obstructions while maximizing energy production. Tilt racks are a great option for the landmarked homes of our community, which are not allowed to have rooftop solar panels visible from the street according to city code.

Do you own a landmarked home and want to know about your solar options? Contact us to speak with a solar specialist.

Are there any disadvantages to solar on a flat roof?

You may have heard that solar panels on a flat roof won’t produce as well or that flat roof systems are more expensive. The truth is that there aren’t any inherent disadvantages to flat roof solar as compared to a pitched 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.

6 Questions to Ask an Installer Before Your Flat Roof Solar Installation 

1. How long do solar panels last? 

In general, solar panels last an average of 25 to 30 years. The system won’t stop producing completely after 30 years, but the amount of energy produced will decline over time.

One of the main reasons customers choose to go solar is the electric savings they receive by producing their own energy. In order to get the most out of your investment in solar, it’s important to make sure you’re choosing a high-quality installer that uses durable solar panels.

BSW’s solar panel provider is REC, whose industry-leading panels are built to last decades. But in the case that any component of your system requires maintenance or replacement throughout its lifespan, we provide a 30 year total-system warranty to all of our customers. We guarantee your system will produce as expected and get you the savings you deserve.

2. How much maintenance is required?

This is a common concern to have, as you want to do everything you can to take care of your system and secure a solid return on your investment in solar. But, solar systems should generally require little to no maintenance on the customer side. 

Cleaning your panels or removing debris is not necessary, because your panels will be angled so that rainwater can run off naturally and take any debris with it. If you do choose to clean your panels, however, don’t use harsh detergents or metal brushes that could scratch the glass. 

Removing snow from your panels is also not required or recommended – it will drift off naturally as well. The energy you might lose out on during a snowstorm is minimal and not worth a trip up to an icy rooftop.

If anything, sometimes our customers come across minor solar system maintenance issues having to do with the WiFi connection for example. For this reason we provide 24/7 system monitoring to ensure all of our installed systems are operating and producing as they should be.

3. How will my solar panels hold up in strong winds and harsh weather?

As we know, NYC can see some pretty harsh weather, from blizzards to hurricanes to heatwaves. Naturally, you might be wondering specifically about the viability of solar panels in a cold climate like ours. Many of our customers want to know how solar panels on a flat roof can handle heavy snow and strong winds – after all, you don’t want your panels or your roof to get damaged in a storm. It’s crucial that you invest in a system that will last its lifespan, meaning it will need to hold up against years of Northeast weather.

The Brooklyn Solar Canopy was designed to secure solar panels on a flat roof even in harsh weather.
Our Brooklyn Solar Canopy was engineered to withstand strong winds and snow – pictured here is a canopy holding 48,000 pounds.

Fortunately, the parts and equipment we use are built to withstand extreme weather. REC solar panels are tested extensively against harsh weather. Our solar canopy system itself can hold 48,000 pounds – the equivalent of a blizzard’s worth of snow load and 120 mph winds. For maximum stability, our systems are bolted to the roof’s underlying rafters using a watertight connector called OMG. 

4. How would a solar installation benefit me financially?

Switching to solar energy is an investment not only in the planet, but also in your family and home. That’s why it’s essential to run the numbers before your solar installation. We’ll get started for you here with three of the top financial benefits of going solar in NYC:

  • Between the city, state, and federal governments, NYC has some of the best solar tax incentives in the country – covering up to 60% of the cost of a solar installation.
  • The energy your system produces can reduce or even eliminate your electric bill. Con Edison’s net metering program compensates you for excess energy produced in retail credits that are applied towards your future electric bills. 
  • Solar will increase your home value. A study by Zillow determined that solar boosted home resale value in the New York metro area by an average of 5.4%, while NYC itself had an extra 1.8% boost.

One of our favorite things about our work is sharing information about these financial benefits and incentives with our customers. Want to learn about how much you could save by going solar? Get in touch with us!

5. Can I replace my roof in addition to a solar panel installation?

You may have heard that the current iteration of the Federal Investment Tax Credit covers roof replacement in tandem with a solar installation. Contrary to this belief, our interpretation of the tax code is that roof replacement is not a qualifying expense. 

Be aware of installers who tell you otherwise – we don’t want you and your family to be in danger of tax fraud. 

(Disclaimer: we’ll always do our best to give the most accurate information regarding solar tax incentives, but we are not tax professionals – please always consult an accountant or financial advisor for the best advice.)

6. Can battery storage be provided?

An increasingly common question for prospective solar customers is whether or not they can acquire a battery to store the energy they produce. It’s important to know as a New Yorker that current FDNY policy does not allow for solar battery installations in residential buildings. When that policy changes, however, all BSW systems can be retrofitted to accommodate batteries.

But as we mentioned above, the current net metering program compensates you for excess energy your system produces in the form of retail energy credits which are applied toward your electric bills. In this way, we like to say that net metering acts as a virtual battery – you may not be able to install a physical battery, but you’ll still benefit from the extra energy your system produces.

Finding the Right Solar Installation Company in NYC

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. The Brooklyn SolarWorks team are NYC’s flat roof solar installations experts.

Take charge of your future and go solar now! Schedule your free consultation today.

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