Solar Thermal Hot Water Installations

In hot water?
Solar thermal hot water is the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly solar energy technology. Solar thermal can supply most of your hot water needs and can even be used to heat your home.  Increasing the amount of clean renewable energy is a critical component of the Berkeley community efforts to reduce green house gases. 

Types of solar thermal hot water systems
Solar water heating systems use relatively simple technology, including a storage tank and a solar collector. There are two types of solar water heating systems: active, which have forced circulating pumps and controls, and passive which do not.  Additionally, you can choose between indirect or direct circulating systems for active solar thermal systems. Nearly all solar water heating systems require a back-up system for cloudy days and times of increased demand.

Energy efficiency first
The first step in any solar thermal installation is to implement conservation measures to reduce energy and water use by fixing leaks, installing low-flow fixtures and purchasing energy efficient appliances. Conservation reduces expenses, greenhouse gas emissions, saves water and minimizes the size of your thermal system.  For energy savings tips check the PG&E website at www.pge.com/myhome/saveenergymoney/

Resources & incentives for solar thermal hot water

What permits are required by the City of Berkeley to install solar thermal?

All permit applications are available on the Planning website and at the Permit Service Center. Plumbing, electrical permit and building application submittals can be mailed or dropped off at the Permit Service Center.

Zoning Permits
Solar thermal projects do not require zoning permits or design review (California State Code, Section 65850.5).  The Planning Department offers free non-binding design review evaluation of solar equipment installations.

For all building projects requiring Design Review, Planning Department staff will need sufficient information about the solar thermal installation to evaluate the proposed building design.  Note: Design Review is generally required in the following Zoning Districts: Manufacturing, Commercial, and some projects in R-4 Districts. Check the Planning website to determine the Zoning District of your property and the applicability of Design Review requirements.

Building and Related Permits
Plumbing permits and possibly electrical permits are required for all solar thermal hot water installations. If structural work is needed to support the system, a building permit will be needed as well. The City of Berkeley encourages the installation of renewable energy systems by providing affordable solar permit fees.

Permit Fees

Single Family and Duplex Solar Thermal Plumbing Permit Fees are based on a minimum plumbing permit fee.

Commercial and Multi-Family (3 or more units) Solar Thermal Plumbing Permit Fees are based on a minimum plumbing permit fee.  Plan check hourly fees also apply to commercial and multi-family solar thermal installations.

Electrical Permit Fees: An electrical permit fee may be required depending on the system.  If needed, the fee will be a minimum electrical permit fee plus a per unit fee for electrical devices installed.

Building Permit Fees: If a building permit is needed to the roof assembly to support the solar thermal system, building permit and plan check fees will be based on the valuation of the structure.

Submittal Requirements 
Submit four sets of plans, minimum 11” x 17”, that include location of equipment, wiring diagram, framing plan of rafters and equipment specification sheets.

Structural plans may be required for reinforcing the roof rafters to carry the additional load. For example, if you have an older building, and the rafters are 2 x 4’s and 32” apart, you will need reinforcement. If you have a truss roof with tile and want to add additional load, you will need to consult an engineer.

Fire Department requires that panels be installed at least 18” down from the ridge of the roof on both sides for one and two unit family dwellings. Fire Department approval is required for commercial and multifamily buildings to ensure site-specific access for fire personnel.  For more information please contact the City of Berkeley Fire Department at 510-981-5585.

Additional Resources:  

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