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State building code change reduces time, costs for homeowners to install home rooftop solar

The Washington State Building Code Council unanimously approved a change in state law that allows installation of simple rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems without review by an engineer.

This change removes an estimated $500 to $2,500 in project costs and up to eight weeks of wait time for homeowners without compromising structural safety, according to Tim Stearns, Senior Energy Policy Specialist at the State Energy Office in the Department of Commerce.

“The Building Code Council demonstrated leadership and their willingness to address complicated and challenging issues in order to help Washington homeowners capture the economic and environmental benefits of solar,” Stearns said.

Some jurisdictions already permitted installation of rooftop solar without engineering, but this brings consistency statewide.

“We appreciate the willingness of the Washington Association of Building Officials, especially Tom Phillips from the city of Kirkland, State Building Code Council member Jeff Petersen of MN Custom Homes in Bellevue, Mia Devine of Northwest SEED, and the solar industry for their support and technical assistance as they worked with us to move this forward,” said Gary Nordeen of the Washington State University Energy Program.  “The building code staff has been valuable in their assistance in bringing parties together to learn from each other, coming up with workable solutions."

The move supports work of Northwest Solar Communities, a coalition of jurisdictions, utilities, industry partners and citizen groups working together to make rooftop solar electricity more cost effective for all.

The state building code change was approved using the Emergency Rulemaking process, making it effective on July 1, 2014. It will still have to complete the normal rulemaking process which includes public hearings this fall, a Council vote to make it a permanent rule in November and going through next year's legislative session.

The full text of the emergency rule and checklist templates that jurisdictions can use in implementing the rule can be found at the Northwest Solar Communities website and the WSU Energy Program website.

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