…literally. The thing is, Texas state law prohibits your homeowners association from prohibiting you from putting solar panels on your house! This article is about how amazingly empowered you are in the face of an ecologically hostile HOA. But first, let us make it clear that we aren’t here to rant about homeowners associations. Most of them are super cool to work with. Most of them.
Anyway, lots of people have to deal with their homeowners association at some point in their lives, and getting an array of shiny new solar panels is almost always one of those times. Depending on the HOA, this can be as simple as filling out a form and waiting for the next board meeting to transpire. Oftentimes, the folks in charge will be inquisitive, and you’ll get to bond with your neighbors over a conversation about cool, clean energy. But now and then, you will discover that you and your neighbors have democratically elected some curmudgeon who believes that rooftop uniformity is more important than saving the planet, and this person will do everything in their power to monkey wrench the process for you. Even the Soviet bureaucracy at its peak couldn’t make red tape as well as a zealous troll on the HOA board, and if one of these characters is the gatekeeper to your solar-powered energy independence, well, you might find yourself up against a fairly daunting prospect. But not to worry! We’ve dealt with this before.
House Bill 362: The Secret Weapon
See, back in 2011 (which you probably remember well on account of that being the year the Food and Agriculture Organization announced the eradication of the cattle plague, rinderpest, from the world), the Texas state legislature passed House Bill 362, which proved to be a real game changer for us in the solar business. In a nutshell, according to HB 362, it’s illegal for HOAs to prohibit the installation of solar panels on your roof, because that would be anti-Earth. Granted, the installation should not threaten public safety (solar panels on rooftops are not inherently dangerous to begin with, so…check) and should not void the manufacturer’s warranty. Other than that, installing a sweet photovoltaic array on your home is your right as a Texan.
Perhaps the most useful feature of HB 362 is its consideration for efficiency. Here’s the rub: a solar array installed anywhere in the United States is almost always going to be more efficient on a south-facing roof than on the east or the west. But if the front of your house happens to face south, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that someone on your HOA board will get bent out of shape when they can see your PV system from the street. After all, not everyone has good taste like you do. This is where the act of congress comes in, miraculously in a very common-sense way. If a solar array on the front of your house will perform 10% more efficiently than on any other side, your HOA cannot prohibit you from putting it there. So there.
Intelligently designing the solar system
So how do we know just how well each angle will work? With math! When we design a system, we grab a whole bunch of variables, including quantity and efficiency of solar panels, your latitude and longitude, and the house’s roof pitch and orientation, to name a few. We plug these numbers into PV Watts, a tool provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) expressly for this purpose. We model each scenario and calculate projected energy output, and present our findings to the HOA board in a nice, tidy package. If our modeling indicates 4,000 kWh annually on the front of the house, and 3,500 kWh on the side, it’s an easy pass.
In our experience, a little due diligence and a nod to HB 362 is about all it takes to get through the most antagonistic of HOAs. Most of the time, they simply don’t have any experience with solar, and gently guiding them through the process is very helpful.
Getting HOA buy-in
Now, every now and them, an HOA will inevitably push back and delay the timeline. Simply by communicating slowly, they can drag your project out for a long time, which can be particularly frustrating when you consider that your only recourse is the democratic process, and the best that could do would be to land you on the HOA board in their place! Well, we’re pretty friendly folks, we’ve got experience with this sort of thing, and we stay on top of it. By submitting the application as early as possible and providing good, thorough information as requested, we tend to get timely approvals from even the most curmudgeonly of HOA operatives, and make a few new friends in the process. On multiple occasions, we’ve been invited to HOA meetings to enlighten the collective on the merits of sun power.
A brighter future
Residential rooftop solar is still a fairly new innovation, and as the industry develops, so too will the HOAs’ processes for approving and validating it. We’ve seen this happen with the City of Houston’s permit office in recent years, as well as with other jurisdictions in the Greater Houston area. As we implement more and more systems, we and our partners at the HOAs get better at working together. Eventually, the process will be completely streamlined. Good for you for being an early adopter. In future years, you’ll be able to brag to your friends, “Well, back when I was getting my solar panels, old Zebediah Freeman was on the HOA board, and he wanted to know what the hell was wrong with my old Franklin stove and why I had to get all these newfangled gadgets in my home.” Ah, the good old days.