Should Architects Add Solar to Their Projects?

Should Architects Add Solar to Their Projects?

There are many considerations when designing a new building. If it’s a home, the architect will need to consider the needs of the family. How much living space do they need? Which spaces should be open and accessible, and which should feel protected and private? How much space should be devoted to function, and how much should be devoted to recreation? If it’s a business, the architect may ask how the design of the building can enhance productivity. How much space should be communal, and how much should be private offices? 

Another concern when designing any building is energy use. For the building occupants, it’s always preferable when the building is designed to use less power. This might be achieved through the use of more efficient LED lighting, or a passive heating and cooling system. It may also mean that the new building is designed to be compatible with renewable energy technology, like solar panels. This particular feature will be the focus of this article, in which we’ll explore the benefits of designing a building to be solar-ready. 

What is a Solar-Ready building?

Two example scenarios where site layout greatly changes solar potential. Source:  NREL.gov

Two example scenarios where site layout greatly changes solar potential. Source: NREL.gov

A solar-ready building doesn’t necessarily mean that solar will be installed at the time the building is constructed. It just means that the buildings must be designed with solar-friendly considerations, like maximizing open roof space, using solar compatible roofing materials, and choosing an electrical panel designed to accommodate solar.

For example, if there was an option to place vents on a North facing roof or a South facing roof, solar-ready standards would guide the architect to place vents on the North. Similarly, if there was a choice on which roofing materials to use, the architect might choose something that’s more easily sealed when penetrated.

When these factors are considered during the design phase of a building, they usually won’t add any additional costs. The design tweaks needed are typically minimal and needn’t interfere with the aesthetics of the building either. If you’d like to learn in more detail what makes a building solar-ready, take a look at this guide, published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). 

There are several reasons why solar-ready buildings are appealing to builders, owners, and tenants alike.

When a building is designed to be solar-ready, it increases the flexibility of the building owner. If they don’t want solar, that’s no problem. They haven’t sacrificed cost or aesthetics in the process, because the building was designed to be solar-ready from its construction. They can simply choose not to utilize those features. If they don’t have the funds to include solar during construction, they can feel confident that when they’re ready to do so, there won’t be any additional prep work to be done. When they are ready to install solar, a well designed solar-ready building will be able to host a larger system than a similar building that wasn’t designed to solar-ready standards.

In fact, in many places in the US, solar-ready construction is becoming the law of the land. Oregon, for example, is implementing a solar-ready mandate for all new residential buildings on October 1st, 2020. Commercial buildings will need to follow the same standards by the same date in 2022.

California and Colorado have similar programs in place, and so far, results have been positive. Both states are still in the top ten for new buildings constructed in 2018. 

Benefits solar adds to projects

Many architects recommend solar as a measure of increased functionality. When a building has solar, that system on the roof is working every day for the occupants of the building. Home and business designers want their buildings to meet as many needs of their clients as possible.

A solar system provides an essential requirement for any building, by providing the electricity needed to run the business or the home. For this reason, including a solar system in a building design creates a more complete product for the end-user of the building. 

A new normal; solar integrated buildings

One more reason why solar is often included in the design phase is that it’s a functional way to increase the value of the home or business.

Solar integrated building simple design. Source:  NREL.gov

Solar integrated building simple design. Source: NREL.gov

A recent study on residential solar systems from Berkeley Lawrence National Laboratory finds that solar increases the value of a home by an average of $15,000. The study used data from 22,000 home sales in 8 different states, making this one of the most extensive projects of its kind. In addition to the augmented sale price of the home, a solar system can also impact the amount of time a home stays on the market. A solar system decreases (or in some cases, eliminates) energy costs for the structure. That additional value can help make the home more attractive to prospective buyers. 

As renewable energy continues to become a larger part of our energy system, solar-ready homes, and commercial buildings will become the norm nationwide. As these practices are normalized, the design and construction of solar-ready buildings will not require any additional resources. The increased flexibility gives the building owners better options when they decide whether or not to add a solar system, and this benefit makes the buildings more valuable. 

Have questions?

We have been in business in Oregon and Washington over 10 years installing solar and consulting with various architect firms. If you are also in the area and wish to learn more about integrating solar to more of your projects, don’t hesitate to contact us during normal business hours. We offer free consultations.