The original Rock Creek Ranch covenants state that solar panels must be countersunk into the roof so that the top of the panel is flush with the top of the shingles, or if the panels are tilted above the angle of the roof, then they must be enclosed in such a way as to make them look like part of the house.

That sounds great from a ‘HOA keeping the neighborhood looking good’ point of view, but it flies in the face of Colorado’s solar access law, C.R.S. ยง38-30-168, which prevents HOA’s from imposing aesthetic restrictions that add significantly to the cost of a solar power system.

From my point of view, plan A was to have REC Solar ‘educate’ the Rock Creek HOA on the workings of Colorado’s solar access law, including any lawyering that might be required. In the mean time, another Rock Creek resident negotiated the following concession from the HOA: a panel height of approximately 4 inches above the surface of the surface of the roof [sic] would be acceptable.

Unbeknownst to me, the first REC Solar customer in Rock Creek (I was the second) chose the Sharp ONENERGY (SRS) panel mounting system that adheres to the 4 inch panel height requirement. There went plan A; there was no further enlightenment of the HOA regarding Colorado’s solar access law as a result of REC Solar’s first installation in Rock Creek.

The 4 inch height requirement was a problem for me because REC Solar’s plan for my cement tile roof was to use the FastJacks product from ProSolar; this resulted in the top of the panels being 7 inches above the roof. The HOA board gave my proposal a full hearing, and there was an open discussion of my proposal and HOA’s solar installation guidelines. However, the board unanimously denied my request for them to approve my system with the panels 7 inches above the roof.

The proposed 7 inch panel height was important to me because REC Solar initially told me that with the panels at that height, I would not have to relocate any of the roof penetraions (3 plumbing vent pipes and 2 bathroom exhaust vents) in the array’s footprint. My argument to the HOA was that the cost to move those vents (to allow a 4 inch panel height instead of the proposed 7 inch height) was significant and therefore covered by Colorado’s solar access law.

A couple of days before I was to make that argument again before the HOA board, I received a phone call from REC Solar’s new operations manager. He had new information that ‘changed everything’:

  • Superior’s building department was never okay with the prospect of covering plumbing vents with the solar panel array.
  • REC Solar had a new panel mounting proposal (using the TileTrac product from ProSolar) that satisfied the 4 inch panel height requirement.

This meant that the costly relocation of roof penetrations was driven by town building code, not HOA aesthetic requirements, weakening my chances for convincing the HOA to approve my system based on Colorado’s solar access loaw. With the new ‘HOA compliant’ plan looking like a light at the end of a tunnel, I reluctantly abandoned my efforts to further reform the HOA’s solar panel policy and focused instead on moving forward with the new design from REC solar.

With HOA compliance (and unanimous board approval) in hand, the joy of moving forward with the solar electric power system was tempered by the following concerns:

  • The long term weather proofness of the TileTrac roof penetrions
  • The presumably higher panel operating temperatures (which reduces panel
    efficiency and shortens panel life) resulting from the panels being closer
    to the roof

The temperature concern is largely academic; I have no idea how much warmer the panels will be with the 4 inch height compared to a 7 inch height. The roof penetration concern is a little more realistic, but REC Solar explained that they use the TileTrac method exclusively in central California and they believe it to be a good solution.