U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

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July 30, 2012
Q.

How do other communities address solar energy systems in historic districts?

A.

In many cases solar energy systems are not visually compatible with historic structures or districts. However, many planners, preservationists, and solar advocates recognize the value of adding solar energy systems to historic structures and are eager to find solutions to this tension between aesthetics and historic preservation. A recent report, Implementing Solar PV Projects on Historic Buildings and in Historic Districts, co-authored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the National Trust for Historic Preservation includes a series of guidelines for siting solar energy systems on historic properties.

Though some communities prohibit solar energy systems on historic structures altogether, many others do make accommodations for solar installations. The typical solution is to allow roof-mounted systems as long as they are not visible from the street, are restricted to rear sections of the roof or located on non-historic additions, lie flush with the roof pitch, and do not protrude above the roofline. Given these restrictions, ground-mounted systems are often preferable, provided that they can be sited out of sight from the public right-of-way and in a location that receives adequate sunlight.

Examples of Historic District Design Guidelines that Address Solar Energy Systems
Aurora (Illinois), City of. n.d. Rehabilitation and Restoration Guidelines.

  • “Satellite Dishes, Antennas, and Solar Panels” section requires that solar panels be hidden from public view by placing them at rear rooflines, behind gables and dormers, and flush with the roofline (p. 88).

Boulder (Colorado), City of. 1994. Mapleton Hill Historic District Design Guidelines. Part VI, Section V. Solar Additions.

  • Solar panels should be placed on the ground or flat to the roof pitch and out of sight, and metal should be finished to relate to surrounding materials. Solar greenhouses on the street façade are inappropriate (p 22 of PDF).

Montgomery (Maryland), County of. 2011. Design Guidelines for Historic Sites and Districts in Montgomery County, MD. Chapter 3, Part 9.0. Solar Panels. 

  • Includes guidance and illustrations on proper location and installation of solar panels so as not to adversely affect the historic character of the structure to which they are being added.

St. Cloud (Minnesota), City of. 2011. Land Development Code. Article 13, Section 13.4.B.5. Commercial Historic District Design Guidelines - Accessory Structures and Appurtenances. 

  • Accessory structures and appurtenances should be located on the roof or to the rear of buildings and screened by appropriate plantings or fencing; solar panels and television aerials should be situated as far out of public view as possible.

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