top reasons why homes fail solar inspections

What does the city check for during a solar inspection?

Since most homeowners are not Solar Installation experts, it's easy to end up in violation of local Solar Installation codes if you try to install your system. Your DIY installation may seem fine for weeks or even months, but when it comes time to have it inspected, you may find that expensive repairs need to be done to pass your solar PV inspection.

For your solar energy system, your city inspector will want to check 3 (three) primary areas: 

  1. Rough electrical for any concealed wiring
  2. The electrical bonding and grounding
  3. Final inspection of the complete solar energy system, including modules, panel, wire terminations, grounding, etc

City Building Codes Must Be Met to Complete Solar Permit

City Building Codes and Regulations are in place to keep you and your home or commercial property safe. Even seemingly minor code violations can increase the chance of electrical risk or your solar energy system having a future issue. Plus, failed inspections will delay your overall project and make it take longer to experience the benefits of going solar

If your solar installation is poorly done and not up to the current electrical code, there is no reason to be concerned unless there is an immediate safety issue. 

If you are making ordinary repairs that don't alter the existing Solar Installation system, you may not need a permit. However, suppose you are installing a new solar energy system or planning to remove and reinstall your existing one. In that case, you will likely be required to upgrade parts of your Solar Installation system that have fallen out of code.

Solar Installation and Electrical code violations aren't always intentional. If you live in an older home, there is a good chance your Solar Energy System may not meet the current code. Solar energy is still relatively new, and each state and the local city has regularly updated its regulations to ensure the system is installed correctly and safely. 

A Licensed Solar Professional Will Know Local Permit Codes

A licensed Solar Installation professional will know local permit and code requirements. Having Solar Installation and Repairs done by a licensed solar company is the best way to ensure that your solar energy system works appropriately and passes required inspections.

solar panel electrical panel inspection

If you plan to DIY or a new solar company, the first step to any solar installation project should be to research local Solar Electrical codes. For solar installation, homeowners are required to obtain a permit to install and activate their solar energy system with your utility. Failing to get the proper permits can devalue a property and result in having a system that the utility company won't accept. 

If you're working with an independent solar contractor or solar handyman, insist they pull the proper permits as well. A professional solar company will always obtain the correct permits, but some DIY homeowners overlook this step.

All installations shall be per the approved plans. And to verify that the installation was done correctly, the city inspector will require: 

  1. A means to safely access and inspect construction on the roof 
  2. Person on-site familiar with the installed system 
  3. Access to the inside of the home or commercial building to check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms.

Preparing for Your Solar PV Inspection

To properly prepare for your solar PV inspection, the goal is to ensure that you can show the inspector that your solar energy system was installed per the approved building plans. To demonstrate this, make sure all of the solar PV system components from the main panel, AC/DC Disconnect, and Circuit Breakers are open and verified on request. Also, the 3 (three) primary areas that the inspector will look to prove will be: 

  1. The solar array mounting system and structural connections according to the approved plan. 
  2. Electrical grounding/bonding of racking and modules according to the manufacturer's installation instructions are approved and listed. 
  3. The correct solar panel module model, quantity, and location according to the approved plan. 

9 Most Common Reasons Solar Inspection Failed

Installing your solar energy system to match your plans perfectly is the best way to reduce the chance of failing your solar inspection. Ensure that the equipment is installed, listed, and labeled according to the approved plan. This applies to all of the equipment from the solar panels, AC/DC Disconnect, DC/DC Converters (power optimizers), Combiner Box, Inverter, Load Centers, and Electrical Service Equipment. However, there are multiple reasons why you can fail your solar inspection. Here are nine common Solar Installation mistakes that lead to a failed inspection. These will need to be corrected before you will be able to activate your solar energy system. 

1. Exposed Conduit Must Match Home

Some solar installation companies won't paint. This can be a problem because most cities in California require that all outer conduit matches the exterior surface. The exterior conduit that can be used is a typical EMT Conduit. Some cities will allow for FMC conduit. But one common thread is that all cities ask that the run conduit on the roof, under eaves, and within the attic be done cleanly. In addition, all exposed conduits should be painted to match the adjacent surface. 

2. Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms in Every Room

smoke detector example
Example of Smoke Alarm Locations

Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms must be installed in dwelling units when building and safety permits are issued. These devices are essential fire and life safety features in your home, potentially saving lives in the event of a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. 

smoke and carbon location examples

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarms must be installed in the following locations: 

  1. In each sleeping room
  2. Outside of each bedroom near the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms
  3. On every level of a dwelling unit, including the basement

3. Incorrect Installation of Wires or Size

Even though the wiring may be complete, the city building inspector may not pass the work. According to California Electrical Code (CEC 110.12), all work is done neatly and in a workmanlike manner. This means that even though the work is complete, it isn't neat and challenging to examine. You may not pass inspection. Since you are working with an electrical system, a disorderly installed electrical panel can lead to eventual short circuits and electrical problems, which can cause property damage as well as serious injuries. 

4. Incorrect Installation of Grounding 

Electrical grounding is one of the most important considerations for any electrical inspection. The city building inspector will want to be extra careful dealing with your solar energy system because it is essentially a power plant on top of your roof. Therefore, having the proper grounding is essential. This means that the connection of the solar PV system to the grounding electrode system must match the approved plans. This means that the metallic raceways and enclosures and enclosing system grounding electrode conductors are bonded at each end of the raceways and each partition. 

inspecting quality workmanship work

5. PV System Markings, Labels, and Signs

One of the most common reasons for failing an inspection is the proper labeling of your solar energy system. PV system markings, labels, and signs according to the approved plan are essential. Labels and their specific requirements are in place to ensure that homeowners, any future electricians, and firefights can work safely. 

Therefore cities can be very strict with regards to signage. Typically, most cities in California require that the solar warning signage be metal or plastic with engraved or machine-printed letters, or electro-photo plating, contrasting to the plaque. The plaque shall be attached to the service equipment with approved adhesive—a minimum of 3/8" high white lettering on a red background. Also, any of the conduit raceways entering the building shall be labeled and identified every 10 feet. And within 1 (one) foot of turns and bends and 1 foot above and below the roof, walls, or barriers penetrations. 

6. Electricity and Water: GFCI Protection

This is an electrical issue outside of the scope of solar but is vital for electrical safety. Ground-fault circuit interrupters (or GFCIs) are electrical outlets that automatically cut the power if there's too much moisture or a change in electrical current. GFCIs are required in kitchens, bathrooms, outdoors, and other areas of your home where water is present. Even though your solar PV system has nothing to do with water, your city inspector may require that you add GFCI protection since you are the last person modifying the electrical panel. To check if your outlets are up to code, you can use an inexpensive GFCI tester tool to test them.

7. Proper Electrical Sizing - Panel Derate

Inverter output circuit breaker is located at the opposite end of bus from utility supply at load center and/or service panelboard (not required if the sum of the inverter and utility supply circuit breakers is less than or equal to the panelboard bus rating). In certain situations, you will need to downsize the main service breaker. This is known as a panel derate. This is to ensure that your electrical system doesn't overheat. The breaker will have a maximum amperage, and no upsizing is permitted. 

panel derate wording

8. Roof Penetrations and Sealants

Roof penetrations flashed/sealed according to the approved plan. Also, check for plumbing vents under modules. For most solar installations, the solar panels are attached to a rail that is mounted to your roof with a lag bolt. Any holes that are created are sealed with a special sealant to ensure that there are no roof leaks. In addition, there are certain areas of your roof you should not place your solar panels. Most California cities will not allow solar panel modules to obstruct plumbing, mechanical, or roof vents. 

9. Fire Department Considerations - Equipment Location

A significant consideration for your solar energy system's regulation is based on the Fire Department. In order for the fire department to be able to properly turn off your solar energy system and work on your roof, the location of your equipment is essential. This is why your solar energy system's A/C Disconnect must be located on the exterior wall and adequately located to be accessible to the fire department. 

roof layout fire fighter consideration pathway

In addition, the CEC requires that at least one pathway shall be provided on the street or driveway side of the roof. For each roof plane with a photovoltaic array. There is a minimum pathway that is required from the lowest roof edge to the ridge. This ensures that the fire department has a safe path that they can access to the roof. The pathway shall be located in areas with minimal obstructions such as vent pipes, conduit, or mechanical equipment. 

In-Depth Solar PV Inspection Checklist

General Overview: 

  • Approved plans, inspection record cards, and manufacturers' installation instructions shall be available on location. 
  • Installation of equipment matches the approved plans.
  • If the solar panel installation differs from the approved plans, a change to the plans or construction may be required. 
  • The work shall be fully complete by the time of inspection.
  • A ladder that adheres to CAL-OSHA requirements shall be prepared and secured in place for the inspection. 
  • When a separate utility disconnect is required, the local utility company's approval notice shall be made available on site. 
  • For projects with a main panel upgrade, a utility company's service order shall be available on site. 
  • All required licenses, clearances, and permission for electrical equipment must be provided and maintained. 
  • All required labels must be properly fixed in place. 

Solar Energy System Equipment:

  • The solar energy system's electrical equipment and its verifiable bus rating shall be adequate and adequately sized for the designed PV source. 
  • The electrical grounding and bonding connections shall be located and verified. 
  • All placards and signage must be present for customers self-generating electrical equipment as required by the California Electrical Code and in compliance with the local AHJ. 
  • New circuit breakers shall be from the same equipment manufacturer as the existing service equipment or approved on the plans to be used with the existing electrical equipment. 
  • When existing circuits are relocated to accommodate the solar PV breaker, a new panel schedule is required, and the loads shall remain balanced. 

Solar Panel Array on the Roofs 

  • All roof-mounted PV arrays and racking systems require inspection of the wiring, attachments, and grounding. 
  • Inspectors must be provided a safe path to inspect and walk on the roof.
  • The solar mounting system and the solar modules must be installed in compliance with the manufacturer's installation instructions. 
  • The installed mounting system and solar panel modules should match the same model and manufacturer as those identified on the approved plans. 
  • The solar mounting system must be securely attached, and the weather protection of the roof membrane shall be maintained. 
  • Roof solar panel arrays may not compromise or obstruct roof vents, plumbing vents, or chimneys.

Combiner Boxes, Junction Boxes, and Wiring Methods 

  • Wiring conductors should be the approved type and properly sized to match the approved plans.
  • Whenever applicable, metallic raceways containing DC source circuits over 250 volts shall be correctly bonded through concentric knock-outs at boxes or enclosures. 
  • Solar combiner boxes, DC disconnects, and fusing used in DC source wiring shall be DC rated. 
  • Intermediate enclosures, boxes, and conduit body covers must be accessible for servicing and properly grounded. 

Solar Inverters, DC Disconnects, and Rapid Shutoff

  • Signage or a placard with the power source operating voltage and currents shall be attached to or located adjacent to either the inverter or the DC disconnect. 
  • The installed inverters, Disconnect, and Rapid Shutoff Devices shall be the same as those identified on the approved plans. 
  • A correctly sized system grounding electrode conductor shall be installed to the appropriate terminal. 
  • Metallic raceways and enclosures, enclosing system grounding electrode conductors, shall be bonded at each end of the raceways and to each enclosure. 

AC Overcurrent Protection and Required Utility Disconnects 

When the utility company requires a lockable AC disconnect, it shall be located at the service equipment unless the utility company approves a remote location. 

  • When the utility disconnect is required, it shall be identified on the placard as "PV System Disconnect." 
  • All back-fed circuit breakers and disconnects shall be labeled appropriately with the correct label or placards.

Trust the Local Solar Installation Experts

The experts at Forme Solar Solar Installation have over 30 years of combined solar experience in California. Our trained Solar Installation technicians have the expertise to make sure your Solar Installation repairs and installations meet all local code requirements. 

top reasons why homes fail solar inspections California

Failed inspections can happen regardless if how careful you are. We have an 85%+ first time inspection pass rate. By working with a local solar installation company, you can increase your chance of activating your solar faster. Helping you achieve your ROI faster. Give us a call at 714-694-2262 or get a FREE solar installation quote today!