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Solar Panels Must Leave Room for Firefighters Under New Rules

The revisions to city code passed last month also deal with sprinklers, fireworks and Christmas tree sales.

Fire code updates recently adopted by the City Council include limitations to the size and spacing of solar panels on roofs and requirements for sprinkler systems in new single-family homes, among other restrictions.

Homeowners must be sure solar panels installations, which are gaining popularity in Piedmont, leave room for firefighters to cut vents in the roof as necessary to let out smoke and heat in the event of a fire.

"You have to give us areas where we can put ladders that are not in trees or power lines or windows," said Piedmont Fire Chief Ed Tubbs, who delivered the recommendations for fire code updates to the council.

The ordinance requires that no solar array be greater than 150 feet by 150 feet. In buildings with a hip roof layout, panels or modules have to be located in a way that leaves a pathway three feet wide from the eave to the ridge on each roof slope where the panels or modules are located. In houses with single ridges, the panels have to leave two three-foot wide pathways from the eave to the ridge on each roof slope.

Panels and modules can't be located closer than 18 inches to a hip or valley if they are to be placed on both sides of it. If they are on only one side, then the panels can be put directly adjacent to the hip or valley. The panels and modules can't be higher than three feet below the ridge and there has to be a minimum of six feet of clear space around the perimeter of the roof.

The pathways have to be strong enough to support firefighters walking on them, and they have to run in straight lines not less than four feet clear to skylights and ventilation hatches.

Since very few new buildings are planned for the city, the sprinkler regulation won't affect very many people, Tubbs said. Owners of existing homes would only have to install sprinklers if they remodel 70 percent or more of the building.

The sprinkler systems must comply with the standards of the National Fire Protection Association.

The new rules also mandate firefighter access roads for new buildings and permits for temporary water supplies needed during the construction. Christmas tree sales now require permits and the use and sale of fireworks in the city is banned.

The entire municipal code can be viewed on the city website, http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/citycode.shtml.

Paul Tjogas February 14, 2011 at 08:33 PM
"no solar array shall be more than 150 feet by 150 feet" - That's more than a half acre. I'd say that's pretty lenient.
fred flintstone February 14, 2011 at 11:36 PM
ridiculous. there are plenty of alternatives to vertical ventilation. Sarcastically, why not have the fire dept limit the amount of slope on the roof/or ban certain roofing material. metal roofing is slick you know, concrete tile is heavy and falls thru the ceiling etc. this is a classic" solution without a problem". if you see that many solar panels upon arrival at a fire, as a chief your first concern should be the energy potential to be transferred to your firefighters on that roof. thats DC power up there! realistically its probably a NIMBY reaction to the ugly visual of solar panels disguised as a firefighter safety issue.
Amy Jeffries February 15, 2011 at 05:06 AM
Does anyone with experience installing solar panels on their house in Piedmont have any feelings about whether the new fire code rules are too lenient or overly cautious?
Dan July 26, 2011 at 04:53 AM
I get the feeling that PG&E made some strong contributions to the ca state fire and building code dept. PG&E is the greatest winner in this since it will insure most homes and businesses will need their overpriced kilowatts. I don't think a solar panel is match for an ax either--this is one of the most stupid intrusions of commen sense I have ever seen.

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