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New Fire Code Setbacks in Virginia Will Limit the Size of Solar Projects

Get your project started by April 1, 2022, to be grandfathered under the current code. This will enable your solar system to produce more renewable energy.

If you live in Virginia and are thinking about going solar, now is your time. Get your project started before new fire code rules start severely limiting your potential power production and your savings.

Fire codes dictate many rules for permitting in construction and home improvement projects, including the setbacks required on a roof with a PV (photovoltaic) system. A setback is simply the amount of space needed on a rooftop to create a pathway around the solar arrays. 

In general, it’s important to know that depending on where you live, the fire code setback requirements vary, and they can have a significant effect on the design of your solar system. Most importantly, if you live in Virginia, you should know that changes are coming soon which will limit your ability to install as many solar panels, and therefore limit the amount of power you can produce.

Why? The International Building Code is Being Updated

The main code that dictates the setback rules is the International Building Code (IBC), in addition to other codes and factors like historical district and zoning. These codes get updated every few years, and states and jurisdictions (aka, your county permitting office) are able to decide when to adopt the most recent codes. For example, in Virginia and Pennsylvania, the jurisdictions are still operating under the 2015 IBC but in July 2022, VA jurisdictions will adopt the 2018 rules. 

Virginia Fire Code Setbacks:

Below is an overview of general fire code guidelines that are soon to be implemented in Virginia in July 2022. Keep in mind that this is a general guideline. Your location and your roof will dictate specifics, and you should talk to one of our solar experts to get a design specific to your home. Some jurisdictions are more stringent than others when enforcing the code, and your solar consultant will know the ins and outs of what’s required. 

  • 3 foot setback from the ridge if PV area is more than 33% of the roof
  • 1.5 feet setback from the ridge if PV area is less than 33% of the roof
  • 3 feet on one side for each roof
  • No setback on ridge if there is no PV on the opposite roof
  • No setback for flat roofs (less than 9.5 degree pitch)

fire code setbacks VA and MD

You can see the current code for Virginia here.

Timing Matters for Virginia Solar Customers

As the codes are updated, states and jurisdictions will enforce the new rules over time. Virginia will begin enforcing these standards when permitting projects starting on July 1, 2022. That means that at Ipsun we will need to begin designing Virginia projects to comply with the more stringent 2018 IBC code starting on April 1, 2022. 

For example, here is the difference between a design with the current VA code vs. the new standards coming this spring: 

Solar design with fire code setbacks current and 2022 in VA

Please talk with your solar consultant about the effect this change may have on your design, and ultimately the amount of energy your system can produce based on the new setback requirements. In Virginia, you may want to move forward with your project by April 1, 2022, while we are still designing under the 2015 rules. These projects will be grandfathered under the previous requirements. 

Talk to Us!

Please reach out any time if you’d like to know about the specific setbacks required for your location, or if you want to talk about the IBC, or whatever you’re interested to learn about.

If you live in Virginia, our solar consultants are happy to draw up a design featuring the current VA code and a design with the upcoming code so you can see how much of a difference it’ll make for your home. Reach out any time—we’re here to help!


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