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Solar PV: Safety and The Building Regulations

Installing a Solar Photovoltaic System presents a unique combination of challenges. In addition to the risks associated with dealing with live electricity (you can't turn solar PV panels off!). The installer is also faced with the dangers of handling potentially large and heavy equipment at height as well as ensuring that the installation of a solar PV system does not have a negative impact on the strength and integrity of the buildings structure (often a roof) where the system is to be mounted.

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Introduction

This short article is not meant to be a complete guide to the building regulations in relation to installing photovoltaics. Our intention in writing this article is to provide a focus on solar photovoltaics, an area where specific guidance is hard to find and highlight potential discussion points between the client and the installer in order to ensure that PV installations are safe and compliant. We reference the Building Regulations and other relevant legislation in this article and have provided supporting links and documentation for further review at the end.

Safety

The Building Regulations cover aspects of building such as fuel conservation and the accessability and usability of buildings but their overriding concern is for people's safety. In law, responsibilty for compliance with the building regulations lies firmly with the person carrying out the work. But let's take a step back, we are talking about people's safety, could being able to blame someone else in court for non compliance in any way compensate for a serious accident or a death?

It is important for both clients and installers to know what the building regulations are, what they are used for, the protections they offer and how to ensure that the installer and the installation is compliant and subsequently safe. Any good installer will welcome discussions with an educated and interested client and will have a professional interest in delivering the safest possible installation in compliance with the Building Regulations.

The Building Regulations

The Building Regulations 2000 were made under the Building Act 1984 and are applicable in England & Wales. The requirements of the Building Regulations (Scotland) 2004 apply in Scotland. The Building Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 (as amended) apply in Northern Ireland. Although from now on we only reference the Building Regulations for England and Wales we hope the points and examples highlighted are relevant to anyone installing a solar photovoltaic system wherever they may be located.

Building Control & Local Authorities

Local authorities are responsible for compliance with the Building Regulations and most will have a dedicated building control department. There is some confusion as to whether a solar PV installation needs to be notified to the local authority and different authorities do have different approaches.

To clarify, what is certain is that nearly all domestic electrical work is notifiable under Part P of the Building Regulations (see below) and a solar PV installation is nearly always notifiable electrical work. Notification can be carried out either by your installer after the work has been carried out if they are recognised as a competent person under Part P (look for membership of a competent persons scheme such as NICEIC, NAPIT, ELECSA). If your installer isn't registered as a competent person or you are carrying out the installation yourself you will need to inform building control in advance by filing a building notice.

The confusion comes in as a solar PV installation is often much more than electrical work, for example some installations involve major roofing work and other structural changes especially when integrating photovoltaics into a building's fabric. This work goes beyond Part P and electrical installations, we are now talking about building work.

Wether this building work has to be notified is dependent on the nature of the work and the preference of the local authority, in our experience it is in everyone's interest to notify or at least clarify in advance if there is any doubt. The costs involved in filing a building notice are small when compared to the cost of a system and in our experience solar PV applications are welcomed and treated positively.

The benefits of involving building control include; a record of the building work will be kept with the local authority for review by any prospective house purchaser via a local authority search, avoiding any potential difficulties when selling a property in the future. Paperwork, certifications and equipment will be double checked by an independent third party and everyone will have the comfort of knowing the installation has been carried out correctly, safely and in compliance of the Building Regulations.

The Regulations

The Building Regulations 2000 are split into 14 parts A-P, depending on the nature of the PV installation the following parts may be applicable and should be addressed early at the system design stage:

Part (Click to download) Examples

Approved Document A - Structure

  • Strength of roof e.g. increased weight loading
  • Effect of wind lift on solar PV panels & roof supports
  • Depth of wall chases
  • Sizes of holes and notches used for cables
  • Use of certified and correctly applied materials and equipment

Approved Document B1 - Fire Safety (Domestic)

Approved Document B2 - Fire Safety

  • PV installations in relation to fire risk e.g short circuits, overloaded cables.
  • Fire resistance of roof coverings esp roof integrated PV panels, PV tiles & PV slates
  • Cable penetrations through walls, ceilings and floors must not assist the spread of fire
  • Adequate ventilation of heat producing equipment e.g inverters, PV modules and PV Cables.
  • Use of certified and correctly applied materials
Approved Document C - Moisture
  • Cable penetrations through external walls and prevention of moisture ingress.
  • Moisture ingress through roof coverings
  • Correct choice, use and application of moisture prevention e.g. roof flashings, waterproofing
Approved Document E - Sound
  • Sound passage through cable penetrations should be minimised and gaps sealed.
Approved Document F - Ventilation
  • Correct positioning and ventilation of heat emiting equipment such as inverters, solar panels and cables.
Approved Document K - Protection from Falling
  • Safe installation of solar PV systems at height
  • Safe maintenance of solar PV systems at height
  • Correct selection, construction and use of access equipment such as scaffolding
Approved Document M - Access & Use of Buildings
  • Accessable placement of equipment e.g. Inverters, monitors, fuse boxes, isolators
Approved Document P - Electrical Safety (Domestic)
  • Correct usage, sizing and positioning of cables
  • Labelling and warning signs
  • Adequate earthing and bonding (if required)
  • Protection from damage, dust, water and people (esp fingers) of electrical equipment and cables.
  • Test certificates, manuals and safety instructions
  • Isolation arrangements (how to disconnect parts or all of the system)
  • Correct selection and use of protective devices such as RCDs, fuses and isolators

Official guidance to the different parts of the Building Regulations can be downloaded by clicking the links to the Approved Documents above. Your Local Authorities website or building control department may also have further information and guidance.

Other free documentation that may be useful for clients and installers in relation to installating solar photovoltaics safely and in compliance with the Building Regulations can be downloaded below.

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