Why aren’t new houses built with solar panels? It’s a common question whenever we chat to people about PV. And we share the frustration - solar panels can be more cost effective and visually appealing when built in from the outset, not to mention cutting operational carbon emissions and future owners’ bills from the moment they move in.
So let’s try to uncover why new build solar panels aren’t standard, along with the reasons why they ought to be and best practices for doing so.
Why add solar panels to new houses?
The top reasons to add solar panels to your new house include:
- A straightforward way to meet SAP requirements or improve the property’s EPC rating, which is linked to higher sale prices.
- Appeal to eco conscious buyers to make the house more marketable - 84% of people rate energy efficiency as an important factor in their next home, according to a recent global survey, and Forbes recommends rooftop PV to stand out.
- It’s more cost efficient to build in PV when constructing a new house, as you can integrate the panels into the roof (cutting tile costs), use existing scaffolding and simplify the wiring process.
- Ensure lower energy bills for the homeowner from day one.
Tips for new build solar panels
Now that you’re hopefully convinced of the benefits of adding solar panels to your new build, here are some tips to get the most out of them:
- If you have any flexibility in the design stage, south-oriented roofs are best for PV. Additionally, it’s much easier to install an array on one single roof face, rather than split into multiple levels and orientations.
- Put antennas and other rooftop paraphernalia on the northern side of the roof to avoid obstructions and shading on the modules.
- Arrange pre-wiring for the PV to qualified solar standards, with photographic proof of the cable run. You can get your solar installer in to do the cable run early if you want it to be hidden.
- Opting for roof-integrated panels means the modules sit flush with the roofline, saves money on tiles and prevents birds nesting under the panels.
- Invest in high quality solar panels that will maintain a high output for a long time (note that SunPower Maxeon panels now have a 40 year warranty).
- Leave indoor space for an inverter, ideally in a cool space (garage or plant room) or near the roof level (i.e. the loft) to minimise the DC run.
- A three-phase property makes it easier to install larger solar systems (you can fit a higher capacity without prior DNO permission) but battery installations are more complex.
- Ideally install more than the absolute minimum panels needed to reach SAP requirements - we’ve all seen new builds with a single panel in the middle of the roof, which makes it harder to extend the system later - and just looks a bit silly!
New carbon reduction requirements
According to an investigation by This Is Money, the biggest housebuilders said they didn’t build all new properties to the highest EPC ratings because it would add to the cost, or because it wasn’t required by regulations. (The zero carbon homes standard was scrapped before it was due to come into force in 2016, costing each owner of a house built since then about £200 a year.)
In fact, only 2% of new build homes were built to A-rated EPC standards in 2021:
Data source: LUHC.
Upcoming Building Regulation changes will cut the carbon emissions from new properties - by 30% for new homes from June this year, and then by 75-80% from 2025 under the Future Homes and Buildings Standard. Reaching these tougher standards may mean more housebuilders fit solar panels, as they’re a quick win when it comes to chopping CO2.
After new build carbon reduction requirements were tightened up in Scotland, the percentage of new homes with solar panels increased from 10% to 70% between 2016 and 2020.
Which housebuilders add solar?
Viridian Solar seems determined to make PV standard on new builds, forming partnerships with Bellway, Persimmon and others. At Spirit, we’ve worked with developers including Acorn, Berkeley Group and Taylor Wimpey.
We have come across one instance of a major UK housebuilder that included a covenant on properties in a new build estate banning the installation of solar panels for five years after purchase. Presumably this was to preserve the uniform look of the estate for marketing purposes, but was understandably frustrating for our client who wanted to pursue solar for environmental reasons.
It remains to be seen whether such solar bans are standard practice for this housebuilder (we wrote to them for clarification but received nothing back) or, indeed, on other new builds. But it’s something to be aware of and to check before purchase.
Building renewable homes
If you’re building a new home, check out our guide to incorporating renewable technologies into your project: