Installing apartment block solar panels: what you need to know

Property Management | 13 June 2023

With high energy prices and electrifying momentum behind the move to net zero, solar panels are fast becoming a no-brainer.

Free electricity and an easy way to protect the planet for the next generation. What’s not to like?

But if you’re in charge of an apartment block, installing them is not always simple.

No doubt your residents would love them (who doesn’t want free electricity?), but they probably have more questions than you have answers for.

Don’t fret. Our team has decades of experience kitting out all sorts of buildings with solar panels, EV chargepoints, and other low carbon tech.

Here’s a run-through of the key things you need to know about getting solar for your apartment block.

Is your roof suitable?

Before you get started, it pays to make sure your apartment block roof is going to be suitable for a solar system.

Direction and pitch of your roof: what’s best?

Solar panels work best when they’re facing the sun directly. In the northern hemisphere, that means south-facing.

The top scenario is a south-facing roof with a pitch of between 30 and 35 degrees. On a roof like this, the sun hits the panels square-on for as much of the day as possible.

Southeast and southwest-facing roofs also work well; they’re just marginally less efficient than south-facing.

What if you’ve got a flat roof?

As an apartment block manager, you might be dealing with a flat roof rather than a pitched roof – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Pitched roofs are brilliant if they face south. But if the available roof space faces north, it’s much less efficient.

On a north-facing pitched roof, the panels face away from the sun. They still work, but they’re typically 50% less efficient. You need double the number of panels to match the potential of a south-facing roof.

Flat roofs, on the other hand, don’t have this problem. They don’t face one way or the other.

And to set them up for maximum efficiency, you can mount the panels on tilted brackets so they point straight at the sun.

Will you need planning permission for solar panels?

Solar panel installations often fall under the “permitted development” category and don’t need planning permission.

There are, however, exceptions that can often impact installations on apartment blocks.

Flat roofs

Yep, you guessed it. While flat roofs are ideal for positioning your panels, they can give you a planning headache.

It’s all down to the brackets. Anything that protrudes more than 0.2m from the roof is likely to need planning permission. Most solar panel brackets fall into that category.

Conservation areas

If your building is in a conservation area, you might face restrictions on where you can put solar panels. It’s unlikely to affect rooftop panels, but it’s worth checking out.

Listed buildings

If your building is listed, it’s likely you’ll need to apply for both Listed Building Consent and planning permission.

Apartment block solar freehold, leasehold and other legal questions

Once you’re sure your roof is suitable, you need to think about your leaseholders.

Your starting point is the terms of the freehold and leasehold, to work out who is legally responsible for the roof.

In most cases, leaseholders are responsible for the interior of the apartment they own, and the freeholder is responsible for the building’s structure, including the roof.

How do you pay for solar panels on an apartment block?

Repairs to your building’s structure (including the roof) usually come out of the service charge.

A solar panel installation, however, is likely to be classed as an improvement. This means it’s unlikely you’ll be able to pay for it through the service charge.

Often, apartment owners will club together to fund the installation. Solar is an investment, and it brings a heap of benefits for everyone (more on those later).

You’ll also need to think about who pays for any maintenance and how to run cables from the solar panels throughout your block.

The benefits of installing solar panels on your apartment block

Although there are a few things to deal with, in most cases solar panels are absolutely worth it in a multi-residential property.

Free electricity

Your residents get to enjoy free electricity during the day and can earn a bit of extra income if the panels generate more than they use. You might also benefit from the free juice if you pay for communal lighting, heating, or anything else that uses electricity.

Exactly how much money you’ll all save depends on the size of your solar system, current energy prices, and how much energy you typically use. This handy calculator from the Energy Saving Trust can give you an estimation of what your solar system could generate.

Boost your property’s value

You’ll also see an uplift in the value of your block. Homes with sustainable features sell quicker and for more money.

In fact, research shows solar panels add an average of 14% to the value of a home in the UK.     

Apartments in your block are also likely to be easier to sell.

According to research by the Home Builders Federation, being eco friendly and having a good EPC rating are in the top 3 most desirable features for homebuyers. The same research found that 75% of people are worried about how energy efficient their current home is.

There’s even a new phrase for this eco trend: location, location, insulation.

Future-proof your apartment block

Electric vehicle sales are booming. The internal combustion engine ban is on its way. Sustainability is at the top of investors’ agendas.

There’s no doubt the world is going electric, and renewable energy is at the heart of it.

In the future, homes without renewable energy will be worth less and harder to sell. Making solar work for your apartment block is an investment in its long-term value.

About Powerverse

We’re market leaders in integrated energy management systems. Well versed in the challenges apartment managers can face when installing solar panels and EV chargepoints, we offer an end-to-end solution that takes care of all the hassle. Find out more here.

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