Can you believe that there are still contractors out there that don’t pull a permit for solar panels? For solar electric systems, this has been virtually eliminated because utility companies can detect electric meters operating in reverse, and to obtain the most benefit from solar electric systems you have to cooperate with the utility company by entering into an agreement (and get a special meter installed). For solar pool heaters, there is no easy way to police proper permitting, and systems are still being installed without them.
Reasons to Get a Permit
- The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) (City, County, Municipality) will review the plans to make sure the proposed system meets Florida Building Code.
- The AHJ will inspect the installation and certify that it matches the reviewed plans.
- Substandard and non-compliant work can be spotted and addressed.
- Not getting a permit subjects you, the homeowner, to violations and enforcement action (fines).
- Trying to sell your home with work that has not been permitted could cause issues.
- Obtaining payment on an insurance claim for non-permitted work may be impossible.
- Permit can only be obtained by licensed contractors who possess the proper insurance that protects your assets.
- It’s the law.
Reasons Some Don’t Get Permits
- Save money — not getting a permit either allows an unscrupulous dealer to offer a lower price or nets them more profit.
- Does not meet building code — corners are cut to save on materials and/or labor, or materials are not approved for sale and installation in Florida.
- Not licensed — contractor does not have the proper (or any) license or insurance to do solar pool heating installations.
- Time — a dealer may offer a quick installation schedule as a competitive advantage over a dealer that goes through the proper permitting process.
- Other code violations — your existing equipment may have code violations that the dealer does not want to address.
- Other paperwork — when obtaining a permit for work over $2,500 in value, a Notice of Commencement must be filed with the County Clerk (at a cost of $13 for a certified copy).
- Cost — we’ve already mentioned money, but it’s important to note that solar pool heating permits are not cheap, ranging from $80 to $280 in our area.
If your contractor tells you they can install your system in an impossibly short time-frame, they are probably not planning to get a permit or plan to get a permit after the fact (which is not a legal way to do it). Permitting takes anywhere from almost immediate issuance to weeks depending on the building department where you live. By law, the building department doesn’t have to review a permit application for 30 days. Fortunately, most jurisdictions around here take much less time, with a few offering permits over-the-counter for properly registered contractors. In some cases a permit can be issued the same or next day, but some jurisdictions require at least some review period. If you are offered a substantially cheaper proposal, one of the reasons may be a lack of permit, especially where permits are expensive (the further south you go in Southwest Florida, the more permits tend to cost). If a permit is not specifically listed on your contract, beware.
It is pretty easy for you to check online in most jurisdictions to see whether a permit has been issued. Check to see that a permit has been posted on the job site, and if you are not going to be home, ask your contractor for a permit number before they start work. That should be enough to compel them to do what’s right.