Passing Observations on Solar Code Update 2014

I had the privilege of spending my Friday in a code update con-ed class designed for code officials.

Now you don’t know joy like sitting in a class for 8 hours dedicated to electrical code. If you can’t feel my sarcasm let me give you an example,

“When the sum, without consideration of polarity, of the PV system voltages of the two monopole subarrays exceeds the rating of the conductors and connected equipment, monopole subarrays in a bipolar PV system shall be physically separated, and the electrical output circuits from each monopole subarray shall be installed in separate raceways until connected to the inverter.”

Yeah. Now do that for 8 hours, and debate the finer points with a room full of people whose jobs are interpreting code for the greater good.

I shouldn’t disparage it too much, I actually like code which is one of the reasons I’m our companies licensed electrical administrator. (As a quick aside, if your solar contractor is not a licensed electrical contractor in the state of Washington they are operating illegally. This includes general contractors that advertise solar work and sub out the actual labor. Go here to look up any contractor.)

Because this particular con-ed class was designed for code officials it was an interesting dynamic for us installers in the room. The installer/inspector relationship is one that you hope will be a positive long lasting relationship where both parties mutually respect each other. That’s not always the case. Egos can always get in the way of a healthy working relationship.

Inspectors are at a disadvantage when it comes to code. From my perspective, inspectors need to know a lot about a lot of subjects. We have the advantage of being solar specialists; we know our corner of the code front and back. Even so, the Authority Having Jurisdiction always has the final say. And to their credit, they get it right much more often than not.

Sometimes when we debate the code we “bully” the inspector in an attempt to get them to agree that we know what we’re talking about. It’s not necessarily a conscious effort, but it happens (and it’s a two way street.) Friday, we solar installation companies were outnumbered, but we were still looked to as experts in how we approach the code in the field. So big thank you to our local code officials!

One of the greatest things about attending this particular class was seeing the inspectors and their desire to be well informed. I don’t think that’s new for inspectors. In fact, since we’ve started our business in 2007 inspections are getting easier as systems are more common and there is more training available for both inspectors and installers.

I love well-informed inspectors. They make our life easier, and they make it harder for fly-by-night contractors to survive on crappy work for long. The 2014 Code update brings some very important clarification to previously murky sections of the code. Adopting all of the changes won’t be without some challenges, but that’s why we’re solar pros: we’re ready for the challenge.