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Community and Q&A

Carport vs. Pole-Mounted Solar Panels

irin | Posted in General Questions on

Input info: Our 1950s house does not have a garage and only limited space to build a carport. The car is baking on a south-facing driveway 🙂 The roof of the house is old, but not ready for the replacement yet. We have cut off the gas service to the house and went all electric with minisplit heating and cooling. I am trying to determine whether it is possible to install a small pole-mounted or carport-like 10-12 solar panel structure on the front yard next to the driveway or maybe over the driveway to create a shade for the car and take advantage of the southern exposure and avoid placing solar panels on the roof. The neighborhood is mostly raised ranch houses in a good area. Many of the houses are being torn down and replaced with much larger ones. There is no HOA. Do you think we can pull it off? Any advice on solar carport vendors? Thank you.

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  1. charlie_sullivan | | #1

    If you have a clear view of the southern sky from the driveway, the solar carport option sounds perfect. Most companies offering solar carports are primarily doing commercial, so you might have a little trouble finding an appropriate size for an appropriate price. Here's one starting point:

    1. irin | | #2

      Thank you for the link! Yes, solar carport seems to solve several problems at once. I really like the idea of not having the panels on the roof - easier to clean, maintain and even adjust the tilt- I’ve seen some adjustable mounts for the pole mounted panels. But I am mostly worried that structure like this will be objectionable to the neighbours unless it is a very aesthetically pleasing design. And it is difficult to find a good looking one. That is why I am seeking the help of the green community. Maybe someone has seen a good looking prefabricated solar carport somewhere.

      1. tommay | | #5

        You're exactly right for all the reasons you state. I hate seeing panels on a roof, unless that is the only option. If you look at all the large scale projects, they don't build roofs to put them on.
        You don't have to tell anybody you're building a "carport", just say you are building a rack for your panels and you may just park your car under it.
        I've installed panels on a pergola type structure on a deck and used 3/4 galvanized tubing (electrical conduit)to make struts to angle the panels at the correct angle and distance to minimize shading. The panels are pretty light weight so loading isn't to much of a factor.
        You can either make a wooden structure or use galvanized tubing for the main structure or a combination of both. Key clamp fittings are nice and easy to install if you decide to use tubing, rather than threaded fittings.

  2. Expert Member
    Akos | | #3

    I think you can might be able to do it by repurposing an existing design.

    You can have a local handyman build you a really nice pergola with sloped slats. Make sure the pergola sits on proper foundation, all the columns are braced and the structure is tied together with hardware that will resist uplift. Depending on your local rules for PV install, you might need an engineer to look it over and stamp the design.

    On the slats, you can mount standard PV racking and install panels. You can seal the gap between the panels with T shaped EPD extrusion. It won't be 100% water tight, but would keep most of the water out. If you don't mind a bit of rain getting in, you can skip the gasket.

    If you keep slope minimal and the array smaller than the pergola, from most angles, you won't even be able to see that it is anything but a pergola.

  3. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #4

    I would first find out what your local zoning and building code say about carports.

    Generally solar panels don't impose any additional loads on roofs. If a roof is built to withstand the wind, snow and seismic loads of an area then solar is no problem.

  4. Chris_in_NC | | #6

    Definitely talk to your local planning department, etc., and find out if there are zoning requirements specific to solar.

    As an example: We are planning on eventually doing a solar pergola, and have learned that in our area, solar detached from the house (and not mounted to the roof of an approved accessory building) is classified as a standalone solar array, which is limited to certain areas of the property and also very limited in height. So we could not build a freestanding solar carport (because of the height), but might be able to build a house-attached solar carport or a solar pergola over a deck or patio.

    I'm apparently the only person in my local area to ask these questions, and it seems like anything other than ground mount racking is going to require some heavy interpretation of the ill-defined zoning regs.

    All that to say: Don't get too far into the design phase before finding if there is a bounding box that you have to work within.

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #7


      That's good advice in almost every situation. My first stop after a client tells me what they would like to build - whether it's a house or a garden shed - is the planning office.

      At every coffee shop or lumberyard contractor sales desk here you can find someone who feels hard done by because they have been refused permission for projects that are either well advanced or finished, as they didn't find out if they met applicable codes or bylaws.

    2. tommay | | #8

      Chris, you should have asked me, I would have said it was Okay. Instead you asked someone else and they said NO.....understand?

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