Housing Complex

Revelation: Historic Districts Restrict Solar Panels

A little harder to accomplish in historic districts.

A little harder to accomplish in historic districts.

While researching a story on the D.C. solar industry, I learned something somewhat dismaying: In any one of D.C.'s 46 historic districts, if you want to put a solar panel on your roof, it cannot be visible from the street. So, if you have a nice south-facing roof exposure that fronts onto the street, you're pretty much out of luck as far as solar is concerned. In particular, this affects areas like Georgetown, Capitol Hill, and Cleveland Park, which also have the most disposable income to spend on things like solar energy systems.

Historic preservationists are eager to prove that preservation doesn't necessarily retard development, that it raises property values, that it can be a tool for neighborhood revitalization. All of those things are true. But they'd be more true if we could make an exception for a forward-thinking energy source that only has the shortcoming of not looking like it would have fit into a 19th-century tableau. Solar panels, after all, aren't exactly the same thing as inappropriate dormers or other architectural elements out of keeping with the historic nature of a neighborhood. They're tools to move us towards the vital goal of more sustainable energy generation, and historic districts shouldn't be one more thing in the way.

Photo via flickr user bathroom improvement.

P.S. Oh yeah, I'm writing a story about the solar industry in D.C.! Especially startups. Plus ongoing problems with Pepco. Since this has worked before, if you've got particular knowledge or insight on the subject, do drop me a note: ldepillis@washingtoncitypaper.com.

  • deecee foodeee

    Random question - is Meridian Hill park in a historic district? I just purchased a place on 15th north of W and can't seem to find a map with that area included in it.... but given the historic value of the area I wonder if I am just not looking in the right place.

    Would be nice to go solar one day...

  • Lydia DePillis

    Nope, I think you're in the clear!


  • DC Guy

    With newer solar technologies, the idea of installing solar panels is getting somewhat obsolete.

  • http://ganggreennbm.blogspot.com Susan Piedmont-Palladino

    The tension between historic preservation and green building is one of the most intractable problems in architecture and urban design. We've all got to work toward a detente...I've written a few posts on this myself, starting with this one

  • ARM

    So what about the solar decathlon [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Decathlon], which occurs on the mall, one of the 46 historic districts? By law, does this mean that they can't be seen from Jefferson or Madison Drives?

  • DJ

    I was just talking with a neighbor about the issue of solar panels in historic districts. I agree that it is a problem. In many instances, there are ways to place the panels so that they are not visible from the street. And I understand that there is new technology (though not as good as the panels) that incorporates the solar panels into the roofing material.

    I think that we are on the verge of some significant breakthroughs in the energy field that will give homeowners (and historic districts) more options. Preservationists are not against energy efficiency!

  • http://www.solarmaxdirect.com nick

    With the solar panel industry growing with very fast trends, here is a web site with probably the lowest prices for solar panels, as well as these guys can tell you the most efficient panel for your project as well as the arrangement of the panels.


    This web site might be helpful with more information about renewable energy,how we can use it,capture it, and free research on companies who are dealing with sale and manufacturing of different products.

  • Kim

    Owning property in an historic district does not automatically mean that you cannot install a photovoltaic system...or any other source of renewable energy. Local preservation commissions review hundreds of applications a year for the installtion of renewables onto historic properties... and the majority are approved through a collaborative process between the commission and the homeowner.

    What is does mean is that you will have to work with the historic character of your neighborhood...which is probably one of the many reasons you purchased your property to begin with.

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