Fire-Rated Solar Systems Required in California for 2015

The U.S. solar industry will be hearing a lot more about UL 2703 (mounting) and UL 1703 (modules) standards in relation to fire ratings and “class” designations in the coming months. The 2012 International Building Code requires all rooftop PV systems to have the same fire rating as the rooftop itself. All U.S. states that have adopted the 2012 code should be enforcing this fire rating requirement, but some states have given a grace period. California has a grace period that ends Dec. 31, 2014. Effective the first of the year 2015, all roof-mounted solar installations in the state have to have a “Class A” racking/mounting system. Many mounting manufacturers are rushing to meet the deadline. At press time, Solar Builder can confirm SolarDock, Quick Mount PV, SunLink and SnapNrack have met these requirements, and many other companies are working toward that Class A fire rating.

FireDave Holleran, senior sales manager for Motech, answered a few questions for Solar Builder about the fire ratings. Motech’s modules were recently tested with SolarDock’s mounting system to achieve the Class A fire rating.

How will California’s code requirements affect the rest of the country?
To clarify, it’s not California’s code. California took national codes like International Fire Code (IFC), NFPA Code and 2012 IBC Code requirements and utilized them to create their own code that takes into account and enforces these different pieces. California is the leader in PV development and most states follow their lead, so we expect more states where PV development is heavy to follow suit. Any state that has adopted 2012 IBC code, or will be adopting 2015 code at the end of the year, will begin enforcing the code shortly — if they’re not already.

How are these fire ratings making solar installations safer?
If a rooftop is on fire, then panels will eventually burn. It’s a matter of how quickly they burn, and do they increase the spread of flame? Now modules can be installed in a manner that limits the potential for the system to create a fire. All wiring can be encapsulated so they don’t run the risk of fraying and creating an electrical arc. The system can have redundant grounding. Encapsulating the modules or adding a back deflector can stop rooftop debris/tinder from accumulating underneath the system.

What fire concerns should solar installers be aware of? How do the new requirements help them avoid issues?
Modules or racking that increase the risk of starting fires should be a prime concern. Poor wire management and grounding, utilizing the module frame as a ground path, etc., are all issues. The new requirements provide them with a design standard that was created with the intent of giving firefighters the ability to fight fires on the roof or on the arrays. To avoid issues installers need to become more aware of the problems, codes (both California and IBC) and be more proactive in addressing them during the project planning stage.

What benefits does a rated solar system (like the Motech/SolarDock configuration) bring to end-users?
It allows end-users to have an IBC code-compliant system on their rooftop, to have peace of mind that their system will not start a fire — but, God forbid there is one, the PV system will not accelerate the fire. In fact, it will slow the fire. The system will allow firefighters to fight the fire and save their building.

End-users can also know that, for insurance purposes, they’re putting the safest and best rated product on their roofs. This will give their building insurance group the ability to provide premiums that are not increased by the PV system.

— Solar Builder magazine

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