Help: Engineering Plans for Ground Mount Panels in NW Florida

JoeMartinMVC

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Aug 5, 2021
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I recently came in to a full solar system from my brother after he moved and now I'm running in to a bit of an issue with getting it permitted.
The electrical side of everything is easy to get the permit for and should be to code already, so that's not where my issue comes in.

I'm doing a ground mount set up for 40 panels, 4 strings of 10.
I was informed today at my permitting office that they now require engineering plans for the mounts, and that they must meet at least tier 1 wind resistance (can't find anything about that, so that's going... Swimmingly).

This is where I need some help and hope the community can offer some advice or point me in the right direction.

I am in northwest Florida (Santa Rosa County)... And I honestly have no idea how to even start to get engineered plans for my build.
Previously we just used fencing top rail to build a full mount system and just take the panels down for hurricanes since the debris would likely kill them anyway, but the county is not fine with that answer and wants it engineered appropriately.
 

chrisw5

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Jan 11, 2021
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I recently came in to a full solar system from my brother after he moved and now I'm running in to a bit of an issue with getting it permitted.
The electrical side of everything is easy to get the permit for and should be to code already, so that's not where my issue comes in.

I'm doing a ground mount set up for 40 panels, 4 strings of 10.
I was informed today at my permitting office that they now require engineering plans for the mounts, and that they must meet at least tier 1 wind resistance (can't find anything about that, so that's going... Swimmingly).

This is where I need some help and hope the community can offer some advice or point me in the right direction.

I am in northwest Florida (Santa Rosa County)... And I honestly have no idea how to even start to get engineered plans for my build.
Previously we just used fencing top rail to build a full mount system and just take the panels down for hurricanes since the debris would likely kill them anyway, but the county is not fine with that answer and wants it engineered appropriately.
You will probably need to hire a local Professional Civil Engineer registered in the State of FL to sign off on plans/calcs. It’s not a difficult calculation, so shouldn’t be too expensive but those folks’ billable hours aren’t cheap.
 

JoeMartinMVC

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You will probably need to hire a local Professional Civil Engineer registered in the State of FL to sign off on plans/calcs. It’s not a difficult calculation, so shouldn’t be too expensive but those folks’ billable hours aren’t cheap.
You're probably right, but I'm not entirely sure. The permit office didn't say the plans had to be signed off by an engineer, they just have to be "engineered plans", and when I spoke with them the main thing they wanted was to know how the mounting system would be built, materials used, and the wind rating.

I'm wondering if anyone here has had any engineered plans built off of utilizing fence posts and/or top rail.
 

pinkeng

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northern california
That the building department wants engineering plans means you need to get stamped and signed plans. Probably from a structural engineer, licensed in Florida. hurricanes (teir 1) will make that solar panel Mount design quite spendy. my guess is it would cost you a few thousand dollars for a simple plan. A civil engineer might be able to do it. It's not that complicated. A cheaper option might be trying to find a registered Florida engineer on upwork (gig jobs), who can produce the plans and calculations for not too much money.
 

Short_Shot

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Key point being licensed/registered of course.

A licensed PE is very different from "some guy with an engineering degree".

If you do get this done perhaps you might be willing to come back to report the cost and any pertinent details for others who may find this thread in the future?
 

svetz

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Not sure what the "tier 1" wind resistance is...perhaps they meant Risk Category (e.g., a Tier 1 makes sense for a ground mount as tier I are structures that represent a low hazard to human life in the event of failure). I think there are some online engineering services that churn these things out too for a few hundred.
 

pinkeng

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northern california
HUM, the only thing I can find about Tier 1 relates to the solar panel wind load. It's a rating that solar panel manufacturers need to meet (be certified for) . So you'll need to check with the panel manufacturer if they meet Tier1. Wind loads from a florida building code standpoint are category 1 through 4.

I might call the building permit folks and ask for clarification. Do it in a nice way and they may work with you. Also ask if they know of structural or civil engineers in the area you can call. Never piss them off BTW. They know they are god, from a permit standpoint anyway..
 

JoeMartinMVC

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Aug 5, 2021
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Key point being licensed/registered of course.

A licensed PE is very different from "some guy with an engineering degree".

If you do get this done perhaps you might be willing to come back to report the cost and any pertinent details for others who may find this thread in the future?
Sorry for the late reply.

I'm going to try drafting up basic "engineered" plans and see if the county accepts it and gives me the building permit. If they don't and say "No, it has to be signed off by an engineer" then I'll work on going that route.
 

JoeMartinMVC

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Not sure what the "tier 1" wind resistance is...perhaps they meant Risk Category (e.g., a Tier 1 makes sense for a ground mount as tier I are structures that represent a low hazard to human life in the event of failure). I think there are some online engineering services that churn these things out too for a few hundred.

I was able to get a little bit more info, though my county is kind of rude about giving any information.
Tier 1 equates to 130 MPH winds which is a bit insane in my book.

I'm hoping they'll accept my own personal plans which should have all of the necessary info that they want, just no engineer stamp.
 

JoeMartinMVC

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HUM, the only thing I can find about Tier 1 relates to the solar panel wind load. It's a rating that solar panel manufacturers need to meet (be certified for) . So you'll need to check with the panel manufacturer if they meet Tier1. Wind loads from a florida building code standpoint are category 1 through 4.

I might call the building permit folks and ask for clarification. Do it in a nice way and they may work with you. Also ask if they know of structural or civil engineers in the area you can call. Never piss them off BTW. They know they are god, from a permit standpoint anyway..

Yeah, I'm trying my best to be as nice with them as possible and so far it seems they still like me. Unfortunately they're not very forthcoming with information albeit direct questions about what exactly they're wanting.
 

drewjet

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Aug 13, 2021
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I am currently installing PV panels, I am just outside of Orlando FL. I am using greenlancer.com The engineer (PE) is florida licensed, and should be able to help out, if the county rejects your self made plans (which is what my building department did)
 

JoeMartinMVC

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I am currently installing PV panels, I am just outside of Orlando FL. I am using greenlancer.com The engineer (PE) is florida licensed, and should be able to help out, if the county rejects your self made plans (which is what my building department did)
I really appreciate the info. Do you mind if I ask how much it's costing for the engineered plans through them?
 

drewjet

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They have a Florida Package. It was $290.

I tried a few local engineers. Called 6 or 7 of them, only 3 returned my calls. 1 didn't do that kind of work, and the other 2 said I would have a 2 to 3 month wait.

I have had a few issues, but they so far have been responsive and we are working through it so far.
 

Steve_S

Offgrid Cabineer, N.E. Ontario, Canada
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I believe that issue may be a bit easier to resolve than imagined. Often times such statements by Building Depts etc are ambiguous at best and it almost seems intentional. IronRidge is a Racking manufacturer, one of the top ones actually, they have some information, particular to Florida and I suggest a good look at this, it may answer a few questions and "possibly" a solution.
There's a Gotcha - Roof Mount stuff below.

The Ground Mount info is below, they have it all PE Certified and most States it's approved as well. The design tool can really help you work it out. I think the biggest challenge with anything related to Storm Resistance will involve the anchoring & retention methods. Solar Panels make for dangerous sails...

Most of the Racking & Mount manufacturers have similar info and even design software to assist people and this is most Certainly not something you want to import as a kit from anywhere, it's not something to furtle about with.

Hope it helps
 

anadiner

Solar Enthusiast
Joined
Aug 10, 2021
Messages
300
I recently came in to a full solar system from my brother after he moved and now I'm running in to a bit of an issue with getting it permitted.
The electrical side of everything is easy to get the permit for and should be to code already, so that's not where my issue comes in.

I'm doing a ground mount set up for 40 panels, 4 strings of 10.
I was informed today at my permitting office that they now require engineering plans for the mounts, and that they must meet at least tier 1 wind resistance (can't find anything about that, so that's going... Swimmingly).

This is where I need some help and hope the community can offer some advice or point me in the right direction.

I am in northwest Florida (Santa Rosa County)... And I honestly have no idea how to even start to get engineered plans for my build.
Previously we just used fencing top rail to build a full mount system and just take the panels down for hurricanes since the debris would likely kill them anyway, but the county is not fine with that answer and wants it engineered appropriately.
Right. County ordinances can be hassle.

Im on NC coast and have ran into regulation issues also.

1. Go to ur county site and read solar ordinances so u will know. Mine was in an appendix under Unified Development Ordinances.
2. This I know:
- submit grid to scale showing position. They are looking that panels are not in property offsets. Btw, u can hand write this. I bought 8th grade graphing paper...
- no higher than 6 feet
- county wind requirements. Mine are 130mph. U can find panels that give wind.. in pa. Dont know what that means yet but gotta be good to be sale point.
- screened. Gotta put 6 foot screening in areas that a neighbor can see it. Includes across the street. Meaning block view. Like those construction screen fences.
- gotta be UL listed. (careful = not UL compliant. Must be listed. Paperwork will have UL stamp)
- gotta have anti-reflection.

Anything else, when a code officer states x, ask where x is in ordinance. Not to be a butt, so u can look it up. Remember those folk rarely see solar so are just looking it up also.p

Btw, if dont have online access, u can look at the office. Also, takes awhile to find things about solar. Mine was buried in an accessory appendix.

Hope that helped.
 
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