The answer is yes — in most jurisdictions in Florida, permits are required for all solar panel types. And when there is a permit, there is naturally an inspection. However, there are some exceptions and the requirements differ by building department and panel type.
Your solar contractor should secure all necessary permits and schedules required inspections. You will not have to deal with the building department, and the whole process is painless. You may need to have a permit posted on your home during the process, and you may need to be home to let an inspector inside if work is being done inside — most inspections do not require that you be present, especially for solar pool heaters. Some jurisdictions require that a ladder be left for an inspector.
Solar Photovoltaic (Electric)
Most building departments require a full plan review of drawings including signed and sealed engineering drawings for at least the structural mounting of panels. Some jurisdictions are using streamlined permitting processes, but the application is still reviewed before permit issuance. I have not heard of any jurisdictions that allow the installation of solar photovoltaic panels connected to a building’s electric system without a permit. This type of permit usually takes the longest to get due to the multiple aspects of plan review required, and the complexity and uniqueness of each system.
Solar Water Heating
Solar Water Heating usually falls under a plumbing permit, as the potable water system in the home will be modified in some way. Plumbing permits are usually issued over the counter and require no detailed plan review. This trade permit process is usually quick and easy. Some jurisdictions require signed and sealed structural engineering, and some engage in a full plan review of solar water heating panel installations. For the most part, solar water heating systems are easily permitted and recognized by building departments.
Solar Pool Heating
Solar pool heaters can be a source of confusion for some building department personnel. They often confuse them with solar water heaters, and sometimes don’t know whether a permit is required. You may get different answers when speaking to different people. When you dig deeper, in almost all cases a permit is required by the building official. Some jurisdictions have a specific permit type for solar pool heaters, and some include them in the plumbing trade permit application. This is the most likely type of solar panel to not require a permit, but that distinction is largely going away as most building departments conclude that there are structural, plumbing, and sometimes electrical aspects that justify their review and/or inspection.
Some jurisdictions do not require permits for repairs and replacement of solar panels, but you should check to be sure. Some building departments place dollar limits on how much repair work can be performed before a permit is required. Simple repairs of leaks, annual inspections, and minor repairs do not require permits, but you should hire a licensed and insured solar contractor to make repairs regardless of the scope of work.
If your solar contractor tells you that you do not need a permit for a Florida solar panel installation, my advice is to be skeptical, especially if others tell you a permit is required. Installing solar panels without a permit could subject you to code violations (and fees) in the future, and may make it harder to sell a home where required permits are missing. The permit and inspection process protects you, the property owner, and ensures that you are dealing with a licensed and insured contractor (building departments require that contractors register their license locally and have insurance, at least at the time of registration). If your contractor asks you, the owner, to secure a building permit yourself, beware; they may not be properly licensed and insured. There is no benefit to an owner pulling a solar panel permit themselves rather than a contractor, and there are many pitfalls to owner-builder permits and hiring unlicensed contractors.
While the cost of a permit can be frustrating, and varies widely from place to place, it’s usually a small price to pay for some peace of mind.