Welcome to Tesla Motors Club
Discuss Tesla's Model S, Model 3, Model X, Model Y, Cybertruck, Roadster and More.
Register

Tesla Solar Order Cancelled / Fire Setbacks

MB2020

Member
Aug 6, 2020
6
2
California
Hello!

I am brand new to the forums and the Tesla world. Looking for some advice or guidance as well as to see if anyone had an experience similar to mine when ordering Solar through Tesla. Lots of context below so apologies in advance. The short version is I think Tesla cancelled my order because I challenged their Customer Layout and backed it up with California fire and building code.

Over the last few months I have been researching solar and storage options, doing my homework, gathering quotes, talking to others I know who have purchased solar, and everything a consumer should do before making a large investment such as this.

On July 23rd I finally made my decision and placed an order for a small 4.08 kW solar system (12 panels) plus one PowerWall through Tesla.

I went through all of the online prompts providing photos and answers to the questions online. In my condo complex we have a flat roof on the home as well as the detached 2-car garage. The HOA is responsible for the roof and any repairs/maintenance until as the owner we make modifications - at that point if becomes ours. So I am willing to have the solar installed on the garage but not the home. I made this sentiment known when answering all of the questions online.

The following day I received the Customer Layout. Eight of the panels were placed on the home and four on the garage. Within the document was the following note:

“Due to 2019 California Building Code requirements, a 4' wind setback is required on all flat roof edges. (6) modules is the max allowable on garage, however a minimum of (8) modules is required to trench to a structure per Tesla policy.”

So I did a little more research. From what I can find online and in conversation with the CalFire Code Development Office, there is such a rule for a setback. But this rule does not apply for solar installs on non habitable detached structures. If the garage was attached then it would apply. CalFire then directed me to my local country Fire Authority for more information (waiting for a reply).

I also looked at some overhead imagery of my neighborhood. Again, it is a condo complex and all units have a detached 2-car garage with identical dimensions. Of my immediate neighbors, six have systems installed on their detached garage with at least 12 panels. Nobody in the neighborhood has panels on the roof of their home.

I replied back to Tesla on the 24th asking for more information and providing my research as to why this setback rule does not apply. On the 25th I was assigned a Tesla Advisor so I replied to his canned email and asked the same question again to which I did not receive a reply. In the interim I was able to schedule a technician to do the onsite inspection on the 27th. During which the technician said he also worked on the install team and did not see any issue as to why the system could not be fully installed on the garage roof. He also provided feedback and told me to be prepared to plead my case and “make a bit of a stink” to have the system installed the way I want.

On the 31st of July I received the same canned email introducing my Tesla advisor. He then called me later that day. I asked the same question again and provided my reasoning. The reply was he would relay the information to the engineers and system designer and he would get back to me.

Today (6 Aug.) I received an email from the Tesla Advisor. Below is the back and forth:

Tesla: “Our teams said that the garage will not be able to fit 12 panels which is our minimum system size. Please let me know if you would continue with the reroof on the main home. That is the only area we can fit panels.”

Me: “Curious as to why 12 panels cannot fit on the roof. Doing a little exploratory homework I see that six of my immediate neighbors have solar on their garages only with 12 or more panels in addition to a walkable inspection area around them. Two files attached showing this expanded view.“

Tesla: “I am not exactly sure, allow me to get a detailed explanation from our engineers. I believe it might have to do with the new fire setbacks that were just put into place.”

Six hours later I received the automated email from Tesla stating my order was cancelled without any explanation.

Overall the initial stages of the process have been very quick. But the customer service and communication is lacking. And the fact that my order was cancelled by Tesla without any reason stated when I am very interested in moving forward with the project still has me in a bit of shock. Unsure of what I should do in terms of next steps.

Help?
 

SoCal Dave

Member
Jul 30, 2020
420
317
California
Seems like a pretty crappy move to just cancel your order. However, Tesla from my experience is more rigid than other companies for their setback requirements. I have a lower roof section which every other company filled with panels as it faced south. Tesla put half the panels because of their setback policies.
 

BrettS

Active Member
Mar 28, 2017
2,128
2,539
Orlando, FL
Unfortunately this is one of the downsides of dealing with Tesla. They use their cookie cutter designs to keep costs way down, and that works for maybe 70 or 80% of the people out there. But there are still a lot of people out there, like yourself, where for one reason or another their standard design simply doesn’t work.

You can certainly make your case to Tesla as to how you think you can make things work, but in the end they have no obligation to install solar for you and they can (and do) refuse to install in certain situations.

If you really want solar you certainly have the option of going with another company (energysage.com is a good place to get some quotes). Local installers are much more willing to work with you and install things exactly how you want them, but that flexibility comes at a price and it will likely cost more to go with a local installer.
 

MB2020

Member
Aug 6, 2020
6
2
California
Unfortunately this is one of the downsides of dealing with Tesla. They use their cookie cutter designs to keep costs way down, and that works for maybe 70 or 80% of the people out there. But there are still a lot of people out there, like yourself, where for one reason or another their standard design simply doesn’t work.

You can certainly make your case to Tesla as to how you think you can make things work, but in the end they have no obligation to install solar for you and they can (and do) refuse to install in certain situations.

If you really want solar you certainly have the option of going with another company (energysage.com is a good place to get some quotes). Local installers are much more willing to work with you and install things exactly how you want them, but that flexibility comes at a price and it will likely cost more to go with a local installer.
The crazy thing is their install design is more complicated. My electric meter and all utilities are located at the detached garage By installing panels on both the garage and home they will have to bust through a concrete patio and trench conduit underground. I would think that is more costly for them versus doing a little research and working with the local Fire Authority. I have an email out to Tesla asking exactly why they cancelled the order. More to come...
 

jjrandorin

Moderator, Model 3, Tesla Energy Forums
Nov 28, 2018
10,350
11,690
Riverside Co. CA
It's my opinion that they cancelled your order because they decided "it was going to be a problem" and they likely didnt want to deal with it, or deal with a customer who is disputing fire code with them.

Not saying you are wrong... the above sentence sounds more harsh than intended, but is not ment that way. What I ment is, tesla is really after "easy, no fuss installs, and customers who start quoting differences in code to them that dont agree with what they think is not going to be an "easy" customer. Couple that with the fact that they likely have some corporate direction from their legal team that says "XXX is the minimum we will do" and you end up with something like this.

An example of many companies internal policies being more stringent than california rules would be something like the " only work X hours without a lunch break, otherwise overtime applies" rules for workers in california.

I believe the rule is if you work more than 6 straight hours without a lunch break, unless you are in specific defined roles, a company needs to pay you overtime. However, almost every large retail organization will make their workers take a lunch break after 5 hours in their internal policies, because they dont even want to come close to that rule.

I mention that because, it doesnt really matter what the rule of code is with california related to fire code, if tesla has decided that their company position is that they wont come close to it, but instead require XXX distance.

This is where you should likely go with a third party installer who will be much more likely to work with a customer who has a particular need / setup that doesnt fit in the box that tesla has (and pay more money for that, unfortunately).
 
  • Like
  • Love
Reactions: Ampster and Vines

wjgjr

Active Member
May 11, 2020
1,300
1,034
Silver Spring, MD
This is where you should likely go with a third party installer who will be much more likely to work with a customer who has a particular need / setup that doesnt fit in the box that tesla has (and pay more money for that, unfortunately).

I think this is the bottom line. I suspect it may be even more simple of an issue - Tesla probably has a database of codes by jurisdiction and it just says "4 foot setback on flat roof." There is either no option for or no notation of exceptions related to uninhabited building. For Tesla, they want to make it easy for their designers to crank out the plans, so they probably have very simple guidance that covers the most restrictive case.

OP might have luck reaching the right person at Tesla, but most likely, unless they see the error as affecting enough potential customers to be worthwhile to fix, they will just indicate they can't do it. The local installer, on the other hand, will probably either know the exception already or will be willing to research to confirm it.
 

aesculus

Still Trying to Figure This All Out
May 31, 2015
4,517
2,570
Northern California
So I did a little more research. From what I can find online and in conversation with the CalFire Code Development Office, there is such a rule for a setback. But this rule does not apply for solar installs on non habitable detached structures. If the garage was attached then it would apply. CalFire then directed me to my local country Fire Authority for more information (waiting for a reply).
I think you need to get the requirements from your fire jurisdiction in writing and then if appropriate give it to Tesla. You cannot expect Tesla to deal with every local fire jurisdictions nuances. And yes every fire district can make more or less stringent requirements from both CalFire and other codes. For example my area required setbacks on a non attached, non habitable garage based on their firefighting standards.
 
  • Informative
Reactions: jjrandorin

holeydonut

Supporting Member
Supporting Member
Jun 27, 2020
2,110
1,495
East Bay NorCal
I agree with the above posts... Tesla likely had dozens of people reviewing local codes in specific jurisdictions and those folks came to the conclusion that a 4' setback is required on all hips, ridges, and eave edges. This would ensure any installation complied even if it could restrict the number of panels.

But reading the fire code in San Jose, it sounds like the 4' setback rule was more of a way to ensure a pathway. For example, if a home as a cross-gable orientation then the 4' setback isn't required from the hip line as long as the other arm of the cross allowed access. And it doesn't appear to be any restriction about closeness to eaves; it seems an installer could push all the way to the edge of an eave.

Anyway, Tesla isn't going to amend their policies for one customer; they're more than happy to tell a customer to pack it (they told me to pack it as well since my roof was too complicated) since every minute extra they spend customizing an installation is a minute of cost not going into their profits.

You should hit up your neighbors to inquire who their installer was and if they were happy with the work. You'll probably have to pay more than with Tesla though.
 

patrick40363

Active Member
Mar 25, 2014
1,173
570
Cali
Hello!

I am brand new to the forums and the Tesla world. Looking for some advice or guidance as well as to see if anyone had an experience similar to mine when ordering Solar through Tesla. Lots of context below so apologies in advance. The short version is I think Tesla cancelled my order because I challenged their Customer Layout and backed it up with California fire and building code.

Over the last few months I have been researching solar and storage options, doing my homework, gathering quotes, talking to others I know who have purchased solar, and everything a consumer should do before making a large investment such as this.

On July 23rd I finally made my decision and placed an order for a small 4.08 kW solar system (12 panels) plus one PowerWall through Tesla.

I went through all of the online prompts providing photos and answers to the questions online. In my condo complex we have a flat roof on the home as well as the detached 2-car garage. The HOA is responsible for the roof and any repairs/maintenance until as the owner we make modifications - at that point if becomes ours. So I am willing to have the solar installed on the garage but not the home. I made this sentiment known when answering all of the questions online.

The following day I received the Customer Layout. Eight of the panels were placed on the home and four on the garage. Within the document was the following note:

“Due to 2019 California Building Code requirements, a 4' wind setback is required on all flat roof edges. (6) modules is the max allowable on garage, however a minimum of (8) modules is required to trench to a structure per Tesla policy.”

So I did a little more research. From what I can find online and in conversation with the CalFire Code Development Office, there is such a rule for a setback. But this rule does not apply for solar installs on non habitable detached structures. If the garage was attached then it would apply. CalFire then directed me to my local country Fire Authority for more information (waiting for a reply).

I also looked at some overhead imagery of my neighborhood. Again, it is a condo complex and all units have a detached 2-car garage with identical dimensions. Of my immediate neighbors, six have systems installed on their detached garage with at least 12 panels. Nobody in the neighborhood has panels on the roof of their home.

I replied back to Tesla on the 24th asking for more information and providing my research as to why this setback rule does not apply. On the 25th I was assigned a Tesla Advisor so I replied to his canned email and asked the same question again to which I did not receive a reply. In the interim I was able to schedule a technician to do the onsite inspection on the 27th. During which the technician said he also worked on the install team and did not see any issue as to why the system could not be fully installed on the garage roof. He also provided feedback and told me to be prepared to plead my case and “make a bit of a stink” to have the system installed the way I want.

On the 31st of July I received the same canned email introducing my Tesla advisor. He then called me later that day. I asked the same question again and provided my reasoning. The reply was he would relay the information to the engineers and system designer and he would get back to me.

Today (6 Aug.) I received an email from the Tesla Advisor. Below is the back and forth:

Tesla: “Our teams said that the garage will not be able to fit 12 panels which is our minimum system size. Please let me know if you would continue with the reroof on the main home. That is the only area we can fit panels.”

Me: “Curious as to why 12 panels cannot fit on the roof. Doing a little exploratory homework I see that six of my immediate neighbors have solar on their garages only with 12 or more panels in addition to a walkable inspection area around them. Two files attached showing this expanded view.“

Tesla: “I am not exactly sure, allow me to get a detailed explanation from our engineers. I believe it might have to do with the new fire setbacks that were just put into place.”

Six hours later I received the automated email from Tesla stating my order was cancelled without any explanation.

Overall the initial stages of the process have been very quick. But the customer service and communication is lacking. And the fact that my order was cancelled by Tesla without any reason stated when I am very interested in moving forward with the project still has me in a bit of shock. Unsure of what I should do in terms of next steps.

Help?
Call another solar company.
 
  • Like
Reactions: jboy210

jboy210

Supporting Member
Supporting Member
Dec 2, 2016
5,386
3,338
Northern California
I agree with the above posts... Tesla likely had dozens of people reviewing local codes in specific jurisdictions and those folks came to the conclusion that a 4' setback is required on all hips, ridges, and eave edges. This would ensure any installation complied even if it could restrict the number of panels.

But reading the fire code in San Jose, it sounds like the 4' setback rule was more of a way to ensure a pathway. For example, if a home as a cross-gable orientation then the 4' setback isn't required from the hip line as long as the other arm of the cross allowed access. And it doesn't appear to be any restriction about closeness to eaves; it seems an installer could push all the way to the edge of an eave.

Anyway, Tesla isn't going to amend their policies for one customer; they're more than happy to tell a customer to pack it (they told me to pack it as well since my roof was too complicated) since every minute extra they spend customizing an installation is a minute of cost not going into their profits.

You should hit up your neighbors to inquire who their installer was and if they were happy with the work. You'll probably have to pay more than with Tesla though.

That is how Tesla works. Volume installs with minimal customization are how they make money.
 

holeydonut

Supporting Member
Supporting Member
Jun 27, 2020
2,110
1,495
East Bay NorCal
That is how Tesla works. Volume installs with minimal customization are how they make money.


I agree with you on this; it's just Tesla doesn't have much tact when telling people their house isn't a good candidate. So their marketing funnel attracts a bunch of people talking about how great solar is and how the solution will be customized to each unique homeowner.

But they will then reject folks in a very abrupt (or ghosting) way that comes across as acrimonious. Not that it matters to Elon, their stock price is insaneeeeee.
 
Sep 24, 2015
835
698
San Diego (Oceanside)
Your local jurisdiction could have more stringent requirements than CalFire that came into effect after your neighbors got their solar. Your better off with a local installer that can do what you want them to do that is familiar with the local requirements.
 

MB2020

Member
Aug 6, 2020
6
2
California
I think you need to get the requirements from your fire jurisdiction in writing and then if appropriate give it to Tesla. You cannot expect Tesla to deal with every local fire jurisdictions nuances. And yes every fire district can make more or less stringent requirements from both CalFire and other codes. For example my area required setbacks on a non attached, non habitable garage based on their firefighting standards.
I think you are spot on here. I have an email out to my local Fire Authority. So far I have received bids for this project from seven installers, including Tesla. Tesla is 40-50% cheaper than all the others. I’m willing to do a little project management and hand holding with the Tesla sales rep if it is going to save me $15K.
 
  • Like
Reactions: aesculus

CrazyRabbit

Member
Apr 21, 2020
442
138
Fort Worth TX
Layout your design and get your local fire marshal so sign off on a exemption, then the building permit peeps will not have a problem with it.
To be frank they will not get on your garage roof to vent it as it isn’t inhabited...
 

MB2020

Member
Aug 6, 2020
6
2
California
05D69D53-F069-4447-A4D5-F8ED96A863FB.jpeg Thank you all for the suggestions and guidance.

After many phone calls with my local Fire Authority, the city building and code enforcement office, and my Tesla sales advisor I was finally able to convince Tesla to break their cookie cutter design and update the project layout to install all 12 panels on the garage. No need for a 4’ setback on all sides!

My plan has been to get a PowerWall installed at the same time. All appliances are electric in our home and there is no natural gas service. We use about 580 kWh per month. Average daily usage is about 19 kWh. The want for a PowerWall is partially to use stored solar after sunset, partially for the nerdy cool factor. An electric car is likely in the cards within the next 3-4 years.

Power service is pretty reliable in the area. So far in 2020 we have seen a handful of blips in the power that last long enough to make the lights flicker but never anything longer than a few minutes.

For a system as small as 4.08 kWh and with our usage pattern, does it make sense to upgrade and have two PowerWalls?

Again, thanks for the guidance and being a place to talk through these topics.
 
  • Like
Reactions: SoCal Dave

SoCal Dave

Member
Jul 30, 2020
420
317
California
View attachment 579254 Thank you all for the suggestions and guidance.

After many phone calls with my local Fire Authority, the city building and code enforcement office, and my Tesla sales advisor I was finally able to convince Tesla to break their cookie cutter design and update the project layout to install all 12 panels on the garage. No need for a 4’ setback on all sides!

My plan has been to get a PowerWall installed at the same time. All appliances are electric in our home and there is no natural gas service. We use about 580 kWh per month. Average daily usage is about 19 kWh. The want for a PowerWall is partially to use stored solar after sunset, partially for the nerdy cool factor. An electric car is likely in the cards within the next 3-4 years.

Power service is pretty reliable in the area. So far in 2020 we have seen a handful of blips in the power that last long enough to make the lights flicker but never anything longer than a few minutes.

For a system as small as 4.08 kWh and with our usage pattern, does it make sense to upgrade and have two PowerWalls?

Again, thanks for the guidance and being a place to talk through these topics.

Nice! Congrats!
 

jjrandorin

Moderator, Model 3, Tesla Energy Forums
Nov 28, 2018
10,350
11,690
Riverside Co. CA
View attachment 579254 Thank you all for the suggestions and guidance.

After many phone calls with my local Fire Authority, the city building and code enforcement office, and my Tesla sales advisor I was finally able to convince Tesla to break their cookie cutter design and update the project layout to install all 12 panels on the garage. No need for a 4’ setback on all sides!

My plan has been to get a PowerWall installed at the same time. All appliances are electric in our home and there is no natural gas service. We use about 580 kWh per month. Average daily usage is about 19 kWh. The want for a PowerWall is partially to use stored solar after sunset, partially for the nerdy cool factor. An electric car is likely in the cards within the next 3-4 years.

Power service is pretty reliable in the area. So far in 2020 we have seen a handful of blips in the power that last long enough to make the lights flicker but never anything longer than a few minutes.

For a system as small as 4.08 kWh and with our usage pattern, does it make sense to upgrade and have two PowerWalls?

Again, thanks for the guidance and being a place to talk through these topics.

Do you have AC?
 

jboy210

Supporting Member
Supporting Member
Dec 2, 2016
5,386
3,338
Northern California
View attachment 579254 Thank you all for the suggestions and guidance.

After many phone calls with my local Fire Authority, the city building and code enforcement office, and my Tesla sales advisor I was finally able to convince Tesla to break their cookie cutter design and update the project layout to install all 12 panels on the garage. No need for a 4’ setback on all sides!

My plan has been to get a PowerWall installed at the same time. All appliances are electric in our home and there is no natural gas service. We use about 580 kWh per month. Average daily usage is about 19 kWh. The want for a PowerWall is partially to use stored solar after sunset, partially for the nerdy cool factor. An electric car is likely in the cards within the next 3-4 years.

Power service is pretty reliable in the area. So far in 2020 we have seen a handful of blips in the power that last long enough to make the lights flicker but never anything longer than a few minutes.

For a system as small as 4.08 kWh and with our usage pattern, does it make sense to upgrade and have two PowerWalls?

Again, thanks for the guidance and being a place to talk through these topics.

Don't plan on doing much EV charging from the powerwalls. Their capacity is small compared to the size of the battery in an EV.

Regarding one versus two Powerwalls, it depends on what you need to backup. 1 PW is limited to 5kW of power to the house. That limits you to basic circuits. Things not backed up would likely include A/C, dryer, electric range, ovens. But the final list depends upon your usage.
 

jjrandorin

Moderator, Model 3, Tesla Energy Forums
Nov 28, 2018
10,350
11,690
Riverside Co. CA
Don't plan on doing much EV charging from the powerwalls. Their capacity is small compared to the size of the battery in an EV.

Regarding one versus two Powerwalls, it depends on what you need to backup. 1 PW is limited to 5kW of power to the house. That limits you to basic circuits. Things not backed up would likely include A/C, dryer, electric range, ovens. But the final list depends upon your usage.

I forgot OP said that "all appliances are electric", when I asked if OP has AC. If OP desired to be able to use any electric appliances in a power outage situation, they would likely need to have 2 powerwalls (depending on the electric needs of most of those appliances).

Its likely the electric oven and dryer require more power than 1 powerwall can provide to run them, let alone any electric heater etc.

Also, good reminder on using the powerwalls to fill an electric vehicle. Until a person starts researching it, it seems like a really reasonable thing to want / request / expect. But, as you noted, most electric vehicles have batteries several times the size of a powerwall. Even small leafs etc have batteries bigger than a powerwall.

The analogy I like to use is, trying to use a powerwall to fill an EV is like trying to use an AAA battery to fill 1 or more D batteries. Even though you could rig up something to do that, it wouldnt make a lot of sense. The main use for powerwalls is being able to use your own solar power when the sun is not shining, as well as providing backup power somewhat like people use a generator, but with automatic, fast switching.

Avoiding electricity usage during Peak time on a time of use plan if a utility makes its customers sign up for those is another benefit.

OPs current electric usage seems really reasonable, actually reasonable enough for only 1 powerwall if wanted as a backup, but OP would need to research to see if one powerwall would even be able to start / run those electric only appliances.

Otherwise, just regular wall plugs would be backed up, which would save the food in the fridge for example, but at least to me, seems a pretty expensive way to backup some regular outlets.
 

Products we're discussing on TMC...

About Us

Formed in 2006, Tesla Motors Club (TMC) was the first independent online Tesla community. Today it remains the largest and most dynamic community of Tesla enthusiasts. Learn more.

Do you value your experience at TMC? Consider becoming a Supporting Member of Tesla Motors Club. As a thank you for your contribution, you'll get nearly no ads in the Community and Groups sections. Additional perks are available depending on the level of contribution. Please visit the Account Upgrades page for more details.


SUPPORT TMC
Top