CalFire Setbacks

The Setback Requirements

Many fire jurisdictions summarize the reg as “three foot from each roof’s ridgeline and sides.”

This 3’-3’-3’ requirement is exactly what’s required for a gable roof:

The guidelines try to work with the more complicated shapes by requiring, for example, only one 3-foot access path on each plane of a hip roof:

and only 1 1/2 foot from a “valley” on a cross-hip or cross gable, if panels are on the neighboring plane:

Here’s a link to the complete guidelines: Cal Fire Solar Photovoltaic Installation Guidelines.

Copied below: the text from page 9. Per Bill Brooks, this text was intended to encourage exceptions when appropriate:


Access and spacing requirements should be observed in order to:

  • Ensure access to the roof
  • Provide pathways to specific areas of the roof
  • Provide for smoke ventilation opportunities area
  • Provide emergency egress from the roof

Local jurisdictions may create exceptions to this requirement where access, pathway or ventilation requirements are reduced due to:

  • Proximity and type of adjacent exposures
  • Alternative access opportunities (as from adjoining roofs)
  • Ground level access to the roof area in question
  • Adequate ventilation opportunities beneath solar array (as with significantly elevated or widely-spaced arrays)
  • Adequate ventilation opportunities afforded by module set back from other rooftop equipment (example: shading or structural constraints may leave significant areas open for ventilation near HVAC equipment)
  • Automatic ventilation device
  • New technology, methods, or other innovations that ensure adequate fire department access, pathways and ventilation opportunities

While I have been told by the author that this text means “use common sense,” I can understand why many jurisdictions don’t see it as meaningful at all. While the diagrams are clear, this text — stating that the diagrams need not be followed verbatim — is not…

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