Thinking of Getting Solar Panels? Maximize Power Output with Tree Pruning & Removal

If you’re considering installing solar panels on your house or another building in the Massachusetts MetroWest area, you’re no doubt looking to maximize the power output of your new panels and the return on your investment. However, with many homes in towns like Natick, Ashland, and Framingham shaded by large, established trees, solar panel installation can mean you’ll need to remove or prune existing trees to see a benefit from your solar-powered system.

Keep reading to discover how you can generate maximum solar power AND benefit from the trees on your property, including:

  • how shade impacts solar panel output
  • resources to calculate the expected output for your home
  • understanding whether to remove or prune back trees before solar panel installation
  • maintenance considerations for trees that may shade your solar panels
  • Massachusetts laws regarding trees and solar panels
  • state-wide and federal solar incentive programs
  • how American Climbers can help you have the best of both worlds – effective solar power and beautiful trees

Trees and Solar Panels Both Need Sunlight

Both trees and solar panels rely on sunlight. Trees, especially those that grow best in full sun, need sunlight to photosynthesize and create energy.

Solar panels also need clear access to the sun; a study showed that shadows could reduce solar panels’ ability to produce power by up to 30%! When trees cast a shadow on an area where solar panels will be installed, it may decrease the power output of your solar panels below the point at which they’re a worthwhile investment.

RESOURCEGoogle’s Project Sunroof shows the estimated rooftop solar potential within specific zip codes based on the amount of sunlight on rooftops in the area. Click on the search icon at the left, input your zip code, and see the median estimated system size and solar electricity production per viable roof in your area.

 Man installs solar panels on a roof with a blue sky and trees in the background.

Providing Sunlight for Solar Panels: When to Remove vs Prune Trees

When large trees cast deep shade onto a roof or structure where solar panels will be installed, those trees usually need to be removed before the panels are installed. Trees can also be cut down after panel installation but it’s best to avoid the chance of damage to your new panels by doing the work before they’re mounted on your roof.

The downside is that removing a tree also removes the benefits that the tree provides, such as protection from wind, shade from the hot sun, shelter and food for wildlife, aesthetic appeal, and even increased property value.

Most solar panel installers will be able to recommend which trees need to be cut down to provide enough sunlight to the panels.

Be aware though that they may suggest removing more trees than necessary (it’s often simpler to calculate the power potential of a solar panel system when there are no nearby trees). Sometimes, it’s possible to get the desired results by selective pruning of nearby trees rather than wholesale removal.

Here are a few things to consider and discuss with your solar panel installer and your tree service company:

  • Which trees must be removed?
  • Do you own the tree(s) that must be removed?
    • Generally, if a tree trunk is on your property, it is (usually) your tree. If it’s on a property line, it is considered common property, and both property owners are responsible for the tree and its care.
  • Can any trees be properly pruned and still allow sufficient sunlight to reach the solar panels?
  • Can you legally prune the branches that are blocking sunlight?
    • If the tree is on your neighbor’s property, you can only cut branches that overhang your property. Even if the tree trunk is fully on your property, your neighbor has the right to deny you access to their property to cut any branches on their side of the property line. If you’d prefer to prune back a tree you own (rather than remove it), discuss it with your neighbor(s) to make sure you can access all branches that need to be cut. 
  • If the tree or trees can be pruned, how often will they require maintenance pruning to prevent them from shading your panels?
    • Trees grow at different rates so it’s important to know what kind of maintenance plan your trees will need and the estimated cost.

At American Climbers, we have worked with solar panel installers throughout the MetroWest area to ensure that solar panels receive the optimum level of sunlight. We can assess trees to recommend pruning vs removal and then complete the necessary work promptly. Trees that need to be removed will be safely removed; trees that need to be pruned will be properly pruned to industry standards.

An aerial view of a building and with the trees to be removed marked with yellow circles and x's.

Laws & Resources Regarding Trees and Solar Panels

Trees are recognized as an important part of our urban environment and therefore, more and more municipalities throughout Massachusetts are taking steps such as requiring tree removal permits or tree replacements for removed trees.

Many states, including Massachusetts, also have solar energy programs in place to promote the use of solar panels.

There are laws, regulations, and requirements for both solar panels and trees, which can make the installation of solar panels confusing.

On top of that, there have been some noticeable disputes between neighbors due to the conflict of trees versus solar panels, often when a neighbor’s tree or trees cast shade on another property’s solar panels.

 Read about a court case in California involving trees and solar panels >>

However, that doesn’t mean that you need to choose between trees and solar panels. Both can exist, even on the same property.

How Trees and Solar Panels Can Co-Exist

Though both trees and solar panels rely on sunlight for energy, that doesn’t mean you have to choose between them.

Both solar panels and trees can exist on the same property, which allows you the benefits that trees provide while allowing you to save on energy costs.

Consider smaller trees

Large shade trees are the ones that often have to be removed to prevent ineffective solar panels. However, smaller trees such as ornamentals or fruit trees can still benefit your property without casting shade on rooftops.

Plan your tree plantings with solar panels in mind

If you know or suspect that solar panels are in your future, you can plan your tree plantings now to prepare for them. Plant trees away from any structures where solar panels may be added, and make sure no shade lands on those structures throughout the year. Pay attention to neighboring properties and structures as well.

Solar panels mounted on a home roof with trees in the background.

American Climbers’ Recommendations for Trees and Solar Panels

If you plan to add solar panels soon, keep these things in mind:

  • Remove any dying or hazardous trees as soon as possible. This is true whether you have solar panels or not. Falling trees can damage solar panels (and buildings, cars, etc.).
  • If your solar panel installer recommends the removal of trees, be sure you hire a professional tree service such as American Climbers to ensure the trees are removed safely, efficiently, and correctly.
  • Schedule professional pruning for any trees that you want to keep but which will cast shade on the solar panels.
  • If you plan on installing solar panels on a structure in the future, don’t plant any trees on the sides of the structure that face west or southwest.
  • Avoid planting trees too close to a home or other building. Not only will this prevent trees from casting too much shade on solar panels, but it also gives the tree roots more room to grow, avoids problems with tree branches hitting the building, and ensures there is access between the tree and the building.
  • Keep your remaining trees well-maintained and pruned regularly.

Call Us Before Installing Solar Panels

With our extensive experience working with local solar panel installers throughout the MetroWest area, the American Climbers tree service teams are well-prepared to help you get the most out of your new solar-powered system without making your property look like a barren wasteland.

Contact American Climbers today to schedule a tree inspection and get an estimate for pre-solar tree removal or tree pruning!

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