Berkeley Solar Greenhouse Ordinance

berkeley solar greenhouse
Solar greenhouse on Cedar Street in North Berkeley

As with many of our other pioneering ideas, the legal framework finds itself lagging behind, making it our role to write and forge a new path forward. As part of the Integral Neighborhood, Richard Register and his friends designed and built a “solar greenhouse.” Since such greenhouses would invariably protrude beyond the imaginary line called the “setback line” that prevents people from building out into their front lawns and blocking the views of their neighbors, an ordinance had to first pass in Berkeley to make them legal. The City Council liked the idea that it would save energy, was mostly transparent, and provided early-season nursery for plants — and voted it in!

Pilot Project Solar Greenhouse Features

  • Attached onto the front of the house facing the street on the south, the greenhouse is shaped like a big bay window, fitting in with the architectural styles of the neighborhood.
  • Made mostly transparent glass, so you could see through it.
  • Constituted an energy-saving device, generating temperatures up to 107° F (41° C) on sunny winter days, warming the house adequately deep into the night.
  • Two tomato plants grew up to the 12-foot-high ceiling and back down to the ground, producing almost all our household’s tomatoes for two years — most of which we had to harvest with a ladder!
  • To support our greenhouse effort, we tore up the concrete from the planter strip between our sidewalk and the curb (our first “depaving” project), turned in some good compost, and planted fruit trees.

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