Going solar has major financial benefits: it reduces your monthly electricity costs and can even increase the value of your home. Incentives like the federal tax credit for solar can reduce your net cost by 26 percent, but solar is still a big investment, and the price tag can result in sticker shock. To save money, it’s no surprise that many homeowners are considering DIY and asking themselves “can you install solar panels yourself?” Simply put, yes you can—but, there are some advantages and disadvantages of doing it alone. For instance, it may not be the best route to take if you still need to rely on some utility energy, and installation can be very complicated without professional experience. In this article, we’ll break down the top pros and cons that you need to know about do-it-yourself solar panel systems before making a decision.
Key takeaways about DIY solar
- Installing a DIY system is possible and usually comes at a lower cost than hiring a solar installer
- Going with a DIY setup requires much more work on the homeowner’s end
- You can compare competitive, complete solar quotes from installers on the EnergySage Marketplace
The six step process to DIY solar panels: how to install solar panels
- Design and size your system based on energy needs
- Purchase your solar equipment and components (solar panels, batteries, inverters, racking, etc.)
- Install the racking or mounts for the panels on a roof or on the ground
- Connect the solar panels to your racking equipment
- Install a solar inverter and battery, then connect to your main electrical board
- Get in touch with your utility and request for Permission to Turn-On, or PTO, if necessary in your area
Do it yourself solar panel installation can be less expensive, but your options are limited
According to data from the EnergySage Marketplace, the average gross cost of going solar for homeowners (meaning your costs before incentives and rebates are applied) is $16,860. Of that amount, design and installation labor costs contribute about 10 percent of the total bill – this 10 percent is what homemade solar panels will save you in essence, since you’ll still have to buy the equipment ad components yourself. Regardless, it’s still tempting to look into building your own solar panel installation to save money and be in full control of your project.
Your solar energy system should continue to generate electricity for 25 to 35 years, so it’s crucial that you consider both the upfront costs and the relative financial benefits for all of your solar options. If you buy a home solar kit like the ones for sale at Costco or Home Depot, it may be less expensive per watt, but you aren’t getting the same quality equipment that solar installers are able to offer you. For the most part, solar installers buy from equipment distributors that don’t sell to the general public – and they’re often getting lower prices because they’re able to buy in bulk.
Pro: Build your own solar works for small off-grid projects
Most home DIY solar panel solar kits are designed for off-grid use, which means you can’t use them and remain connected to your utility. If you’re an average homeowner, going off-grid is probably not in your best interest – being able to access utility-generated electricity is important if your solar energy system doesn’t produce enough electricity to meet your needs at all times of the day throughout the year.
However, home solar kits can be a good solution if you’re not trying to power your entire home. RVs, boats, and the increasingly popular tiny houses are all opportunities to explore do it yourself solar, because they are already off-grid and mobile.
On a related subject, DIY solar projects can be useful if you have a large property and want to power an outlying area, like a barn or tool shed, or want to easily install outdoor lights. In those cases, your electricity demands will be relatively low, so purchasing a small home solar kit and installing it yourself is feasible. For more detailed information on how to build solar panels, read our article on how to make your own solar system.
If you want to install a DIY solar project, compare several options beforehand. Grape Solar is a major manufacturer (among a few others), and offers a few different DIY products and components for both grid-tied and off-grid systems, which you can find more information on below.
DIY solar options
|Product||System size (watts)||System cost||Dollars per watt||Retailer link|
|Grape Solar 400 watt PV solar panel kit||400||$649.99||$1.62||Amazon|
|Grape Solar 600 watt PV solar panel kit||600||$744.32||$1.24||Home Depot|
|Grape Solar 540 watt PV solar panel kit||540||$865.00||$1.60||Solerus Energy|
|Renogy solar premium kit||800||$1,283.49||$1.60||Renogy|
|WindyNation off-grid solar panel kit||400||$1,899.99||$4.75||Amazon|
|ALLPOWERS 100 watt solar panel charger||100||$199||$1.99||Amazon|
Con: Installing solar is complicated, homemade solar energy requires training and experience
When you decide to DIY your solar panels, remember that you get what you pay for. A home solar kit may be less expensive, but solar installers offer tremendous value for relatively little additional cost (remember that 10 percent figure?). When it comes to installing an expensive electrical system on your property, finding someone who knows what they’re doing can actually save you both time and money in the long run.
Some of the best solar installers have been in the business for decades – experience that no amount of online research or DIY guides can replicate. Every state requires that installers are licensed and qualified to install solar, and independent certifications like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners’ (NABCEP’s) Solar PV Installation Professional Certification ensure that the company you choose to work with has an intimate understanding of the process.
Your solar installer will also help you complete and file the permits and applications that you need to submit to get your solar energy system up and running. This is particularly important because your utility won’t let you connect your system to the grid without sign-off from a certified electrician.
Because of your solar installer’s experience, they’ll also have a strong understanding of the financial incentives for solar available in your area, and might even be able to help you save more money by finding an incentive that you may have missed. Lastly, it is important to note that many equipment manufacturers will only honor their warranties if a qualified installer installed their equipment. Many installers will also offer an additional warranty on their own work too.
There are other (better) ways to save money on your solar installation
Of course, when making such a big decision for your home, you’ll want to find the solar option that has the greatest financial benefit for you. However, DIY solar energy isn’t the only way to save money when going solar.
Frequently asked questions about DIY solar panels
If you’re considering a DIY solar panel kit, but still have concerns about the best options, process, and general cost, check out a few of the most common questions we encounter when talking to solar shoppers:
DIY solar panels may be tempting to install, but their long-term worth may be up for debate due to quality alone. Typically, a solar panel system should continue to generate electricity for 25 to 35 years, so it’s important to invest in quality equipment and a reputable installer. If you purchase a home solar panel kit from a retailer, you may be paying less per watt, but you’re not going to get the same efficiency or quality that professional installers usually offer with their products. You’ll also likely forgo any warranties that come with your solar panel system, as warranties often only apply when the system is installed by a certified installer. It’s also important to mention that if you still need to rely on some utility power and need to remain connected to the grid, DIY solar panels are not worth it—they are best used for small off-grid projects.
You don’t need to be an electrician to install solar panels, and it’s certainly not illegal to go the DIY route if you choose to. However, when it comes to installing a costly electrical system on your property, we recommend relying on the professionals—their experience is invaluable and it can make a huge difference in the overall quality and performance of your system. Plus, solar installers will help you fill out permits and file important paperwork that you might not otherwise know is required.
You can find reliable DIY solar panels at retailers like Home Depot, manufactured by Grape Solar, for anywhere between $6,000 to $11,000, depending on your system size needs. For lower cost options, some manufacturers sell DIY solar panels on Amazon for anywhere between $1,600 to $2,500.
Start your solar journey today on EnergySage!
If you’re wavering between a DIY solar system and hiring a solar installer, getting a ballpark estimate for an installation may help you in your decision process. With our Solar Calculator, you can see upfront cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type to determine if a solar installation is the best choice for you. If you’re looking to get quotes from local contractors today, be sure to check out our quote comparison platform.
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This post originally appeared on Mother Earth News.