DIY solar panels: can you install solar panels yourself?

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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

  1. Design and size your system based on energy needs
  2. Purchase your solar equipment and components (solar panels, batteries, inverters, racking, etc.)
  3. Install the racking or mounts for the panels on a roof or on the ground
  4. Connect the solar panels to your racking equipment
  5. Install a solar inverter and battery, then connect to your main electrical board
  6. 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

ProductSystem size (watts)System costDollars per wattRetailer link
Grape Solar 400 watt PV solar panel kit400$649.99$1.62Amazon
Grape Solar 600 watt PV solar panel kit600$744.32$1.24Home Depot
Grape Solar 540 watt PV solar panel kit540$865.00$1.60Solerus Energy
Renogy solar premium kit800$1,283.49$1.60Renogy
WindyNation off-grid solar panel kit400$1,899.99$4.75Amazon
ALLPOWERS 100 watt solar panel charger100$199$1.99Amazon

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: 

Are DIY solar panels worth it? 

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. 

Do you need to be an electrician to install solar panels?

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. 

How much do DIY solar panels cost?

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.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. We only link to products that we think are great.

This post originally appeared on Mother Earth News.

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70 thoughts on “DIY solar panels: can you install solar panels yourself?

  1. CS

    Question. Is it acceptable to have a company install a very small, minimal system for cheaper, and then I can just add strings of panels to it myself? Have them deal with the permitting, connection and certification of a single string of panels to get it online and grid-tied initially, and then I will add more panels at my own leisure later, myself. I am an electrical engineer for power systems. The labor and effort may be much smaller, and the turn around may be quicker, and the cost may be much much less as a result.

    1. Bryan Foley

      This sounds like a good approach. Too bad there hasn’t been a reply. I’d guess the warranty may still be a in question though.

  2. AJ Leon

    Want a solar system setup in Spain any suggestions also where can I get low watt white good that will work on my solar system. Thanks

  3. Mike

    This seems to be the big problem in California with Solar companies. They are insistent on selling you a new roof and for someone like me who does not have the extra funds for the system and installation up front they all want to take you down the path of financing or leasing. This makes the homeowner a slave to the finance companies and in a lot of cases end up paying more monthly than it would have cost to just pay the regular monthly utility bill. There are way too many stories from customers about solar companies that way over estimate the customers savings to go solar and now the homeowner is paying a ridiculous monthly bill. This is all just food for thought! In California the companies that I have come across have all been opportunists that gouge customers by way overcharging or locking people up into a contract. Our politicians need to be a little more in tune with this end of the reality instead of siding with the utility companies and trying to destroy the NEM program with bills like AB1139 that take away from some of these homeowners and that could barely afford solar as it is.

  4. Jeremy

    Matt, I would like to learn what all I need and is required for me to do my own as well. I have a background in electrical work, just not solar. Can you offer any tips or instructions?

  5. Clinton Lovelace

    I live outside of the city limits. Yes we have water and electrical from the near by city but with electrical rates constantly going up and the add on charges for delivery, meter reading charge, and etc. drove me crazy. I actually hired a solar company to install my solar system. Yes, it looks out of place in my pasture there in my pasture but once it was up and operating I am actually saving a lot of money on power. Remember there is no easy way to store electricity, so you really need to stay on the grid. Any power your system generates over what you use, by Federal Law can be sold by you to the electrical supplier in your area. Normally in even in the summer time time I get a credit on my bill or I pay a very small amount. In the winter I use more for heating.

  6. Matt

    This isn’t close to what I found. I did a 13KW system for about 35% of what I was quoted. I didn’t buy a kit or anything, just separate parts and put it together. I’m adding 7 more KW for even less.

    1. Do

      This site needs an upvote. Idk where they are getting a 10% figure from. Yea more like you said, 65% savings.

      I am in for 18k on a 15k inverter, 30kwh of battery and 15kw of solar… so like 80k quoted.

  7. Armel

    I worked as a project manager for small residential installation company and eventually installed most of my own system. In order for it to be grid tied and accepted into my utility approval process it had to be submitted under my company’s name even though I did 95% of the work (on my own time). I estimate I spent close to 100 labor hours between designing, seeking independent financing, creating construction plans, managing the utility approval process, coordinating materials, installing (everything except electrical equipment and system tie-in), inspections, and final commissioning. Because I only spent money on materials and some skilled labor, for my system size I spent about 1/4 of what I would have paid to a large turn-key company, or about 1/3 if I were purchasing my system in cash through a small installer like my company. For me this was the right solution and I saved a lot of money, but I also spent many months to develop the skills and relationships necessary, put my career on the line, and I took liability for any mistakes that I made with my project. Honestly I think it would be difficult for anyone to just approach a local contractor to use their name for utility interconnection approval, which is why most DIY solar installs are in off grid applications. I do think it’s possible with the right motivation and patience.

    Solar project expenses are higher than often one would imagine. You may have a handful of installers at $15-25/hour onsite for 8-24 labor hours, but remember that electricians are $40-70/hour, and many states require a minimum number onsite at any given time. In addition to the field labor you have to also take into account project overhead such as: equipment, material storage, project management (utility approval can take months sometimes with lots of red tape), permits, inspections, license fees, insurance, etc. On installations where we partnered with 3rd party companies that sold the projects we made much less than our own organic sales. Sometimes if the salesperson was inexperienced they underbid the project and we barely broke even or risked losing the customer. On our organic installations it was more difficult to find homeowners because we didn’t offer as convenient financing packages, but in the end the homeowner paid less and we made a good profit. Not all homeowners have the upfront capital or cant take on an aggressive loan so for them a larger company with convenient financing is right for them. It all depends on the individual situation.

    After going the extra mile to install my own system I have a unique appreciation for the work that it takes and I am happy with my decision. However I am passionate about renewable energy and I shaped my career around it. Many homeowners are too busy for a DIY project of this complexity and still want to save money while making an impact. For them it’s best to go with a turn-key company, cash purchase, or seek independent financing with better rates. Even if they are saving money less over the lifetime of their system, it may be more advantageous to just have a lower monthly bill and invest the rest of their capital versus spending it all on a cash purchase or change their career direction to learn the skills and develop the industry connections.

    1. Matt

      Hi Armel! Thanks for your detailed post. I’m glad you were able to install your system and navigate the complexities of doing so. Obviously, your professional background was a key factor.

      Converting my home to run on solar (I have all electric appliances, HVAC, etc.) interests me greatly. I have neither the experience (I’m a geologist) nor the time (run a company, single father) to design and install as system myself. What is the best way for me to save on cost in terns of hiring a contractor? Small company or large? Paying for the design and install is not a challenge; I have the savings to fund the project or can qualify for financing.

      Separately, I am considering a addition to expand my home (1500 sf to ~2200 sf) and will need to factor that into the design. My home is one story, south facing, on a hill with no large vegetation in front in the Piedmont of North Carolina so the conditions seem well suited to solar power.

      Any perspective you can offer is appreciated. Thanks!

    2. Mark

      I’m interested in this as well, Armel. I had one of the 3rd party companies give me their pitch and try to get me to sign a bunch of forms when I was not at all in a position to contract with them, and I was frankly put off by their “it cost you nothing” pitch which required a lease of some kind that was equal to my monthly electric bill (which is why they said it “cost nothing”) for an extended period of time and committed me to them and their services during the lease period. I just want to install a reasonable system and be done with it, i.e., no obligation to anyone after the contractor leaves….

      1. Frank

        Hi, Mark.

        I’m at the beginning of this process but feel the same way you do…I don’t want to be obligated to some company and I really don’t enjoy the endless sales pitches. Did you find a reasonable solution?

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