Most home solar panel systems are installed by a qualified solar installer, but more DIY-minded homeowners are exploring options like solar panels for sale online and solar panel kits for home available for purchase in hardware stores. If you’re one of the millions of Americans considering solar, you’ve probably come across some of the DIY solar products available – but do you know how to choose the best product out of all the solar panels for sale? Here’s your complete guide to finding the right option for your home.
Solar panel kits overview: what are solar panel kits and how do they work?
While many property owners choose to work with a professional solar installer to get a solar energy system set up, you can install yourself if you have DIY experience and know-how. Solar panel kits are solar energy systems that haven’t been set up completely yet. They usually come with all of the necessary components for a home solar panel installation, including panels, inverters, wiring, mounting hardware, and sometimes even the proper permitting and engineering documents to help you finish the installation.
While solar panel kits can cost less than the full price of a professional solar installation, many solar shoppers aren’t able to properly install solar panels themselves due to the electrical and mechanical complexities involved. For these types of shoppers, it’s always a good idea to work with a professional solar installer to do the job for you for safety reasons.
Solar panel kits for sale: different DIY solar energy systems available
If you want to install a DIY solar project, compare several options beforehand. Grape Solar and Renogy Solar are two of the main manufacturers offering different DIY products for both grid-tied and off-grid systems, which you can find more information on in the table below (in addition to other products):
Solar panel kits for sale: examples of grid-tied and off-grid 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|
Best solar kits in 2021 reviewed
Grape Solar 400 watt PV solar panel kit
The Grape Solar 400 watt solar panel kit comes with four 100 watt high-efficiency Grape Solar PV panels guarded by a weather-protected junction box and frame, making this solar panel kit perfect for outdoor use on RVs and boats. Grape Solar kits have been leading the market, and for a good reason too – this system is easy to install because it comes with all of the necessary cables and connectors, and it provides 1,200 watt hours of charge daily. This is enough to run appliances like power tools, televisions, and mini fridges. Additionally, the solar panel kit is easily integratabtle with many types of batteries including lithium-ion, but one doesn’t come included in the kit. Learn more in Grape Solar’s product description.
Grape Solar 600 watt PV solar panel kit
Similar to the 400 watt kit, Grape Solar’s 600 watt solar panel kit is virtually maintenance free and comes equipped with all of the cables and connectors necessary for an easy DIY installation. A trio of 200 watt monocrystalline panels, a charge controller, 20-Amp in-line fuse, and installation equipment make this kit capable of producing 1,800 watts of energy in a day. This solar panel kit also features a MPPT charge controller which boosts efficiency. Learn more in Grape Solar’s product description.
Grape Solar 540 watt PV solar panel kit
The Grape Solar 540 watt off-grid solar panel kit rounds off EnergySage’s Grape Solar products in our “Best of 2021” list. Similar to the two previous solar panel kits, the 540 watt system can be easily installed as a DIY project, and is compatible with most deep-cycle batteries. This Grape Solar kit has three 180 watt monocrystalline panels, backed by 5 year product warranties, that produce 1,620 watt-hours of energy daily, making it a reliable option for small off-grid needs like powering small pumps, or lighting in your RV. Read Grape Solar’s product description to learn more.
Renogy solar premium kit
Renogy’s solar premium kit has many off-grid applications from RV, boat, or camper installation to ground-mounting for an emergency energy backup system. The Renogy kit includes 8 individual 100 watt monocrystalline solar panels at 21 percent efficiency, a charge controller for efficient and safe charging, cables, and installation equipment like brackets and branch connectors. This kit also features bypass diodes which minimize energy production loss in the shade or in inclement weather, and a bluetooth connection to the Renogy app to track performance. An MPPT charge controller for high efficiency charging up to 24 volts, which allows room for you to add more panels for more power also comes included. Worth noting as well is that this kit does not come with a battery bank. Learn more about Renogy’s premium solar kit on their website.
WindyNation off-grid solar panel kit
The WindyNation off-grid solar panel kit is powered by four 100 watt polycrystalline solar panels that are easily installable independently, but the kit doesn’t come with instructions which could present problems for some. Depending on the amount of sunlight your panels receive, the WindyNation solar panel kit will produce 1,600 watt-hours (Wh) of energy daily on average, great for powering small appliances in your cabin, boat, or RV. Unlike some other kits, the WindyNation PV system comes with every component necessary to function as an all-in-one kit. Check out more information on WindyNation’s off-grid solar kit in Amazon’s product description.
ALLPOWERS 100 watt solar panel charger
The ALLPOWERS 100 watt solar panel charger kit features a flexible 100 watt solar panel perfect for powering small devices. The kit does not come with a charge controller or battery bank, but since the monocrystalline panel itself is so light and flexible (it can bend up to 30 degrees), this solar panel kit is perfect for irregular surfaces and travelling. A downside to this solar panel kit option is that it doesn’t have the same ability to expand as the other products, so you may be limited in your available power output. Check out ALLPOWER’s product review on Ecavo.com.
When to buy (or not buy) a solar panel kit for your home
The solar panels for sale online and residential solar panel kits available in hardware stores can be the ideal solution for some situations. If you’re not trying to power your entire home, but rather are looking to add solar electricity generation to your RV, boat, or “tiny house,” then shopping for small solar panel kits and installing them yourself makes sense. Oftentimes, these kits are referred to as “solar generators” and may include a portable solar panel and storage setup to make it easy to transport the system from place to place.
Similarly, solar panel kits are a good solution if you’re trying to power an area of your property that isn’t connected to an electric line. This is one of the top ways that DIY solar can save you money – running a new electric line is costly, and because powering a barn or toolshed typically doesn’t require a huge electricity load, a small solar panel kit can provide all the electricity you need.
Check out our article on the pros and cons of DIY solar to learn more about the process.
How to compare solar panel kits for your home
Not all solar panels are created equal. Solar installers select the equipment for their installations based on their technical specifications and the needs of the job, and homeowners shopping for solar panel kits should do the same. There are three main metrics to look at when comparing solar panel kits:
- Performance/temperature coefficient
EnergySage has developed a system that rates solar panels based on these three key criteria: efficiency, performance, and warranties. You can use the same criteria to compare your solar equipment options. (We’ve also conducted a complete review of Grape Solar panels, one of the most common solar panel kits available for sale. If you’re considering Grape Solar for your DIY solar installation, be sure to read our review first.)
Solar panel efficiency is one of the most important indicators of a solar panel’s quality. It refers to how well a solar photovoltaic (PV) cell can convert sunlight into electricity, and is presented as a percentage. Panel efficiency is particularly important if you have limited space to install a system and you want to maximize your electricity production.
For solar panel efficiency, a higher percentage is better. The best solar panels currently available on the market have an efficiency rating of approximately 22 percent.
Performance (temperature coefficient)
A solar panel’s temperature coefficient rating is a simple way to understand how well a solar panel will perform in less-than-ideal conditions. Like any other electronic device, solar panels work best when they are kept reasonably cool (ideally around 25° C/77° F), and their performance can suffer if they overheat. The temperature coefficient can tell you how your panel’s performance will decline during hot summer days. For every degree above 25° C (77° F), your solar panel’s electricity production will decrease by the temperature coefficient.
For example, Grape Solar’s GS-S-160-Fab8 panel has a temperature coefficient of -0.5%/°C. This means that, if the temperature of your solar panel increases from 25° C (77° F) to 26° C (79° F), its electricity production will decrease by -0.5%. If the temperature of your solar panel increases all the way to 35° C (95° F), its electricity production will decrease by 5%.
As you compare solar panels for sale, remember that a lower temperature coefficient is better. The best solar panels available on the market have a temperature coefficient of -0.25.
Every high-quality electronics manufacturer will offer a warranty to show that they stand behind their products, and solar panels are no different. Aside from the technical aspects of the equipment in your solar panel kit, look for a strong materials warranty (sometimes referred to as a product or equipment warranty). The materials warranty guarantees against equipment failures resulting from manufacturing defects or environmental issues. Most manufacturers of solar panels for sale will offer at least a 10-year materials warranty. The best manufacturers will offer materials warranties of 12, 15, or even 25 years.
There are easier ways to save money on your solar installation
In some cases – like installing a solar panel kit on an RV or tool shed – DIY solar can be a major money saver. However, as you investigate the solar panels for sale online, be sure you’re evaluating all of your solar options. That means getting multiple installation quotes from solar installers in your area, in addition to pricing out your DIY options.
In fact, comparing multiple quotes is one of the easiest (and free) ways to reduce your solar installation costs. EnergySage data shows that solar shoppers who compare their options on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace save 20 percent or more off the costs of installation, as compared to shoppers who don’t compare quotes from multiple installers beforehand. The reason is simple: when solar installers compete for your business, you win!