DIY Solar: Is It Worth It? Pros and Cons
Are you thinking about taking the DIY route with your solar installation? If so, you might be wondering: are DIY solar panels worth it?
Like many things in life, the best answer may be “it depends.” You can certainly save a significant amount of money compared to working with a professional installation company — we’re talking at least 45 to 60% depending on installation costs in your area, which can translate to 8,000 to 12,500 savings for an average 7.5 kW system.
Ultimately, if you’re deciding if DIY solar is worth it, that all depends on who you are, what resources you have, what your goals and preferences are, and how you plan to go about the process.
DIY Solar Panel Pros and Cons
First, let’s assess the general advantages and disadvantages of a DIY solar project.
- Big savings. The bigger the system, the bigger the savings. Many DIY solar installers can save 10,000 or more depending on system size.
- control over your project. You get to call the shots on equipment, design, and timeline for your project.
- You’ll still receive tax credits. Tax credits will still apply for the equipment and hardware you use and any professional installation services that you might utilize.
- It’s fun, and you’ll be proud of the results. Many DIYers enjoy the process of solar installation. They get to apply their skills or learn new skills and take a lot of pride in a successful installation.
- Requires time and energy. However you approach it, your DIY solar installation will take more time and energy than a professional installation.
- Safety risks. When you work on a roof, you need to take the appropriate precautions. Make sure you have the right tools and gear (and helping hands if possible).
- You may create a roof leak if you’re not careful. If you don’t drill accurately and fail to seal holes effectively, this can cause a leaky roof. Alternatively, if a professional installer causes damage, you can hold them responsible. A careful approach to drilling and remedying any mistakes will prevent this problem.
How to Determine If DIY Solar is Right For You
A DIY solar project is an excellent fit for:
- Those with a background in contracting or building trades
- Those who are handy with tools, can read and work from plans, diagrams and instructions
- Those who like to do things on their own or have a desire to learn new skills
- Those who are great at managing projects.
Keep in mind that you can also do a “hybrid” DIY installation. If you only want to do some but not all of the installation, the DIY route can still work. You can purchase a DIY solar kit and ask for professional help when you need it.
6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Going DIY
In my experience, here are the most important things to consider if you’re contemplating whether DIY solar is worth it.
- If you’re planning a roof mount solar installation, will you be comfortable climbing and working on a roof?
- Do you have someone who is physically able who can help you with the installation? If not, are you prepared to tackle the project on your own?
- Take an honest inventory of your skills, available time and energy, and preferences. Is this DIY installation going to be a fun project that you’re capable of managing (with or without help)? Or would you rather have some or all of it done professionally?
- Take an honest inventory of the DIY process. Which parts would you want to handle yourself, with or without professional support? Do you have the technical support readily available to assist you in the process? (I’ve found that many homeowners perform the entire installation themselves and feel great about it, especially when receiving support from a company like GoGreenSolar that designs the system and supplies the equipment.)
- How important are the cost savings vs. the time and energy you will need to invest in a DIY solar project?
- Will your local authorities allow for DIY solar installation? Most do, but some don’t. Contact your local permitting authority to find out.
My Two Cents on Whether DIY Solar Is Worth It
There are different ways to approach a DIY solar project. Will you:
- Go it alone
- Do most of the project yourself but get some help in some areas, or
- Use your management skills to oversee others?
I’ve come across many customer stories based on my experience working in the solar industry. Some know nothing about solar but choose to educate themselves on every aspect of the design process and installation process. They draw their own plans, source equipment and install it on their own without guidance or support. Some of those stories don’t always end so well, with poor design planning, wrong or incompatible equipment, and improper installation guidance. These poor folks wound up wasting their time, money and energy.
I respect those who have the ability, time and energy to educate themselves enough to design a system and complete every step correctly, without help. However, I don’t recommend that route for most of us.
If you don’t want to spend countless hours learning solar design and installation basics but feel you can tackle a DIY project with support, I strongly suggest working with a leading DIY solar brand like GoGreenSolar. And if you want to take the hybrid route — partial or complete professional installation — GoGreenSolar can design and sell your system and find an installer to assist you.
GoGreenSolar’s solar panel kits are designed for DIYers, and their team is available to assess your needs and build a custom system that meets your configurations. For example, if you’re looking to add batteries for grid-tie backup, this adds another level of complexity that requires professional advice and guidance.
As you go through your DIY process, you will need a permit, and if your installation ties to the grid, you’ll need interconnection approval from the utility. GoGreenSolar offers the plan sets you need for the permitting process. They also provide professional interconnection service to help you with this process.
Depending on the company, the level of installation support can differ. Some provide a generic installation manual that you have to figure out. GoGreenSolar prepares a custom installation guide specific to your home and equipment. They even include a supply list of hardware that you’ll need to buy locally to complete your installation.
When you’re choosing a company to work with on your DIY solar project, be sure to understand what level of support they offer. A well-designed and well-supported DIY installation can take months to complete, from assessment and design to permitting. Still, you can complete the installation itself within a weekend or two!
If you’re confident about moving forward with a DIY solar installation, then yes — it’s definitely worth it! In addition to reducing or eliminating your electric bill, taking advantage of local, state and federal tax credits, and reducing your carbon footprint, saving thousands of dollars through your installation is a cherry on top.
I’ll end with one final question to ask yourself: How proud and satisfied will you feel about installing your own working solar energy system?
About the author, Jeff Haas: Jeff is the VP of Sales for GoGreenSolar. He raised a family off-grid in Northern California, and has worked in the solar industry since 2006. “I am a true believer in renewable energy and I am glad to be part of a company that helps people go solar on their own terms!”
DIY Solar Power Installation
Updated June 22, 2022 Solar
Solar installation has become easier over the years. With the steady advancement of solar technology, installing solar panels and photovoltaic system equipment will surely get even more simplified in the future.
However, that does not mean that solar installation is an easy 5 step process or that everybody should try it.
Solar Installation: What You Should Know Before You Start
Since solar installation involves working with panels and equipment that produce several hundred volts of electricity in the sunlight, some very serious safety issues must be understood before you consider installing solar panels or PV system components onto your home.
Often, the work involved in solar installation needs to be done by a professional, permits need to be applied for and specific electrical standards (which often differ from one area to the next) have to be met.
It is for this reason that there is also often a lot of improvisation involved when installing a solar power system.
Although we do not in any way encourage you to disobey the standards, rules, requirements, and guidelines set forth by your municipality in regards to how to install solar panels or a solar energy system, we do show you some ways of working around some of the harder aspects of solar installation at the end of this web page. To be sure, check with your local building and safety department for specific requirements.
Let’s take a look at the basic procedure for installing a grid-tied solar power system in your house.
Installing Solar Panels Solar Energy Systems
First you must make sure that your roof or wherever you’re going to be mounting your solar panels is strong enough for solar panel installation and to support the weight. There’s no point in installing solar panels on a roof that is going to cave in and ultimately cost you more money to repair.
Unless you’re using solar roof tiles, the next thing you must do in the process of solar panel installation is measure the dimensions of your roof and ensure that your solar panels (the entire solar array) can fit in the available space.
When installing solar panels, you may also want to consider using an area where there is considerable space for the addition of more panels in the future. For proper solar panel installation, ideally, solar panels should go on a rooftop that faces the direction that the sun comes up from.
So, if in your area the sun rises in the east, your panels should face east for maximum exposure. Just make sure the roof has no shade on it from other homes, buildings, trees, etc.
One important thing you must know about solar panel installation is that having just one solar panel in the shade can stop your whole solar array from working properly. Also, when you are installing solar panels, make sure that shade won’t come with the changing of the seasons or with the future development in your neighborhood. Install solar panels no closer than 12 from the edge of the roof and 16 from the eaves.
Before you install solar panels, you must install brackets on sloped roofs or mount rails on flat roofs. Solar panel mounts can be bought in home improvement or solar stores. Standoffs for the brackets or rails must be secured to the home’s rafters or trusses, not just the sheathing.
Solar installation brackets are used on roofs that are sloped, but the slope must be positioned in a way that gives the panel good direct exposure to the sun. A mount rail system is used in solar installation to allow you to position the panel at any angle you want. You must keep all the solar panels at the same angle and height (even when the roof slope changes) to keep the voltage production the same.
Make sure you use roof sealant where you drill the screws into the roof when attaching the brackets or mount rails. so no rainwater can leak through the holes in your roof. Follow the instructions that come with the brackets or rail system you use to ensure that your solar panel installation is done according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
Then attach your solar panels by hoisting them up to your roof, laying them out onto the brackets or mount rail system, and fastening them onto the bracket or rail system. When installing solar panels make sure they don’t accidentally slide off of very sloped roofs before you get a chance to secure them.
When solar panel installation is complete and your panels are secure you must connect them according to how you want them to produce power. Make sure all your wires are properly insulated and waterproof (wrapped with black electrical tape). To prevent shock, always connect a ground wire from the mounting hardware to the earth when performing a solar installation.
Once the panels have been connected and aligned in place, the conduit must be run underneath the panels, to a junction box, down the side of the house, and the first photovoltaic component in your system. usually the DC disconnect.
For solar power installation, you must use wiring consisting of three wires: negative, positive, and ground wire. None of the wiring should be touching the actual roof.
Installing conduit over all wires coming out of your panels is essential to protect them from exposure to rain, sunlight, and other elements.
Now set up all of your photovoltaic components according to the manufacturer’s instructions (but don’t connect them yet). Install your inverter and the other photovoltaic components in a garage or an outbuilding. Make sure that the area is dry, well ventilated, and that the space is not subject to extreme hot or cold temperatures. This is especially important when it comes to your battery bank.
If there’s going to be any cold weather at all, you should use a battery box around your entire battery bank to protect it from changing environments. A battery box is also necessary to protect children and pets from accidental electrical shock.
The next step in a typical PV installation would involve running the power from your inverter into your home’s AC breaker panel and other system components. To do this, first, turn off the main breaker and de-energize all AC and DC sources of power.
Then, connect your inverter to your AC breaker panel. Connect the PV wires to the DC disconnect switch and the other photovoltaic system components up until the main DC disconnect. Then connect the main DC disconnect to the inverter.
After you do this, (and ensure that your system is safe by getting a professional electrician to test and verify that everything is working properly), you can turn on your breakers and DC/AC disconnect switches and electricity will be distributed from the AC breaker panel to any electrical loads in your home.
When wiring through walls, use conduit to protect against shock and short circuits. For outdoor wiring, use PV conduit over the wires, with waterproof fittings or duct seal to keep out water.
Also anytime, you’re going to be sharing solar power with power from your electric company, it’s a good idea to install a second smaller panel box beside your main one for the solar feed, along with a convenient shut-off switch to make cutting the power from the solar panel easy if necessary. A very common and usually required safety procedure in solar installation.
The breaker that is used for the solar feed must not exceed 20% of the AC breaker panel’s service size. So if your home’s electrical service is 100 amps, this limits your breaker size to 20 amps. If you install solar panels and a PV system that has more amps than that, you may need to increase your home’s electrical service to 200 amp or higher.
Solar Installation Shortcuts
Here we list a few alternative ways you can save even more money (and work) by simply working around some of the more expensive and legally complicated aspects of solar energy installation.
Roof or Yard?
If solar panel installation is a little too labor-intensive for you and you don’t want to go through all the trouble of mounting and installing solar panels on your roof, you can always place them in your backyard or on your balcony. This will require your panels to have some kind of a stand or adjustable support behind them.
However, different areas have different rules for this as well. Some areas require that any solar panels not mounted to the roof must be protected from the general public via the use of fencing or a pole mount 8 feet or higher. Do your homework and find out what’s required in your area before proceeding.
Panel or Plugs?
If you don’t want to connect directly to your home’s AC breaker panel, you can plug appliances directly into the inverter. Just set up a system where you plug appliances, TVs, toasters, lights, etc, into a convenient box of direct access power outlets (plugs).
This can be as easy as attaching an extension cord from the power inverter, passing it into the house, and adding a power bar with multiple easy access outlets. Many people choose to implement little solar installation shortcuts like these to work around’ some tough spots.
With these options to work around some of the more expensive (and complicated) aspects of solar power installation, it gets even easier for you to create a system that can recover more of your initial costs within just months instead of taking years.
Solar installations are getting easier all the time and there’s plenty of do-it-yourself information out there. But are you ready to go the DIY route?
If you’re interested in solar power, surely you already know that solar electricity is good for the environment, national security, and the air we breathe, not to mention your electricity bill. And that it’s one of the best ways to reduce your household’s contribution to global warming. You’ve also probably heard that going solar can actually be cheaper than paying for utility power, and you might wonder whether this claim is true. Well, in most cases, it is true. It just takes time for the incremental savings to overtake the initial investment (after that, the solar power is free). If you install the solar system yourself, you can hit this tipping point a lot sooner — in some cases, in half the time.
That brings us to the next big question: Can you really install your own solar panels? Again, the answer is yes. If you can drive lag bolts and assemble prefabricated parts, and if you’re willing to spend a day or two on your roof (or not, if you’re mounting your panels on the ground), you can install your own solar system. You don’t have to know how to hook up the solar panels to your household electricity or the utility grid. You’ll hire an electrician for the house hookup, and the utility company will take care of the rest, usually for free. For a completely off-grid system, the utility company isn’t involved at all.
Perhaps disappointingly, this job isn’t even a good excuse to buy new power tools, since the only one you need is a good drill.
So, if this is such a doable project, why do most people use professional installers? For starters, a lot of people have good reasons to hire out virtually everything, from oil changes to grocery shopping. (That’s probably not you, but even if it is, our book can help you plan for a solar installation and find a good local installer.) Solar professionals handle more than the installation. They design the system, they apply for rebates and credits, they order all the necessary parts, and they obtain the permits and pass all the inspections. But the fact is, you can do all of these things yourself, provided you have a helpful adviser and you are willing to follow the rules of the local building authority (that’s where you’ll get those permits).
Solar installations are getting easier all the time, and you might be surprised at how much do-it-yourself (DIY) help is available. Two good examples are PVWatts and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables Efficiency (DSIRE). PVWatts is an online calculator that helps you size a solar-electric system based on the location and position of your house and the angle of your roof. Solar pros use the same simple tool, but it’s free for everyone. DSIRE offers an up-to-date, comprehensive listing of renewable energy rebates, tax breaks, and other financial incentives available in any area of the United States. And it’s also free and easy to use.
Those two resources alone help answer the two most common questions homeowners have about solar electricity: How big of a system do I need? and How much will it cost? Other resources include solar equipment suppliers that cater to DIYers and offer purchasing and technical support, as well as online communities like Build It Solar. And there’s no law that says DIYers can’t hire a solar professional for help with specific aspects of their project, such as creating design specifications, choosing equipment, or preparing permit documents.
We should also say up front that installing your own solar panels is not a process well-served by cutting corners. We don’t want you to install your system without a permit or without hiring an electrician to make the final hookups. (Even professional solar installers use electricians for this stuff.) The permit process can be a pain, yes, but it’s there to ensure that your system is safe, not just for you but also for emergency responders who might need to work around your mini power plant. When you work with the local building department you also learn about critical design factors, such as wind and snow loads, that are specific to your area.
Can I Install My Own PV (Photovoltaic) System? A DIYer’s Checklist
It’s time for the litmus test that tells you whether to proceed boldly as an amateur solar installer or to hand over the reins to a professional. For most of you, the decision will come down to the rules of the local building authority (most likely your city, county, township, or state) or your utility provider, either of which may require that solar installations be done by a licensed professional. This is also the best time to confirm that your project won’t be nixed by your zoning department, historical district standards, or your homeowner’s association.
- Amateur installation is permitted by the local building authority and your utility provider.
- Requirements for amateur installation are reasonable and acceptable. Some authorities require nonprofessionals to pass tests demonstrating basic knowledge of electrical and other household systems, but such tests may not be extensive.
- You’re okay with several hours of physical rooftop work (those with ground-mount systems get a pass here) AND you’re wise enough to wear legitimate fall-arresting equipment (not a rope tied around your waist). You may feel as confident as Mary Poppins dancing on rooftops, but she can fly; you should be tethered.
- You don’t live in a historical district or, if you do, the zoning authority permits PV systems (with acceptable restrictions).
- Your homeowner’s association, if you have one, permits PV systems (with acceptable restrictions). Sometimes the homeowner’s association may need a little nudging to give permission.
- You have a standard type of roofing (asphalt shingles, standing-seam metal, wood shingles, standard flat roof). If you have slate, concrete tile, clay tile, or other fragile/specialty roofing, consult a roofing professional and/or hire out the PV installation. This is not necessarily a deal-breaker.
TEXT EXCERPTED FROM INSTALL YOUR OWN SOLAR PANELS © JOSEPH BURDICK AND PHILIP SCHMIDT.
Install Your Own Solar Panels
Labor and related costs account for more than half of the price of the average home solar installation. But homeowners can save thousands of dollars with this user-friendly manual, which follows the same process professional contractors use. Through detailed directions and step-by-step photos, veteran solar installer Joseph Burdick and seasoned builder Philip Schmidt teach you how to determine the size, placement, and type of installation you’ll need. This comprehensive DIY guide covers everything from assembling rooftop racking or building a ground-mount structure to setting up the electrical connections and making a battery bank for off-grid systems.
Is DIY Home Solar a Good Idea for You?
The popularity of solar power has grown in recent years, thanks to plummeting equipment costs, climbing electricity rates, and the looming climate crisis. And with thousands of do-it-yourself guides and videos online, the DIY culture continues to attract more people. So, it’s no surprise that DIY solar power systems are garnering a lot of interest.
As with any DIY project, DIY solar is appealing for two main reasons: cost savings, and the satisfaction of completing a complex task. But before you look for your toolkit, there are two important questions to ask: Are you allowed to install solar power systems yourself, and is it a good idea to do so? Let’s begin with the first question.
Can You Legally Install Your Own Solar Panels?
Solar power systems comprise a number of components — solar voltaic panels, inverters, wiring, connectors, and more. Naturally, installing a solar system is far more complex than assembling, say, Ikea furniture. Additionally, these systems are usually designed for interconnection with the local power grid. An unsafe system connected to the grid can be a major safety hazard, especially for linesmen working in the neighborhood.
So it’s no surprise that many governing authorities worldwide prohibit people from connecting self-installed solar panels to the grid. In the U.S., there is no federal law regulating DIY solar projects, but each state has its own regulation.
For instance, anyone installing solar panels in Texas is required to have a Texas Electrical Contractor’s License (TECL). But in California, you might be able to install a system yourself and get approval for grid connection. Some states require solar installers to be certified by organizations such as North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) or Solar Rating Certification Corporation (SRCC).
Most states in the U.S. have licensing requirements for solar installers for safety reasons. You can check each state’s law in IREC’s solar licensing database.
So, does this mean you cannot legally build your own solar power system? Well, in most places, it is somewhat difficult, legally, to install a full-fledged rooftop or ground-mounted solar system without any license or certifications. However, you can hire an electrician or solar installer for parts of the installation where it’s legally required. For instance, in Colorado, all electrical work on the AC side of the system must be done by a licensed electrician.
Another excellent option is to work on a smaller and safer DIY solar project that is not connected to the grid. Several websites offer DIY kits that include a small number of solar panels, an inverter, a battery, and miscellaneous equipment. These kits may include installation guides to help you assemble the system.
Should You Install a Solar Power System Yourself?
Let’s say you live in a state where the law allows designing and installing your own solar system. Is it a wise thing to do? The best way to answer this question is by looking at the advantages and disadvantages of DIY solar.
As is usually the case in the U.S., labor costs can make up a significant portion of the total cost of any project. This is true for solar too. Whenever you receive a quote from a solar installer, labor accounts for about 10% or more of that cost.
By going the DIY route, you can save on this cost, which can amount to a few thousand dollars.
Any DIY enthusiast will attest to the fact that DIY projects do more than just save money — they provide the satisfaction of having done something new. Installing your system can be a fulfilling endeavor, regardless of its other benefits.
No Nasty Surprises
No matter how highly rated your installer is or how good the contract looks, when you are spending tens of thousands of dollars, it is natural to be uneasy about whether you are getting your money’s worth. Despite equipment warranties, customers often worry about the quality of the components and workmanship. When you do the work yourself, you know the quality you’re getting, making DIY solar a frequently explored option.
As discussed previously, the major obstacle in installing a DIY system is the legal side of it. Completed systems undergo an inspection by the local utility company, which can also demand to see your installer’s license or certification.
Can Be Difficult and/or Dangerous
At first glance, installing solar may seem easy. But the actual installation can be difficult and highly technical. It makes more sense to hire an installer for grid-connected systems that require you to work on your roof, with electrical panels, or with buried wires. over, DC current flowing from a string of solar panels can be extremely dangerous if you are not well-versed with electrical work.
May Not Be Worth the Money Saved
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), labor typically accounts for about 10% of a system’s cost. Considering the average cost of 15,000 to 25,000 for a solar energy system, the savings would run between 1,500 to 2,500 or slightly more. If you take into account the complexity and the time required in doing it yourself, it might not be worth the money you save.
Permits and Other Legal Hassles
Installing a solar PV system requires more than just purchasing and installing equipment. You need to apply for permits, rebates, and credits, as well as pass inspections. A registered solar installer has completed these steps dozens of times, and can likely do it more quickly and efficiently than you can.
Your state may allow you to install a system yourself, but you may not be able to claim certain incentives offered to homeowners who use a professional to install their solar power system. While you may be eligible for the federal solar tax credit, you may not be eligible for some local rebates.
Many banks also offer low-interest, “green loans” for going solar. In most cases, these banks require a quote/purchase agreement from a certified installer.
Missed Workmanship Warranty
Professionally installed panels come with a workmanship warranty that protects you against any defects in installation. Some companies, like SunPower, offer a 25-year warranty. You may be able to save around between 1,500 to 2,500 by doing it all yourself, but that means missing out on a valuable warranty like this.
Installing your own solar power system sounds enticing to many DIY enthusiasts who anticipate saving money and completing a satisfying project. But unlike other, simpler DIY projects, installing solar panels can be complicated, dangerous, and even sometimes tedious. State laws often prohibit installing solar if you don’t have the right credentials.
Thankfully, you can still install a smaller, off-grid system that powers an outbuilding or remote cabin. If your system is not connected to the grid, you can enjoy building a smaller, safer system using a handful of components — often available as a kit.
By Aniket Bhor
Aniket Bhor has an M.S. in Renewable Energies and about a decade of experience working in the solar power industry — overseeing solar panel manufacturing and installations. He has written for renewable energy organizations worldwide, and is a climate enthusiast and avid cyclist.