DIY solar panels: pros, cons and installation guide
To save money, it’s no surprise that many homeowners are considering “do it yourself”, or DIY, solar. You can install solar panels yourself, but there are some advantages and disadvantages to doing it alone. 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.
Can you install solar panels yourself?
A solar panel system is complicated, which is why so many companies across the U.S. specialize in providing professional solar installation services. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t build your own solar panel system – you can install your own panels, a DIY solar panel setup can be a viable option for some solar shoppers wanting to tap into renewable energy.
According to data from the EnergySage Marketplace, the average cost of going solar for homeowners (after accounting for the federal tax credit) is about 20,650 in 2023. Of that amount, design and installation labor costs contribute about 10% of the total bill; this 10% is what a DIY solar installation will save you since you’ll still have to buy the equipment and 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 home renewable energy project.
Your solar energy system should continue to generate electricity for 25 to 35 years, so you must 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 can 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 because they’re able to buy in bulk and have access to the best solar panel brands. Going for the more expensive option now may end up saving you money in the long run because you’ll likely have a system built to last a few decades, offsetting your monthly electric bills.
Pros and cons of DIY solar panels and solar panel kits
DIY panels can be a great option for going off the grid and some small home applications. For powering your entire home, however, it may be in your best interest to go with a professional installer.
DIY solar pros and cons
|Provides more energy independence for homeowners by not being tied to the electricity grid.
|Require much more maintenance that would otherwise be covered by an installer warranty.
|Effective in powering smaller items like RVs, boats and other appliances
|For an entire home, installation may be difficult for an individual without the knowledge and experience of a professional installer.
|Allows homeowners to save roughly 10% on the overall cost of installation that would otherwise go towards labor.
|DIY installation may be illegal where you live according to local zoning laws.
Most home DIY all-in-one solar panel solar kits (including items like solar batteries, and inverters) 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 array 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. Storage kits are also a good option for backup to help in the case of a blackout and can contain battery banks and battery systems.
If you want to install a DIY solar project, compare several options beforehand. Grape Solar is a major manufacturer (among 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
|Grape Solar 400 watt PV solar panel kit
|Grape Solar 600 watt PV solar panel kit
|Renogy solar 12-volt/24-volt premium kit
|ECO-WORTHY off-grid solar panel kit
When you decide on DIY 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 a relatively little additional cost (remember that 10% figure?). When it comes to installing an expensive electrical system on your property, finding someone who knows what they’re doing can save you both time and money in the long run.
Some of the best solar installers have been in the business for decades – an 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) Solar PV Installation Professional Certification ensure that the company you choose to work with has an intimate understanding of the process. Because of this, they can provide experienced insight and help you assess what equipment is the best fit for your property and whether a battery system is right for you.
Your solar installer will also help you complete and file the permits and applications that you need to submit to get your solar power system up and running. This is particularly important because your utility won’t let you connect your system to the grid without a 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 any rebates and tax incentives 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 to back up their work, too.
The 6-step guide to DIY solar panels: how to install solar panels
The DIY solar panel installation process can be simplified into six major steps:
Purchase your solar equipment and components (solar panels, batteries, inverters, racking, etc.)
Equipment and components including panels can be purchased with help from the EnergySage Buyer’s Guide. You can compare panel, battery, and inverter models based on specs like efficiency, warranties, and more.
Install the racking or mounts for the panels on a roof or the ground
Once you have the necessary equipment, designs, and permits in order, it is time to install your equipment. For roof mount systems, this begins with installing your racking and mounting equipment. To start, mark where your system will be installed, drill where lag bolts will be put in place, caulk the holes, put in lag bolts, and lock rails onto them. For ground mount systems, the steps are similar, only the panels will be installed at the ground level on some type of racking system.
Install your equipment
The first items to install are the solar inverters, which convert the electricity generated by your solar panels into usable electricity. After these are installed using provided bolts, you will need to connect a grounding wire. This is a piece of copper wire across the rails that serves as a safety precaution against lightning strikes and other faults. After this, you can attach your solar panels to your racking equipment.
Connect to your main electrical board
After you have fully installed your panel and system, be sure to schedule an inspection with the local construction authority closest to you. This will ensure that your system complies with local ordinances. Once you pass this inspection, you can apply to connect to the grid. The local utility company will give you a meter to record your power exports.
Get in touch with your utility company and request permission to turn on (PTO) if necessary in your area
From there, turn on your system after you have the proper approval and check how the system is functioning with a solar monitoring app.
Maintenance of DIY solar panel systems
One of the benefits of working with a certified solar installer is the warranty that comes with their service. Solar panel manufacturers provide a range of warranties that guarantee you will have support and coverage in the unlikely event of an issue caused by unusual circumstances, such as large hail or falling tree branches. Power output warranties guarantee that panel performance won’t fall below a specified level over the term of the warranty (usually 25 years). For instance, a manufacturer might provide a warranty to guarantee that peak power output won’t fall below 85% for 25 years.
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 remain connected to the grid, DIY solar panels are typically not worth it. They are best used for small off-grid applications, like RVs, where a solar generator or solar battery bank can provide you power when you otherwise may not have access.
As a DIYer, you don’t need to be an electrician to install solar panels. 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 professionals with technical know-how —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 or from manufacturers like Grape Solar, for 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. You may be looking at additional costs if you want to install a solar battery and charge controller system as part of your DIY project.
Should you install solar yourself or hire an installer?
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 the quote comparison platform in the EnergySage Marketplace.
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How Does Solar Power Work on a House? Your Questions Answered
How does solar power work? A simple explanation is that solar panels convert sunlight into electricity that can be used immediately or stored in batteries.
The sun essentially provides an endless supply of energy. In fact, with the amount of sunlight that hits the earth in 90 minutes, we could supply the entire world with electricity for a year — all we have to do is catch it!
That’s where solar panels come in.
How solar panels power a home
Solar power has many applications, from powering calculators to cars to entire communities. It even powers space stations like the Webb Space Telescope.
But most people are concerned about how solar panels can power their house and reduce their electricity bill.
Here’s a step-by-step overview of how home solar power works:
- When sunlight hits a solar panel, an electric charge is created through the photovoltaic effect or PV effect (more on that below)
- The solar panel feeds this electric charge into inverters, which change it from direct current (DC) into alternate current (AC) electricity
- The AC electricity runs through your electrical panel and is distributed throughout your home — just like grid energy
- Excess solar energy is stored in batteries or pushed onto the grid to power local systems (like your neighbor’s house!)
- Through net metering, solar owners get credit for the excess energy they put on the grid to offset the grid energy they pull off the grid when their panels aren’t producing
- With battery storage, solar owners can store excess production to power their homes at night
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s break down how solar panels work in more detail.
How does solar power work? The photovoltaic effect explained
Solar panels turn sunlight into elctricity through the photovoltaic (PV) effect, which is why they’re often referred to as PV panels.
The photovoltaic effect occurs when photons from the sun’s rays hit the semiconductive material (typically silicon) in the cell of the solar module. The photons activate electrons, causing them to free themselves from the semiconductive material.
Photons hit the solar panel causing electrons to be freed during the photovoltaic effect.
The free electrons flow through the solar cells, down wires along the edge of the panel, and into a junction box as direct current (DC).
This current travels from the solar panel to an inverter, where it is changed into alternative current (AC) that can be used to power homes and buildings.
How is solar energy used to power your home?
Most home solar systems are “grid-tied” meaning that the solar system, home electrical system, and local utility grid are all interconnected, typically through the main electrical service panel.
Connecting these systems means you can power your home with solar electricity during the day and grid electricity at night. It also means your solar system can push excess electricity onto the local grid to power surrounding systems, like your neighbor’s house.
Through net metering, you earn credit for excess solar production that can be used to offset the grid electricity you use at night.
Home solar with battery storage
Home solar with battery storage works similarly to the process above, but intsead of pushing excess solar production onto the grid, it’s first stored in batteries in your home or garage.
Pairing solar and battery is especially handy for:
- Off-grid solar systems
- Backup electricity during power outages
- Areas without net metering policies
- Powering your home on 100% clean and renewable energy
What types of material are used in solar panels?
The most common residential solar panels contain monocrystalline or polycrystalline (also called multicrystalline) solar cells.
Both types of cells produce electricity when exposed to sunlight, however there are some key differences between the two:
|Monocrystalline solar cells
|Polycristalline solar cells
|Tend to appear darker in color, often black or dark grey
|Often appear a dark blue when exposed to light
|Performs better in high temperatures and shady conditions
|Less efficient at higher temperatures
|Tend to be more expensive
|Tend to be less expensive
If space is limited on your roof or project site, a higher-efficiency, monocrystalline panel may be preferred, and could result in a better return on investment. Alternatively, a lower-cost, slightly less efficient, polycrystalline panel may do the job just as well if you have ample roof space on your home.
Many panel manufacturers also build panels containing both mono and polycrystalline wafers to form solar cells, capable of harvesting energy from a wider spectrum of light.
Be sure to ask what type of cell (“mono or poly”) your home solar system design contains, This distinction may affect the aesthetics and economics of your project.
How does sun exposure affect solar panel efficiency?
It is important that your solar panels receive good insolation (sun exposure) throughout the day and are free from as much shading from trees or neighboring obstructions as possible.
There are a number of factors that influence solar panel efficiency. They include:
- Temperature — Solar panels operate best in temperatures between 59 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit
- Type of solar panel — Solar panels typically range from 15-20% efficient, with the best panels pushing 23%.
- Shading — Solar panels perform best in wide-open sun. Even partial shading can substantially reduce the efficiency of a panel
- Orientation and angle — Solar panels perform best when they are directly facing the sun and are often tilted to increase efficiency
Solar engineers use satellite imagery to determine which panels and placement will provide optimum solar panel efficiency for you home.
How does solar power work FAQs
How does home solar power work?
Solar power works by converting sunlight into electricity through the photovoltaic (PV) effect. The PV effect is when photons from the sun’s rays knock electrons from their atomic orbit and channel them into an electrical current.
Using PV solar panels, sunlight can be used to power everything from calculators to homes to space stations.
How does solar power work at night?
Solar panels require sunlight to generate electricity, so they do not generate electricity during the day.
However, home solar systems typically generate excess electricity during the day, which can be stored in batteries or sent to the local grid in exchange for net metering credits. This is how solar owners maintain power when the sun isn’t shining.
Do solar panels work on cloudy days?
Yes, solar panels still generate electricity on cloudy days, although not as effectively as sunny days. Solar panels can capture both direct and indirect light (light that shines through clouds), but perform at around 10-25% of their normal efficiency when it’s cloudy.
Cloudy days can be beneficial, however, as rain washes the panels and increases their overall efficiency.
What Are Solar Panels Made Of?
You might know what solar panels can do – convert sunlight into energy, save money, create energy independence, increase your home’s resale value – but.
Do Solar Panels Work At Night?
Do solar panels work at night? The short answer is: no, solar energy systems only operate during the day. This is because the power from.
How Much Energy Does a Solar Panel Produce?
One of the most important features of a solar panel is how much energy it can produce. After all, that’s what they’re designed to do.
Bacteria-enhanced Solar Can Boost Production in Cloudy Skies
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The Latest Update in Flexible Solar Cells for Your Smart Devices
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Do Solar Panels Work Less Efficiently at Certain Temperatures?
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Space-Based Solar vs. Conventional Solar. How Are They Different?
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How Solar Panels Absorb and Store Energy
The sun’s energy is expressed in different ways, depending on what materials it interacts with. Solar panels are built with materials that physically interact.
How are solar panels manufactured?
You know solar panels as the futuristic-looking black or blue rectangles that soak up sunlight and bring down your energy bills. You might even get.
DIY Soda Can Solar Thermal Panels
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Smappee vs. Sense vs. CURB Home Energy Monitor Comparison
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Monocrystalline Solar Panels vs Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Over six decades ago, New Jersey scientists announced their invention of a practical silicon solar panel. Solar panels have come a long way since then.
How Do Solar Panels Produce Electricity?
Solar panels contain cells of semiconductive material, usually, silicon usually encased in a metallic frame and tempered glass. When subject to sunlight, photovoltaic cells create.
Why Falling Back is Bad for Solar
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How Solar Panels Can Add Thousands to Your Home’s Value
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Dan is a writer on CNET’s How-To team. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, NBC News, Architectural Digest and elsewhere. He is a crossword junkie and is interested in the intersection of tech and marginalized communities.
There are many benefits of solar panels that homeowners know about.- they lower your energy bill, reduce your carbon footprint and can even earn you a healthy tax credit.
But did you know going solar also increases the value of your home?
A 2019 report from Zillow indicated that properties with rooftop solar installations sold for 4.1% more than comparable residences without them. For a median-valued home, that’s equal to roughly 9,300.
Can solar panels save you money?
Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.
And residences with solar are 24.7% more likely to sell for more than their asking price, according to property listings site Rocket Homes.
Tony Accardo, a Compass realtor in Los Angeles County, says solar is a huge selling point in his conversations with prospective buyers.
Can solar panels save you money?
Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.
If there were two identical homes, but one didn’t have solar and was 50,000 cheaper, the one with solar would sell first, Accardo told CNET.
Here’s what you need to know about how and why solar panels can increase your home’s value.
How much solar panels increase your home’s value
There are tax breaks available when you buy and install a rooftop solar system, most notably the federal solar tax credit.
When it’s time to sell, though, how much of a premium having a rooftop solar system brings depends on a variety of factors.- including where you live, the cost of electricity and what kind of system you have.
What’s most attractive to homebuyers is how much of your home’s energy needs your installation covers. If it can provide all of it, that can reduce your electricity bill by an average of 1,500 a year.- equal to about 37,500 over the life of the system.
If solar panels aren’t on buyers’ want list, it’s something they plan to install themselves, Accardo said. They want to offset energy costs and have a better resale situation themselves.
Solar is even more of a get than having a pool, he added.
An older couple looking at your house maybe isn’t going to care you have a pool. Or even see it as a pain, Accardo said. This is direct savings that everyone can take advantage of.
Where you live matters
The value of a solar setup varies substantially by market. Unsurprisingly, buyers in states where electricity bills are higher place more of a premium on solar panels.
In January 2023, residential electricity bills were highest in California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and across New England, according to the Energy Information Administration.
With over 10.7 million homes relying primarily on solar, California overwhelmingly has the largest residential solar market.
Below are the top 10 states for solar, based on data from the Solar Energy Industry Association on the cumulative amount of solar energy capacity installed through 2022 and the number of homes powered by solar.
States with the top solar markets in 2022
|MW of solar installed
|Number of homes powered by solar
Many of these states offer credits to homeowners who give excess energy back to the grid. And at least 36 states offer property tax exemptions for a home solar system. So while it will increase the value of your home, it won’t increase your tax bill.
A 2015 analysis by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that buyers in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina and New Jersey paid 15,000 more for a home with a typical 3.6-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system. (The equivalent to about 4 more per watt generated.)
Specific metro areas have also risen to the top when it comes to adopting solar panels: Last year, they were most in demand in Los Angeles, San Diego, Honolulu, Phoenix, San Jose, San Antonio and New York City, according to a survey by the Environment California Research Policy Center.
In New York, having solar panels upped the closing price of a property by 5.4%, compared to the 4.1% increase nationwide, Zillow reported. For a median-priced home in the Big Apple, that worked out to about an additional 24,000.
Electricity will remain high
Overall inflation slowed to 5% in March.- and could go as low as 3% by the end of the year. But Mark Wolfe, director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, told USA Today that electricity may increase by as much as 10% in 2023 and possibly in 2024, as well.
That’s because liquified natural gas, which fuels over a third of Americans’ electricity, has become scarcer as the US exports a record amount to Europe, which has been struggling to replace the supply it no longer gets from Russia after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Unprecedented export volumes are, for the first time in history, binding American household energy bills to global calamities, Wolfe wrote in an open letter last fall to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
He described the situation as a domestic energy pricing crisis.
Asked about the reasons for adding solar panels, almost all (92%) homeowners who have installed them or considered doing so pointed to saving on utility bills, the Pew Research Center reported.
People aren’t altruistic, Accardo said. They’re interested in solar because of saving, not because of the environment.
Will solar always add value to my property?
Having a well-maintained rooftop solar system is highly unlikely to ever lower your property’s value, Accardo said. Even if you don’t have solar panels, buyers may pay more for a house with roofing that’s well-suited to installing them later.
But changes in state regulations can make solar less of a selling point: California recently altered its solar incentive from a net-metering system, where homeowners get a near-dollar-to-dollar credit for excess energy, to a net-billing program where your surplus is sold to the utility at a substantially lower rate.
Systems installed after April 14, 2023, could earn homeowners 75% less if they don’t also have a home battery setup, according to the California Solar and Storage Association, the state’s largest solar trade organization. (Existing systems are grandfathered under the current net-metering structure.)
Similar policy changes decreased the uptake of solar in Hawaii, Nevada and Missouri, the nonprofit Environment America reported.
In Arizona, new fees and regulations nearly doubled how long it takes solar panels to pay for themselves, leading to a decline in adoption of between 50% and 95%, EA reported. (Despite it being the sunniest state in the union, fewer than 200,000 homes in Arizona are powered by solar.)
The state of your panels and your home are also a factor. If a buyer sees that they’re going to have to invest in repairs, it will likely drive the price down.
And as other states adopt net billing, having solar panels paired with a home battery backup system will be increasingly important to get the most value for your home.
For more on solar panels, find out how to avoid scams and learn about the big changes to California’s solar incentives.
The future of solar is bright in Georgia, and we are leading the way in making our state a national leader in solar energy. To help meet our customers’ growing electricity needs, we’re committed to using reliable, cost-effective and renewable energy sources that work best in our state.
Solar Energy in Georgia
The sun is one of the most valuable power sources available. Learn how Georgia is positioned for a renewable Solar Energy future.
Residential Solar Solutions
The potential for solar energy use in Georgia is dependent upon the amount of sun shining on the earth’s surface called solar insolation.
Business Solar Solutions
To help meet our customers’ growing electricity needs, Georgia Power is committed to using reliable, cost-effective, renewable energy sources that work best in our state.
What solar solution is right for you?
Use our solar adviser tool to explore considerations and estimated costs for a solar panel installation on your home. Get real life figures to help you determine the best solar program for you and your goals.
Two ways to get solar energy
Solar Electric Power
In this approach, electricity is converted directly from solar energy through solar cells known as photovoltaic cells – photo for light and voltaic for energy.
Normally mounted on the roof or in a location with maximum sun exposure, the photovoltaic (PV) array components convert energy from the sun into electric current to power appliances and other household devices.
A PV system requires little maintenance and can produce power for more than 20 years.
Solar Thermal Energy
Heating water using electricity can make up 14-25% of the average home’s utility bill. A residential solar water heating system can be designed to meet between 50 and 80% of a home’s water heating requirements.
A solar water heating system requires collectors to absorb the sun’s energy and a storage system to hold the energy until it is needed. The systems used to store thermal energy are similar to conventional water heaters. The heated water is circulated through the home or building using pumps.
Georgia’s Solar Potential
The potential for solar energy use in Georgia is dependent upon the amount of sun shining on the earth’s surface called solar insolation. Several factors such as weather patterns, humidity and haze can affect local insolation levels.
As can be seen on this solar map, insolation values in Georgia are significant enough to support solar energy systems in our state, with the southern two-thirds of Georgia having solar insolation values equivalent to most of the state of Florida.