DIY Solar Panels: Your Guide to Solar Panel Kits (2023 Guide)
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Investing in renewable energy helps you reduce your environmental impact while saving money on your electricity bills. If you want to take a small step toward using solar energy, or if you want to extend the solar power you’re already using, a do-it-yourself (DIY) solar panel kit could be a good way to avoid professional installation labor costs and take advantage of solar power.
Note that DIY solar panels are meant to power smaller spaces, such as sheds or poolhouses. They’re not meant to power your entire house. If you’re interested in a solar panel system for your home, take a look at our guide to the best solar panel companies.
Available in 50 states Has been in the industry since 1985 Provides its own monocrystalline solar panels
Available in 23 states 25-year warranties for the product, labor, and inverter Power protection guarantee
25-year workmanship and product warranty Perks for new construction homeowners Available in 20 states
What Are DIY Solar Panels?
DIY solar panels come in the form of a solar kit that includes the basic materials you need to set up a solar energy system yourself. These are meant for small-scale applications and are not recommended to power your entire home. Most aren’t made to be connected to the power grid. They’re best for off-grid solar use, such as powering a detached workshop, a small guest house, or even an RV. If your system doesn’t generate enough electricity to fully power these spaces for a day or two due to overcast conditions, it won’t be a big deal.
What’s in a DIY Solar Panel Kit?
- Cables: You need solar cables to connect the components of your system and conduct power from your system to the space you are powering.
- Mounting hardware: Some mounting hardware, such as the racking your panels are adhered to, is designed for specific panel types. We recommend sticking with the same brand or manufacturer if your kit does not come with mounting hardware made for the included panels.
- Solar battery bank: A battery ensures continuous backup to help get you through low solar energy periods, such as nighttime or rainy days.
- Solar inverter: A power inverter or charge controller converts the input power from batteries into output power.
- Solar panels: These panels absorb solar energy to generate electricity.
You need to buy cables and mounting hardware separately if your kit doesn’t include them. Kits typically don’t include tools you’ll need for assembly and installation. Also note that kits come in different sizes. You can get kits with varying numbers of solar panels and battery backups. depending on how much energy and backup power you need.
Benefits and Drawbacks of DIY Solar Panels
See the benefits and drawbacks of DIY solar panels at a glance:
DIY Solar Panels Cost
One of the biggest reasons people choose to install solar panels on their own is that it saves money on the labor costs of hiring a professional solar installation company. According to EnergySage. solar kits from popular brands such as Grape Solar, Renogy Solar, and Eco-Worthy cost in the range of 575 to 875 for a 400–600-watt system size. Kits range between 1,000 and 1,350 for an 800-watt system size.
Installation typically accounts for around 10% of the total cost of a solar system. That said, the amount of money you save by skipping professional installation will likely be minimal. You may find that any money saved isn’t worth it overall.
It’s also important to note that installing solar panels yourself often disqualifies you from solar incentives that can help you save money through solar tax credits and exemptions. Incentives and rebates. such as net metering. are usually reserved for larger system sizes and professional installations.
Professional vs. DIY Solar Panel Installation
A DIY solar installation lets you control the process and timeline while eliminating labor costs. However, you must factor in the cost of any tools your kit requires. importantly, installing solar panels requires assembly skills and an understanding of your energy needs and how to run cables to power your space.
Since professional installers already have this expertise and the necessary tools, many find it easier to have a pro do the job, especially since labor is only a fraction of the cost of going solar. A professional solar company is licensed, so you can get solar incentives to help you save money. Professionals handle most of the paperwork needed to get a permit for the installation, and licensed installation means you’ll get a labor warranty if you have any issues with your system. Since your system may require repair or maintenance, not having a warranty is one of the biggest cons of DIY solar projects.
Factors to Consider Before Installing DIY Solar Panels
Before purchasing a solar kit, there are a few things DIYers should consider:
- Climate: Installing solar panels may not be worth the money if you live in an area that’s often overcast.
- Energy needs: Evaluate how much electricity you require to determine the system size you need.
- Solar panel type: Not all panels perform the same. Monocrystalline panels are the most energy-efficient, but they’re also the most expensive. Polycrystalline panels are slightly less efficient. Thin-film solar panels are the least efficient and most affordable.
- Time: Installing a solar system properly takes time. Don’t make the investment if you don’t think you can complete the job.
A DIY solar system might be a good option for you as long as you understand you won’t get a warranty or solar incentives. Make sure you have expertise in solar power systems. understand the capabilities of an off-grid system. and are comfortable with the time it takes to install. If you prefer to be grid-tied or to have warranty coverage and help with permitting, we recommend spending a little extra for expert installation. You’ll likely save money and time in the long run and won’t have to deal with the headache of troubleshooting if you run into issues during installation.
DIY Solar Panels FAQ
Can I buy solar panels and install them myself?
You can buy solar panels and install them yourself if you have some solar expertise and the tools for assembly. You will need to buy a solar panel kit that includes the necessary equipment, such as a racking system and other roof mounting hardware. However, note that these kits are designed for small-scale installations, not for powering an entire home.
Can you build your own solar panels?
You can build your own solar panels with the help of a solar panel kit that includes solar equipment. However, it won’t include assembly tools.
Is it cheaper to build your own solar panels?
Building your own solar panels eliminates labor costs. However, you’ll need to buy any tools your kit requires, and you won’t qualify for most solar incentives. You’ll save roughly 10% of the total system cost by not hiring a professional installer.
How many watts of solar power does it take to run a house?
The average house needs between 17 and 21 400-watt solar panels to generate enough solar power to run it.
How We Chose the Top Solar Companies
We researched and analyzed dozens of solar panels and solar installation companies. We then formulated a rating system based on each solar installer or manufacturer’s services and products. We weighed several significant factors, including the quality and type of solar panels offered, the customer support network, warranty lengths and limitations, and additional benefits such as mobile apps for monitoring and customer service.
Speaking directly to representatives, we determined how each solar company personalizes its solar panel installation for each home. We also analyzed each company’s warranty options to ensure their product and performance guarantees match or exceed industry standards.
We evaluated each provider based on their rating and history with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to determine reputation. In addition, we analyzed the 100 most recent Google Reviews for each provider across various locations and branches.
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.
Solar Roof Shingles
Everything You Need To Know About: Solar Roof Shingles
As people have become more and more energy conscious, companies and individuals have looked for ways to produce and use energy in a more conservative way. With this movement of green/clean energy, solar energy has been high on the list of alternative energy options.
Recently, solar energy has taken a turn for the better with one of the newest advancements in solar energy, solar roof shingles. Solar roof shingles are a great way to turn a traditional shingle roof into an energy producer. are hybrid shingles that double as a roof shingle that protects the roof from weather and such as well as harnessing the power of the sun and turning it into usable electricity. Solar roof shingles are the new innovated green roofing product of the past couple of years (as of 2013).
We’ve teamed up with top graduates from MIT to help provide you with the right pros in your area that specialize in Solar Roofs.
Talk to a real human being that knows Solar inside and out.
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What are Solar Roof Shingles?
Solar roof shingles or A.K.A photovoltaic shingles are shingles that use solar technology to create electricity from the sun as well as protect the roof like a tradition asphalt shingle.
How Do They Work?
Solar shingles or a.k.a solar tiles work like traditional solar panels. They use the sun as a power source to create electricity. Each of the solar shingles is comprised of photovoltaic cells. This type of technology has been around for a while and was at first used on satellites in space. The name photovoltaic truly tells what they do. The first part of the word “Photo” means light and the second part of the word “voltaic” means electricity. Thus they take the light and turn it into electricity.
Each of the cells on solar shingles or even a solar panel contains a type of material that is called semiconductors. One of the most used types of semiconductors for photovoltaic cells is silicon. What occurs first with solar shingles is the light hitting them. When this happens a part of the light is captured within the silicon semiconductor. In simple terms what happens is the semiconductor now contains energy and with this energy electrons get loosed and begin to move more freely. Next, these free flowing electrons are acted upon by the photovoltaic cell’s (PV Cells) electric field or fields and are forced to flow in one common direction. This creates a current that can be used for electrical power. This is the basic version of how solar shingles work.
Solar shingles have come a long way. In fact, solar shingles or solar tiles used to be unsatisfactory based on their inability to have a high electricity conversion rate. Because of this, traditional solar panels have generally been the best option for turning a roof into a energy creator.
After the year 2008 the thin-film solar cells had a huge breakthrough when the United State’s Department of Energy achieved a 19 – 19.9% electrical conversion. The previous percentages were just above 10%. This breakthrough came by using a copper indium gallium diselenide or a.k.a CIGS solar cell. Now with this new advancement available solar shingles are much more viable and effective.
What Do They Look Like?
Here are a couple pictures of differently looking shingles. If you are just curious, continue to scroll through this page.
If you want a quote from solar professionals, click here or talk to Mike or even Lori may answer your call. Here is their number (877) 596-3691.