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.
Key takeaways about DIY solar
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
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
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.
Saving with Solar
There are numerous ways to save money when going solar. Whether you’re looking to reduce costs on installation or your utility bill, we’ll detail all of the ways you can save with solar power.
Lowering the Price of Your Home Solar Power System
- Local rebates: Reduce solar installation costs with renewable energy incentives from your local or state government.
- Federal rebates: Take advantage of the federal solar tax credit, which can save you 30% on solar panel installation costs.
- Manufacturer rebates: Find out which manufacturers make going solar as easy as possible while offering financial incentives toward your solar installation.
- Promotions: Pay attention to promotions in your city or state that could help you save on purchase and installation costs. Buying at the right time is Smart buying.
Saving Money on Utilities
- Utility bills: Say goodbye to high electricity costs. Going solar can dramatically reduce or even completely eliminate your monthly utility bill.
- Net metering: Get paid for any excess or unused energy your solar system generates. You can potentially save thousands of dollars in electricity costs over the lifetime of your solar energy system through net metering.
Take a look at our solar potential calculator to get an idea of how much energy your panels could generate as well as how much money you could save based on your utility bill.
How to Save Money on Solar Panel Cost with Local Rebates
Plenty of utility companies and local governments offer their own rebates and other incentives — including net metering — to encourage more homeowners to go solar.
Depending on where you live in Texas, Colorado or Florida, or elsewhere in the United States, you can take advantage of the following rebates and incentives:
Saving Money With Federal Rebates
One of the best incentives to lower the costs of your solar energy system is the federal solar tax credit. You can reduce the amount you pay in taxes for your solar panel system by 30% between now and 2033.
That means that if your system costs 30,000, you get a 9,000 credit on your federal taxes. And adding any local incentives listed above will help you save even more money!
Saving Money With Manufacturer Rebates
Manufacturers want to make it easy for homeowners like you to make the switch to renewable energy. SunPower periodically offers rebates up to 450,000 to offset your solar panel installation costs.
Contact Freedom Solar and one of our specialists will help you find manufacturer rebates suitable for your residence.
Saving Money With Promotions
Freedom Solar also aims to help customers save money through a variety of promotions throughout the year. Promotions vary and have deadlines, but we’ll work with you to find the best options available.
SAVING MONEY ON UTILITIES
Saving Money on Utility Bills
One of the most popular reasons to go solar is that you can drastically reduce — or even completely eliminate — your monthly utility bill. The amount you’ll save depends on how much energy your system produces as well as how much energy you consume. But the most significant benefit is the decrease in your energy bill since you’re harnessing the power of the sun, a free, inexhaustible energy source.
You’ll also avoid hefty electricity rates that are often unpredictable and increase over time. And since the amount you’ll save with solar power is usually equal to the amount you’ll avoid paying an electricity supplier, your finances won’t be affected by surging energy in the area.
When you install a solar panel system, you can lock in your energy costs at a constant rate, making your finances much more predictable.
Saving Money with Net Metering
A solar panel system is a workhorse and can often generate more electricity than you need for your daily use. This is where net metering is beneficial; it serves as a billing agreement between you and your utility provider as a solution for any excess, unused energy. You can program your solar panel system to send any unused electricity to your city’s grid, and in return you’ll receive credits on your electricity bill.
Net metering is especially useful since it’s rare that someone is at home using electricity all day and night. When you’re out of the house, your solar panels will continue to generate energy and store it as backup power in a generator or battery. Or even when you’re sleeping at night and not using electricity, you can tap into those net metering credits to offset your electricity bill.
This means that you’re not only in control of your own energy, but you’re able to give electricity back to your city, making sustainable efforts and also saving money in return. Triple win!
All the Ways You Can Save with Solar
Acquiring a solar panel system is a major home improvement project, but it’s well worth the time and financial investment. Most homeowners go solar with no money down up front thanks to local, state, and federal incentives that significantly help reduce costs.
Whether you’re utilizing local, state, or federal rebates, net metering, or perhaps seasonal promotions, you have plenty of ways to offset the costs of your solar panel equipment and installation to help you gain a lifetime of free, renewable energy. To learn more about Freedom Solar or request a free consultation and quote, call 1 (800) 504-2337 or fill out our online inquiry form.
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Understanding energy and demand
While SRP no longer offers incentives for solar installations now that the solar market has matured, we offer other rebates to help you save money — and the environment.
Demand Management Systems Rebate
Get 250 from SRP with the purchase and installation of a new rooftop Demand Management System installed by an SRP Preferred Solar Installer. These systems help you avoid running major appliances at the same time during on-peak hours.
Solar tax credits
A variety of state and federal incentives are available to help Arizonans invest in solar technologies. The current federal residential solar energy credit offers:
- 30% tax credit for systems installed between 2022–2032
- 26% tax credit for systems installed in 2033 and 22% for systems installed in 2034 (Energy.gov )
For other rebates, search the Database of State Incentives for Renewables Efficiency ®. To see if you qualify for these credits, consult a tax professional.
Preferred solar installers
While do-it-yourself solar projects are possible, we don’t recommend it. Working with an SRP preferred solar installer can save you time and money by ensuring a safe and efficient installation.
SRP’s preferred installers are licensed, bonded, insured and trained to work with SRP’s solar plans. They can design your system, provide financing options, ensure a safe connection to the grid and train you on how to operate and troubleshoot your new solar panels.
Gain peace of mind
All of our preferred solar installers:
- Hold an active solar license granted by the Arizona Registrar of Contractors.
- Have been in business for at least 24 months under the same business license, same leadership and same corporate name.
- Maintain a Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating of A or higher with no outstanding complaints with the BBB.
- Have been trained on SRP’s solar price plans.
Contact SRP at (602) 889-2657 (602) 889-2657 today for a list of three verified installers or to learn if the company you’ve chosen to work with is on our preferred list.
steps for solar readiness
Think you’re ready for solar? Here are five steps you can take now to help you be sure.
- Review your bill. Higher electric bills — especially those with high usage during peak hours — benefit the most from switching.
- Evaluate your property. Do you have a south-facing roof that’s in good condition? Are there buildings or trees creating shade during the day?
- See if you qualify for rebates and tax credits. These benefits aren’t available for all residents. Contact a tax professional to see if you qualify.
- Review the details. Download the Program Requirements and Residential Distributed Energy Resource Process Flow to see how to safely connect your system to SRP’s electric grid.
- Get quotes from three preferred installers. All installers can help you select the best system for your home, but and warranties can vary. Contact SRP for a list of contractors who are in good standing with both the Better Business Bureau and the Arizona Registrar of Contractors.
What is the All-In Price to Install Solar Panels?
Even though the average cost of solar panels has dropped 80% in the last decade, the upfront cost is still significant. When selecting the best solar company for your home installation, price is one of the largest factors.
To answer this question, let’s take a look at the basic price range for solar panel installations. According to a recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, in the first quarter of 2021, the national average cost of a residential solar system was 5000.94 per watt.
To put this in perspective, this means that after the 30% federal tax credit is applied, a 5-kW system would cost 10,290 and a 10-kW system would cost 20,580. An average residential solar system would sit somewhere between those figures.
Next, you might rightly wonder: What exactly am I paying for? The solar panels themselves usually make up just about a quarter of the total system cost. Remaining expenses include labor costs, solar maintenance and additional parts and equipment (such as inverters, racking, wiring, electric vehicle chargers or batteries).
Cost of Solar Panel Maintenance
In general, solar systems are designed to run smoothly for decades without requiring much maintenance or upkeep. However, even the best systems require routine solar panel cleaning and checkups as grime, dirt and debris can accumulate over the solar cells.
Any sizable costs associated with malfunctioning panels should be covered by your panels’ warranty, but it’s not a bad idea to factor in the costs of a simple few cleanings and occasional maintenance.
What Solar Financing Options are Available?
Different solar installers may offer different financing plans, allowing you some flexibility. With that said, there are three standard options for paying for your solar energy system:
- Lease your solar system; you will pay less month to month but won’t actually own the system yourself.
- Take on a solar PPA, simialr to a lease but you don’t own any of the system but benefit from solar energy it creates at a small cost.
Our solar financing guide breaks down each of these options to help you make the decision that best fits your needs and our solar leasing vs buying guide can help you decided if either of those options is right for your solar needs.
How to Find the Lowest-Price Solar Panels?
Again, the best way to assess the cost of solar is to get a quote from a certified installer near you. In addition to receiving an installation price, you can learn your estimated 25-year energy costs, how compatible your home is for solar and even compare quotes to find the best offer. The simple process of getting quotes from multiple providers can save you thousands in the long run.
There are a few key factors that lead to variation in solar installation costs. Understanding these can help you decide whether solar panels are worth the investment for your home. Let’s take a look at them in more detail.
System Size Needs
The size of your residential solar system will depend primarily on the amount of electricity you currently use. You can roughly estimate how many photovoltaic (PV) solar panels you’ll need based on past utility bills, your available roof space and the amount of sunlight in your area, but to get an accurate system size, you’ll need a consultation with a local solar provider.
Your installer will evaluate your home energy needs based on irradiance maps, energy bills, satellite imagery of your roof, your utility company and more. It can then recommend a custom solar panel system size to accommodate your energy needs. The larger the system, the more expensive it will be.
Type of Solar Panels and Other Equipment Costs
There are three basic types of solar panels, two of which are commonly used residentially: monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Monocrystalline panels tend to be more energy-efficient, which can lead to greater savings in the long run, but they’re also a bit pricier on the front end.
That being said, solar panel efficiency is the name of the game for most homeowners who aim to install a system on their roof, as they’ll likely have less space to work with than commercial solar projects or ground-mounted solar panel systems will.
Other components you may need to purchase include inverters, wiring, charge controllers, mounts, solar batteries and more. Consider how much backup power is a priority for your home – backup batteries will add some costs on the front end, but additional safety and savings on the back.
Another factor that can have a big impact on solar pricing? Where you live. Unsurprisingly, solar installation tends to be most cost-effective in parts of the country that get a lot of sun exposure, and therefore more energy to convert into electricity. This basically means that solar panels will operate more efficiently and, in many cases, means that you’ll need fewer panels overall to power your home.
Those who live in states like California, Florida and Arizona — or really any areas of the Sun Belt or Southwest — will likely get the most out of their home solar power systems. Other factors like the direction of your home and how much shade your house gets will also impact your home’s sun exposure, and therefore the efficiency of your system. Also, keep in mind that the further your company is from your home, the more expensive the overall installation will be. Find your state in our hub for solar panels installation guides where we detail the 7 steps to installing solar panels in your state.
Both state and federal governments have established incentive programs to encourage homeowners to buy solar panels. There is currently a 30% federal solar tax credit, called the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), available for homeowners who install residential solar panels through 2032. It is scheduled to reduce to 26% in 2033 and 22% in 2034 before expiring in 2035.
Your solar system cost will also depend on the net metering policy of your local utility company. Most utilities vary in their buyback rates and feed-in tariffs, but policies can have a big effect on the overall value from your solar system and your solar payback period. Be sure to ask your solar installation company about how cooperative your utility provider is with solar energy installations.
State incentives, rebates, and solar tax exemptions can certainly vary based on where you live, but most solar panel installers should help you identify and apply for the programs in your area. However, it’s still a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local incentives that might be available to you.
Additional Factors of Solar Panel Installation Prices
There are plenty of other factors that can impact solar panel installation costs. These include (but are not limited to):
The bottom line? You can learn the most by shopping around. Get a few different proposals from local companies, evaluate what services you might be interested in and ask about sales or specials. Familiarize yourself with the best brands of affordable solar panels if budget is your priority.
Make the Best Choice About Solar Energy
Solar energy is not right for every homeowner, nor for every home. With that said, many homeowners will find that the total cost of solar is more than offset by long-term, recurring energy savings that provide a sizable return on investment. Make sure you factor in cost, energy needs, tax incentives, home value, energy storage options, and more as you seek to make a fully informed decision about whether to make the switch to renewable energy with solar.
One of the broadest ways to gauge the overall cost of solar is by looking at the average price of solar panels by state. Our statewide average are calculated using market research and data from top brands. These can help convey a better understanding of what solar might cost in your area.
solar panel system sizes are measured in kilowatts (kW), which indicates the maximum amount of energy they can produce at a given time
Keep in mind that 5 kW is a baseline size and near the smaller end of most solar panel installations. Larger homes may require 6 kW systems, or larger.