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The Pros and Cons of DIY Solar in 2018

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Solar is a trendy thing in 2018 and many adventurous homeowners are beginning to wonder about “diy solar panels” – the concept of building a solar panel system by yourself. Of course, there’s a lot involved in a solar installation and there’s a right and a wrong scenario for do-it-yourself solar projects.

Going solar has major financial benefits: it reduces your monthly electricity costs and can even increase the value of your home. Incentives like the federal tax credit for solar can reduce your net cost by 30 percent or more, but solar is still a big investment, and the price tag can result in sticker shock. To save money, it’s no surprise that many homeowners are considering DIY. Below, we break down the top pros and cons that you need to know about do it yourself solar energy before making a decision as well as the DIY solar process.

The 5 step process to DIY solar panels

  1. Design and size your system based on energy needs
  2. Purchase your solar equipment (solar panels, inverters, racking)
  3. Install the racking or mounts for the panels
  4. Connect the solar panels to your racking equipment
  5. Install a solar inverter

DIY solar graphic

Do it yourself solar panel installation can be less expensive, but your options are limited

According to data from the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, the average gross cost of going solar for homeowners (meaning your costs before incentives and rebates are applied) was $18,840. Of that amount, design and installation labor costs contribute about ten percent of the total bill – this ten percent is what homemade solar panels will save you in essence, since you’ll still have to buy the equipment 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 project.

Your solar energy system should continue to generate electricity for 20 to 30 years, so it’s crucial that you 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 are able to 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 prices because they’re able to buy in bulk.

Pro: Build your own solar works for small off-grid projects

Most home solar kits 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 energy system 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.

On a related subject, DIY solar projects can be useful if you have a large property and want to power an outlying area, like a barn or toolshed, or want to easily install outdoor lights. In those cases, your electricity demands will be relatively low, so purchasing a small home solar kit and installing it yourself is feasible.

If you want to install a DIY solar project, compare several options beforehand. Grape Solar is a major manufacturer (among a few others), and offers a few different DIY products for both grid-tied and off-grid systems, which you can find more information on below.

DIY solar options

ProductSystem size (watts)System costDollars per wattRetailer link
Grape Solar grid-tied solar PV system5,300$10,185$1.92Home Depot
Renogy Solar Cabin Kit for Off-Grid Solar System3,600$5,649$1.57Amazon
Grape Solar grid-tied solar PV system3,180$6,433$2.02Home Depot
Grape Solar grid-tied solar PV system2,300$9,238$4.02Amazon
Renogy Solar Premium Kit800$2,624$3.28Amazon
Grape Solar grid-tied solar PV system480$1,049$2.18Amazon

Con: Installing solar is complicated, homemade solar energy requires training and experience

When you decide to DIY your 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 relatively little additional cost (remember that ten percent figure?). When it comes to installing an expensive electrical system on your property, finding someone who knows what they’re doing can actually save you both time and money in the long run.

Some of the best solar installers have been in the business for decades – 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’s) Solar PV Installation Professional Certification ensure that the company you choose to work with has an intimate understanding of the process.

Your solar installer will also help you complete and file the permits and applications that you need to submit to get your solar energy system up and running. This is particularly important because your utility won’t let you connect your system to the grid without 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 an incentive 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 on their own work too.

There are other (better) ways to save money on your solar installation

Of course, when making such a big decision for your home, you’ll want to find the solar option that has the greatest financial benefit for you. However, DIY solar energy isn’t the only way to save money when going solar.

Three Tips for Solar Shoppers

1. Homeowners who get multiple quotes save 10% or more

As with any big ticket purchase, shopping for a solar panel installation takes a lot of research and consideration, including a thorough review of the companies in your area. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recommended that consumers compare as many solar options as possible to avoid paying inflated prices offered by the large installers in the solar industry.

To find the smaller contractors that typically offer lower prices, you’ll need to use an installer network like EnergySage. You can receive free quotes from vetted installers local to you when you register your property on our Solar Marketplace – homeowners who get 3 or more quotes can expect to save $5,000 to $10,000 on their solar panel installation.

2. The biggest installers typically don’t offer the best price

The bigger isn’t always better mantra is one of the main reasons we strongly encourage homeowners to consider all of their solar options, not just the brands large enough to pay for the most advertising. A recent report by the U.S. government found that large installers are $2,000 to $5,000 more expensive than small solar companies. If you have offers from some of the big installers in solar, make sure you compare those bids with quotes from local installers to ensure you don’t overpay for solar.

3. Comparing all your equipment options is just as important

National-scale installers don’t just offer higher prices – they also tend to have fewer solar equipment options, which can have a significant impact on your system’s electricity production. By collecting a diverse array of solar bids, you can compare costs and savings based on the different equipment packages available to you.

There are multiple variables to consider when seeking out the best solar panels on the market. While certain panels will have higher efficiency ratings than others, investing in top-of-the-line solar equipment doesn’t always result in higher savings. The only way to find the “sweet spot” for your property is to evaluate quotes with varying equipment and financing offers.

For any homeowner in the early stage of shopping for solar that would just like a ballpark estimate for an installation, try our Solar Calculator that offers upfront cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type. For those looking to get quotes from local contractors today, check out our quote comparison platform.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. We only link to products that we think are great.

This post originally appeared on Mother Earth News.



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17 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of DIY Solar in 2018

  1. kathy

    I live in a city in central NY and would love to install a small system just for our pool. We have a garage adjacent to the pool which has a southern facing roof and it seems like a perfect scenario for a small scale solar do-it-yourself install. Any suggestions or words of wisdom would be really great. we are just starting the investigation process.
    Details: garage is detached with 3 interior outlets and 2 overhead lights;
    Pool is 24′ above-ground and hard-wired to garage electric

  2. Van Carlucci

    Let’s start off with the 10% savings this article starts off with. DIY will save thousands off the company prices! Salesman make thousands off selling you a system. It’s almost a joke. Purchased my system in 2010 first inverter went in 2012. 10 year warranty but by that time nobody wanted to fix them not enough money in warranty work. My system was backed by Home Depot but if you pay it off before the interest kicks in there’s no help there. Don’t be fooled by the article saying the bigger companies buy better and pass it on they don’t that’s how there bottom line improves. I now have replaced 4 inverters 3 for me and 2 for neighbors. Fronius is great with replacement units but sometimes I get them and they have issues with them already. My suggestion is if you live in a salt air environment think twice. If your halfway smart you can do it yourself if you know construction but in the end you better know a good electrician whose reasonable with his prices. Only customer service you will get is if you lease a system cause they keep the SREC’s another part of their profit they either don’t tell you about or brush off!

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