The Pros and Cons of DIY Solar in 2018

DIY solar panels graphic energysage

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

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 $29,225. 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.

DIY solar graphic

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 offers a few different DIY products for both grid-tied and off-grid systems, which you can find more information on below.

Product System Size (Watts) System Cost Dollars per Watt Retailer Link
Grape Solar grid-tied solar PV system 5,300 $10,499 $1.98 Home Depot
Grape Solar grid-tied solar PV system 3,180 $6,657 $2.09 Home Depot
Grape Solar grid-tied solar PV system 2,300 $9,238 $4.02 Amazon
Grape Solar off-grid solar PV system 480 $1,199 $2.50 Amazon

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 up front 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.

DIY solar graphic

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

  1. Pingback: Is Cheap Home Solar Power Heating System Possible? | Result Home Services

  2. Burt Silver

    My wife and I just bought a cabin that is pretty off the grid. We are really interested in putting solar panels on it for power. Thanks for mentioning that you should compare a few different solar options before deciding. You never know which one is going to work best for your particular situation.

  3. Scott Rosenberg

    You claim 10% of the cost is labor, but the solar kits purchased through these vendors are often overpriced themselves.

    This for example, you can get a 2kw kit for 3000, 4kw kit for 6000, or 8kw kit for 12000 with unifi sunmax products

    That’s WAY cheaper than the numbers you claim for DYI

  4. Robert Frisby

    In my research I have found that going solar is not worth it. I would like to just have a small system to run my high power users like my fridge, water distiller things like that but the cost of a system even if you make the entire system from scratch will cost way more than the savings on your power bill for many years and about the time you start to see the system paying for it’s self things begin to need replacing. Solar systems only work at full capacity in full sun, cloudy, stormy days it will perform quite weak. Going off grid or wanting to run things at night will require batteries, at this point there will be no savings. Batteries are expensive and only last between 5 or 8 years depending on how they were taken care of and the work load put on them. People don’t think of the cost of the system verses their power bills, they just think I want to lower my bill and stick it to the power company but it does not work that way. Think of how much the system will cost verses how many power bills that would pay. Here where I live in Sandy Utah even in the winter when I am using more power my bill never goes over $120.00 during the summer my bill is around $65-80.00 Just depends on where you live and if solar will be a good investment or not. If you have a remote cabin and you don’t use it anymore than once or twice a year it would be better to just use a generator and oil or battery lamps. Yes solar is the green way to go if your like most of us and want to help save the planet but the cost is also something to think about. Things to think about.

    1. Robert Lin

      I use my AC constantly because my son has an eczema problem and sweating really messes things up.

      I’m always at the high tier of electrical usage. I put in a tiny 13 panel 3kW system and knocked my usage down to the cheaper tiers. That makes a huge difference in cost saving. I think it’ll pay for itself in about 6 years since I DIYed the system for about $6500. The professionals were quoting me $23k… not at all worth it in that case but DIY and it’s a great deal in my case.

      Of course if you need batteries then the costs really go through the roof.

  5. Robert Lin

    Installing a solar system was a simple 1 person weekend job. The hardest part was getting the panels up on my roof by myself. The second hardest part was finding my joists. After you hit the first joist, it’s way more simple then it appears. I used weebs so grounding was simple. Racking is basically an adult version of an erector set. The micro inverters connect to the trunk line with a couple of simple clicks. Capping the trunk line is pretty straight forward and if you’re nervous about connecting to your electrical box then get an electrician for that last little bit. Saved myself about $15k. City inspector said I did a better job then most installers.

    Companies like Enphase won’t talk to home installers so the warrantee on my M215s are basically worthless as I found out once one of them failed.

    1. Pedro Santos

      Hello there,

      Did you make the whole thing by yourself or you followed some existing project? I am interested in taking first steps constructing a small system that i’ll eventually want to scale.


  6. Mike

    The 10% fee is waaaaaayyy off. I had three quotes provided. One of the quotes actually included the SAME EXACT PRODUCTS as one of the reputable on-line DIY sellers. Either the installer was marking-up the equipment, or he was charging over 50% for installation. Either way, I purchased the same kit as he proposed for $18,500 – and he quoted us an installed price for that same equipment at $37,500. And he was the LOW QUOTE of the three.

  7. Roy Lenzo

    I just got a quote for $23,127 for a 7.2kw Solar Edge system that I can buy at Blue Pacific for $8,843 – a nearly 200% markup. The difference in payback time goes from 15 years to under 5 years. This is huge. This is the difference between going solar and not .

  8. Dan

    Yeah far as I can tell solar companies are pricing the install at about double equipment cost. 10k worth of product costs 20k to install for a total of 30k. They act like it’s rocket science when in fact it’s much easier than a diy bathroom remodel.

  9. gauravq

    actually I made diy solar panel 500w and i used sunpower solar cell and silicone for encapulation.if i buy sunpower solar panel in india then i have to pay more custom is normal temp is 40 to 50 and average temp 45 to 47.if i use indian company based solar panel then it will not good work in 50 degree i decided for diy solar panel and made 500w.i spend 2000$ for silicone based solar panel witch is good working in low light and high temperature and less space.


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