Going solar has major financial benefits: it reduces your monthly electric bill and can even increase the value of your home. Tax incentives and rebates, like the federal tax credit for solar and local net metering rules, can reduce your net cost by 30 percent, 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 “do it yourself”, or DIY, solar, and asking themselves “can you install solar panels yourself?” Simply put, yes you can — but, there are some advantages and disadvantages of 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
- Installing a DIY system is possible and may come at a lower cost than hiring a solar installer.
- DIY solar is a great application for items like RVs, vans, and small appliances as well as as a home battery backup.
- Going with a DIY setup requires much more work on the homeowner’s end and may keep you from accessing equipment warranties.
- You can compare solar quotes from qualified installers on the EnergySage Marketplace.
In this article
- Can you install solar panels yourself?
- Advantages and disadvantages of DIY solar
- Step-by-step guide to the DIY solar installation process
- Maintenance for DIY solar
- Should you install solar yourself or hire an installer?
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 $20,500 to $25,800. Of that amount, design and installation labor costs contribute about 10 percent of the total bill – essentially, this 10 percent is what homemade solar panels 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 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 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
|Pros of DIY solar panels||Cons of DIY solar panels|
|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.
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 tool shed, 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. For more detailed information on how to build solar panels, check out our article on how to make your own solar system.
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
|Product||System size (watts)||System cost||Dollars per watt||Retailer link|
|Grape Solar 400 watt PV solar panel kit||400||$588||$1.47||Home Depot|
|Grape Solar 600 watt PV solar panel kit||600||$857||$1.42||Home Depot|
|Renogy solar 12-volt/24-volt premium kit||800||$1,350||$1.69||Renogy|
|ECO-WORTHY off-grid solar panel kit||800||$1,090||$1.36||Amazon|
When you decide 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 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 – 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 own work, too.
The six step process to DIY solar panels: how to install solar panels
The DIY solar panel installation process can be simplified into six major steps:
1. Design and size your system based on energy needs
First and foremost, it is important to consider your needs. Every home is different just like every household is different. In general, if you only need to power smaller devices and not your entire home, DIY solar panels could be for you. There are many different options for what system design is best for you. These include off-grid systems (the most common for DIY panels), hybrid on-grid/off-grid systems, and grid-tied systems.
2. 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.
3. Install the racking or mounts for the panels on a roof or on 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 is in compliance 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.
6. 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 for 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 percent for 25 years.
Those warranties don’t come with a DIY solar power system, so you’ll be on the hook for all upkeep, maintenance, and repairs for your solar system. Luckily, there’s still not too much to do. For the most part, if you keep your panels clear of debris, you’ll be just fine. You can also clean your solar panels, but make sure to use the right equipment to avoid damaging your system. Read more about general solar panel system maintenance.
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.
If you’re interested in saving money and switching to a clean energy source but aren’t ready to commit to a solar installation, consider signing up for community solar. Community solar subscribers typically save between 10 and 20 percent on their electricity costs over the course of a year
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.