DIY solar panels: can you install solar panels yourself?

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 26 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” solar, or DIY, 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 can come at a lower cost than hiring a solar installer
  • DIY solar is a great application for items like RVs, vans and small appliances
  • Going with a DIY setup requires much more work on the homeowner’s end
  • You can compare  solar quotes from qualified installers on the EnergySage Marketplace

In this article

Can you install solar panels yourself?

A solar panel system is complicated, and there are plenty of reasons 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.

According to data from the EnergySage Marketplace, the average gross cost of going solar for homeowners (meaning your costs before incentives and rebates are applied) is about $27,000$16,860. Of that amount, design and installation labor costs contribute about 10 percent of the total bill – this 10 percent is what homemade solar panels will save you in essence, 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 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.

Pros and cons of DIY solar panels

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.

Advantages and disadvantages of DIY solar

Pros of DIY solar panelsCons 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 appliancesFor 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 solar panel 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 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, read 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 a few 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

ProductSystem size (watts)System costDollars per wattRetailer link
Grape Solar 400 watt PV solar panel kit 400$649.99$1.62Amazon
Grape Solar 600 watt PV solar panel kit 600 $744.32$1.24Home Depot
Renogy solar premium kit 800 $1,283.49$1.60Renogy
WindyNation off-grid solar panel kit400$1,899.99$4.75Amazon

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 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 – 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.

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:

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 design of system 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.

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 Buyers Guide. You can compare panel, battery, and inverter models based on spec like efficiency, warranties, and more.

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-mounted 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.

Connect the solar panels to your racking equipment

The first item of the actual solar panel to install is the microinverters which modulate the panel output. 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.

Install a solar inverter and battery, then 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 will give you a meter to record your power exports.

Get in touch with your utility and request for Permission to Turn-On, or 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 warranties that come 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 panel 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: 

Are DIY solar panels worth it? 

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 need to remain connected to the grid, DIY solar panels are not worth it—they are best used for small off-grid projects. 

Do you need to be an electrician to install solar panels?

You don’t need to be an electrician to install solar panels, and 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 the professionals—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. 

How much do DIY solar panels cost?

You can find reliable DIY solar panels at retailers like Home Depot, manufactured by Grape Solar, for anywhere 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.

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 our quote comparison platform.

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75 thoughts on “DIY solar panels: can you install solar panels yourself?

  1. George Moore

    Thank you for the article. The Pros definitely outweigh the Cons. It’s only a 12 volt system until it is inverted, and I have to get an electrical inspector to inspect it before it goes live, so it doesn’t seem too dangerous. My biggest concern is bottom line. I had understood that installation was about half the cost of putting a system in.
    I appreciate the info on costs, can check the DIY cost versus a local quote easily now. Your least expensive is till over a dollar a watt, so I’m wondering if this is old? I have seen well under a dollar a dollar a watt on some sites.

    1. Lynn Magnuson

      You definitely need to have a knowledge of electricity and safe installation practices. ANY work involving electricity can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing whether on grid or off grid.

    2. George Moore

      No, not particularly dangerous, but you should hire an electrical inspector, and get the right permits. In California, you have to have electrical work inspected and permited anyway.
      It’s only 12 volts and not much amperage until you turn it on, so reasonable caution will keep you safe. I think most units have plug connectors rather than bare wires anyway, but if you have to solder wires together and you’re not an electrician, hire an electrician. The actual connection to the grid needs to be done by the power company.

  2. Alex

    The article is clearly steering the reader away from attempting the DIY because they are lobbied by the panels and installer companies.
    It is the same scheme of the HVAC business which is a racket taking advantage of homeowners not knowing how simple these projects and installation are.
    I understand that everyone needs to make a buck but in the case of Solar and Hvac businesses they are ripping off the general public.

    1. Lynn Magnuson

      I think this is partly true but not entirely. Working with electricity can be really dangerous if you don’t know how to do it properly. Of course, they want the business of installing the system, but they also don’t want lawsuits or feel responsible for injuries or deaths because they didn’t warn people of the dangers. I’m going to install my system … after being sure I know what I’m doing. I have a good knowledge of electricity, but want to update my knowledge on solar.

    2. George Moore

      I wasn’t steered away by the article. I am concerned about cost, and I’m checking on how much I can save by buying my own stuff. I’m very concerned about the bottom line, so saving money is my biggest concern. I’m thinking of putting in a small system and then upgrading later. If I buy the right equipment that should work well. Installation used to be about as much as the equipment, but If installation is only 10 percent more, I might consider going with a professional for the initial small system. I will definitely hire an electrical inspector after I’ve done my installation, but in California I think that is required anyway.

  3. CS

    Question. Is it acceptable to have a company install a very small, minimal system for cheaper, and then I can just add strings of panels to it myself? Have them deal with the permitting, connection and certification of a single string of panels to get it online and grid-tied initially, and then I will add more panels at my own leisure later, myself. I am an electrical engineer for power systems. The labor and effort may be much smaller, and the turn around may be quicker, and the cost may be much much less as a result.

    1. Bryan Foley

      This sounds like a good approach. Too bad there hasn’t been a reply. I’d guess the warranty may still be a in question though.

  4. AJ Leon

    Want a solar system setup in Spain any suggestions also where can I get low watt white good that will work on my solar system. Thanks

  5. Mike

    This seems to be the big problem in California with Solar companies. They are insistent on selling you a new roof and for someone like me who does not have the extra funds for the system and installation up front they all want to take you down the path of financing or leasing. This makes the homeowner a slave to the finance companies and in a lot of cases end up paying more monthly than it would have cost to just pay the regular monthly utility bill. There are way too many stories from customers about solar companies that way over estimate the customers savings to go solar and now the homeowner is paying a ridiculous monthly bill. This is all just food for thought! In California the companies that I have come across have all been opportunists that gouge customers by way overcharging or locking people up into a contract. Our politicians need to be a little more in tune with this end of the reality instead of siding with the utility companies and trying to destroy the NEM program with bills like AB1139 that take away from some of these homeowners and that could barely afford solar as it is.

  6. Jeremy

    Matt, I would like to learn what all I need and is required for me to do my own as well. I have a background in electrical work, just not solar. Can you offer any tips or instructions?

  7. Clinton Lovelace

    I live outside of the city limits. Yes we have water and electrical from the near by city but with electrical rates constantly going up and the add on charges for delivery, meter reading charge, and etc. drove me crazy. I actually hired a solar company to install my solar system. Yes, it looks out of place in my pasture there in my pasture but once it was up and operating I am actually saving a lot of money on power. Remember there is no easy way to store electricity, so you really need to stay on the grid. Any power your system generates over what you use, by Federal Law can be sold by you to the electrical supplier in your area. Normally in even in the summer time time I get a credit on my bill or I pay a very small amount. In the winter I use more for heating.

  8. Matt

    This isn’t close to what I found. I did a 13KW system for about 35% of what I was quoted. I didn’t buy a kit or anything, just separate parts and put it together. I’m adding 7 more KW for even less.

    1. Do

      This site needs an upvote. Idk where they are getting a 10% figure from. Yea more like you said, 65% savings.

      I am in for 18k on a 15k inverter, 30kwh of battery and 15kw of solar… so like 80k quoted.


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