If you're interested in solar power, surely you already know that solar electricity is good for the environment, national security, and the air we breathe, not to mention your electricity bill. And that it's one of the best ways to reduce your household's contribution to global warming. You've also probably heard that going solar can actually be cheaper than paying for utility power, and you might wonder whether this claim is true. Well, in most cases, it is true. It just takes time for the incremental savings to overtake the initial investment (after that, the solar power is free). If you install the solar system yourself, you can hit this tipping point a lot sooner — in some cases, in half the time.
That brings us to the next big question: how to install solar panels yourself? Again, the answer is yes. If you can drive lag bolts and assemble prefabricated parts, and if you're willing to spend a day or two on your roof (or not, if you're mounting your panels on the ground), you can install your own solar system. You don't have to know how to hook up the solar panels to your household electricity or the utility grid. You'll hire an electrician for the house hookup, and the utility company will take care of the rest, usually for free. For a completely off-grid system, the utility company isn't involved at all.
There are many reasons why people choose to go solar. Some want to switch to clean and renewable energy. Others like the idea of reducing their reliance on the electricity grid.
But the number one reason to go solar is to save money. A Pew survey about solar found that 96% of people who have installed or will install solar do so to save money on electric bills - more than any other reason cited.
Now, it's entirely possible to see big savings by using a professional solar company — that is, after all, the way that most people go solar. But if you want to lower your upfront costs as much as possible, you may want to consider a do-it-yourself (DIY) installation. After all, it's cheaper to do things yourself rather than hiring someone else to do it for you!
DIY Solar Panel Kits
Some companies offer Solar DIY kits, including all of the necessary hardware (solar modules, inverter, generation meter, brackets, cabling etc.). In order to qualify for FiTs, however, the project will need to be administered by an MCS-accredited tradesperson, and the total cost of this option may not be much less than the cost of a full installation by a solar company.
Building and installing grid solar power panels yourself is still a viable option if you plan on using all of the energy produced by your solar panel system or if your property is off the grid. However, the financial rewards will be significantly lower given the lack of FiT generation and export tariffs.
Do it yourself solar panel installation can be less expensive, but your options are limited.
According to the EnergySage Solar Marketplace data, the average gross cost of going solar for homeowners (meaning your costs before incentives and rebates are applied) is $16,860. Of that amount, design and installation labour costs contribute about ten per cent of the total bill – this ten per cent 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 25 to 35 years, so you must consider both the upfront costs and the relative financial benefits for all of your solar options. For example, 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: Cost Savings
A DIY solar panel installation can save homeowners thousands of dollars in upfront installation costs.
A professional solar company's average cost of solar panel installation is around $2.85 per watt as of May 2021. Thus, a typical 5 kW (5,000 watts) solar panel system works out to $14,000.
On the other hand, a 5 kW DIY solar panel kit costs between $1.00–$1.50 per watt. Assuming you perform the entire job by yourself (i.e. no contractors for any of the tasks), the total cost of a 5 kW DIY solar project is between $5,000 and $7,500.
That works out to a potential savings of $6,500 - $9,000 by choosing DIY over a professional solar installation.
The figures above are just averages. Many variables can change these numbers for you, such as system size and whether or not you qualify for the solar tax credit (worth 26% of solar energy system costs in 2021).
Pro: DIY Satisfaction
If you're someone who likes to take on big and challenging DIY projects, then a solar installation might be just what you're looking for.
You will have to draw on many different skill sets, such as the ability to negotiate municipal processes, financial planning, proficiency with power tools, electrical work, and even tax accounting.
And there are many stages to solar installation — researching, planning, shopping, permitting, installation, electric wiring, and monitoring.
This project will keep you busy for a while, and if you manage to complete it on your own, you will definitely feel a sense of pride in your accomplishment.
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 tool shed, or want to install outdoor lights easily. 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.
Con: It's A Lot Of Time And Effort
Installing solar yourself can be rewarding — but only if you're actively seeking a serious DIY challenge.
If, however, your past experience with DIY projects is limited to assembling Scandinavian flatpack furniture, you might want to steer clear of taking on solar. Not only does it require a lot of planning and organizational skills, but it is also a very time-consuming project: from conception to commissioning, a DIY solar installation usually takes between one to four months.
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 a relatively little additional cost (remember that ten per cent 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. In addition, independent certifications like the 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 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. They 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 honour their warranties if a qualified installer installs their equipment. Many installers will also offer an additional warranty on their own work too.
Con: Risk Of Roof Damage Or Leaks
This is perhaps the biggest financial risk when it comes to a DIY solar installation.
Unless you have a flat roof, your solar installation will involve drilling a large number of holes into your roof. Drilling into the wrong spot on the roof can cause structural damage, while incorrect sealing and flashing can cause roof leakage and mould issues.
Another factor to keep in mind is that a DIY solar installation is likely to void your roof's warranty, so you'll have to foot the bill for any repairs that may be needed.
Con: Physical Danger
Heights and high voltage electricity are two major risks that DIYers are exposed to during a solar installation.
And the physical risks aren't just restricted to just the installation. If there are any problems over the 25-year life of the panels, it'll be up to you to get back on the roof to troubleshoot the issue.
Worst of all, if you don't connect the wiring properly, your rooftop system could catch fire!
Con: No Support For Faults Or Warranty Claims
You are on your own if there is ever a fault with the equipment.
Of course, you can still contact the manufacturer directly, but it can be not easy to prove a warranty claim. Furthermore, if you perform an improper installation, you can actually void the warranty.
Con: Inability To Claim Some Incentives
Many states offer incentives and rebates that dramatically reduce the cost of going solar.
Some incentives, however, are only available when a certified solar company completes the installation. Make sure to check what incentives and rebates are available where you live.
When to Install Solar Panels?
Solar panels can be installed during any time of year. However, if you live in an area that receives regular snowfall, it may be best to wait until the snow has melted for ease and safety, depending on the types of solar panels you choose.
DIY or not, solar power is highly rewarding
Suppose you've read through this very lengthy blog post kudos. It means you're serious about going solar — a journey I'm sure you'll find highly rewarding. Solar panels will reduce your electric bills, cut your carbon emissions, and increase your energy independence.
If you have a lot of time on your hands and the skills to pull it off, you might be able to go the DIY route.
However, if a DIY solar installation seems like more than you can handle, then fret not: many highly-rated solar installers can do the work for you.
DIY or not, we encourage you to check out our solar calculator, as it will recommend a system for you that offers 100% offset of your utility bills.
Installing a solar panel is a complex, time-consuming task. As a result, most homeowners opt to have their system installed by a specialized solar contractor from start to finish. A contractor will also know how to help you receive any incentives you're entitled to.
For DIY installations, hiring a contractor for certain parts of the job is common. However, many people install the entire system and leave the wiring to a licensed electrician.
Frequently Asked Questions About DIY Solar Panels
Can you install solar panels yourself? The short answer is 'yes, but there are some serious drawbacks to going it alone. Installing solar panels isn't exactly as simple as mounting a light fixture or swapping out your water filtration system.
Based on that information, solar panel manufacturers typically offer warranties of about 25 years or more. And in the case of newer or well-built systems, panels can last for 30 years.
As solar panels have no moving parts, very little service and maintenance are required. However, to keep your solar panels generating efficiently, we recommend an annual service to ensure your system is kept in full working order and any fault or drop in a generation is flagged immediately and resolved.
Order a solar-power inverter and have it installed in your home by an experienced electrician. The inverter will convert the electricity generated from the direct current generated by the array to alternating current, a form usable by your home's electrical system, and store any excess power in a battery.