DIY Solar Panels: Pros, Cons and Installation Guide

05 Aug.,2022

 

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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
  • Going with a DIY setup requires much more work on the homeowner’s end
  • You can compare competitive, complete solar quotes from 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 of DIY solar panels

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 Grape Solar 540 watt PV solar panel kit540$865.00$1.60Solerus Energy Renogy solar premium kit 800 $1,283.49$1.60Renogy WindyNation off-grid solar panel kit400$1,899.99$4.75Amazon ALLPOWERS 100 watt solar panel charger100$199$1.99Amazon

Cons of DIY solar panels

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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