DIY solar panels: pros, cons and installation guide

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woman sticking draft strips with solar panels on background

Many homeowners have begun to consider switching to solar energy as a friendly option for the environment as well as their bank accounts. However, only a select few have the expertise and do-it-yourself spirit to install their own solar panels.

We’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of DIY solar as well as what you need to know before you dive in.


Key insights

  • DIY solar installation helps you cut costs — most homeowners save up to 10%.
  • However, DIY installation is better suited to small-scale projects than whole-home conversions.
  • Installing solar panels may require professional help or special permits, depending on where you live.
  • When not installed properly, solar panels can pose safety risks and cause roof leaks.

Can you install solar panels yourself?

Installing your own solar panels is doable for some, but it comes with a long list of caveats. Before you take the DIY leap, you’ll need to take into account whether it’s even possible to install your own system.

Here are some things to keep in mind when evaluating whether or not it’s achievable for you.

The scope of the project matters
Most people who build their own solar energy systems use them to supplement an existing power source rather than relying wholly on the energy generated by solar panels.

Basically, unless you have the proper tools and training, you likely won’t be able to have a self-sufficient solar panel system that powers your entire property. Instead, it’s more feasible to purchase a DIY kit that includes the materials needed for a small-scale project, such as powering devices in your garage or on your boat.

Expertise is often required
If you’re not accustomed to working with wiring, hiring an expert may be the safest choice. Your project will likely require work by an experienced electrician at some point anyway.

Also, check local codes before you move ahead with your DIY project — in some places, you’re actually required by law to obtain help from a professional.

You’ll need more than just solar panels
You’ll need to find and purchase the proper equipment yourself, and you may need more than you think.

Besides solar panels, you’ll need an inverter , mounting system and other gear, like a battery and charge controller , if you want to keep your system independent of the electric grid.

Where to buy DIY solar panels

If you and your project have met the criteria so far and you still want to do your own installation, you have a couple of options when it comes to where you actually buy your solar panels:

  1. You can contact a local solar retailer selling other companies’ products.
  2. You can buy directly from those manufacturers’ websites.
  3. You can search for DIY kits from home improvement stores or Amazon.

After you pick a place to buy your equipment, you’ll need to consider what type of panels you want and how many you need to power your home.

» MORE: Where to buy solar panels

What are the pros and cons of DIY solar panel installation?

If you’re debating whether you want to hire a professional or get your hands dirty yourself, there are a few things you should consider. We’ve laid out the pros and cons of each choice below.

Pros of DIY solar installation

There are several perks when it comes to DIY solar projects, and the most noteworthy is the lower cost. Simply put, when you undertake the project yourself, you save on labor fees. However, you may not save as much as you think you will.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), labor accounts for only about 10% of the bill. Also, you may lose eligibility for some incentives if you DIY, like Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) in some states.

Check solar panel prices and get quotes from professional installers to see exactly how much you can save by DIYing.

Many people also enjoy the greater flexibility that comes with putting in their own panels. When you design your own system, you’re not required to install materials chosen by a third party. Instead, you’re able to tailor your project to your own preferences and timeline. There are also many benefits to becoming self-sufficient and gaining new skills, such as knowing how to fix your panels if something malfunctions down the road.

Ultimately, if you're someone who enjoys hard, technical work, setting up solar panels is a rewarding process.

Cons of DIY solar installation

If you’re neither the dedicated DIY type nor someone with extensive knowledge of solar energy, then you may want to sit this one out. Installing solar panels without the necessary knowledge and experience can lead to damage or leaks on your roof. (Most installations call for drilling and sealing, which can lead to larger problems for your home later on when done incorrectly.)

Without the help of professionals, there are also safety hazards. Crossed wires may result in electrocution or fire, for instance.

You’ll also need to set aside a large chunk of time to complete your project, including time for both prep work and the installation itself (e.g., paperwork and permits need to be filed and approved before you launch your project).

Finally, if something goes wrong with your solar panels, a DIY install means they’re less likely to be backed by a warranty because it’s harder to prove to the manufacturer that you installed them correctly and met the requirements. In the end, paying for repairs needed thanks to a faulty setup might offset whatever you saved initially.

Pros

  • More cost-effective
  • Flexibility with system design
  • Higher satisfaction

Cons

  • Time-consuming
  • May affect warranty coverage
  • Potentially illegal and dangerous for certain homeowners

» MORE: Solar energy pros and cons

DIY solar panel installation guide

If you’re excited to start your green energy journey, here’s the lowdown on where to begin. (Note that our installation guide shouldn’t be read as an exact manual. Think of it as a resource that summarizes what a DIY solar panel project looks like. Exact instructions will differ based on your setup and the type of system you want.)

Before you begin the installation, make sure that you assess your property for the best setup location, purchase the correct equipment and tools, and secure any necessary permits.

1. Install the racking system
Purchase a roof-mounting kit (assuming you don’t want to ground-mount your solar panels), then scope out your roof’s support beams. Mark the location where you’ll bolt the flashings. These flashings prevent leakage before you attach the mounts. Once they are properly attached, bolt the racking rails to the flashings.
2. Install the inverter
Screw microinverters onto the back of your solar panels. If you’re using string inverters instead, mount them on a wall where you can reach them, such as the side of your house. Place them as close to the panel as possible to ensure efficiency.
3. Install the solar panels
Before you install the panels, ensure the wiring is complete. You can then use clamps to install the panels on the rails.
4. Install the batteries (optional)
Batteries need to be installed in areas with plenty of space and ventilation. This is a step where many suggest enlisting the help of an expert to mitigate safety risks. (You’ll need extensive knowledge of AC and DC wiring if you want to do it yourself.)
5. Install the wiring system
Wire all the components together based on your plan set, which should come with your installation kit. This is what connects your inverter to your home’s circuit breaker box, which in turn connects your home to the electric grid.

After you finish, you’ll likely need to schedule an inspection with your local building department and set up a monitoring system to track whether the panels work efficiently.

» MORE: Solar panel installation guide

Should you install solar panels yourself or hire an installer?

Ask yourself if you have the time and expertise to complete a project of this scale.

Ultimately, if you want to power your shed or boat, taking on the challenge of a DIY installation is up to you. (It requires more than a quick tutorial, but it’s also deeply rewarding when finished.) However, if you’re looking to rely on solar energy to power your house, we recommend enlisting professional assistance.

When it comes to solar panels, paying extra for professional help is usually worth the peace of mind. Throughout the installation process, a lot can change, and adjustments may be necessary — like using fewer panels or shifting the mounts. A professional knows when to depart from the original plan and save you a headache.

Outfitting your home with sustainable energy is a big step, and the path forward is up to you. If you decide to go with help from the pros, we ranked the top solar companies to help give you a head start.

Do you own or rent?

FAQ

Is it legal to install your own solar panels?

There’s no federal law preventing DIY solar projects. However, some cities and utility providers require that solar panel installations are completed by licensed professionals. Others may ask that you apply for one or more permit(s), which may impose other restrictions.

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

Whether you need an electrician to install solar panels depends on which state you’re in. For safety purposes, some areas require people installing solar panels to have proper certifications and licenses. Regardless of the legality, if you don’t hire a professional, you will need extensive knowledge on how to safely complete the wiring.

How much do DIY solar panels cost?

Solar panels cost an average of $3 to $5 per watt. However, if you DIY, expect to cut 10% off of your final bill since you don’t have to pay for labor. This number only includes solar panels, but you’ll also need to factor in the costs for batteries, inverters and other equipment.

» MORE: How much do solar panels cost?


Article sources
ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
  1. This Old House, “ DIY Solar Panels: Are They Worth It? (2023 Guide) .” Accessed June 15, 2023.
  2. EcoWatch, “ Where to Buy Affordable Solar Panels (2023) .” Accessed June 15, 2023.
  3. SolarReviews, “ Top 5 American solar panel manufacturers in 2023 .” Accessed June 15, 2023.
  4. Palmetto, “ DIY Solar Panels: Understanding the Pros and Cons .” Accessed June 15, 2023.
  5. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “ Benchmarking Non-Hardware Balance-of-System (Soft) Costs for U.S. Photovoltaic Systems, Using a Bottom-Up Approach and Installer Survey – Second Edition .” Accessed June 15, 2023.
  6. GoGreenSolar, “ DIY Solar Panel Installation: Step by Step Guide .” Accessed June 15, 2023.
  7. Hachette Book Group, “ Installing Your Own Solar Panels? First, Check This Checklist .” Accessed June 15, 2023.
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