Solar

DIY Solar: Understanding the Pros and Cons

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The words "DIY Solar" rest atop an image of a tool belt and blueprints on a wooden table.
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It's easy to think that a do-it-yourself (DIY) solar installation is a simple job that just involves bolting a bunch of solar panels to your roof. Some companies even sell DIY solar kits, with the sales pitch that you'll start enjoying clean energy as soon as you finish the project.

It’s true that for certain types of installations, you can enjoy some cost savings by installing solar panels yourself. DIY solar also allows you to create smaller off-grid systems for buildings that don't have full-scale electricity needs.

However, the details of a DIY solar installation can get complicated if you're not a professional. You could jeopardize your safety, or spend more money in the long run. Before you begin your project, you should understand the pros and cons of DIY solar.

What are the Pros of DIY Solar?

Choosing the DIY route for your solar power project offers you benefits such as lower costs, increased control, and convenience. If you're already a home improvement expert who regularly completes large, complex projects on your own, you understand the appeal of DIY kits for homes.

1. DIY Solar Can Save You Money

Installing a solar power system yourself saves you the cost of hiring a third-party solar installer’s services. If you can design a solar panel system that takes care of your home’s electricity demands, you can lower your upfront installation expenses.

  • You can save money

According to a 2021 Study by the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, labor accounts for about 10% of the total price tag for installing solar panels. These potential savings vary depending on local variables like the solar system size and your qualification for the solar tax credit. It also assumes that the DIY installers do everything themselves and don’t have to hire any additional outside assistance.

  • You have a wide range of equipment options available

Solar panel options span a wide range of cost, output, and efficiency. However, most solar companies work with a limited number of equipment manufacturers and solar panel options to keep costs down. By going the DIY route, you can buy the panels that match your budget and electricity needs.

2. DIY Solar Can Give You More Control

If you have substantial DIY experience and you want to take complete control of your home improvement projects, a DIY solar power installation might be perfect for you.

  • Choose any component: You can purchase the panels and equipment you want since you aren’t tied to what a third-party company offers.
  • Tailor your project: You can tailor various stages of your solar installation to meet your specific needs, desires, or timeline. Want to build your own ground mount? Go for it! Just be sure you’re comfortable negotiating with municipal officers, financial planners, electricians, and tax accountants.

3. DIY Solar Can Be More Convenient

Do you have the perfect design in mind? Installing solar panels as a DIY project allows you to design a unique setup for your panels. Furthermore, you aren't stuck waiting for the work schedules of a third-party installer.

Do you need a little power in a toolshed or old barn? Thinking of buying a solar-powered toilet, trailer, cabin, or tiny home for a secluded getaway spot? A DIY solar installation is also convenient when installing power in smaller off-grid structures that just need a starter kit.

What are the Cons of DIY Solar?

Even if you're an experienced DIY’er, you can run into serious issues with installing your own solar panels:

1. DIY Solar Requires Specific Knowledge

A DIY solar system installation requires more knowledge and skills than your average weekend home improvement project. It isn't something you can easily do by yourself, such as putting up some shelves or digging up a tree stump.

  • Needs a lot of skills and time

Installing solar power requires a lot of organization and planning. DIY solar projects are also time-intensive.

From design and installation to permitting and final connection to the grid, you could easily spend two months or more doing your own work. Depending upon permitting requirements in your area, which can be tricky for solar installations, the process could take even longer.

  • Needs several hands

You will need a team of people you can depend upon to do a thorough job of the actual installation. This applies to basic work such as lifting the panels onto the roof and complicated tasks such as connecting the solar arrays to your home’s electrical system.

  • Safety concerns

To install rooftop solar panels, you'll obviously have to climb onto and work on the roof of your home. That means you’ll need to understand and follow enhanced safety protocols to avoid hazards like falling off the roof.

  • Risk of damaging your roof

For most installations, you'll have to drill into it your roof. Drilling into the wrong place can lead to structural damage, while incorrect flashing and sealing can lead to roof leakage and mold issues.

  • Roof layout concerns

No two homes are ever the same, and every roof's layout relative to the available sunlight rays may vary. Calculating the proper angles and orientation for your rooftop solar panels makes all the difference in maximizing their efficiency.

  • Time-consuming permitting process

You must navigate various government and utility company offices to get permits and approval for your project. This is stressful work that requires persistence and patience.

Professional solar installers have people on staff who specifically handle this permitting work, and have established relationships with the people who review and approve those permits.

2. DIY Solar Involves Advanced Electrical Work

A DIY solar project isn't like changing a light switch in a bathroom. It's a heavy-duty task that literally involves powering your entire home. Not only do you need to install the solar panels, but you need to take care of inverters, meters, electrical panel connections, batteries, and other technical components.

  • Risk of electrocutions and fires

You must be very aware of the intricate details of wiring your DIY solar energy system safely and correctly. Even with in-depth tutorials, the jumble of technical components and wiring can easily confuse you. Mistakes such as loose connections, crossed wires, and exposure to elements can lead to electrocution or destructive fire. Yes, it's that serious.

  • Complicated custom designs

While you can have your dream panel design through DIY solar kits, reinventing the wheel can be dangerous or impractical sometimes. A trustworthy contractor can plan out a tailored strategy that fits your home’s electricity needs.

  • Voided warranty

If something goes amiss in your DIY solar installation, it’s possible that you can void the warranty on your solar equipment.

While you can still reach out to your manufacturer directly, proving a warranty claim can be challenging. You must ensure that your DIY solar panel installation was done according to their requirements, and was connected correctly to the utility grid.

If an issue is not covered by the warranty, you may have to pay for the repairs, which will eat into your total savings.

3. DIY Solar Requires Specific Equipment

Completing a DIY installation of a solar panel system requires experience, tools, and materials to install racking, solar panels, electrical boxes, inverters, wires, meters, and other equipment correctly.

  • Specialized devices are necessary

For grid-tied solar systems, you'll first need to assemble the right components, including:

  1. Solar panels: To capture the sun’s rays and convert them into DC energy
  2. Mounting system: To mount and secure the solar panel arrays.
  3. Inverter: To convert DC energy from your panels into AC electricity for home use, and channel additional AC back to the utility grid
  4. Power or DC optimizer: To maximize the power from your PV panels
  5. DC disconnect: To shut off your system for maintenance
  6. Grid disconnect: To automatically switch off your system when a grid outage occurs.
  7. Combiner box: To organize all components

When it comes to off-grid DIY solar panel kits, you might also need some additional components:

  1. Charge controller: To channel DC energy from your panels to your storage battery backup, and then stop sending energy to avoid overcharging.
  2. Backup power battery bank: To power and supply your building when sunshine isn't enough.
  3. Balance of system (BoS): This includes all of the other equipment like a breaker box, wires, fuses, etc.

Don't forget the safety gear! You don't want to get injured when installing a roof-mount solar kit for your home. To stay safe, it’s important to invest in the proper safety equipment when working on your roof.

  • Higher equipment costs

Before you can install your solar components, you'll need to buy the necessary equipment and materials. Unlike professional installers, you're not buying in bulk, meaning you won’t benefit from the economy of scale. These costs can quickly eat up a massive chunk of the DIY solar installation savings we discussed earlier.

  • Poor equipment quality

If you don't have enough experience to know the difference, you can easily fall for low-grade items and cheap solar cells that have flooded the market recently. Yes, the complete DIY solar panel kits that come with all required components and instructions may seem like a great deal, but you shouldn’t assume they’re using high-quality equipment.

If you do end up using less expensive equipment, you may have to contend with a shorter lifespan, reduced power efficiency, or a more complicated installation in the long run. On the other hand, professional installers know where to source high-quality materials and how to get the job done right the first time.

4. DIY Solar Limits Your Options

  • Complicated electricity needs

If you're powering devices like televisions, washing machines, and refrigerators, your energy needs can be high. In this case, a simple electrical system from a DIY solar kit may not match your needs.

A professional installer can help you design the right sized system for your needs, complete with solar battery storage if that’s the right solution for the power needs of your home.

  • Missing out on incentives

While many states and utilities provide rebates and incentives that significantly lower the cost of switching to solar, some of them are only available if a certified solar company installs your system.

  • Limited financing options

You also don’t have as many finance options with DIY solar system kits, which limits your ability to split the cost across monthly payments that align with your solar savings. When buying your solar panels, you may have to buy the system outright when going the do-it-yourself route, vs financing through a third party.

Can I Install DIY Solar Panels Myself?

Having looked at some of the pros and cons that come with a DIY solar project, it’s time to decide if DIY solar panels are right for you:

Short Answer: "Probably."

A DIY home solar kit can serve your needs, especially if your required energy demands are minimal. These out-of-the-box systems are typically not as complex as multi-panel systems that power a large house and connect to the utility grid.

If you're still prepared to take this route for a complex solar project, we recommend you first research your local zoning regulations. Some states and countries prohibit the installation of a DIY solar system without professional certification because of the challenges we listed above.

Long Answer: "Probably not."

Unless your current day job and prior DIY experience include electrical work, engineering acumen, roofing, and government permitting, you should probably leave the heavy lifting to the solar professionals. This is especially true for larger homes with significant electricity needs that require an elaborate solar power plan.

  • Professionals are best suited for large, complex projects

A residential solar power installation is a significant investment that should serve you for more than 25 years. Setting up everything properly from the very beginning ensures your system functions at its maximum capacity, and helps prevent headaches down the road.

Our recommendation is to rely on certified experts who install solar systems every day. Before you run out and buy your solar panels, let a solar professional investigate your energy needs and recommend the most suitable option for your home. They can also pinpoint the optimum solar panel placement to maximize your system’s output.

  • The DIY solar savings may not be worth the headaches

Overall, are potential DIY home solar savings really worth the risks and headaches of the elaborate process we’ve described? If you derive satisfaction from improving your home on your own and have time to do everything from beginning to end, then a DIY solar panel system might be right for you.

For most people though, turning to professionals gives them peace of mind. Yes, the upfront costs might be a little higher, but the long-term benefits are worth the expense.

Overview of DIY Solar

  • Like any DIY project, installing DIY solar panels for home power invites people to take charge of their own properties. Do it properly, and you'll get a profound sense of accomplishment.
  • However, installing a DIY home solar system can be highly complex and dangerous. It includes climbing on roofs, heavy equipment, detailed wiring, connecting to the larger electrical grid, and more.
  • This is not the sort of project to even attempt unless you have immense experience working with teams of people and complicated electrical procedures.

Palmetto, Your Go-To Solar Installation Experts

Are you looking to reduce your electricity bill by switching to solar? By working with Palmetto, you can start enjoying the benefits of this green energy source without any of the DIY hassles.

At Palmetto, we simplify your migration to clean energy. It's our business to take the risk and guesswork out of clean energy savings and provide end-to-end solutions that save you money and time. We also specialize in financing through solar loans if needed, with a variety of options to match your budget.

To learn how our professionals can work with you to design and install the perfect solar power system for your home, get started with a Free Solar Design. From there, we can pair you with a solar expert who’s trained to help you get the solar panel system you need, and help you save money by going solar.

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