DIY Solar Pros and Cons

Once you’ve decided to make the jump to clean solar energy, one of the big questions you’ll face is whether to install the panels yourself or get an installer to do it for you.  The decision to self-install or hire an installer really depends on your personality and preferences.  

Labor costs account for about 25 percent of the price of the average home solar system.  Solar installers also bundle other costs into the installation package, including marketing, supply chain costs, and various indirect corporate costs.  So installing solar panels yourself can save you money.

Installing your own panels can also be fun.  If you’re a crafty sort who really enjoys digging into a DIY project, installing your panels, wiring, mounting, and other hardware yourself can be a rewarding challenge.

If you do decide to self-install, it’s important to get a firm grasp on what your installation will require and plan realistically for the amount of work involved.  There are lots of great sources available to help you.  In addition to the installation guide that comes with your panels, you can rely on web forums, how-to books and articles, and tutorial videos to help you through the process.

Despite the added cost, working with a solar installer has several advantages.  For one, solar installers have the experience and know-how to determine the system size that will work best for your home.  While it’s easy to figure out how much energy your home needs, figuring out how many solar panels are required to meet those needs can be more difficult.

The tilt, size, and orientation of your roof will largely determine how many panels you’ll need and where you should position them.  You’ll also have to calculate the load-bearing capabilities of your roof and take into account specific elements like the presence of rooftop vents, which might require you to modify your home or arrange your panels in a less-than-ideal way.

By installing your own solar panels, you risk positioning them incorrectly, which could negatively impact your energy production and lower your overall energy savings.  And if you’ve misjudged the condition of your roof or improperly installed the panels, you could cause real damage to your home.  Researching and understanding your precise needs can be a long and laborious process, and is best left to a solar installer’s trained eye.  

In addition to providing expertise about your home, solar installers can also help you choose the right panels for your budget and needs.  Different panels operate best under different conditions. Panels with low temperature degradation coefficient are better suited for hot climates than panels with high temperature degradation coefficients. Panels with high efficiency are suited for homes that have small roofs or have a large portion of the roof shaded.

Of course, solar panels aren’t the only piece of equipment you’ll need to get your solar system operational.  You’ll also need to select an inverter, a mounting system, and (potentially) a solar battery.  The multitude of solar panel and equipment options available today can be confusing, and choosing the wrong piece of equipment might mean your system doesn’t work as well as it should-or at all.  But if you’ve hired a solar installer, they can help you better understand your options and develop a solar system that works for you.  Not only that, but many manufacturers of solar equipment only sell to licensed solar installers, so going with an installer increases your options.

A solar installer can also ensure that all the equipment is connected correctly during installation.  Plus, if you have any trouble with your system after it’s up and running, solar installers typically offer service warranties that last 10 years or more.  If you’re installing your solar energy system independently, on the other hand, troubleshooting could prove difficult.  Moreover, linking your system to the grid can be dangerous if done incorrectly, and many state and local energy authorities forbid anyone but a certified solar installer from connecting solar panels to the grid.

Solar installers are also more familiar with the sometimes-tricky red tape associated with any home solar array.  Navigating the permitting process yourself may save money, but it will also require you to do some digging to figure out which permits you need and how to obtain them.  If you choose to self-install, check with your housing and energy authorities to determine which permits are required and to determine the legality of installing a solar energy system yourself.

If you’re still confident in your ability to correctly and legally set up your own solar energy system, you might encounter other obstacles.  Some insurance companies, for instance, only allow solar systems that are installed by certified solar technicians.  Before you begin your DIY home solar project, contact your home insurance company to ensure that your policy allows self-installed solar systems.

For all of these reasons, even manufacturers of DIY solar kits often recommend that you hire a professional to install your system.  While it’s true that you stand to save some money by installing a solar energy system independently, spending a little extra to save yourself time and ensure the job is done right is well worth the cost.

Whether you decide to install the panels yourself or get someone else to do it for you, you’ll soon be enjoying serious savings that come with solar energy.