Can You Self Install Solar?

Can you self install solar?

Solar power has experienced explosive growth over the past decade, with solar energy generation increasing by over 35 times between 2009 and 2019 in the United States alone (Solar Industry Research Data | SEIA). Residential solar installations allow homeowners to harness the power of the sun to generate their own electricity. With improvements in solar panel efficiency and falling prices, installing solar panels on your roof has become an increasingly attractive option for many homeowners looking to reduce their energy bills and environmental impact.

Installing solar panels on your home allows you to generate clean renewable electricity from sunlight. Solar energy systems come in all shapes and sizes to match the unique needs of each homeowner. Smaller solar arrays can offset a portion of your home’s electricity use, while larger systems allow you to generate more electricity than you need and even get paid for excess power sent back to the grid.

Going solar requires an investment upfront, but solar panels can last 25-30 years and provide decades of free electricity once installed and connected. There are great financial incentives like the federal solar tax credit, and programs like net metering that make solar power financially worthwhile for many homeowners. With the falling prices of solar panels, increased efficiency, and incentives, return on investment timelines for residential solar installations continue to drop.

Pros of DIY Solar Installation

One of the biggest advantages of installing solar panels yourself is the potential for lower upfront costs compared to hiring a professional installer. When you DIY, you avoid paying costly labor fees to electricians and roofers which can account for up to half the total cost of a solar installation. By taking on the physical installation work yourself, you can realize significant savings.

Savings on labor is one of the main financial benefits of a DIY solar project. According to EnergySage, professional installation costs range from $1,500 to $2,500 per kW. For an average 5 kW system, that equates to $7,500 to $12,500 in contractor fees. By handling the installation, you can allocate more of your solar budget to equipment. Purchasing high quality solar components results in a more efficient system that can better offset your energy costs over the long term.

Lower upfront expenses also mean DIY solar can provide a faster payback on your investment versus hiring a solar company. However, it’s important to carefully weigh the pros and cons, as DIY comes with permits, regulations, safety risks, and the challenge of properly sizing and installing a system yourself. Thorough planning and electrical knowledge is required.

Cons of DIY Solar Installation

While there are advantages to installing solar panels yourself, there are also some significant drawbacks to consider:

No professional guidance/expertise – Solar installation is complex, involving electrical work, roofing work, and adherence to local codes and permitting. Without the years of training and experience professionals have, DIY installers risk subpar system performance or even dangerous situations arising from improper wiring or mounting (Source).

Permitting challenges – Navigating permitting and inspections for a DIY solar installation can be difficult, and failure to get proper permits could void your warranty or lead to your system being shut down (Source). Many local building departments are not familiar with residential solar requirements.

Safety risks – Solar installations require working on rooftops and handling electrical wiring, both of which carry inherent dangers if proper safety precautions are not taken. Without professional training, you risk falls, electrocution, or other injuries (Source).

Evaluating Your Solar Potential

The first step to self-installing solar is evaluating your home’s solar potential. Key factors to consider are roof orientation, shade, and available space.

For optimal solar production, solar panels should face true south if you’re in the northern hemisphere, or true north if you’re in the southern hemisphere. Panels facing east or west can work but will produce less energy. According to Project Sunroof, most homes have enough properly oriented roof space for solar panels. Any sections of your roof that slope at an angle and don’t face south or north should be avoided.

Shade is also an important consideration. Solar panels operate best in full, direct sunlight. Large trees or nearby buildings that shade parts of your roof will significantly reduce solar production in those areas. Use tools like Google Project Sunroof to analyze how shade impacts your roof throughout the day and seasons

Make sure you have adequate roof space for the size solar system you want. Rule of thumb is you need about 100 square feet for each 1 kW of solar panels. However, unused sections of roof scattered throughout may not leave you enough contiguous space for an effective system. Again, solar mapping tools can help assess how much useable roof space you have for solar.

Understanding Electrical Work Needed

Installing a solar panel system often requires some electrical upgrades to your home’s wiring and electrical panel. According to the Solar Career Map guide, these upgrades may include “Electrical panel upgrades, wire sizing calculations, conductor and conduit installations”. Upgrading an older electrical panel to a new 200-amp panel may be necessary to handle the added load from the solar system.

Additionally, connecting your solar system to the electrical grid requires net metering setup. Net metering allows any excess solar energy produced to flow back into the grid, spinning your electrical meter backwards. This results in energy credits that reduce your utility bill. According to, electricians installing solar panels are often responsible for “Installing/upgrading service panels, inverters, meters and net metering equipment.”

It’s important to consult with a licensed solar installer electrician to evaluate your home’s electrical needs. They can ensure your wiring, panel, and net metering setup meets local codes and can safely handle a new solar system.

Permitting and Inspections

Before installing a solar system, you’ll need to get the proper permits from your local building department. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, building permits ensure your solar installation meets all relevant codes and regulations. The permitting process varies by location, but often requires submitting plans showing the layout and technical details of the system, as well as an application form and fees.

Once the solar installation is complete, your local building department will send out an inspector to confirm it was done properly and safely. The inspector will check that the array was wired correctly, meets electrical codes, and was securely attached to the roof or ground mount. You may also need an inspection from your electric utility before connecting the system to the grid. Failing an inspection can lead to fines, so follow all codes and permit requirements carefully.

Overall, don’t skip permitting and inspections just to save money or time. Proper inspections protect your safety, investment, and eligibility for solar incentives. Streamline the process by researching permit requirements in your area and having all necessary documentation ready for the inspector.

Sourcing Solar Equipment

When sourcing your solar equipment, the three main components you’ll need are solar panels, inverters, and racking. Solar panels are one of the largest expenses when installing a solar system. According to, you can expect to pay between $2.50 and $3.50 per watt for solar panels. For a typical 6kW system, that puts the cost of solar panels around $15,000-$21,000. The specific solar panels you choose, like monocrystalline vs polycrystalline, will impact the price.

Inverters are another key component, converting the DC power from the solar panels into usable AC power for your home. According to, inverters will add $2,000-$4,000 to the overall system cost. Make sure to size your inverter properly based on your solar array.

Finally, racking securely mounts the solar panels and angles them towards the sun. Racking costs around $1,000 for a standard 6kW residential system. Use strong, corrosion-resistant metal racking to handle wind and weather over your solar system’s lifetime.

Installation Process and Safety

When installing solar panels on your roof, it’s critical to follow proper safety procedures. According to Altestore’s DIY solar installation guide, you’ll need to use fall protection gear like harnesses and guardrails when working on the roof. Make sure ladders are secure and consider using a roofing cradle for extra stability. Wear protective equipment like gloves and eye protection.

Electrical safety is also paramount when connecting solar panels and wiring. GoGreenSolar advises shutting off the main circuit breaker before doing any electrical work. Use insulated tools, avoid jewelry, and be cautious of any live wires. Connect components carefully by following all diagrams. Consider having an electrician inspect the system.

Work slowly and methodically, taking all necessary safety precautions. Solar panels involve both roofing hazards and electrical risks, so DIYers must exercise extreme care.

Ongoing Maintenance

Ongoing maintenance is crucial to optimize solar panel efficiency and longevity. The two main maintenance tasks are cleaning the panels and monitoring system production.

Solar panels need to be cleaned a few times per year to remove dirt, dust, bird droppings, pollen, and other debris that can accumulate on the surface. Solar companies generally recommend cleaning panels at least twice a year, regardless of weather conditions and location (Source). More frequent cleaning, such as every 2-3 months, may be warranted in areas with lots of dust, pollen, pollution, etc. It’s best to clean the panels after a rainstorm or snow event when the panels are naturally washed off.

Use water and a soft brush or sponge to gently wipe down the panels. Avoid abrasive materials that could scratch the surface. You can use a mild eco-friendly dish soap if needed. Be sure to thoroughly rinse off any cleaning solutions. Hiring a solar panel cleaning service is an option for those wanting to outsource this maintenance task.

It’s also important to monitor your solar energy system production to make sure it’s operating efficiently. Review power output data monthly to check for any dips or inconsistencies. This can help identify any underlying issues, like wiring problems, inverter failure, or panel damage. Consult your installer if you notice a sustained drop in production.

When to Hire a Pro

While a basic solar installation may be DIY-friendly, there are many situations where you will likely want to hire a professional solar installer. According to Intermountain Wind & Solar, complex installs with multiple arrays, tricky roofing, or custom electrical work should be left to the pros. Professional installers have the skills, equipment, and experience to safely and efficiently handle complicated solar projects.

Hiring a pro is also advisable if you want to maximize solar incentives and rebates. As Earthlight Technologies explains, professional installers stay up-to-date on changing incentive programs and can advise you on how to qualify for the maximum savings. They can also properly size and design your system to optimize the incentives. Doing it yourself may lead to errors that disqualify you from receiving rebates.

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