There are a number of steps to follow when buying solar panels for house. After choosing which option is best for you to use solar (see step 3), follow the steps afterward that apply to you. Your solar energy installer and local utility company can provide more information on the exact steps you will need to take to power your home with solar energy and the exact solar panels for home price.
buying solar panels for house
1. What rebates, solar tax credits and other solar incentives are available where I live?
In 2020, homeowners are eligible for the 26% federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) provided they have some federal income tax liability against which this credit can be applied. The federal solar tax credit reduces to 22% at the end of 2020 and to zero at the end of 2021. This is why so many people are considering installing solar panels on their homes now.
Some are lucky enough to be eligible for additional state and local incentives. In some states, such as New York, South Carolina and Utah, homeowners who install solar can receive a state tax credit on top of the federal tax credit.
It is also worth noting that many states, including California and Colorado, have low-income solar rebates that can help you get a solar system if you have lower-than-average income for your area.
Other areas, like Washington D.C, New Jersey and Massachusetts, have various forms of performance-based incentives, where you can receive extra money for the energy your solar panels produce each year!
Other regions, including most of Florida, have special solar loans known as PACE loans that allow homeowners to finance 100% of a solar system, and to pay it back through the home’s property taxes.
There are also a variety of solar incentives offered by utilities at the local level in states like Texas and others.
We work very hard to keep our solar estimator up to date with all of these tax credits, rebates and other incentives so that it can show you all incentives available for a solar panel system where you live.
See what solar incentives, rebates and solar tax credits apply to residential solar panel installations where you live and how much they will reduce the cost of the system your home needs
2. How much do solar panels cost for an average home?
The average cost of a solar panel system for a home in May 2020 is $3.18 per watt, making an average 7 kW installed residential solar power system $22,260 before the 26% federal solar tax credit and $16,472 once the tax credit is applied.
You can see the current average cost of professionally installed solar systems by state, by system size, and by solar panel brand here.
Your home may use more or less electricity than the average home and this will reflect in the cost of a system.
If you enter your address and monthly electric spend into the estimator below it will calculate the size of system your house will need, if it will fit on your roof and the amount it will cost after rebates and tax credits. It does this based on your location, roof, electricity use and the prices offered by local solar companies. Over 700 solar companies around America share their prices through this estimator, so it is very accurate.
Calculate how much solar power will cost for your home based on its location, roof, your electric use and the prices of your local solar companies
3. How do solar panels work on homes?
Usually, when solar panels are installed on a home they are tied to the grid. The solar panels produce electricity during the day when the sun is shining, and that electricity is used to power your home. Solar panels cannot produce electricity at night when the sun is down, so that is when your home will draw power from the grid.
Check out this video for more information:
4. How much will solar panels save me on my home?
The amount that you will save with solar panels varies depending on how much you spend on electricity. If you spend $120 per month on electricity and you install a solar panel system that is designed to offset all of your electricity usage, you could end up saving $36,000 over the lifetime of the system!
Our solar calculator will show you an estimate of how much you can save with solar panels based on your monthly bill.
See how many solar panels you need to power your home and how much they will save on your home over their 25-year life
5. Is it better to lease or buy solar panels for home?
Buying solar panels will give you the maximum electric bill savings over the life of the system. Plus, buying solar panels for home allows you to benefit from the federal solar tax credit and other local solar incentives. However, we understand that the upfront costs of installing solar can be intimidating.
For this reason, some people opt to enter a solar lease. While solar leases allow you to avoid the upfront costs of installing solar, they provide you with much lower savings over the lifetime of the system. Also, because you don’t own the system when you have a solar lease, you might not be eligible for solar incentives like the federal tax credit.
A better option when you don’t have the cash to purchase a system right away is to take out a zero-down solar loan. There are many low interest rate solar loan options. Financing a system this way allows you to get more savings over the lifetime of a system than you would with a solar lease. Plus, you can still take advantage of the tax credit and other incentives.
6. How long do solar panels for home last?
All major solar panel brands have a minimum warranty life of 25 years. Some premium brands have a warranty of 30 years. However, solar panels can last beyond their warranty life.
7. What is a kilowatt (kW) and what is a kilowatt hour (kWh)?
Watts (W) are a measure of power that represent how much energy is released in a system an an instant of time. To find out how many watts are in a system, you can multiply the current by the voltage.
The size of a solar system is usually expressed in kilowatts (kW). This is because solar systems for homes need thousands of watts in order to produce enough electricity. Each kilowatt equals 1,000 watts.
Each individual solar panel used for a residential solar panel installation in 2020 is likely to be rated between 300 watts and 360 watts. A typical 7.2 kW system would require 20 solar panels if 360-watt solar panels were used.
Kilowatt hours (kWh) are a measure of total electrical energy used or produced over a period of time. This is the unit that you are billed for your electricity in. You can figure out how kWh consumption by looking at a device’s wattage. For example, if a 1,000 watt refrigerator is used for one hour, the total amount of energy it consumed is 1 kWh.
8. Are residential solar panels worth it for my house?
While it is up to each of us to decide the best way to spend our hard-earned money, residential solar panels compare very favourably to other traditional forms of investment. With a solar payback period of between 4–10 years, this represents a simple investment return of between 10–25%. This is a significantly better return than the long term average returns for both shares or property. Here is a more detailed discussion on whether solar panels are worth it.
Of course, the exact answer to this question depends on the location of your home, the amount of electricity your home uses and the local prices of residential solar systems.
Find out if solar panels are worth it for your house given your location and electricity use
9. What are the best types of solar panels for a home?
Monocrystalline solar panels are the most efficient solar panels you can install on your home. The typical efficiency of monocrystalline panels from a Tier 1 brand is usually between 19% and 22%.
It was once the case that monocrystalline solar panels were significantly more expensive than the less efficient polycrystalline panels. The cost difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels is now minimal, making monocrystalline solar panels the best choice for home solar.
10. What are the best brands of solar panels for homes?
Some of the top-selling home solar panel brands are:
- SunPower X series panels
- LG Neon panels
- Panasonic HIT series panels
All of these panels are great choices for your home solar installation. SunPower’s panels are the most efficient out of the three, but LG and Panasonic offer greater corporate bankability. However, all three of these solar panels are very expensive when compared to panels sold by other Tier 1 manufacturers.
Some other great solar brands you should keep an eye out for are LONGi, Canadian Solar, REC Solar, Trina, Jinko, and QCells. All of these brands offer excellent solar panels at a lower cost.
It is unlikely that you will have any problems with solar panels from the brands listed above. We recommend that homeowners stick to the Tier 1 solar panel brands as opposed to Tier 2 or 3 brands, as Tier 1 products are more reliable.
For help picking the solar panels that are right for you, check out our solar panel reviews page.
11. How important is solar panel efficiency?
Solar panel efficiency is not as important as one might think. The efficiency is already taken into account when rating the power output of a panel. So, if you’re comparing two 360 watt solar panels that have the exact same specifications, except one has a higher efficiency, they will both produce the same amount of power. The difference is that the higher efficiency panel will just be smaller in size.
So, it’s usually not worth paying the significantly higher price for premium efficiency panels unless you have a limited amount of roof space.
12. What are the different types of home solar power systems?
There are three main types of solar power systems for home:
Grid-tied systems are the most common home solar power system. Grid-tied solar systems are made up of rooftop solar panels that produce DC power, and inverters that convert that power into AC power that can be used in your home. Excess solar energy that is generated during the day flows back into the grid. At night, or during times when solar production is low, your home will be powered by the grid. These systems do not provide backup power when the grid goes out.
Hybrid home solar power systems are similar to grid-tied systems, except they include a battery to store excess energy the solar panels produce that your home doesn’t use. You can use the energy stored in your battery instead of drawing from the grid when your solar panels aren’t producing.
Homes with hybrid solar systems will have backup power in the event of a grid outage, which makes them popular in places that experience frequent power outages. They are also popular in areas with time-of-use electric rates, like California. Batteries can qualify for the solar tax credit, plus your area could have additional solar battery rebates.
Off-grid solar systems
Off-grid home solar systems are not connected to the public electric grid at all. In this case, all of your power needs must be met with solar panels and batteries. These systems are usually more expensive, as you need more solar panels and energy storage in order to cover all of your usage, as the grid can’t be used during times of low solar production. When designing an off grid solar system, it is usually also necessary to strictly control and measure loads and have some kind of backup generator.
HOW TO BUY SOLAR PANELS
Are you thinking about buying a solar panel system but don’t know where to start? You came to the right place!A Really Great Read
Before we dive in to the specifics of solar panels (a.k.a. PV modules, solar electric panels), let us remind you that energy efficiency and conservation are the best ways to reduce your energy foot print and your electrical bill (see our Energy Efficiency and Your Home article). Please actively explore and incorporate all avenues of efficiency before pursuing a home solar panel system. That being said, solar power is an exciting clean-energy option that is becoming more and more popular. Solar electricity is a fascinating topic. To really feed your curiosity, we highly recommend the book PHOTOVOLTAICS: DESIGN & INSTALL MANUAL.
What shapes, sizes and types do solar panels come in?
Solar panels vary in length and width and are often about 2 inches thick. They are generally about 30 pounds or less, but the larger solar panels can be cumbersome to carry onto the roof. We carry a wide selection of solar panels for home use: framed, foldable, and rollable.
- Framed solar panels are the industry standards. They are the most cost effective and applicable for most home solar panels applications.
- Foldable solar panels are lightweight (less than 5 pounds) and can fold up and fit easily in a backpack.
- Flexible (or rollable) solar panels are also lightweight but bulkier than the foldable panels. Many people use these rollable solar panels on boats because they are durable and can be easily stowed after use.
Generally thin-film laminate type of solar panels (foldable & flexible) are more expensive per watt and require more square footage to produce the same wattage of an equally sized framed module.
What size solar panels do I need for my home and how many?
The number of solar panels you will need depends primarily upon the amount of electricity you are trying to produce and the insolation in your area. Solar insolation can be thought of as the number of hours in the day that the solar panel will produce its rated output. This is not equivalent to the number of daylight hours. Read more about insolation in our How To section and get an idea of the insolation in your area: Solar Insolation Map – USA.
You’ll find solar panels in a variety of wattages. Watts are the main measure of a solar panel, along with nominal voltage. For a rough idea of how many watts of solar panels you will need for your home, start by dividing your electrical usage (in watt-hours per day) by the solar insolation in your area. Bump that number up by 30-50% (to cover system inefficiencies) and you’ll have an idea of the number of watts of solar panels total you will need. If that number is more than 1000 watts, you are talking about $4K to $8K or more for the solar electric system. (Could we take this opportunity to mention the importance of energy efficiency again?!) If you could still use a little help with the math, please give us a call and tell us how much electricity you are trying to produce (in kwh/month or watt-hours/ day) and your location, and we’ll help get you started.
What types of solar panels are there?
Most solar panels can be classified as monocrystalline, polycrystalline or amorphous. This is based on the silicon structure that comprises the cell. It’s not quite as complicated as it sounds. Basically a 100 watt monocrystalline solar panel should have the same output as a 100 watt polycrystalline solar panel and a 100 watt amorphous solar panel. The main difference is the amount of area which the solar panel occupies. Because the monocrystalline structure is more efficient than amorphous (and only very slighlty more so than polycrystalline) in turning sunlight into electricity, the amorphous solar panel of the same wattage will be physically larger. By the way, when talking about efficiency of solar panels, keep in mind that solar panel efficiency is still only about 13-18% efficient in turning sunlight into electricity. Often amorphous solar panels are less expensive than the crystalline panels. If space is not an issue, then an amorphous panel could be a great option. Additionally, amorphous solar panels perform better than crystalline solar panels in very hot temperatures and are also slightly more tolerant of partial shading.
Solar Energy for Home Heating & Cooling
Please keep in mind that solar panels produce electricity, and should not be used to produce electricity for heating or cooling sources. If heating is your main issue, be sure to check out Solar Air Heaters and Solar Water Heaters. Solar air heating and solar water heating are examples of solar thermal technologies which produce heat, but not electricity (and are much more cost effective than solar panels). While solar electric panels are not an economically feasible choice to power your air conditioning, a solar panel can power an attic fan that can help reduce the amount of time you use your AC.
Locating your Panels – Very Important!
A key factor in the effective use of solar electricity is proper placement of the solar panels. Make sure to locate the panels where they will receive full sunlight between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm. Be sure that the solar panels will not be shaded by shadows from tree branches, chimneys, other structures, etc. Once again – NO SHADE! You will be mounting the solar panels on the roof, the ground or a pole. For more information on the proper placement solar electric panels, please checkout the How To for Solar Panel Mounting article.
How Long will Solar Panels Last?
Solar panels use the sun’s light to generate electricity. They generate electricity during sunny daylight hours and can be used in a system with batteries so that the electricity can be used at other times as well. Also known as Photovoltaic (PV) modules, solar panels are the main component of a solar electric system. Along with an inverter, mounting system, batteries and Solar Charge Controllers, solar panels can produce electricity to power the energy efficient appliances and lights and appliances in most households. Solar panels themselves generally last over 25 years, and require little maintenance. Many of the first solar panels produced in the 50s are still in use today. Many of the solar panels have a 20 year warranty or more. A common warranty states that the panels will produce at least 80% of their rated power after 20 years.
What else will I Need with a Solar Panel?
In addition to the solar panel mounting hardware, there are additional components that you will need for a safe installation. If you plan on using just one solar panel in a battery based system (an off-grid system), you will need a solar charge controller and overcurrent protection to protect each major component of your system: solar panels, solar charge controller, deep cycle batteries, and inverter. If you plan on using more solar panels in your system, you will also need to safely wire the photovoltaic solar panels together and to the charge controller. An easy and safe way to do this is by using MC (multi contact) connectors. These connectors connect to the cables coming from the solar panel and can be cut in half to expose bare wire. Combiner & pass-through boxes are used to collect the bare ends of the wire from multiple solar panels; then from the combiner box you can run just one set of wires to the solar charge controller. For each series string of solar panels, you will need an appropriate sized breaker.
That’s a lot of components to figure out! If after reading all this you are a little confused but even more excited about solar energy, what’s next? Well, you can read more about solar panel systems. Also, our AltE U offers in-person workshops in Massachusetts and Ohio, as well as free education online videos. If you are considering installing your own solar electric system or installing PV (photovoltaic panels) as a business, be sure to check out our series of three classes beginning with our Basic Photovoltaic and Site Assessment class.
What are the pros and cons of DIY solar panels?
Before we jump into the 11 steps for a DIY solar panel installation, I think it’s worth going over the pros and cons.
After all, a DIY solar is a big and costly commitment. It’s best to figure out whether or not DIY solar is right for you before you’re too heavily invested in the process!
Pro: Cost savings
At the risk of stating the obvious, the biggest reason people opt for a DIY solar panel installation is to save money on the upfront installation cost.
Solar panel systems have dropped in price — by over 70% in the last decade alone — but they still represent a significant financial investment for most homeowners.
Right now, the average cost of solar panel installation by a professional solar company is around $3.00 per watt. For a typical 5 kW (5,000 watt) solar panel system, that works out to $15,000.
On the other hand, you should be able to buy a 5 kW DIY solar panel kit for under $2.00 per watt. Assuming you perform all of the work by yourself (i.e. no contractors for any of the tasks), the total cost of the 5 kW DIY solar project would cost no more than $10,000.
That works out to a potential savings of over $5,000 by choosing DIY over a professional solar installation.
Of course, the exact cost difference between the two is affected by many variables. Factors that can affect costs include system size, your location, your choice of brands, your roof layout, your state and local incentives, and more. And you’d also want to take into account 26% solar tax credit would apply for both a professional installation and a DIY job, reducing the cost and thus the price differential between the two methods of going solar.
That said, there is without question a substantial price difference between buying a DIY solar panel kit, and hiring a solar company to complete the installation for you.
Pro: DIY satisfaction
If you’re someone who really enjoys a big and challenging DIY project, then a solar installation might be what you’re looking for.
You will have to draw on many different skill sets, such as the ability to negotiate municipal processes, financial planning, proficiency with power tools, electrical work, and even tax accounting.
And there are many stages to the solar installation — researching, planning, shopping, permitting, installation, electric wiring, and monitoring.
This is a project that will keep you busy for a while.
Con: It’s a lot of time and effort
I know, in the point immediately above this one I framed the challenging nature of a solar installation as a positive. Yes, it can be rewarding — but only if you’re actively seeking a difficult and time-consuming DIY challenge.
If, however, your idea of a DIY project doesn’t expand far beyond assembling some Scandinavian flatpack furniture, then you might want to steer clear of taking on solar. It is a very time-consuming project. From conception to commissioning, a DIY solar installation for a home usually takes between one to four months.
Con: Risk of roof damage or leaks
This is perhaps the biggest financial risk when it comes to a DIY solar installation.
Unless you have a flat roof, your solar installation will involve drilling a large number of holes into your roof. Drilling into the wrong spot on the roof can cause structural damage, while incorrect sealing and flashing can cause a roof leakage and/or mold issues.
Another factor to keep in mind is that a DIY solar installation is likely to void the warranty of your roof, so you’ll have to foot the bill for any repairs that may be needed.
Con: Physical danger
Heights and high voltage electricity. If you’re doing a DIY solar installation from start to finish, there’s no avoiding these two risks.
Falls are a hazard in DIY solar panel installation. Image source: Twitter
And the physical risks can continue after the installation. If your panels aren’t performing as they should, you may need to get back on the roof to troubleshoot the issue.
Worst of all, if you haven’t connected the wiring properly, your rooftop system could catch fire!
Con: Inability to claim some incentives
Many states offer incentives and rebates that dramatically reduce the cost of going solar.
Some incentives, however, are only available when the installation is completed by a certified solar company.
Con: No support for faults or warranty claims
You are on your own if there is ever a fault with the equipment.
Of course, you can still contact the manufacturer directly, but it can be difficult to prove a warranty claim. Furthermore, if you perform an improper installation, you can actually void the warranty.
The 11 steps for DIY solar panels
Let’s now dive into the 11 steps needed to take your DIY solar panel project from conception to completion.
1. Decide on your goals
If you haven’t already, you first need to decide what your goal is for going solar.
The goal you’re shooting for will determine the best system type for you, how complex the installation will be, and how much the project will cost.
Homeowners usually choose between the following goals.
- Financial savings
- Backup power
- Energy self sufficiency (independence from the electrical grid)
We strongly recommend that you decide on your goal right at the outset. There is an almost infinite number of options and permutations when it comes to DIY solar, so you need to be clear on what decisions you make, and why.
2. Choose the right solar system type
The next decision is to choose the right solar power system type to match your goal.
There are three main types of solar installations:
- Grid-tied solar panel system
- Hybrid solar panel system (aka grid-tied with battery storage)
- Off-grid solar system
All of these system types have many features in common: they all involve solar panels, inverters, mounts, and wiring. There are, however, some crucial differences, and they can impact the project’s cost and complexity. Here’s a brief summary of each.
Grid-tied solar panel system
A grid-tied solar panel system is a solar setup that is connected to the grid and uses it as a battery through net metering. Grid-tied solar panel systems are usually smaller than the other types and have the lowest upfront cost.
Best for: Maximum financial savings
Pros: Lowest cost, simple design and installation
Cons: The system will shut off during a grid outage. Your system will need to pass inspection before it can be connected to the grid.
This video shows how a grid-tied solar system works for a typical home: https://www.youtube.com/embed/A5Wb61nEoZc?rel=0
Hybrid solar panel system (aka grid-tied with battery storage)
A hybrid solar panel system is also connected to the grid; the key difference here is the inclusion of a battery storage solution.
As with a regular grid-tied system, a hybrid solar system can import and export power from the grid as needed. But a hybrid solar system can use the battery system for two additional uses: for backup power during a grid failure, and to take advantage of Time of Use (TOU) arbitrage.
However, solar batteries — the most famous example of which is the Tesla Powerwall — are still an expensive option, so adding one to a solar system nearly always lowers the return on investment for the homeowner. In other words, the increased cost of adding a battery typically does not lead to an equivalent increase in savings.
Best for: Backup power
Pros: Emergency power supply during grid outages
Cons: Requires a battery backup solution, and unfortunately batteries are still expensive to buy. Your system will also need to pass inspection before it can be connected to the grid.
As the name suggests, an off-grid solar system operates independently of the grid.
Since there’s no grid to fall back on, the solar system needs to be very large so that it can meet the home’s power needs 24/7, 365 days a year — even during winter and/or long stretches of overcast weather.
To achieve this, off-grid solar systems require a large number of solar panels as well as a large battery bank.
Best for: Energy self sufficiency
Pros: Zero reliance on the electricity grid and no interaction with the utility company, and no inspections.
Cons: Very expensive, and lots of space required for the large number of solar panels and accompanying battery storage.
3. Check solar rules and regulations
There is a wide range of rules governing solar installations. They can vary greatly between states, and even between local jurisdictions.
You will usually need a building permit and a utility permit before you start your installation. This usually involves an on-site inspection by either a structural engineer or a licensed electrician. You will need to pass another round of inspections before your system can be activated and connected to the grid.
Some states don’t allow a solar system to be connected to the grid unless the installation was performed by a licensed contractor. If this is the case where you live, you won’t be able to install a DIY grid-tied or hybrid solar system.
It is important to know these rules beforehand so you can judge if a DIY solar panel installation is possible where you live; and if it is possible, if it’s still a worthwhile option to pursue.
4. Design a system
This is one of the most complicated parts of the DIY solar panel process. You want your system to take into account all of the following factors:
- Your energy usage
- Climate and the number of sun hours you’ll see each month
- Solar panel orientation
- Solar panel angle
- Natural efficiency drop
- Conversion losses
- Battery size and charging (for hybrid and off-grid systems)
The PVWatts Calculator from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is a well-known tool that takes into account the above points to show you total system output over each month of the year.
We also recommend you try out our solar panel calculator. It builds on the data provided by PVWatts to recommend a system size for your specific home, and even shows you which section of your roof you should use for maximum exposure to sunlight.
Calculate the system size you need to offset 100% of your electric usage
If you’re adding batteries for a hybrid or off-grid system, you’ll need to take care to size your battery correctly. If your battery is too small, you may run out of backup power just when you need it. On the flip side, if your battery is too big, you’ll wind up spending too much, and might quickly diminish battery capacity by failing to charge it sufficiently.
For more information about batteries, check out this handy guide on battery sizing.
As part of your system design, you’ll want to create an electrical diagram. This will be useful as a blueprint when it’s time to install your panels; it will also be required when you’re applying for permits.
5. Do the math
By this point, you should have a clear idea of what kind of system you want, as well as what’s allowed (and what isn’t) under the rules and regulations governing solar in your area.
Now you’ll want to move on to specifics and work the numbers, i.e. your estimated costs and savings.
Make a solar costs and savings projection covering the guaranteed life of your panels (typically 25 years). Image source: Freepik
Based on your system design, you should be able to search online and find the costs for the equipment you require. The simplest way to do this is to look for a complete, all-in-one DIY solar kit that matches your needs.
Next, you want to work out your utility bill savings. Using the system size you worked out in your design in Step #4, it’s relatively easy to calculate the annual output of your system. Based on that, you can figure out and total up avoided utility costs. When projecting ahead, be sure to account for inflation in utility costs.
Some homeowners may be constrained by limited roof space; in that case, they should calculate the maximum number of solar panels that can fit on their roof, and then figure out costs and savings from there.
Now, with the cost and savings figure in hand, you can calculate what the return on your DIY solar panel project will be, and if it’s worth going ahead with from a financial perspective.
6. Stop and reevaluate
Assuming you’ve already completed Steps 1-4, you should have a clear idea about whether a DIY solar panel installation is feasible or not. Specifically, this is what you should know by now:
- If a DIY solar panel system is allowed where you live
- The permitting and approval process
- The solar panel system size you want, and whether you have the space for it
- The estimated cost of the installation
- The electricity bills savings you will receive
- If the financial equation is right for you
- All of the risks associated with a DIY solar panel installation (refer to the ‘Cons’ section earlier on this blog)
If you’re still unclear on any of the points, step back and continue your research.
If you do have all this information, then I recommend you pause and reevaluate.
Is solar right for you? And if it is, here are the three options you can choose to make it a reality.
DIY solar panel installation
You’ve done your research and are clear on what DIY solar installation entails. You’re confident in your ability to perform all the necessary tasks yourself, and have a plan to avoid or mitigate all the risks. Congratulations, you’re ready to get started and get your hands dirty.
Outsource part of the installation
You may decide that you’re better off outsourcing part of the installation. This is often a good idea if there’s a specific section that you don’t feel comfortable with. For instance, many solar DIY-ers decide to hire an external contractor to perform the electrical installation.
Get a professional solar company to perform the entire installation
While this is the most expensive in terms of cost, it’s the cheapest option when it comes to time, effort and peace of mind. The solar company will design the system for you, source all materials, and deal with all permitting requirements. Furthermore, if there are any issues with panels or workmanship down the line, they will be there to handle them for you.
I encourage you to check out this option. To do so, simply use our solar panel calculator to request no-obligation quotes from licensed solar installers in your area.
See live solar prices in your area and request obligation-free quotes
If you’re still not sure which is the best way forward, here is a solar decision matrix to help you out.
|Financial costs||Time costs||Roof leakage risk||Permitting requirements||Ease||Personal safety|
|DIY solar install||++||–||–||–||–||–|
|Outsource part of the installation||+||+||+||–||+||+|
|Professional solar install||–||++||++||++||++||++|
7. Start permitting process
You’re ready to get your hands dirty and install some solar panels! But wait — remember the rules and regulations you researched back at Step #3?
If you haven’t already, list out all permit processes required by the state, your utility, and your authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).
There’s a good chance that you’re going to have to apply for a building and utility permit before you start any work. This will often involve an inspection by either an electrician or a structural engineer, or both.
It’s important to follow all the steps required to ensure that your installation is code-compliant and legal.
8. Choose supplier and buy equipment
Here’s is a brief list of all the equipment you’ll need for you solar setup:
- Solar panels
- Solar inverter
- Mounting and racking equipment
- Wiring and general electrical supplies
- Battery system (for hybrid and off-grid system)
- Charge controller (required for some battery systems)
Ideally, you’ll find a complete DIY solar panel kit that includes everything you need for your solar installation. That’ll save you time that you would otherwise spend searching for individual components and then figuring out whether each part can work together.
When you’re comparing kits, we encourage you to check product reviews on SolarReviews to make sure that you’re buying from reputable brands that homeowners are happy with.
When it comes to picking a supplier, you want to choose one that offers great warranty and after-sales support. I would prioritize both these factors over price — unless you’ve performed a solar installation before, you’re going to have to talk to the vendor many times during the installation, and maybe even after.
9. Install the solar panel system
At this point, you should have successfully applied for all necessary permits and approvals, and accepted delivery of your solar equipment. It’s now time to install the panels!
The actual specifics of the installation will depend on what system type and equipment you’ve decided upon.
The process I’m describing below is for a grid-tied system that uses microinverters for the DC to AC power conversion.
Task 1: Install solar panel racking and mounting
Use a chalk line to measure and mark out exactly where on your roof the racking system will be installed.
Next, look for solid bits of the roof to drill into for the installation of lag bolts. You should consider using a stud finder with AC current detection to ensure you’re not drilling through a power line.
Caulk the holes and install flashing to create a waterproof seal before you screw the lag bolts in. Once the lag bolts are all ready, you can install L-feet and then lock the rails on to them.
Task 2: Connect microinverters
Onto the microinverters. These are little boxes that will modulate the output of each panel. You’ll connect them to the rails using the provided bolts. Each box will have a positive and negative wire coming out of it, which you will connect together to form a series connection for each array.
Microinverters attached to a rail. Later, each solar panel will be connected to one before it is mounted. Image source: Enphase
Task 3: Connect grounding wire
Connect copper wire of an appropriate gauge across the rails as grounding. This is an important safety precaution and will help dissipate any anomalies caused by a lightning strike or a fault.
Task 4: Install roof junction box
You’ll need to drill a hole in the roof to install a junction box. If you have more than one solar array, you will run the trunk cable from each into the junction box. This will allow you to channel the power from the solar panels to your house.
Task 5: Install the solar panels
It’s now time to haul the panels onto the roof. Each module is about 65 inches by 39 inches, which can be an awkward size for one person to handle on their own. Consider getting someone to assist you with this part, especially if your roof is steep. I also strongly recommend that you use a harness while you’re up there.
It’s now time to attach the solar panels to the mounting rail. Before laying them down flat, first get the wiring in order. Each solar panel will have a negative and positive DC wire attached. You don’t want the wires to touch the roof, so you clip or zip-tie them to the panel. You can then connect the wires into the microinverters you’ve already attached to the railings.
Next, insert the provided mid-clamps into the railing to hold the solar panel in place from each side. For the solar panels that lie on each end of the rail, use end-clamps to keep them in place and present a more aesthetically pleasing look.
Task 6: Home run connection
With the solar panels ready, it’s time to connect them to the house. For this you will need to install:
- A conduit
- An external junction box
- An emergency disconnect box
The conduit will carry the wires from the roof junction box down to the external junction box.
The junction box will in turn connect to an emergency disconnect. This is a safety feature that allows you to quickly shut off your solar panel system, and is a required feature in many jurisdictions.
From the emergency disconnect, the wires are passed through to the home’s main electrical panel. The external junction box and emergency disconnect box should be weatherproof and installed in an area that is easily accessible and allows easy connection to the home’s main electrical panel.
Your solar panel system is now ready, but unfortunately there’s still a couple of more hoops to jump before you can actually switch it on.
10. Final inspection and interconnection with the grid
Once your installation is complete, you’ll have to schedule an inspection with the local AHJ. The inspector will come out and inspect your system to ensure that it’s compliant with local ordinances, and that the design matches those laid out in your plans.
The system will also need to pass an electrical inspection to ensure that it is code-compliant.
Once the inspection is done, you will need to apply for interconnection with the grid. The utility will either install a second meter, or replace your existing one with a bi-directional (or net) meter. The bi-directional meter can record your home’s power exports the grid so that you can receive credits on your power bill.
11. Switch on your system
Assuming your system has now met all state, local and utility requirements, you can now commission it.
These days, most inverters offer solar monitoring app that allow you to check your system performance online from wherever you are. Use this to make sure that your solar system is performing as expected.
It was hard work, but you can now benefit from a solar panel system that produces clean energy, lowers your electricity bill, and improves the value of your home. Congratulations!
DIY or not, solar power is highly rewarding
If you’ve read through this very lengthy blog post, kudos – you are definitely serious about going solar! You are now on a journey that I’m sure you’ll find highly rewarding.
Here are some of the best things about having solar panels:
- The satisfaction of receiving a much lower utility bill – and thinking of all the things you can do with the money you’ll be saving over the years
- Monitoring your solar panel production and usage from day to day
- Pride in producing clean energy and doing your part in combating climate change
If you have a lot of time on your hands and the skills to pull it off, you can achieve all these benefits at the minimum possible cost.
However, if you’ve read through this guide and feel that a DIY solar installation is just too much work, then fret not: you can still get all the benefits by getting a professional solar company to do the work for you.
Either way, we encourage you to check out our solar calculator. It will recommend a system for you that offers 100% offset of your utility bills, and can show you what the panels will actually look like on your roof.
Best of luck on your solar journey!