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Don’t DIY: Why installing solar panels yourself can cost you more

Avatar for Dave Llorens
Published on 05/24/2012 in
Updated 01/17/2019

When you decide to get solar panels for your home, it’s tempting to consider installing them yourself—after all, going the DIY route is a great way to save money on many different home improvement projects. But solar power is a different story. It’s highly recommended that you work with a professional solar installer, and here are some of the reasons why.

Planning your solar panel installation- size and placement

The biggest part of the process of getting solar panels isn’t putting them up on the roof; it’s taking the time to thoroughly research and plan every part of your system. It’s important that you understand how solar panels work and the basic principles in the planning process, but a professional installer can best handle the details.

What size of a solar panel system is best suited for your electricity usage? Does your roof have sufficient space at the correct angle? Where should panels be positioned, and what is the optimal tilt for the panels? What solar technology is most appropriate for you, based on your climate and other unique needs? Can your roof bear the load of solar panels? These technical questions (and many more!) can easily be answered by a solar installer. A good installer will have a long track record, and experience with all types of roofs and situations.

What’s the downside to getting this step wrong? If you don’t place solar panels correctly, you won’t be able to get the optimal amount of power. You won’t save as much money on your electric bill, and over time, that difference can easily eclipse any initial savings from doing the installation yourself. Panels from a kit designed for DIY installation won’t be as effective as a custom install based on your specific needs. Professional solar installers know how to correctly position panels to maximize your investment.

If you haven’t correctly judged the condition of your roof, you could face additional expenses for repairs, and might even have to redo the entire installation after getting a new roof. Installing solar panels incorrectly can also cause new problems, like roof leaks. A professional installer knows how to install solar panels without causing costly roof damage—and you have the peace of mind that if anything did go wrong, they’ll cover the cost of fixing it.

Installing solar wiring can be dangerous

Installing solar panels isn’t as simple as plugging them in. Technically complicated, high-voltage wiring is involved. There’s a risk of injury while you do the wiring work itself, and a further risk later if the wiring is done badly. Hooking up strings of solar panels incorrectly can create a surge in power that can blow up an inverter—and even burn down your house. If wires are cut improperly, they could later be shorted out by rain, and pose another fire risk. There’s also the serious risk of electrocution.

In some states, you’re required to have certain certifications, or even be a licensed electrician, to legally wire solar panels. You should have experience and training in residential wiring, and knowledge about how local grid interconnection works. You’ll need to know how to purchase equipment that correctly matches your system requirements, including power conditioning equipment that’s critical for making the electricity produced by your solar panels compatible with the grid. You’ll also need meters, instrumentation, and safety equipment.

A professional solar installer has experience in safely and correctly wiring solar panels. If panels are wired incorrectly, there’s not only the risk of danger, but it can also reduce the amount of power you’re able to get from your system. Just like with other parts of the installation, if something happens to go wrong, your installer will pay to fix it.

Applying for permits and meeting regulations

Another important part of a solar installation is meeting all of the necessary regulations. A professional installer can help you navigate the complicated details of ensuring that your equipment and install complies with all local, state, and national building and safety standards. You may need to get approval from a local electrical inspector, and your installer will also make sure you’re meeting all applicable electrical codes. You may need approvals from city planning departments. Your installer will also help you work with your insurance company to meet any special requirements they may have. Your power company will also have specific requirements, and working with a solar installer will help you get everything set up correctly. Although it’s not a regulation, you’ll also want to follow all of the requirements that your solar panel manufacturer has laid out in their warranty, so that if you ever need to replace a panel you know that you’ve met all of their guidelines for installation.

Solar installers help you qualify for incentives and rebates

Local, state, and federal rebates for solar panels often require that a licensed installer do the work in order to qualify. Missing out on rebates and tax incentives can mean losing a significant amount of money. Not only will your installer make you eligible for this cash, they’ll also know which incentives will work for you, and can help you apply.

Ready to work with a professional solar installer to help you navigate the solar installation process? Sign up for a free estimate here.

Last modified: January 17, 2019

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Ohio JohnDebbie HobbsJeffKellyBen Zientara Recent comment authors
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Ohio John
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Ohio John

I designed and built a 7500W ground mount solar power system. It’s optimized for my location and my backyard is in full sun all day. The hardest part was digging the 200 foot trench back to the house for the wiring. The second hardest part was getting the power company to do something with my interconnect application. I filed a complaint with the the Public Utility Commission here in Ohio and three days later everything was approved and my net meter was installed. Funny how that works. I spend about $8000 for everything and it took me about one and… Read more »

Ben Zientara
Admin

Nice work, John. There are certainly some problems with Ohio’s solar policy, and as you pointed out, that can make the financials hard to pencil out unless you can find some way to drastically lower cost of installation (i.e., DIY). Glad to hear you managed to get your interconnection application approved!

Have a sunny day,
Ben

Debbie Hobbs
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Debbie Hobbs

What a bunch of baloney!!! People all over the world who have never done it before are installing their own solar systems and saving thousands of dollars…. Just do your research. There are many installation videos to guide you through the process!

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

The only real reason to have your solar installed by a professional installer is if you don’t want to do the work, for whatever reason. You could save a bit of money if you worked with your solar installer to purchase all the hardware yourself and then your solar installer just shows up to install it. You could potentially save thousands doing it this way, but good luck finding a solar installer willing to take that big of a hit on their profit margin. I looked into solar once. 2,700 square foot home, non-grid tied (saves a bit on time,… Read more »

Ben Zientara
Admin

You’re basically right, Jeff. Any technically-minded and mechanically-able homeowner can instal solar themselves given enough time spent learning, pulling permits, and working on the roof. For some folks, that’s an option. I’ve actually thought it would be interesting to do a survey of solar DIYers to find out just how much time and money they estimate having spent on the job, to put it into simple terms for anyone interested. I think something like this would be pretty effective: “is getting the job done right, in the next month or so, and avoiding 200 hours of personal labor and self-education… Read more »

Kelly
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Kelly

“It’s highly recommended that you work with a professional solar installer, and here are some of the reasons why” The reason why is to put gobs of money in the solar installers pocket

Ben Zientara
Admin

Hey Kelly- Thank you for writing! The modern solar industry is full of competition, and installers often make very little profit on each installation, because their costs are so high. The most recent study by Greentech Media and the Solar Energy Industries of America group found that the average profit margin for a 5-kW solar system was only about 10% of the final cost. We also know many installers who bid their exact cost for a job in order to win customers who will hopefully give them a recommendation in the future. The true reason to work with a solar… Read more »

putchkey
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putchkey

A couple years later….Have costs gone down. NO! They are outragiously high. I recieved quotes for my house and they want 54000 to 64000 dollars. I have checked and I know the equipment costs are under 20000. However they all tell me…no worries you get a 30% refund from the gov. That is Crap! You only get to claim the rebate up until the amount of taxes you paid in. If you have a job that doesn’t pay that much you will never get the money back. But wait. Why should that matter. It only does because they have added… Read more »

Ben Zientara
Admin

I’m sorry to hear about your troubles. That sounds like an insanely high price for home solar panels, unless you’re trying to power a mansion. That’s the price I would expect to see for a 21-kW solar install, which would be enough to power 3 average American homes. (21-kW at ~$2.80/watt, a price estimate that might actually be kind of high at that size). Unless you need that much electricity, that price is too high for a home system.

Vince
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Vince

getting the permits is easy when using the online software provided. This article is BS. If you’re a DIY’er don’t let this article sway you.

Cmo
Guest
Cmo

I documented my steps to install solar on my home here: http://cmomisc.blogspot.com/2018/03/diy-grid-tied-solar-project.html

Not a bro like thedude
Guest
Not a bro like thedude

If you blindly decide not to buy a house off of that one criteria, then good luck buying. Anyone with half a brain should know it’s all about price and location. There’s also inspectors. That’s typically who you hire before you buy a house.

Thedude
Guest
Thedude

Good luck selling your house if you DIY. I’m not buying if you didn’t get the req permits.

Root Hog or Die
Guest
Root Hog or Die

After reading this article and investigating permits and all that BS, I can finally understand why so few people in this country have solar. My son and I installed my entire system, 3 kW, for $5,000, and after the 30% tax credit, my total cost was $3,500. That’s $1.17/kW. Inverters have come down since then and I could do the same job today for under $1/kW. For people with basic DIY skills including basic electrical wiring, it IS a simple process contrary to everything you read. In my area, there are no building codes, no zoning laws, no permits, (that’s… Read more »

Sparkey
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Sparkey

Many municipalities must get kick backs from the electricians they are protecting with these mazes of codes.. Most solar/wind retailes have resorces and calculators to help you calculate fusing and wire size.. Changing out things in your own home even as simple as installing a GFI outlet require a permit and a certified electrician making them outragously expensive.. In my example you could be looking at $400 and the inconvience of having people nosing around your home several times.. If that inspector finds somthing he does not like you could be looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars more in… Read more »

nonothing
Guest
nonothing

DIY solar is for someone capable of reading with understanding. For any DIY that does not want to take the time to study about what he is planning to do, then DIY solar is a big fire risk for the homeowner DIY. Solar is not too difficult, but it is not easy as pie either. Wire sizes, connections, and fusing have to be undersood, and contrary to most DIY experiences with electricity, DC is a very unforgiving beast; way different from AC.

Commercial HVAC
Guest
Commercial HVAC

A good article What could go wrong with self installation? Let me tell you a couple of things that go wrong if work is not done by professionals. If wiring is too small, you could get into problems instantly. Wiring could turn red hot ! What could possibly go wrong with 5,000 watts DC at 72 volts on a ground mount being touched by children after a rain ? What could go wrong with someone not familiar with Ohm’s law as it relates to cable size ? What could go wrong with using circuit breakers not designed for Direct Current,… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

DIY is the only way to go, payback period less than 1 year, was able to source all materials at wholesale cost withou having to pay installer markups…

anon
Guest
anon

i had a company try to sell me solar panels but it wasn’t worth the trouble. the quote they gave would only save $20.00 a month and we had to pay for all the power the panels made even if we didn’t use it. they quoted 9,000 for incentives but said it would cost 30,000 if we bought it RIP OFF.

Penumber1
Guest
Penumber1

Wow, a lot of negative comments about this brief article!… but this isn’t one of them. I considered DIY solar before I started working at a solar EPC company, and being in finance, I often thought about the economics of the decision. Yes, there are a lot of factors to consider (geography, regional utility prices, etc..), but in the end I always came to the conclusion that this work is best done in the hands of the pros. This decision is relatively easy when you consider that the Fed ITC, or state incentives, cannot be applied to DIY labor; you’re… Read more »

john
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john

These guys just lost all their credibility with this ridiculous article. They’re obviously in the pocket of installers. What a disappointment.

Joe PE
Guest
Joe PE

You forgot to mention that if you stand on your head while connecting the wires and an asteroid hits you in the ass, you might be in trouble. What a self-serving pile of crap.

Pod
Guest
Pod

I work in the oil industry and nothing makes my job feel more secure than the exorbitant cost of solar. Well done to the oil lobbyists who pressured the government into placing solar out of reach for the average consumer. I sleep better knowing good old USA is oil dependent for decades to come. Stuff the planet my job is safe. Ha ha ha

Mike
Guest
Mike

I know this was posted two years ago, but Patrick K is so far off base, I had to reply. Incentives go to the homeowner, not the installer. Homeowners are allowed to do their own construction. Have you ever heard of owner-builder? I am installing my own solar (4kW system) for less than $7,500. An installer wants more than $20K. It is not that complicated, especially when using microinverters.

Dave
Guest
Dave

I’m installing my own 10kW system for $1/W after the 30%tax credit. It shouldn’t be too difficult, installing the racking it the toughest task. For sure, the people making out like bandits are the installers.

Rob Franco
Guest
Rob Franco

I think that if you are capable enough to replace your own knob and tube or other major home electrical project, you can probably figure out the solar project. Key is to get an inspection so you get some feedback on your work from a professional.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

The article says it “may” cost you more. Meanwhile ive seen articles describing how installer have shortened previous install times from days to hours. Costs continue to decrease, probably from healthy competition. Your best DIY time is spent understanding the available technology, financing options, incentives, tax breaks, and where vendors will willingly compete for your business. The combined incentives are substantial, in some cases 60% of total cost, not including the reduced power bills. My advice is to Learn the costs and technology and ask for itemized quotes that include; panels, mounts, inverter(s), cables, meter, misc hardware, and most of… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Good information and BAD information in this post, some “misleading” information also. Looking at solar systems, I have had contactors come in and give me estimates. typical system for my house is about 24,000 dollars from each company. Great, not to bad since I am wanting a 20K system. but then i look at the actual cost: cost of the system 12,000, cost of installation, 12,000. Hmm, Now, to get government incentives I need to have a professional install it, my incentives come out to about 9,000 in my area, so by having a professional install it, I get incentives,… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

It “may” cost more if you do it yourself.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I just installed 2.55kw system. This is a bunch of boloney. The key is finding a Chinese distributor and buying good inverters the solar warehouse is trying to move for new inventory. Theres a lot of good stuff out there installers buy up and you can too if you know where to go. The cost of the panels, racking, 5kw inverter with one mppt, and wire was ~4700 dollars. I have to buy emt conduit and bender. The permit costs almost 500 here in cali. So all in all spent less than 6 grand and plan to claim the tax… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Most locations getting a permit is a relatively easy task – it doesn’t require being a master electrician. In the vast majority of places you don’t need to be a licensed electrician in order to do electrical work on your own home. Anyone who’s done electrical work on their house (like adding an outlet, or rewiring a bathroom) will likely have gotten a permit for it (or should have.) So should be familiar with most of the permitting process. If they haven’t done any electrical work like that previously, then probably installing solar isn’t a good time for them to… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Good points to make as i just recently designed my own mounts, but mine will be heavier duty than anything I’ve even seen in the USA since I’m mostly concerned about theft. I’m glad I’m outside the USA and don’t have to worry about all the paperwork, and since I’m a fabricator with a background in wiring, the only issue that I needed assistance with was the correct angle. Good reading and if I were in the US I would definitely hire someone to deal with all the headaches you mentioned.

Patrick Kilhoffer
Guest
Patrick Kilhoffer

Your situation is different than homeowners and businesses in the USA. Generally speaking, it’s not legal for someone to install their own system in the United States, since usually the permits have to be filled out by a Master Electrician and they aren’t going to do that without at least inspecting your work. Plus most incentives will only be paid to a licensed installer, so a person wouldn’t really come out ahead anyway. Given that you are concerned primarily with theft you may want to give some thought to a tracking device, instead of just making the mounts more durable.

web page
Guest
web page

Superb post however , I was wondering if you could write a litte more on
this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate
a little bit more. Many thanks!

colorado diy solar power
Guest
colorado diy solar power

I wish more people would read interviews like this. Maybe we could wake everyone up to the energy problem in this country.

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