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

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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JeffKellyBen ZientaraputchkeyVince Recent comment authors
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Jeff
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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 »

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