The Beginners’ Guide to DIY Home Solar Installation

You may think that DIY home solar installation is too hard for you.

Perhaps you think it’s too technical or too big of a job for a do-it-yourselfer. The truth is that a DIY solar kit installation is possible for almost anyone. Besides, the long-term financial benefits and energy independence a photovoltaic system provides is more than worth the effort.

Why Switch to Solar Energy?

Homeowners have much to consider when evaluating the potential benefits of installing a solar system.

The biggest reason to adopt PV energy is the exceptional level of cost savings. Once your system is up and running, you will save on energy costs throughout the life of the system. And you can expect your PV panels to function at or near full capacity for 30 years or more!

But the benefits don’t just stop at the savings. Adding a solar panel array also:

  • Increases property values
  • Creates energy independence
  • Protects the environment
  • Sets a good example for your friends and neighbors

So, are you ready to get started?

Where to Begin with DIY Solar

A DIY solar installation requires a bit of planning. Find out:

  • Is there enough room on your roof or elsewhere on your property for an array?
  • Where is the most convenient place for you to place the array?
  • Does your roof or property have sun for most of the daylight hours?
  • Are there any obstructions such as trees or buildings that would block the sun?
  • Is your roof structurally sound? Can it handle the added weight of panels?

Once you’ve answered these questions and decided that solar energy will work for you, you’re ready to keep going. And don’t give up if you can’t unequivocally answer yes to every question. You can find any number of ways to work around shade or even a small roof.

Look at Your Electric Bills

Now, gather up your electric bills from the last 12 months to determine how much electricity you use during your highest months of usage.

Look for the kWh (kilowatt-hours) consumption numbers, and total them up for the year. Keep this number in mind so that you can refer back to it during the rest of your planning.

The size of the system you need will be determined by your highest monthly level of power use.

Select Your DIY Solar Kit Components

To build your own system you will need, at minimum:

  • Solar panels
  • A mounting system
  • An inverter

It’s important to note that an off-grid system requires a battery backup. This adds a level of complexity to the DIY process that most experts don’t recommend you attempt, unless you have direct experience.

The DIY Solar Installation Process

Professional installation is a large portion of the cost of a solar panel system, so doing the work yourself saves you big bucks.

It is extremely important, however, that you bring in a licensed electrician for the electrical connections. This costs more than doing the wiring yourself, but it isn’t an option in most states, unless you’re an electrician.

When it’s time to mount the panels, you must first prepare the mounting and racking system. These systems, especially SnapNrack products, are plug-and-play systems and are very easy to assemple.

The panels themselves are quite easy to mount, once the racking is attached to the roof. You simply need to lay the panels in play, connect together as you go, and ratchet them into place.

Now, have the electrician wire in the panel and voila! You should be ready to go!

Be sure that you purchase your DIY solar kit from a reputable and established source. This is the only way to ensure that your components come with a full warranty. Plus, a solar kit provider can be an invaluable resource for helping you design your system and for answering any questions you have throughout the DIY home solar installation process.

Solar Installations Are Good For the Soul

I had the great pleasure to volunteer with a non-profit in California installing solar panels on qualified low-income households. The homeowners would pay nothing at all or a small portion of the system cost, and all labor was donated. Solar panel manufacturers, like Siliken, Sunpower, and Canadian, and inverter manufacturers, like PV Powered, also offered subsidized or discounted pricing. The rest of the cost of the panels was funded by the Single Homes Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program run by California’s Solar Initiative. It was one of the best experiences of my life for quite a few reasons:

1. I’ve never thought I gave enough back to our community.

Other than a few “Walks for Hunger”, donations to many different organizations, several bags of clothes to Goodwill, and the occasional soup kitchen, I’ve never felt right about how much I give to others. I never felt better in my life than the 19 installations I worked on. I had a chance to meet the families from many of the homes we installed solar on, and they were beyond thankful. Even though they had many mouths to feed in their home already and things were probably tight, most cooked us lunch and offered us cold drinks. You can’t pay for the appreciation and satisfaction I felt.

2. People say solar energy systems are only for the affluent.

Many of the homes we worked on were built from Habitat for Humanity or other similar organizations. People who thought they would never own a house, are now able to. But how do they afford the ongoing expenses, like utilities? The SASH program is important because it allows solar incentives to go those that are in financial need. It also decreases a homeowner’s monthly electricity bill so they can use that money for other things.

I’ve heard from people who are upset about the solar incentives being offered right now in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. They think that federal and state subsidies should go to families in need. Those families in need probably wouldn’t be able to afford a solar electric system if they can hardly afford to pay their mortgage or put food on the table. California has been able to step up and solve this problem. I hope similar programs are enacted in New England.

3. I was able to educate others about solar and teach them them about the installation process

I think there is both a lack of awareness and understanding about the solar industry. People have considered it too new of a technology, but developments in solar power started 150 years ago. As a team leader with the volunteer group, I would teach others how to design the system, prevent leaks from roof penetrations, and install the inverter. This would, in turn, help build and expand the skilled renewable energy workforce. The organization was training people in skills they never had at no cost.

4. The view wasn’t bad either

I’ve lived in New England most of my adult life. I really can’t complain about all the rich experiences that it has to offer, but California is another world. I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience it from the roofs of almost 20 houses. Every installation was different, from the streets of Southeast LA to the vineyards in the Central Valley to ocean views in San Diego. It was an el nino season so the farms close to the Bay area were a lush green. It was visually breathtaking. There’s nothing better than being on the roof installing solar panels in a world as beautiful as ours.