There are two different ways of installing DIY solar panels and each has different pros and cons.
The first is to buy a solar kit and actually physically install the panels yourself. This offers the greatest potential for savings but also requires the most knowledge, skill and effort.
The second is to buy a solar kit but then contract a licensed contractor to do the installation.
The decision really comes down to cost savings. It is obviously better and easier to get a solar company to install our solar panels but the question is whether the savings justify the effort and risk of doing it yourself.
To make this decision you first need to know how much a solar company will charge you to install solar panels on your house.
You can use the www.solar-estimate.org website to get this answer.
Find a licensed contractor to do your solar install
Advantages of installing DIY solar panels
The big advantage of installing DIY solar panels is cost saving. Usually it is possible to purchase solar panel kits, using reasonable quality equipment for around $2.00 per watt. When this is compared to the average cost of solar panels installed by solar companies of around $4.00 per watt this can be a saving of $10,000 on an average 5 kW residential solar power system.
However, you are going to have to pay a licensed contractor to install the system and much of this savings may go to them. Because most licensed and experienced solar electricians work for solar companies they will often charge quite a lot for installation because they perceive they have lost the ability to make any margin on equipment. This may change over time but currently this is a big factor in why it is very difficult to save much money from a DIY solar project.
A licensed electrician will most likely charge you $3-5,000 to install your solar panels and so this would reduce you cost savings quite a bit.
So after installation we are probably down to a saving of $3,000-$5,000 by doing a DIY install of your solar panels for an average sized house. However, this is before the 30% solar tax credit comes into play.
The savings is reduced by the value of this credit (provided you pay federal income tax) and so net you are likely to save in the range of $2,100 to $4,500 by organizing installation of solar panels for your home yourself.
There is a lot that can go wrong with installing DIY solar panels (and it is not something I would do) but this is clearly the prize if you can do it all correctly.
Compare a fully installed solar power system to DIY
Disadvantages of installing DIY solar panels
The disadvantages of installing DIY solar panels are:
It requires a lot more research, work and effort on your part.
You are on your own if there is ever a fault with the equipment and where this happens it is possible that mistakes you have made in the installation may void warranties. Of course you would still have recourse to the manufacturer but it may be difficult to prove a warranty fault.
Installing DIY solar panels is potentially dangerous from a number of perspectives depending on whether you are physically installing them yourself or hiring a contractor to do it. The installation itself can potentially be dangerous if you are not used to working at heights or with DC electricity and there can be ongoing risks of fire if the electrical work is not done by an experienced and qualified solar electrician.
A licensed contractor maybe required to claim solar incentives.
Find a licensed contractor in your area
Things to consider when installing DIY solar panels
Review solar panel brands
Firstly check out the reviews of each brand to find the best solar panels for your budget. When you buy a solar panel you are buying two things, a piece of equipment that generates power and a 25 year promise that this piece of equipment will continue to do so. The value of the 25 year promise, the solar panel warranty, is entirely dependent on the judgment of whether the solar panel brand will still be in business if the solar panels fail. You can check out the reputations of a specific brand of solar panels by searching for the brand here.
Review solar paperwork
If you buy your solar panels and solar inverter from an online store then you are going to have to arrange for your own installation and your own paperwork for both the utility, your city and to claim each specific solar incentive that may be available. This is not to say that it can't be done but it is a lot of work. The benefit of doing this is that you might save as much as $0.50-$0.70 per watt, or $2,500-$3,000 if you buy 5kw of solar panels for your home. However, the down side is that when something goes wrong you are on your own in terms of claiming warranties or repairing defects. There is also the significant chance that you might make a mistake with some of the paperwork and this may cause you to be ineligible. Just at the moment (January 2016) there is also the real chance you may miss the cut off for a number of solar incentives that are nearing the end of their budget allocation.
solar panels need to be configured electrically such that they are within the specifications for the solar inverter to which they will be supplying power. If this electrical configuration is not correct then this can void the warranty of the inverter. An experienced solar electrician should be able to configure the solar panel strings correctly.
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