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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.

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17 thoughts on “Don’t DIY: Why installing solar panels yourself can cost you more

  1. anon says:

    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.

  2. Penumber1 says:

    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 essentially paying about $60/hr for an experienced installer that charges $90/hr.

  3. john says:

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

  4. Joe PE says:

    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.

  5. Pod says:

    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

  6. Mike says:

    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.

  7. Dave says:

    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.

  8. Rob Franco says:

    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.

  9. Anonymous says:

    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 all, labor. Incentives and discounts should also be separately itemized. Major components should include suppliers and model/part numbers. Car repair vendors are required to do this by law. I can think of no reason why this should be any different. If they wont quote component prices at least insist on supplier/part numbers so you can cost them yourself. If they wont commit to part numbers then cross them off your list. There are plenty of vendors out there. Base all figures assuming you will buy and own the system. You can quote financing, leasing, and service options separately. Get several contractor quotes and compare. You can readily price the same parts from online suppliers, then calculate the markup for each quote. As some have already noted here, the markup can be very high. Is the vendor making $10+K profit for a one or two day install? Published data shows that half the nations installers quote flat rates of $4.90 per KW – thats $25,000 for a 5KW system! And most people are unaware of the markup. Solar vendors have honed the “Green Power” pitch to the calculator challenged. The tax breaks and incentives make this worse. Legislators please take note. Incentive rules have produced a Cartel, where most incentive $$$ go to contractors at the expense of the consumers. Please join me, to the degree that you are able, to be an informed consumer. I am particularly offended by sales people who ask for my birthday (credit check) in the first minute. I am in the market for a solar power products and might later be interested in their financing, but only if it suits me. Birthdays are a major source of identity theft. Say no until its the proper time to discuss financing and then insist they put in writing their legal obligation to prevent disclosure. Solar power is becoming mainstream and economical. some helpful info. 1) For comparison, panels are specified by max power, aka “Standard Test”. Typically 200 to 300+ watts per panel. 2) add up past 12 power bills to get an daily average KW-HR usage. 3) Size your system to provide daily average in a few hrs. Example: 5KW system provides 20KW-HR in 4 hrs. 4) panels generate about 12 to 14 w/ft-sq. 5KW needs ~ 400 ft-sq. Or (20) 250 watt panels. 5) you need south facing surfaces. See panel sizes for how to arrange and fit on your roof or possibly ground area. 6) panels are available at http://www.wholesalesolar.com, prices are $0.90 – $1.20/watt. Look for durability and warranty. 7) Grid tie inverters will run $2000 to $3000 for 5 to 10KW system. Look for efficiency, monitoring, and warranty. 8) Fed provides 30% tax credit. Find your state incentives for tax relief, low interest loans, permit rebates, etc 9) Power companies need renewable sources (you!) and they are reluctant to inform you about it 10) “Grid Tie” systems are most typical. “Backup” and “Off Grid” systems require more (serious DIY!) research. 11) Some places have complicated permitting. See “CPF DOE Permitting study” at https://solarpermit.org Good Luck!

  10. Anonymous says:

    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, oh wait, no, they get money, I still owe them 3,000 + 12,000 for the system. Seems that I can do it myself and save 3,000 even though I don’t get the incentives. This article makes a big deal of incentives from tax rebates as a good reason to get a professional installer, when in reality, the only one who gets paid on that incentive is the installer using it to promote their services. this article was probably written by an installer. check you incentives and check labor for the system. finally “the optimal angle” for setting up solar panels, Hmm, go to the solar calculator and enter your location, optimal angle now known. not hard. Linking the solar panels, hmm, built in connectors on most of them make that easy. permits, if you need them for your location, go to county and get them, pay 50 – 500 (depending on how much your county rips you off) note they will charge you for permits from contractors and charge a fee to get them. Roof, if your roof is in that bad of condition, or you think it may be, ground mount the panels. No reason to call a professional unless you want to.

  11. Anonymous says:

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

  12. Anonymous says:

    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 credit next year. There was no incentive from PG&E. Oh I put up a new meter, subpanel, riser too with ground rods.. But that had to be done anyhow- 1950s home with zinsco panel and no disconnect- I dunno how the place didnt burn down.. Bonded to the plumbing.. You can diy and save, just a lot of people in diy are more crazy than anything and do things that could burnt thier house down! If you dont understand electricity dont do it. DC is a little different and having a positively grounded inverter is nice too. You wont lose much efficiency. Getting well over 2.3kw on a good day. Code is another thing. Theyll have you put redundant things in the system for fiiefighters. DC Disconnect on the roof or outside

  13. Anonymous says:

    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 learn electrical skills.

  14. Anonymous says:

    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.

    1. 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.

  15. web page says:

    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!

  16. 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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