DIY vs. Professional Solar Panel Installation: Which Is Best?
Installing a solar system is one of the most effective methods of reducing your electricity usage and energy bills. Solar panels will not only reduce your monthly utility expenses; they are better for the environment too. They are a source of renewable energy that will continue to pay off for years to come.
Many homeowners have a lot of questions regarding the installation and efficiency of residential solar panel systems. Some might wonder if a solar array project is one that you can complete as a DIY (Do It Yourself). This guide will cover the benefits and disadvantages of DIY solar panels, efficiency expectations of a solar system and the installation process, and potential cost-savings.
Professional Installation, Or DIY?
DIY installation of solar energy systems may be an option for some homeowners, but professional installation is better suited for others.
Consider a few of the pros and cons of each type of installation.
Professional Installation Pros:
- Expert guidance and resources: With so many solar electricity systems on the market today, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one for your household. An expert can provide you with the resources needed to make this decision. They can also help you evaluate the pros and cons of differences between systems—such as grid and net metering energy systems.
- Handle all paperwork/permits: Most states require permits to install a solar system. This includes inspections and numerous appointments with the electric company, especially if you plan to connect to the local solar energy grid. Professional installation technicians manage this type of paperwork often and can navigate you through it.
- Warranty: Many professional installation solar companies offer incentives to their customers, like an installation warranty. The professional company covers any problems with the installation itself or damage to the rooftop solar system during the installation.
- Maintenance: Some solar panel companies will also offer ongoing maintenance plans to existing customers.
DIY Installation Pros:
- Cost-effective: If you know what you’re doing, a DIY installation can be a cost-effective option. One report shows that over 50% of installation costs go to the actual solar installation itself.
- Warranty: While you cannot take advantage of an installation warranty when you DIY the project, many solar panel manufacturers offer product guarantees.
Step By Step DIY Instructions
Once you have explored the pros and cons of DIY installation and decide that it is right for you, you will want to complete the following steps:
- Do your clean energy research and determine your energy needs
- Determine your solar power potential
- File all required paperwork
- Determine how you will fund the equipment
- Install the equipment
Do Your Clean Energy Research And Determine Your Energy Needs
One of the first steps in shifting to a solar energy source is doing your research and understanding your options. This includes determining your kWh energy needs and choosing a solar PV system that is right for your household.
To accurately determine the type of solar panels and the number of needed solar panels, homeowners will first need to assess their kWh energy needs. This means calculating how much energy your household outputs each month. You can get this information from your electric bills, and you can also learn about your home’s energy needs with a scheduled home energy audit. A home energy audit looks at the overall energy efficiency of your home and makes recommendations for improvement.
Whether you choose a grid or off-grid solar energy can also affect the type of system that best suits your home’s energy needs. Grid systems are connected to the local power system and can draw energy as needed. Off-grid systems are not connected to the local grid system and may need more panels to draw enough power for your property.
Determine Your Solar Power Potential
It is also essential to evaluate your home’s solar power potential. When considering what solar panels you will use and how many you will need, you will need to know how capable your home is for a solar system. This will include evaluating things like the condition of your roof.
For example, some roofs may not be able to support a solar panel system safely. You’ll also need to determine which way your roof faces-some roofs do not get enough sunlight. They may not be able to draw enough solar energy to make a solar system an efficient choice because of the location or too much shade.
File All Required Paperwork
Installing a solar panel system requires permits and inspections. There is a lot of paperwork and inspections involved. It is essential to research your city and state requirements and ensure that you file all required paperwork before installation. This may include a roofing inspection to ensure that your roof is in good condition for DIY solar installation.
Determine How You Will Finance The Equipment
Once you have selected the rooftop solar equipment and PV panels, you will need to consider how you will fund the project. Some homeowners might choose to finance directly with the supplier, while others might decide to take out an additional loan to cover the solar panel costs.
Install The Equipment
Once you have done your research and obtained all of the necessary permits and funding, you are ready to begin your DIY project.
Some owners prefer to start their DIY solar project from scratch, but you don’t have to go off alone. There are plenty of DIY solar panel kit products to help you install your system with ease. You can also consider a DIY solar generator, which is a larger project but can still be done on your own.
A DIY solar kit includes installing solar panels, the inverter, battery bank (usually a lithium battery), and any other necessary parts, including the solar charge controller, a disconnect switch, and the electrical panel. Following the completion of the installation, you will need to schedule another inspection with the city. If you plan to connect to the grid, you will need an inspection with the utility company. Additional electrical work may or may not be required.
What To Expect During Your Solar Panel Installation
Whether you choose a professional solar company or a DIY solar panel installation, many homeowners wonder how long the solar installation itself will take.
While the benefits of a solar system will last for many years to come, the installation process takes a couple of days to complete. Of course, this is after all of the necessary paperwork and inspections have already been completed. Your installer will prepare your roof for the installation, ensuring that the equipment is laid flat and securely. Then, they will install the electrical wiring, input the wire racks, and firmly place the panels onto the racking.
Then, they will connect the solar inverter to the solar panels. Depending on your city, it may be a few days until the electric company comes to inspect the work before connecting it to the grid. Once the installation is complete, your installer will test the product. If everything goes right, including the solar panel installation and the inspection, you can expect the entire project to be completed in just a couple of weeks.
Expected Costs of Professional Solar Installation
It can be helpful to consider the expected costs of a professional installation when deciding whether to DIY the project or not.
Professional solar panel installation costs vary, depending on location, type of solar panel, number of solar panels, and the installation company themselves. The cost of solar panel installation ranges between $2.50-4.15/watt and $11,100-22,400. It is useful to look at the averages in your location because no two homes or their needs are the same. The average installation cost can also be affected by things like the inverter selected.
It is also crucial to take any tax incentives or credits into account when evaluating the solar system installation cost. Solar systems are eligible for a 26% tax credit for 2020. Other incentives, like feed-in tariffs, can also reduce the cost. When you calculate the ongoing energy cost savings and tax credits, it can make professional installation more worthwhile.
Some factors can make the installation more costly, such as the condition of your home’s roof. It is recommended to install solar panels on a roof that is in good condition. Solar panels can last between 20-25 years. If you have to replace your roof before, you will have to remove the solar panels and have them reinstalled.
How To Choose A Professional Installer That is Trustworthy
If you decide to go with a professional installation, you might have some questions regarding the installation technician.
Trustworthy installers have the following:
- Licensed and insured/background check: You can learn a lot about a technician’s credentials by checking that they are licensed and insured.
- Previous reviews: You can learn a lot from earlier customers who can speak to the quality of the work.
- Experience level: Experience and knowledge of the solar installation process are essential for ensuring a safe system installation with all necessary state and federal regulations being followed.
- Accredited: Accreditations inform you that the installation technician has completed all of the required training. You can check accreditations with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).
- Price: While the price is not the sole factor you should use when choosing, it can help compare various installation technicians’ pricing. Pricing that’s far off from other quotes, whether too high or too low, could raise some questions about what the solar installer includes.
- Warranty: Most solar industry companies will stand behind their work. Be sure to ask questions regarding who covers the cost of any installation mistakes.
Be sure to do your due diligence and give each installation company the proper research that it deserves. Choosing an installation technician is a big decision.
How To Calculate Cost Savings Of DIY Solar Panel Installation
Many homeowners wonder whether the investment of a solar system is worth the cost and how long it will take them to reach their payback period. The payback period refers to the time it takes to recoup the costs of installation and solar equipment.
Experts estimate that, on average, homeowners can save about 20% on electrical utilities. However, many factors can affect cost savings, including location, size of the system, the average weather in the area, and the size of the house. You can easily calculate the system’s energy efficiency while determining just how long it will take for your solar system to pay off.
First, the installation and parts cost and determine the number of kWh you will generate over one year. Then, look at your energy bills and multiply that by the number of kWh generated. This is how much you will save over a year.
Then, divide the cost of installation by your annual savings. This will tell you how many years you can expect to recoup your overall investment. Even if you do not plan to live in your house for that number of years, many homeowners will find that they can recover some of their costs when selling their homes.
Once you factor in tax credits, incentives, and the fact that panel systems last for many years, most homeowners will determine that solar electricity is an affordable method of reducing energy usage and carbon footprint.
Helpful Tools To Help You Determine Your Cost-Savings
Because the efficiency and cost-savings expectations vary depending on a household’s electricity usage and current efficiency rating, it can be helpful to take advantage of online tools that allow you to pull data from your area.
Here are a few of the top online tools:
- PVWatts Calculator: This tool helps homeowners better estimate the total cost of a solar system installation.
- Solar Estimate: This tool allows homeowners to calculate their solar savings. It takes into account individual electricity costs.
- EnergySage: This tool allows homeowners to estimate solar potential. It also calculates homes’ overall electricity savings.
- Sun Number: This tool will tell homeowners how suitable their current rooftop is.
Additionally, you can look for cheap solar panels to reduce costs. Check out our guide to discover more about cheaper financing options.
Your Solar Financing Options
Many homeowners are aware of solar panels’ benefits but don’t have the funds available to cover the initial installation costs. Fortunately, many installers offer financing options. Whether you choose to finance your system with a credit card or a project loan, you can divide the installation cost over several years.
In addition to financing, homeowners also have the option to lease a solar system. When you lease the solar panel system, you are essentially borrowing it from the supplier. It is important to note that leasing does not make you eligible for tax benefits.
You can decide whether it makes sense to buy or lease your solar system by doing your own cost-benefit analysis of the pros and cons.
Whether you choose to DIY your solar energy system or have it professionally installed, moving to a renewable source of electricity can reduce your monthly utility bills. It also reduces your carbon footprint by avoiding fossil fuels. There are pros and cons to both types of installation, so make sure to consider your individual electricity and efficiency needs.