A Complete Guide to DIY Solar Panels (2023) – MarketWatch

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Learn more about DIY solar panels, including pros and cons, installation costs and whether a do-it-yourself solar project is right for you.

Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.

Tori Addison is an editor who has worked in the digital marketing industry for over five years. Her experience includes communications and marketing work in the nonprofit, governmental and academic sectors. A journalist by trade, she started her career covering politics and news in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her work included coverage of local and state budgets, federal financial regulations and health care legislation.
Installing solar panels yourself can help save you hundreds of dollars in electricity costs each year, but the upfront cost of going solar can be expensive. As with many home upgrade projects, you have two options: hire a professional solar installer or choose DIY solar panels.
In this article, we at the Guides Home Team will cover the key points you need to know about DIY solar, including the advantages and disadvantages, costs and savings, installation steps and more.
Get your free solar installation quote
 
 
If you decide to try a DIY solar installation, we recommend you take the following steps to figure out how to best proceed with your project.
The first step is to determine which location makes sense to install solar panels on your property. Preferably, you will want to install your panels on an area of your roof that sees decent amounts of sunlight throughout the year. If your home is surrounded by taller buildings or trees and experiences constant shade, DIY solar panels may not be as attractive an option unless you also plan to purchase a backup battery.
You also have to consider permits. Depending on how you configure and install your DIY solar panels, you may need a permit from the local building department or utility company. Solar panels that are permanently attached to your roof may be classified as a home upgrade and subject to a construction permit.
Grid-tied solar panels must also be approved by your utility company, which will provide a list of technical requirements to ensure electrical safety. Permitting is often the most challenging step of a DIY solar project since you must meet technical specifications that are legally enforced. However, off-grid solar systems are normally exempt from permits since those projects don’t involve home modifications or a connection to the local grid.
There are a few important questions to answer before setting up a DIY solar panel system:
The solar panels used in DIY projects are normally smaller than those used by professional installers. The PV modules included in DIY solar kits are normally in the range of 50 to 200 W, while the larger modules used in rooftop installations often exceed 350 W.
To get a quick estimate of your annual electricity production in kilowatt-hours, you can multiply the total solar panel wattage by 1.2. For example, a DIY solar system with eight 100 W modules would have 800 W of total capacity and generate around 960 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. At an electricity price of 20 cents/kWh, this system would save you around $192 per year compared to traditional electric bills.
Since DIY solar panels are not usually eligible for connection to the electrical grid, you will need a battery backup system. You should add the total wattage of all devices you intend to power with solar energy and find a battery that is capable of supplying this wattage. Lithium-ion batteries are recommended over traditional lead-acid batteries since they are safer to use and more durable.
Solar panels should be positioned to get maximum sunshine on their surface. In the case of the U.S., which is in the northern hemisphere, solar panels should be tilted south since there is more sunlight coming from that half of the sky. To determine the optimal tilt angle for solar panels, you can visit the World Bank Global Solar Atlas and click on your location.
Many DIY solar panels come with an adjustable kickstand to prop up your panels. However, if you’re considering a permanent solar installation on your home, you need a suitable racking system or roof mount. The list below outlines a few factors to consider:
A solar inverter is a device that converts the direct current or DC power generated by your panel’s PV modules into the alternating current or AC power used to power your home. There are two main configuration options:
Permitting is the main bottleneck for many DIY solar projects. As mentioned above, you will most likely need a construction permit if your solar panels are attached permanently to your roof, and need an interconnection permit if you want a grid-tied system. Most utility companies will not allow interconnection unless your solar panels are professionally installed.
There are many useful resources available to help you learn more about solar panel technology, costs and incentive programs available throughout the U.S.
Check out the solar incentive options in your state using the dropdown menu below:
 
 
Solar panels have simpler maintenance needs than other power generation systems since they do not have moving parts subject to mechanical wear. For this reason, high-quality solar panels can last for two or three decades.
The most important maintenance requirement is keeping your solar panels clean. Dust and other particles can accumulate on their surface and block sunlight that would otherwise reach your panel’s photovoltaic (PV) cells. This can result in lower solar panel efficiency and electricity output.
Solar panels that are kept clean are more productive over time, simply because more sunshine can reach their PV cells.
In addition to regular cleaning, there are other ways to ensure solar panel production. This includes making sure your panels are properly positioned and using a monitoring system to track their performance.
In northern hemisphere countries like the U.S., solar panels should be tilted south to achieve maximum energy output. To determine the ideal tilt angle, you can use the World Bank Global Solar Atlas.
Regardless of your location, make sure your solar panels are installed in unshaded areas. A concentrated shadow will drastically reduce the electricity output of a PV module, even if its surface is kept clean.
You can also use a monitoring system to track the electricity output of your solar panels and detect performance issues. For example, if a large object is casting a shadow on your panels, you will immediately notice a low power output on the monitoring system. You may also notice a drop if your solar panels become covered in snow. Many solar manufacturers offer built-in monitoring apps.
 
 
One of the main advantages of a do-it-yourself solar project is saving on the cost of installation. Homeowners can expect to pay around $3.27 per watt of solar capacity, according to a Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) report. Based on this figure, a professionally installed 6 kilowatt (kW) solar system would cost around $19,620 in total. Skilled labor and overhead represent around 10% of the final price of home solar projects, so you could achieve savings by installing panels yourself.
However, there are downsides to DIY solar installation. Professional and DIY solar panels both use photovoltaic (PV) modules to capture solar power and convert it to energy, but there are important differences in the way each system operates. Solar panels installed by professionals are normally set up as grid-connected electricity sources, while most DIY solar panels operate off-grid. Electric power companies typically will only allow you to connect your solar panels to the grid if installed by a qualified electrician.
In operating off-grid, you will miss out on energy savings through incentive programs like net metering. However, off-grid systems are portable and can be used anywhere, while grid-tied solar panels are bound to a single property.
The chart below outlines some pros and cons of DIY solar panels to help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

 
 
In general, DIY solar panels have a lower price than professionally installed systems. However, a direct comparison can be misleading since each type of system has different applications.
Based on our research, you can purchase a small DIY solar kit for less than $1,000 or a medium-sized solar system for around $2,000 to $5,000. For comparison, the average cost of a 6 kilowatt (kW) solar system with professional installation is $17,095.
Here we compare the cost of DIY solar panel systems from high-quality brands:
Panel Brand
System Size
Solar Panel Cost
Cost with Battery Storage
Renogy
800 watts
$1,830 ($2.29 per watt)
$4,710 with a 3,600 watt-hour (Wh) battery
GoalZero
600 watts
$1,774 ($2.96 per watt)
$4,574 with 3,032-Wh battery
Eco-Worthy
780 watts
$1,360 ($1.74 per watt)
$2,600 with 2,400-Wh battery
Growatt
800 watts
$1,799 ($2.25 per watt)
$3,599 with 1,512-Wh battery
Here we compare the cost of DIY solar panel systems from high-quality brands:One of the main advantages of DIY solar power is the lower overall cost. Based on our research, professional labor and overhead represents around 12% of the total price of a solar array. The chart below outlines what factors into the price of going solar and the cost percentage of each item.
Keep in mind that when you choose DIY solar installation, you will still have to pay sales tax on system materials, but avoid taxes on professional installation services. Considering that most DIY solar power systems are portable and off-grid, you can also save on permitting costs associated with permanently mounting panels to your home.
 
 
Most solar incentive programs focus on professionally installed systems. Unfortunately, DIY solar systems are not typically eligible for rebates and other incentives.
For example, the 30% federal solar tax credit is only available for solar systems permanently installed on a primary or secondary residence. Permanent solar systems are subject to local building codes, which means they require a professional installation. DIY solar systems normally have a portable and off-grid configuration, which makes them ineligible for the Investment Tax Credit (ITC).
While the federal solar tax credit can lower the cost of your total solar installation, DIY systems are generally smaller and likely more affordable even without the credit.
However, you may qualify for additional solar incentives from local governments or electric utility companies. You can read about local programs using the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). Many states have sales tax exemptions for solar energy systems, which include DIY systems in some cases.
Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | ArkansasCalifornia | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | MarylandMassachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New MexicoNew York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | TennesseeTexas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming
 
 
As with many home upgrade projects, each installation option has its pros and cons. A professional solar installation typically costs more due to skilled labor costs, but you can lower that cost with incentives and rebates offered by government agencies and local utility companies. On the other hand, DIY solar panel installation is likely still more affordable and offers a portability option so you can take your equipment camping or on other trips. We recommend DIY solar panels if you want an off-grid or portable power source to power a camper or certain appliances — not an entire home. There are many DIY solar panel kits available on the market, which include portable battery banks with built-in outlets for common appliances. These kits operate at much lower voltages than professionally installed systems, making them a safer option for users without electrical training.
Although you can install solar panels yourself in theory, professional installation is recommended if you want a solar energy system that is capable of powering an entire home, or even a small business. These all-in-one systems have much higher voltages and wattages than a typical DIY solar kit, and handling them without technical know-how is very risky. Also, the manufacturer warranty that comes with professional solar installations can last up to 25 to 30 years, while most DIY solar panels are covered for less than five years.
Regardless of your installation method, solar panels can save you hundreds of dollars in electricity costs each year. Plus, solar’s return on investment (ROI) recently improved due to higher tariffs. U.S. electricity prices increased by 14.3% between December 2021 and 2022, according to the latest Consumer Price Index reports, which means the electricity generated by solar panels is now even more valuable.
You can always reach out to top solar companies directly if you have questions, want to learn more about installation options or are in the market for a project quote.

 
 
Yes, but it is only recommended if you have been professionally trained as an electrician. In the case of roof-mounted installations, you must also be qualified to work at a height.
There are DIY-friendly solar kits that operate with lower voltages and wattages, which are a much safer option if you want to build your own system.
DIY solar panels are cost-effective if you want a compact and portable power system for smaller appliances operating off-grid. But a professional installation is recommended if you want a larger grid-connected solar energy system to cover the energy needs of an entire home.
Yes, a DIY solar project can reduce your system’s cost per watt of capacity by up to 50%. However, we recommend potential DIYers look into the pros and cons of self-solar installation before getting started.
The main advantage of a DIY solar panel system is its lower cost compared to that of a professional installation. You can also configure your own solar panels as an off-grid portable power station, which is useful when traveling.
 
 
Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.
Tori Addison is an editor who has worked in the digital marketing industry for over five years. Her experience includes communications and marketing work in the nonprofit, governmental and academic sectors. A journalist by trade, she started her career covering politics and news in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her work included coverage of local and state budgets, federal financial regulations and health care legislation.
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