Are DIY Solar Panels Worth It? 2024 Guide – USA TODAY

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DIY projects have a reputation for saving you money, but DIY solar panels are not something a novice should tackle. Unless you’re an electrician who has experience installing solar panels, we don’t recommend tackling DIY solar panels. Installing your own solar power system without the proper experience and certification is asking for trouble. Solar systems often involve high voltage, which can cause severe electric shock, explosions and fires if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Yet if you do have the expertise, then DIY solar panels can save you at least 30% of the cost for an average 9-kilowatt solar system since you’ll be doing the labor and system design.

Here, we outline what goes into installing a solar system safely and where to look for DIY solar equipment.

What are the pros and cons of DIY solar panels?

Installing solar panels yourself comes with both advantages and disadvantages. You’ll have total control over how and where your panels are placed when you do it yourself rather than using a solar panel company, but design can be challenging, and you’ll generally have access to less efficient equipment.

Here are the main pros and cons of DIY solar panels:


More affordable than professionally installed systems, but you won’t have access to wholesale pricing for equipment.

DIY solar systems can come in smaller sizes and can be tailored to fit your home perfectly.

Start when you want: Professional solar installers often take weeks and sometimes up to four months to start installation.


Only a certified electrician should connect solar panels to a roof.

Designing the system yourself can be challenging. A mistake can result in severe electrical shock or a house fire.

Solar batteries are less efficient than those provided by professional installers.

How much do DIY solar panels cost?

The only monetary cost of building your own solar panel system comes from the equipment you need. The time cost, however, is considerable and often overlooked when people think about the benefits of DIY solar systems. The money you save by avoiding labor costs isn’t always worth the amount of time it will take you to source, design and install your own system.

The first thing you have to do before you purchase any equipment is figure out what size system you’ll need. That means reviewing past energy bills to determine your typical monthly usage. Your energy usage determines the capacity of the system you need in kilowatts (kW).

Once you figure out the size, start looking for panels. Solar panels come with different peak generation statistics and efficiency ratings. In general, panels with higher efficiency ratings and greater peak energy generation will cost more. You’ll want to find panels that have enough energy production per panel to meet your home’s energy needs, taking into account the roof space you have.

One area where DIY solar installations are more expensive than professional systems is equipment costs. When you purchase a rooftop solar array from a company, you get the benefit of wholesale pricing since the installer purchases equipment from manufacturers in bulk. Buying panels for your own DIY solar project will come at a premium. 

It’s worth mentioning that most high-quality panel manufacturers won’t sell directly to consumers, so you’ll have fewer panel options as well. You’ll likely end up spending more on a high-output panel that’s available for DIY installation to match the efficiency of professionally-available panel brands.

Equipment expenses go beyond the panels themselves. You’ll also need to include the cost of solar inverters or microinverters, which can start around $180 for a 1000W model. Depending on your needs, a solar battery can also add a substantial amount to your project. This price is based on whether you need a small battery that runs a few hundred dollars and is used for emergencies or a multi-kWh battery that offers backup power for days, but it can reach into a few thousand dollars.

Other parts like a racking system, wiring and conduit can add a couple of hundred dollars to the total. Then there is a solar panel permit fee, which can range from $150 to $300, depending on your location.

To avoid unexpected costs while working on your DIY solar panel install keep these expenses in mind: 

  • Charge controllers
  • Conduit
  • Permit
  • Racking system
  • Solar panels
  • Solar inverter or microinverter
  • Solar battery
  • Wiring

Even with pricier equipment, DIY solar panel installation is still more affordable than having a solar system installed by a professional solar installation company. That’s because “labor costs in solar installation typically [range] from 20% to 30% of the total cost,” said Garrett Mendelsohn, owner of Solar Bootcamp, a comprehensive training program for solar contractors and salespeople. Solar installers need to be licensed electricians who also have roofing experience, so you’re paying a premium for the expertise should you outsource.

System design is another expense you avoid with a DIY route. If you don’t have any experience designing solar systems, you might not choose the most efficient components or the best layout to maximize energy generation.

Professional solar companies put a lot of time and effort into designing the right system for your home. “Depending on your state and location, obtaining permits can take anywhere from a day to several months,” Mendelsohn explained. “The design phase generally takes up to a day, with a site survey following within a week of contract signing. Finalizing the designs can take an additional seven to 14 days.”

Where can you find DIY solar panels?

Piecing together the components yourself will take much more effort than buying a pre-designed kit. The vast majority of people who install their own solar panels source the materials through a DIY-specific kit. Purchasing a kit also guarantees that the components work together, which prevents the unpleasant surprise of getting halfway through your installation process and discovering that part of your system is incompatible with the rest.

Some of the most popular DIY solar power companies include Renogy, Solar Wholesale and altE Store. These companies specialize in selling DIY solar panels and DIY solar panel kits, which makes the process of installing solar panels significantly easier.

The companies also carry an assortment of other equipment, including equipment for less common setups like off-grid solar systems and ground mount solar systems alongside equipment for more common grid-tie systems.

Can you install DIY panels safely?

Proper installation is a big deal. Unless you’re a certified electrician, you shouldn’t install your own solar panels, and it’s generally not safe to try. An improperly installed solar panel array is a fire hazard if you wire incorrectly. Working with electricity is dangerous even when you know what you’re doing, and it’s not something to mess around with if you don’t.

The other factor to consider is how comfortable you are working on your roof. Even if you have electrical experience but have never worked on a roof, you’ll find installing solar panels a challenge. Along with the obvious fall risk, you could damage your roof should you install the rack mounting system incorrectly. Using the money you save on installing DIY solar panels to fix a leaky roof is counterproductive. “A professional [solar panel] company will take full responsibility for roof leak repairs,” said Mendelsohn.

There are also legal concerns to consider. In most states, you’re not allowed to install and connect solar panels to the grid unless you’re a licensed electrician. Confirm local regulations in your area by checking with your building department. 

Most homeowner’s insurance policy terms won’t cover damage if the cause is a faulty solar system you installed yourself. Should the DIY installation damage your roof or cause a house fire, you may be stuck paying for repairs out of pocket.

Can you store solar energy in batteries?

To store the solar power your panels generate, include a solar battery in your installation. Adding a solar battery backup to your system increases the cost and complexity of the project somewhere between $8,500 and $15,000 on average, according to EnergySage marketplace.

The main benefit of including a solar battery bank in your design is having backup power during power outages. A properly sized battery will be able to run your home’s essential systems for one to two weeks during a blackout — that means hot water and no spoiled food.

Battery systems also help you save money on electric bills if you live in an area without a good net metering program. Not sure whether or not your home is eligible for net metering? Inquire with your utility company.

The best solar batteries, such as the Tesla Powerwall and the Enphase IQ, are only available for professional installation. The solar batteries available for DIY installation are far less powerful and won’t last as long. For example, Renogy’s batteries have around 100 amp-hours of solar storage and a 2-year warranty. The Powerwall models, on the other hand, boast over 1,300 amp-hours and a 10-year warranty.

Installing a solar battery yourself also takes time and electrical know-how, and it’s not something most people should attempt to do on their own. If you’re not sure whether or not you have the skills and knowledge needed to install a solar battery, you probably don’t.

Final take: The hassle of DIY solar panels doesn’t outweigh the savings

If you’re a certified electrician who is comfortable working on roofs, then you can probably DIY a solar system safely. Otherwise, it’s better to call a professional installer.

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