How to Install Solar Panels (2024 Guide) – Architectural Digest

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Installing solar panels on your home can significantly lower your electricity bills over time and help you live more sustainably. It’s one of the best decisions homeowners can make both for the environment and their property value. Professional solar installation companies typically install solar panels. However, if you have the skills and tools to do the job yourself, here’s our step-by-step guide on how to install solar panels. See our list of the best solar companies if you prefer to have a professional install your solar system.

When to Install Solar Panels

It’s important to wait until weather conditions are appropriate for solar power installation. For example, don’t install them during winter if your area sees a lot of snow. You likely won’t finish the job in a day. Your project may be spread out over several days, so don’t chance it and have a winter storm interrupt your installation. Likewise, check your local weather for any rain or storms. Dry, calm conditions are ideal for safe solar panel installation.

How to Install Solar Panels

A solar panel system is simply an array of panels connected together to absorb the sun’s rays and convert them into energy to power your home. Installation requires mounting the panels to your roof (or wherever you plan to install them), connecting them to one another and an inverter, and syncing your home’s electrical system so energy goes toward your appliances and devices.

Your panels may include specific instructions. Here are the typical steps to install a solar energy system.

1. Plan Your Project

Solar installation is complex, and you don’t want to jeopardize such a costly investment. Take the time to properly think through and set up your project before beginning.

Determine Compatibility

First, check that your property is suitable for a solar power system. Your roof needs to have enough surface area for the panels required to supply your energy needs. You also need plenty of sun exposure, so you may need to cut trees or branches. Check that your roof and electrical panel are in good condition and won’t need to be replaced soon. If they will, do this before starting a solar project.

Evaluate Energy Needs

Decide if you want your system to power all or just part of your home. Look at your typical energy usage to purchase a system size that provides the right amount of electricity.

Get Permits

Installing solar panels requires a building permit in most areas. Check your local regulations. You may also need an electrical permit. This step can take a while, so do it sooner rather than later. Working without a permit can mean a building inspector won’t approve your installation at the end of the process. In that case, utility companies won’t allow you to connect to the power grid if you’re doing an on-grid system.

Check Incentives

Many states offer solar incentives to help you save money on going solar, usually through tax credits, tax exemptions, or net metering programs. However, some incentives and rebates only recognize professional installations. Check your state’s terms to see what you qualify for.

Prepare for Safety

Working on a roof and with electricity can be dangerous. Ensure you have proper roof harnessing and anchors, and follow best practices when dealing with electricity. You may want to speak with an electrician about your home’s electrical wiring before you begin. Wear protective equipment, such as gloves, eye protection, and closed-toe boots. Remove any metallic accessories you have on. If you’re doing a ground mount, call the local authority before digging to avoid hitting any gas or electrical lines. 

Lay Out Materials

Once you purchase your system, check to make sure you have all the required equipment, including the following:

  • Battery
  • Charge controller
  • Electrical wiring components
  • Energy meter (optional) 
  • Heat sink
  • Inverter 
  • Mounting hardware 
  • Photovoltaic panels
  • Racking system 

Gather Your Tools

You’ll need these tools and products:

  • Chalk line
  • Drill with bits
  • Electrical wiring tools
  • Metal cutting saw
  • Pencil or marker
  • Roof sealant  
  • Screwdrivers
  • Tape measure
  • Wrench set

2. Install the Racking System

With preparation covered, you can now begin the installation. Start with the racking system, which you’ll fix to your roof to hold your panels in place. Measure the space you have on your roof, and then arrange a solar panel design on the ground that fits within the allotted space.

You can use chalk lines to create a guide for yourself on your roof. Install the racking system on your roof according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Seal any holes you make in the roof with roofing tar or silicone caulk.

3. Install the Panels

Connect your solar panels to the racking system using your kit’s supplied clamps to hold them in place. Then, wire each panel to the adjacent panels.

4. Install the Heat Sink

A heat sink isn’t required, but it’s highly recommended. A heat sink reduces the heat your panels generate and helps increase energy efficiency. If your panels don’t have a built-in heat sink, install an external one according to manufacturer instructions.

5. Install the Charge Controller

The charge controller sends out electricity. Install this between your panel array and where your solar battery will go so electricity can flow through the system and into your battery.

6. Install the Solar Battery

Any excess energy your system doesn’t need right away can be stored in a battery bank for use during low-sun times, such as storms or nighttime. If you have more than one battery, you need to wire the batteries together. This then needs to be connected to the charge controller.

7. Install the Power Converter

The power that comes out of your panels and batteries is direct current (DC) electricity. Your home is powered with alternating current (AC) electricity. The power converter turns a direct current into an alternating current to be used by your household wiring. Install the power converter before making the connection to your house. 

8. Install the Energy Meter

You don’t need an energy meter. However, many systems come with one so you can see how much electricity your system is generating and how much of it you’re using. If your system doesn’t come with an energy meter, you can purchase one separately and install it according to its manufacturer instructions. 

9. Set Up Electrical Wiring and Complete Inspection

Double-check all wiring before connecting your system to your house. Ensure your system is grounded at the PV panels. You need to have a city inspector come out to check that everything is set up correctly. 

10. Connect to the Electrical Panel

Once an inspector approves your system setup, you can wire the power inverter directly into your electrical panel following device instructions and turn on your system. If you’re connecting to the power grid, contact your local utility company, show proof of inspection approval, and get connected. From there, you’re ready to enjoy using renewable energy.

Professional vs. DIY Solar Panel Installation

You may want to try installing solar panels on your own, either to save money on installation costs or try your hand at a complex DIY project. Do note, however, that industry experts only endorse DIY installation for small-scale solar projects, such as on a garden shed or RV. We don’t recommend attempting to install a large solar array meant to power your entire home yourself.

Here are a few reasons to hire a professional:

  • You’re not saving much money: Labor is only around 10% of the total system cost, according to Energy Sage. This means you won’t save much by doing it yourself, especially if you have to buy tools and safety gear.
  • You won’t have a warranty: DIY installation means no warranty in most cases because many manufacturing warranties on the equipment are void if not installed by a licensed contractor. A professional installer will provide a warranty for the labor as well and will be responsible for repairing and maintaining the panels for the lifespan of your coverage.
  • You may not get solar incentives: Some solar incentives require professional installation. Installing panels yourself could disqualify you from opportunities to save money.
  • You want the job done correctly: Your goal is to save on your energy bills. A pro knows how to ensure your system is set up to be as energy-efficient as possible.

Our Recommendation

We only recommend installing a solar panel system yourself if you have some experience working with electricity and construction assembly and are installing a small-scale, off-grid system. Otherwise, we suggest hiring a licensed contractor to ensure the job is done correctly and you don’t miss out on any benefits, such as a warranty and solar incentives.

If you do decide to install solar panels yourself, follow all safety precautions, adhere to required permits and inspections, and take time to plan your project so you end up with a great result that proves to be a worthwhile investment.

Solar Panel Installation FAQ

Can I install a solar panel system myself?

Yes, you can install a solar panel system yourself by buying a solar panel kit. However, DIY installation is only recommended for small-scale, off-grid applications, such as on a recreational vehicle or detached workshop. Solar professionals do not recommend installing solar panels to power your entire home yourself.

How do I install solar panels step-by-step?

Our step-by-step guide breaks down how to install solar panels. The 10 steps are the following:Plan your project.Install the racking system.Install the solar panels.Install the heat sink.Install the charge controller.Install the battery.Install the power inverter. Install the energy meter. Set up electrical wiring and complete inspection.Connect to the electric panel and power grid. 

How many solar panels does it take to power a house?

An average home needs 17 to 21 400-watt solar panels to power the entire house’s electricity needs.

How do I hook up solar power to my house?

Once you have solar panels fixed to the racking system and on your roof, connect your panels to an inverter that will convert the panels’ DC output to AC electricity. From there, wire your solar battery to your home’s circuit breaker panel. Then, connect the inverter to your fuse box.

How We Chose the Top Solar Companies

We researched and analyzed dozens of solar panels and solar installation companies. We then formulated a rating system based on each solar installer or manufacturer’s services and products. We weighed several significant factors, including the quality and type of solar panels offered, the customer support network, warranty lengths and limitations, and additional benefits such as mobile apps for monitoring and customer service.

Speaking directly to representatives, we determined how each solar company personalizes its solar panel installation for each home. We also analyzed each company’s warranty options to ensure their product and performance guarantees match or exceed industry standards.

We evaluated each provider based on their rating and history with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to determine reputation. In addition, we analyzed the 100 most recent Google Reviews for each provider across various locations and branches.

Read more: Our Methodology

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