DIY Solar

DIY Solar: Is it useful? How difficult is it for the average homeowner to do? All these questions and more are covered below.

Have a question that isn’t answered below? Visit our "Solar FAQs" blog posts. Your questions should never be unanswered questions when you choose to go solar. We are here to share our expertise and help you understand all the benefits that solar energy entails.

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The Basics of DIY Solar

The first thing to cover before deciding whether DIY solar is for you is what it actually is. DIY solar is a simple concept. Many homeowners already perform DIY home improvement and repairs around their house. After all, if you can install a new toilet yourself, what's stopping you from installing your own solar?

A lot, actually.

To best explain how large of a task it is to go solar with no professional help, we'll break the process down into sections. First we'll cover what equipment you need, followed by the knowledge necessary, then cover the paperwork. After all that is done, we'll cover the timeline and when to expect your installation to be finished.

Solar panels aren't just something you can hook to your roof and call it a day. There's a lot of planning and construction that goes into going solar. On top of that, a working knowledge of household electrical wiring is essential. Badly wired electrical systems are one of the chief causes of fires. Installing solar panels without knowledge of the wiring can exponentially increase the risk of fire.

DIY Solar Equipment

No solar installation is complete without the requisite equipment. After all, you can't go solar without solar panels. But there's more to going solar than just panels.

Solar Panels: The first step in going solar is deciding which solar panels you want to install. Different solar panels will have different strengths — efficiency, price, and durability being the main factors. Polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper, but also produce less electricity and tend not to last as long. Monocrystalline solar panels cost more upfront but last longer and produce more electricity over their lifetime. For this reason, Go Solar Group recommends monocrystalline panels to all potential solar homeowners.

Inverters: A solar inverter will control the flow of raw energy from your solar panels. The energy passes into the inverter and is transformed into refined, usable electricity. The electricity is then sent to your household appliances. There are three types of inverters, each with their own use:

  • String inverter. This type of inverter is where each solar panel is linked through wiring. If you have a simple roof with nothing on it besides your solar panels, then string inverters are cheap and reliable. Their main downside is that shading on one panel can reduce production across all of the panels.
  • Power optimizer. An optimizer will ensure that each individual solar panel is producing at its highest level. They are attached to each solar panel and then connected to one main inverter. Optimizers can be helpful when parts of your roof may become shaded. The downside is that they tend to be more expensive than string inverters, and sometimes you need to purchase another full inverter for use with your optimizers.
  • Microinverters. Microinverters are small inverters attached to each individual solar panel. Unlike optimizers, there is no central inverter. The main downside to microinverters is their price.

Racking system: The racking (or mounting) system is how you keep your solar panels attached to your house. After all, you can't just set the panels on your roof and hope they don't slide off. Most racking systems involve drilling small holes into the roof to attach the racks, after which the solar panels are attached to the racks. Ballast racking can be used for flat roofs.

Monitoring: This often comes as part of your inverter, but can be added separately. Monitoring is essential for any solar installation to ensure that your panels are producing at their peak.

Battery backup: Battery backup is the last main part of any great solar installation. Battery backup, usually comprising of solar batteries like the Tesla Powerwall, stores excess energy produced during the day and makes it available for use at night or during bad weather. This ensures that you get the most electricity out of your solar array possible.

Many of these items can be found as part of pre-packaged solar panel kits. These kits are mass-produced for DIY solar homeowners. However, while they may have a cheap upfront cost and contain the necessary equipment, they are not customized for your home and, therefore, will not be as efficient or long lasting as a customized solar array.

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Solar Knowledge

Now that you know the basic equipment necessary for any solar installation, it's time to move to the knowledge you'll need to go solar yourself.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, you'll need to be well-versed in home electrical systems. Going solar means transitioning your home from relying on the grid to being mostly, if not completely, powered by the sun. While attaching the panels themselves to your roof might not be the most technical thing in the world (though it can be difficult), wiring the panels into the inverter can be challenging. Wiring the inverter into your home's existing electrical grid can be even more difficult. Tinkering with electricity is no joke — electrical distribution systems are the third leading cause of house fires in America.

Secondly, you'll need to know which parts work together. Many solar products don't play nice with products made by other brands. Just as a damaged BMW will need BMW-made parts to fix it, a solar installation will need parts that are proven to work together. Using mismatched products can make you lose energy or even damage the parts.

Finally, you'll need a working knowledge of the solar regulations in your area. Your home may not be legally allowed to go solar, but if you don't know that ahead of time, you may go through all the work before being denied a permit. Speaking to your utility ahead of time may also be necessary, as some utilities cannot add further solar hookups because of technical limitations. It's better to know whether you're clear to install solar ahead of time, rather than getting blocked by the aging electrical grid or paperwork.

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Solar Paperwork

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a home improvement project of this magnitude requires paperwork. Just as you'll need a permit to make such additions to your home as adding a new room, you'll also need one for installing a solar array. In fact, there are multiple parts to the solar permitting process.

Your first step, before you can even begin the installation process, is to petition your municipality for permission to install a solar array. Among the permits needed before you can begin are an electrical permit and a building permit. Some places have dedicated solar module permits, so be sure to check with your local government. It is also worth checking with your local government to ensure that your area allows the construction of solar arrays.

Your next step is determining whether you want to install panels on your roof, or use a ground-mounted racking system in your yard. Which one you pick will determine what kind of paperwork you may need to fill out.

Next, you'll need to get your house inspected. This is part of the process which makes sure that your home's electrical system can handle the addition of a solar installation. Older homes, homes with bad wiring, or homes which have sustained damage in the past, may not pass the inspection. A failed inspection will mean a lot of home improvement work before you can try it again. You'll also need to get an inspection following the installation of your panels. If you do shoddy work putting them on, the city may not allow you to activate your system until changes are made.

Finally, you may need to get your system inspected by your local utility before they sign off on it. Without your utility's permission, you may not be able to use their hookups or draw power from the grid.

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DIY Solar Installation Timelines

How long it will take for you to install solar on your home hinged on many factors. However, it is almost guaranteed that the process will take several weeks at a minimum. The permitting process can be slow, with some permits taking several days to weeks before being approved. The average solar installation time is anywhere from one-to-three months — and that's with experienced professionals doing it.

For DIY solar, one should expect to be on the longer end of installation times. The DIY solar installer is almost certainly new to solar and will likely take longer to go through the process than professional solar installers. A DIY solar installation will likely have a two-to-three month completion time with the potential of being even longer.

This makes the time of year that a homeowner chooses to install solar very important. In seasons with lots of snow or rain, the installation process can be delayed even further. At Go Solar Group, we do not recommend that you get up on your roof during snow or rain. It can be extremely dangerous, and that's without having to lug around heavy solar panels or tools.

For installations which are begun in fall or winter, the process might take longer. For those begun in spring or summer, the process will likely take around three months. An experienced electrician might cut down the time a bit. An inexperienced homeowner, or one working alone, will be looking at a few months.

 

What are the benefits of going solar?

DIY Solar Pros and Cons

Now that we've covered the equipment, paperwork and process, it's time to decide whether DIY solar is worth it or not.

Let's start with the DIY solar pros. Firstly, DIY solar cuts out the middleman, so you don't have to pay any money to an installation company. They allow you to make your home improvements yourself, without the need to have strangers traipsing all over your home. Finally, it gives you a crash course in electrical engineering.

Now to the cons, which unfortunately are numerous.

  1. The solar process is complicated, particularly for people who do not have familiarity with electrical engineering or municipal bureaucracy.
  2. Installing solar on your home requires an in-depth knowledge of your home's electrical system.
  3. DIY solar often requires getting many heavy objects onto your roof. Ground-mount panels can be easier to install, but take more space on your land.
  4. It requires you to fill out lots of technical paperwork.
  5. It takes a long time to install solar yourself.

When taken together, it becomes clear that DIY solar is a bad prospect for everyone except highly trained electricians and engineers. The process takes longer, is more difficult, and can seriously damage your home.

We recommend choosing a solar professional to do your installation. A professional can take care of the confusing and tedious paperwork, has licensed electrical experts on staff, and will ensure that there is no damage to your home during the installation. Choosing a professional will be faster and easier. The custom-built solar installation that you get with a professional is going to be more efficient and well-made than a DIY wholesale kit.

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