DIY Solar FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions about DIY Solar
How does solar work?
It starts with solar panels that turn sunlight into DC electricity through a process called the “Photovoltaic Effect”. Photons, which are energy packets in sunlight, knock electrons loose within+ the solar cells that make up a solar panel. Those loose electrons are what creates the electricity.
An inverter changes the DC power generated by the solar panel into useful AC electricity to power your home. If the solar produces more power than you need, the excess power can be fed to the utility for credit or stored in batteries.
Will solar panels increase my home’s value?
Yes. Studies have shown that installing a solar power system will increase the value of your home. The amount of your home value will increase depends on your location and the size of the system. In many parts of the country, investing in a solar power system will raise your home’s value more than a kitchen remodel. For more details on the studies done click here.
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How much money can I save by installing solar?
Not only can you save the amount of your current bill by installing solar, but you are also protecting yourself from future increases in electric rates. Basically, you are buying your next 25 years of electricity at a lower rate than you are currently paying. You will start saving money immediately and as the more the electric rates increase over time, the more money you will save.
What are the benefits of installing solar?
There are many benefits to install solar but the biggest one is that you can save money on your electric bill now and protect yourself against future increases in the cost of electricity.
Another benefit is getting the Federal income tax credit which is 26% of the cost of your system if it is installed by December 31, 2020.
Installing solar also raises the value of your home and protects the environment by reducing our dependence on non-renewable resources that cause pollution.
What is net metering?
Net metering, also known as Net energy metering (NEM), is a term used to describe your arrangement with the electric company after you have installed your solar power system. When your solar power system produces more power than your home is using, the excess power is fed to the electric company and they will give you credit for that power. When your solar is not producing at night, you will use power against those credits.
The electric company will add up how much power you fed to them and how much you used each month and provide a report. Some months may result in them owing you credits and other months may result in you owing them for some power use. In typical net metering agreements, the electric company will keep a tally each month and then bill you at the end of the year for the amount of power you have used. If they owe you credits at the end of the year, they may cut you a small check (a few pennies per kilowatt hour) or they may keep those credits and start the new year at zero.
Do solar panels work during a power outage?
Whether or not your solar panels will work during a power outage will depend on what other equipment you have installed. Most systems without batteries will not operate during a power outage. When the electric company is down, your solar will just turn off and when the power outage is over, the solar will start working again. The exception to this is that SMA inverters will provide a small amount of power during an outage when the sun is out. To see our kits with SMA inverters, click here.
If you install batteries with your solar, then the solar can provide back-up power during a power outages. The amount of power you will have available during a power outage will depend on the amount of solar and the size of the battery system you choose. To see more information about our battery back up systems, click here.
What happens to solar panels when it rains or snows?
When it rains, the solar panels get wet and that won’t hurt them. In general, there is not a lot of sunlight when it is raining but the solar panels will still produce a little bit of power. When estimating the amount of energy your solar power system will produce, we take into consideration your location and how much rain you typically get there. This means the estimate provided reflects how many rainy days are expected so that the estimate is accurate.
If snow accumulates on your solar panels, they will not produce power until the snow melts or is removed but it will not hurt them to be covered. If you are in a climate where the snow will melt within a few days, it is easier to just leave the solar panels covered until the snow melts. If you are in an area where the snow will last for weeks then it might be a good idea to sweep the snow off the solar panels so that you don’t lose that much solar production.
How long does a solar power system last?
Most solar panels have a 25 year warranty and will likely continue to produce power for many years after that. Most inverters have a 10 year warranty (with the exception of Enphase microinverters which have a 25 year warranty). This means that once you have installed your equipment, you can expect it to last a very long time.
Is there maintenance on a solar power system?
One of the great things about solar power systems is that they require very little maintenance. If you live in a very dusty area that doesn’t get a lot of rain, you may have to clean the solar panels once in a while to get better production from them. If you live in an area where snow accumulates and doesn’t melt until spring, you might have to remove the snow from your panels to keep them producing all winter. A string inverter will typically have to be replaced about 10 to 15 years after it is installed. Other than that, your system will operate for years without you having to lift a finger.
Should I go off-grid?
If your home is already connected to the grid, you should keep that connection. A grid-tied system is much simpler to install and less expensive than an off-grid system because you can use the grid to fill in when the solar doesn’t produce as much power as you need. To go off-grid, you have to have batteries to store power to use at night and you must size your system to produce enough power for your needs even during days of bad weather. If you stay on the grid, you only have to size the system based on how much money you want to save on your electric bill.
If you are going to build on a remote property where it would be very expensive to have the utility company bring in power, then an off-grid solar power system is a good solution.
How much solar do I need?
This depends on a lot of factors, but the best place to start is to look at how many kilowatt hours you use. This will be listed on your electric bill and is typically abbreviated as “kwh”. It is important to look at an entire year of electric bills because most households use a different amount each month based on heating and cooling needs.
Once you have your annual kwh usage, then you can see what size system it would take to offset that usage on our system size estimator here
Should I install batteries with my solar?
Grid-tie solar does not require batteries but there are a few reasons why you might want to add them. One reason is that they could provide power during power outages which a typical grid-tie system without batteries can not do. Another reason is to add batteries is they can help you take better advantage of time of use (TOU) electric rates. With TOU electric rates, you pay more for power used during the peak times (typically 4pm – 9pm) so it makes sense to store solar power earlier in the day to use during that peak time. For more details click here.
Also, in some places, there are financial incentives like the SGIP rebate in California to help offset the price of the batteries.
Should I buy or lease my solar?
If you can pay cash for your solar equipment and installation, that is always the best option.
There are also many $0 down solar purchasing options that would allow you to still get your federal tax credit and local rebates. With these purchasing options, your monthly payment will likely be lower than your current electric bill and at the end of the loan term you own the system outright.
Leasing is also an option that is typically no money down and a lower payment than your electricity costs but the lease company will take the federal tax credit and local rebates. There also could be a payment escalator in the lease which means your initial low payment could increase every year and may even end up higher than your electric bills would have been.
For more information on the differences between solar leases and loans click here or call us to discuss our $0 down solar loan options.
How much money can I save by installing my own solar?
A DIY solar installation will definitely save you a significant amount of money. Exactly how much money will depend on the size of your system and how much the installers in your area typically charge. To give you a general idea, if you compare the cost of the equipment by itself to the cost of a turn key installation, it is about $1.75 per watt. If you are looking at a typical size 6 kw residential system, that equates to a savings of around $10,500.
Am I qualified to install my own solar?
Installing your own solar is a great way to save money but it is a more complicated than assembling a piece of furniture that came in a flat box. DIY solar requires some basic construction skills, knowledge of power tools and a good understanding of electrical safety.
If you are capable of basic home renovation work, then you should be able to save yourself some money and buy a DIY solar kit. It is also possible to do most of the work and hire a professional for the parts you aren’t sure about. For example, you can install all the panels on the roof and have a professional electrician make the final connections in your main service panel.
Who buys GigaWatt DIY Solar Kits?
Our DIY solar kits are purchased by a diverse group of customers which include the following types:
Do-It-Yourselfers - They have the trade skills to tackle major home improvement projects on their own. They purchase the DIY solar kit, follow our directions and complete the project on their own or complete the majority of the DIY solar kit installation and hire an electrician to make the final hookup to the electrical service panel.
Owner-Builders - These customers have existing relationships with a contractor they trust. With our help, the owner-builder will secure their solar permit, get approval from their utility company to install the solar panels and then hire their trusted contractor to complete the installation for them.
Homebuilders - We help homebuilders lower their solar installation costs by providing a DIY solar kit that can be installed through a collaboration of their existing roofer and electrician who are already on site. This removes the need to hire a 3rd party solar contractor that can reduce cost and complexities of managing another sub-contractor.
Specialty Contractors - Remodeling, electrical and other speciality contractors are often doing work for their clients when they get asked if they can install solar panels. These specialty contractors purchase GigaWatt solar kits and services from us to help their clients go solar without the headaches and burdens of becoming a solar contractor. Our company becomes their solar back office providing them the solutions they need to help their customers power their lives with sunshine.
Organizations - Governments and corporations who have their own qualified workforce on staff purchase our DIY solar kits and install them on their facilities.
How long does it take to install solar?
It will depend on the complexity of the installation but a good rule of thumb is to plan for about 2 hours of work per solar panel. That means if you are going to install a 16 panel system it will take about 32 hours of work. That could be one person working 8 hours per day for 4 days or 2 people could knock it out in a weekend.
Where should I install my solar panels?
Solar panels will have the best production if they are facing south but you won’t lose too much if they are facing east or west instead. Shade during the middle of the day will cause a significant drop in production so you will want to avoid that where you can. Shade early in the morning or late in the day is not as big of a deal. Keep in mind that some shade, like trees in your own yard, can be fixed with a chainsaw.
Many systems are installed on the roof because that is an out of the way place that usually has less shade, but solar panels cab also be installed on ground mounted racks if you have the real estate for it.
What should be included in a solar kit?
A DIY solar kit needs to have more than just solar panels and an inverter so beware of the cheap internet deals. You will also need racking hardware to mount your solar panels and quality roof attachments to properly secure it to your roof. A solar monitoring system is required to ensure that your system continues to function properly in the years to come so that should be included also.
Finally, you should make sure you purchase your kit from someone that will help you size it correctly and provide guidance on your installation. When you buy a kit from GoGreenSolar.com, we will help you calculate your payback on your solar investment, engineer the system for your roof and provide installation guides. Permit plans are also available for an additional fee if you need them.
Is my roof suitable for solar?
There are a few things to look at when evaluating your roof for solar. One important factor is what direction it faces. You will get the more energy from solar panels that are facing south so if you have a roof that slopes that direction, you are in good shape. Solar panels that face east or west are still worthwhile, so if you that is the way your roof goes it will still be okay.
Another important factor for production is shade. If your roof gets shaded during the middle of the day, that will hurt your solar production.
One more thing to consider is the age and condition of the roof. The general rule of thumb is if the roof will need to be replaced within the next ten years, you should replace it before you install the solar because removing the solar panels to replace the roof later is not an easy task.
Will I need to upgrade my main service panel to install solar?
This depends on your existing main service panel and the amount of solar you want to install. If you have a 200 amp main service panel, you can install up to about 9 kw of solar without having to do an upgrade. If your main service panel is only 100 amps, you would be limited to about a 5 kw system. To read more about main service panel requirements click here.
How long will my solar kit take to ship once the order is placed?
Once an order is placed, we will schedule your order to be shipped within 2-3 weeks. If any components are backordered, you will be notified before your payment is processed.
What is NOT included in my solar kit?
To complete installation of your customized solar kit, you will need to purchase wire, conduit, fittings,breakers, AC/DC disconnects (if required), junction boxes and a sub panel (if required), and some additional minor hardware. All these items can be purchased at most electrical supply stores, Home Depot or Lowes.
The average total cost of these materials (not included in the price of your kit) is
typically $500 to $1,000 for roof mounted systems and $1,000 to $3,000 for ground mounted systems.
Costs for a service panel upgrade are not included and these are estimates - prices may vary. Your technical support representative will provide a shopping list of materials you need to purchase once your plans are complete.
Metal Roofs: Some metal roofs may require additional materials not included in the kit. We recommend that customers installing on metal roofs budget an additional $600 -$1000 for Unistrut and other components that may be needed to retrofit their roofs. During the plan set drafting process an engineer will analyze your metal roof to determine whether additional support is needed to accommodate a PV racking system.
Ground Mounts: Will require schedule 40 steel pipe, fittings and concrete to complete the project, which are not included in our kit.
Will I qualify for the tax credit?
Now through December 31st 2020, any U.S. homeowner who installs and turns on a solar electric system will qualify for a full 26% Federal Tax credit. To qualify all you need is a proof of purchase and an interconnection agreement as proof that you turned on the system. We are able to provide you with both of these items. The Federal Tax Credit will drop to 22% in 2021, and 0% in 2022 (10% is still available for commercial systems).
Why should I buy a solar kit now?
There has never been a time in the history of humankind in which a complete solar kit can be purchased at under $2.00 per watt. Along with unprecedented pricing on solar electric systems, the U.S. Government will give you a Federal Tax Credit that will soon expire. More people are going solar than ever before. The utilities are trying to stop the rapid proliferation of solar electric systems because they realize it’s putting them out of business. The utilities are spending millions of dollars lobbying the government to stop you from going solar. Now is a great window of opportunity to go solar because out-of-pocket cost is low, the Federal Tax Credit is available and the rules are in the homeowner’s favor, not
the utilities. Unfortunately, this won’t last long.
Important Note: Since the Federal Tax Credit is only available for a short period of time, it is imperative that you act as quickly as possible. At the end of the year there will be a flood of people going solar in hopes of claiming the tax credit, which means delays in processing through your utility and city/county. If you wait until the last minute, you risk not being able to claim the tax credit.
What is the installation process?
A typical solar roof mounted system for a home can be installed within 2 days once a permit is obtained from your city or county. After that, it’s just 5 easy steps until you’re producing power from the sun.
#1 - Take your plan set to your city or county and apply for a permit to install. The plan review process can take up to 10 days. Once the city or county approves your plans and issues your permit you may begin installing your solar system.
#2 - First, the racking and mounting system must be installed. This is the most laborious process of the solar installation process. You have to locate the rafters on your home and secure the racking system directly to them.
#3 - Once the racking and mounting system is on your roof, the solar panels and inverters can be quickly installed. The inverter(s) are then tied into the grid through a dedicated breaker in your main service panel.
#4 - When the installation is complete, your city or county inspector must sign off on it. You can accomplish this by scheduling an inspection meeting with them.
#5 - Lastly, you must send the final job card, interconnection paperwork, and your net metering agreement to your utility. They will then grant you Permission to Operate. It can take up to 4 weeks after passing inspection for your utility to provide you Permission to Operate. With our interconnection service we will process all the paperwork for you. Our job is not over until your system is producing clean energy from the sun! We offer you support throughout the installation process with manuals, videos, and technical support.
How much should I expect to pay a contractor to install the solar kit?
Any licensed general, electrical or solar contractor can install our solar kits. If you select to hire a contractor to install your solar kit, you should expect to pay approximately $1.00 per watt for labor, wire, conduit, fittings, breakers and other miscellaneous electrical components to complete the solar system installation. For a 5 kW (kilowatt) system, which is 5,000 watts, you can expect to pay around $5,000 for installation.
What is solar inverter clipping?
Solar inverter clipping means your solar inverter is slightly limiting the amount of electricity going from your solar energy system into your household for use, because it reached maximum capacity. If the panels are operating at a capacity that exceeds the inverter’s capacity, “clipping” occurs. The inverter trims the output to the maximum it can handle and you lose a little production. The solar inverter manufacturers did this by design to protect the inverter from overheating. The graph below shows a customer’s solar production with clipping at the top of the curve.
Clipping will not damage any components of your solar energy system. It does limit your peak power output by a small amount. You may wonder why we didn’t offer you a bigger inverter so you wouldn’t experience any clipping. There’s a good reason for that. Inverters are most efficient when running at or near full capacity. Going up an inverter size, for example installing a 10,000 watt inverter with 10,000 watts of solar panels, would make the system less efficient.
The lost annual kWh energy production in that scenario would be more than the little bit of production lost from occasional clipping. Additionally, adding a larger inverter may create additional costs to upgrade or modify your main service panel and even pay higher utility interconnection fees. Our systems are designed to maximize your annual kWh production while staying within the National Electric Code (NEC) limitations of your main electrical service panel.
In fact, it is worth choosing a bigger solar array rather than increasing the inverter size because the overall energy production gain is worth it, even if there is clipping. Many of our customer’s systems never experience clipping. Some might experience it a few days a year, for a few hours at a time. If your system shows clipping, don’t worry; as long as your overall kWh energy production is on target, your system is performing as expected.
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Solar Resource Hub: Table of Contents
Solar Energy Basics
Why Go Solar?
Guide to Going Solar
- DIY solar FAQs (this page)
- Solar components buying guide
- System sizing guide
- DIY solar panel installation
- Solar permitting
Cost of Solar