DIY Solar Panel Installation: Helpful Step-by-Step Guide
When you think about going solar, do you automatically assume you need to hire a full-service solar installer to design and build your system? We bet you didn’t know that you can do a DIY solar installation on your home in as little as a weekend.
According to NREL’s 2021 Solar Industry Update report, national solar installers charge more than $4 per watt for a full-service installation. So the average American home, which uses about 900 kWh of energy per month, may need around 8 kW of solar to offset its energy usage. That 8 kW (8,000-watt) system would put your all-inclusive cost of going solar at $32,000.
In contrast, our 8kW DIY solar kits currently range from $10k-$15k depending on the components selected. So, after factoring in taxes, shipping, and associated costs, you could save more than $10,000 on your solar project by installing the system yourself.
So what does it take to install your own solar panels? This solar panel installation guide will offer you a quick overview of the process.
Table of Contents:
8 Steps for Stress-Free DIY Solar Installation
- Step 1: Make a DIY Solar Plan
- Step 2: Choose the Right Solar System Type
- Step 3: Determine Your Energy Needs
- Step 4: Secure the Right Permits
- Step 5: Purchase Your DIY Solar Equipment
- Step 6: Install Your Solar System
- Step 7: Conduct a Final Inspection
- Step 8: Switch on Your System
- DIY Solar Installation FAQ
8 Steps for Stress-Free DIY Solar Installation
Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned DIYer, the thought of installing your own solar system can be daunting. However, it’s easier than you think! Review these procedures for installing a home solar system and see if you’re up to the challenge.
Step 1: Make a DIY Solar Plan
Before you begin, you need to make a plan to design a solar system that meets your needs and your budget. What are your goals?
- Do you want to save money on energy costs by supplementing your energy from the electricity grid?
- Do you want backup power in case of an emergency?
- Do you live in a remote area without electrical service or want to live off-grid?
Having a clear understanding of your energy needs will help you determine the configuration and capacity of your home solar system.
Step 2: Choose the Right Solar System Type
There are three types of solar systems to choose from: grid-tie, hybrid, and off-grid.
- Grid-tie solar systems are the type of solar systems chosen by most homeowners. Grid-tie systems connect to the power grid and send excess solar into the grid for credit.
- Hybrid solar systems also connect you to the grid while using battery storage as a backup during power outages.
- Off-grid solar systems are disconnected from the grid entirely. Off-grid systems are the most expensive option, as you must connect a large battery bank, solar panels and a backup generator to meet all of your power requirements 24/7/365.
In addition, you must also decide if you will use roof-mounted or ground-mounted panels. While many homeowners choose roof-mounted solar panel systems, ground-mounted arrays also have advantages.
Roof-Mounted Solar Panels: Pros and Cons
- Lower installation costs
- Space efficiency
- Easier to permit
- You must climb on the roof to install and maintain your panels
- Your system design will be limited by your roof size and orientation
Ground Mount Solar: Pros & Cons
- Easier to install and maintain
- Easier to optimize your panels for maximum production
- More costly to install
- Takes up space on your property
Step 3: Determine Your Energy Needs
Before you go any further, it’s essential to determine how much energy you must produce to meet your needs. This amount can be affected by several factors:
- The average number of sun hours you expect each month
- Solar panel orientation and angle
- DC/AC conversion losses and natural efficiency drops
- Shade concerns
In addition, you’ll need to consider:
- System expansion
- Battery size and charging (for off-grid and hybrid systems)
Our handy solar calculator considers all these factors and shows you the expected energy output every month. It will also help you determine the best system size and where to install your panels for optimal sunlight exposure.
Step 4: Secure the Right Permits
Before you begin building your system, you must secure a solar permit from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), the official that enforces building, electric and fire codes in your area. The AHJ approves equipment, materials and installation procedures to conform to established safety standards.
Your solar permit application will ask you to provide technical details about your new system, including a site plan, system design schematics, an electrical wiring diagram, spec sheets and certification documents for components used in your system.
Step 5: Purchase Your DIY Solar Equipment
What makes up a home solar energy system? The easiest way to install your own solar panel array is to buy a solar panel kit. The main solar components that come with every solar power system or solar panel kit are:
Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity through a process called the photovoltaic effect. The panels collect electrons from the sun’s light in the form of direct current (DC) electricity.
The number of solar panels you’ll need depends on how much energy you use.
Inverters convert the DC power from your panels into AC power, the format that is usable by your household appliances. They also route the flow of electricity between system components, and most provide a monitoring solution to track your system’s performance.
Racking is the foundational structure that secures your solar panels in place. So whether you choose a roof mount or ground mount system, you’ll need a racking system to set up your solar array.
Racking systems come with mounting rails and flashings to secure the rails to your rooftop or ground mount.
A solar battery bank is necessary to store usable energy on-site in off-grid and battery backup systems. This storage is helpful in grid failures, extreme weather or other interruptions.
There are three types of batteries that you can use with your solar power system:
- Flooded lead-acid batteries
- Sealed lead-acid batteries
- Lithium batteries
Step 6: Install Your Solar System
After you’ve planned your system, secured the permits and purchased equipment, it’s time for installation. Here’s a quick overview of the solar installation process:
Solar panel racking and mounting installation
For roof-mount kits, the first step is to mark the location of your roof rafters. These support beams will act as the foundation for your solar array. If your rafters aren’t visible from the outside, you can buy a stud finder or measure their location from the inside of your attic. Once you locate your rafters, mark them with a chalk line to visualize the layout for your racking rails.
Once you measure everything, you can install the roof attachments at the marked locations. Solar roof attachments prevent leaks and provide an attachment point to mount your racking rails. There are different types of roof attachments depending on type of roof – for example, shingle, tile, metal and membrane roofs all use different attachments.
Once the attachments are set, secure the racking rails by bolting them to the attachments. At this point, your roof will look something like this:
Ground mounts are a bit different from roof mounts. Because no rafters support the weight of your solar panels, you’ll need to build a standalone metal foundation to support your array.
Note: We don’t include these in our ground mount kits due to high freight costs. Instead, it’s best to source the metal pipes from your local hardware store.
Before you can build your support structure, you’ll need to dig holes at least 18” deep and pour concrete footings to anchor it to the ground. Once you’ve placed the base poles in concrete, you’ll need to wait at least a week to allow the concrete to fully dry and set.
Ground mounts also require your wiring to be buried underground to comply with the National Electrical Code (NEC). It’s wise to rent machinery to dig trenches and anchor holes to speed up this process.
Once you’ve built the metal substructure, the rest of the process is the same as roof mounts. First, you’ll secure your racking rails to the support structure, which provides a foundation for your panels.
If your system uses microinverters or PV optimizers, these small units will need to be attached to the rails before installing the panels on your mount. Make sure you wire the units first, and secure the wiring to the rail, as the connection points won’t be accessible once you mount the panels in place.
String inverters should be wall-mounted in an easily accessible location, like the side of your house or the back of a ground mount structure.
Grounding wire connection
Properly grounding all components ensures your system is code compliant and safe. Typically there is a continuous ground wire connecting all equipment back to your grounding rod.
Roof junction box installation
If installing a roof-mount system, you’ll need to install a junction box and conduit to connect the solar circuits on your roof to your existing electrical panel.
Solar panel installation
Once you’ve installed roof attachments and mounted the rails, installing the solar panels is relatively straightforward by comparison. There are clamps that attach to the rails and bolt down the panels, providing a secure connection.
The rails should be spaced apart to line up with the mounting holes on the back of your panels. See the module installation guide for details.
Once you’ve secured the panels to the mount, the final installation step is to wire the system components together according to your planset. You’ll route the wires from your inverter(s) through a junction box and a PV disconnect switch before finally terminating at your home’s circuit breaker box that connects your system to the grid.
Putting it all together: Connection to your home
Once you’ve installed your new solar panels, you can connect them to your home. You’ll need:
- External junction box
- Emergency disconnect box
Conduit carries the wires from the roof junction box to the emergency disconnect box. This vital safety feature enables you to quickly shut off your solar system, a requirement in many areas.
Step 7: Conduct a Final Inspection
You must schedule an inspection with your AHJ once your solar installation is complete. Your system must be deemed compliant with local ordinances and must match the specifications laid out in the plans you submitted. You must also pass an electrical inspection for code compliance.
After you’ve passed the inspection, you can apply for grid interconnection and permission to operate (PTO) (if you’re using a grid-tie or hybrid system). The utility will install a second meter or replace your current device with a net meter when they grant PTO. The net meter records the power your home generates to the grid so you can get energy credits on your power bill.
Step 8: Switch on Your System
Congratulations – you’re done! If you’ve met the local, state and utility company requirements, you can now commission your solar system. In addition, you can check if your solar system is working by running your solar monitoring app.
DIY Solar Installation FAQ
Before you embark on a DIY solar installation project, you probably have a few lingering questions you want to have answered. Here are some frequently asked questions about solar energy systems.
Will solar panels increase my home’s value?
Yes. The amount of your home value will increase depending on your location and the size of your system. For example, investing in a solar power system will raise your home’s value more than a kitchen remodel in many parts of the country.
How much money can I save by installing solar?
Not only can you save the amount of your current electric bill by installing solar, but you’re also protecting yourself from future increases in electric rates. This is because you’re buying your next 25 years of electricity at a lower rate than you currently pay.
You will start saving money immediately and save even more as electric rates increase over time.
Is maintenance required on a DIY 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. Alternately, 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.
You'll have to replace a string inverter about 10 to 15 years after installing it. Other than that, your system will operate for years without you having to lift a finger.
Check out our complete list of DIY Solar FAQs for more helpful information.
Ready to Install Your Own Solar Panels?
Going solar is easier than ever, especially with electricity rates climbing continuously. Are you ready to make an investment that will save you money while increasing your home's value?
If this guide has you feeling overwhelmed, call GoGreenSolar for help with solar installation services. GoGreenSolar is a full-service solar provider. We help you with every step of the solar installation process, from providing parts, to engineering design, to solar permitting services.
Choose GoGreenSolar for all of your solar energy needs — if you have any questions, give us a call at (866) 710-8259 or send us a message here.