DIY Solar Panel Installation Guide
Did you know you can install a DIY solar system on your home in as little as a weekend?
When people think about going solar, the first thought is to turn to a full-service residential solar installer design and build their system. Some don’t realize that DIY solar installation is also possible.
Installing your own solar system can save you thousands of dollars in installation costs, cutting years off your payback period. If you are comfortable with climbing on your roof and capable of wiring a household electrical socket (or at least willing to learn how), then you’ve got what it takes to install your own solar system. Two people can install a solar panel kit over the span of 1-3 weekends.
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Solar Installation Costs: DIY vs. National Solar Installers
According to NREL’s 2021 Solar Industry Update report [PDF], as of Q1 2021, major national solar installers charge more than $4/watt for a full-service installation.
The average American home, which uses about 900 kWh of energy per month, may need around 8 kW of solar to offset their energy usage. For that 8 kW (8,000-watt) system, that would put your all-inclusive cost of going solar at $32k.
Compare that to the cost of our 8kW DIY solar kits, which currently range from $10k-$15k depending on the components selected. After factoring in taxes, shipping, and associated costs like permitting fees, it’s realistic to say that you could save more than $10,000 on your solar project by installing the system yourself.
DIY Solar Installation Overview
So what does it take to install your own solar panels? Here’s a quick overview of the process.
Note that when you buy a solar panel kit from GoGreenSolar, we provide a detailed step-by-step solar installation guide to walk you through everything. You also get full phone and email tech support from our team of engineers.
...For Roof Mounts
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 everything has been measured, you can bolt your flashings to your rafters at the marked locations. A flashing is a thin sheet of material that prevents leaks and provides and attachment point to mount your racking rails.
Once the flashings are set, secure the racking rails by bolting them to the flashings. At this point, your roof will look something like this:
...For Ground Mounts
Ground mounts are a bit different from roof mounts. Because there are no roof rafters supporting the weight of your solar panels, you’ll need to build a standalone metal foundation to support your array.
(Due to high freight costs, we don’t include these in our ground mount kits. 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 the structure to the ground. Once the base poles have been placed in concrete, you’ll need to wait at least a week to allow it 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 that can dig trenches and anchor holes to speed up this process.
Once the metal substructure is built, the rest of the process is the same as with roof mounts. 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 screwed on to the back frame of your solar panels before installing the panels on your mount. Make sure the units are wired first, as the connection points won’t be accessible once the panels are mounted 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. Inverters should be mounted as close to your solar panels as possible for a more efficient and cost-effective wiring run.
Solar Panel Installation
Once the racking has been built, installing solar panels is fairly straightforward by comparison. There are mounting holes on the back of the panels, which line up to bearing points on your racking. If your racking is properly spaced according to your planset, it is simply a matter of aligning the panel’s mounting holes close to the rail bearing point and bolting them down.
If you are installing panels on your roof, be sure to hook up the connecting wires before bolting the panel to the racking rail, as the connections will be inaccessible once the panel is installed in place.
Once the panels have been secured to the mount, the final installation step is to wire the system components together according to your planset. The wires from your inverter(s) will be routed 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.
Ready to Install Your Own Solar Panels?
While this is a fairly oversimplified overview of the solar installation process, it should give you a sense of the physical requirements of installing solar and help you decide whether DIY solar is right for you.
Should you choose to move forward with a self-installed system, we’ll provide a detailed Custom Installation Guide with your solar kit that walks you through every part of the installation process step-by-step.
Previous: System sizing guide
Next: Solar permitting
Solar Resource Hub: Table of Contents
Solar Energy Basics
Why Go Solar?
Guide to Going Solar
- DIY solar FAQs
- Solar components buying guide
- System sizing guide
- DIY solar panel installation (this page)
- Solar permitting
Cost of Solar