DIY Solar Installation: Step by Step Guide

DIY Solar Panel Installation

Did you know you can install a DIY solar system on your own and save 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.

This solar panel installation guide will provide you an overview of the requirements to successfully bring the DIY solar project to an end.

If you’re a visual learner and want to know what it takes to complete a DIY solar panel install, check out this quick overview of the process:

Pre-Installation

Before we jump to the installation process, it’s important to make sure you have the right equipment, tools and permits.

Choosing the Right Solar System for Your Home

You’ve decided to install solar – great! But what’s the best solar system for you? The answer depends on your location, property type and particular needs. Luckily, solar energy has tremendously evolved over the last couple of decades, so there are many options to choose from.

If you’re still unsure what’s right for you, connect with a solar expert and they’ll answer all your questions as well as point you in the right direction.

Read more: An Overview of Solar Incentives, Rebates and Federal Tax Credits

Get the Necessary Permits

Since installing a solar system involves construction and electrical work you need to obtain a permit from the local authorities. In fact, you need several permits from:

  • Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) – Check if the municipality, county, or city has jurisdiction over your property and learn about their requirements.
  • Homeowner’s Association (HOA) – If you live in a HOA community, you need their sign off as well.

The application should include a site plan, system design schematics, an electrical wiring diagram, spec sheets and certification documents for components used in your system. It can take up to several weeks until your application is reviewed and approved.

If this sounds like too much work, we can do it for you. All our DIY solar kit customers can take advantage of our permitting services for a stress-free experience.

Have the Right Tools Handy

You’ll need more than a screwdriver to install your solar properly and securely. These are the essential tools for every DIY solar installation project:

  • Basic hand tools and supplies
  • Measuring tools
  • Safety equipment
  • A sturdy ladder
  • Power drill/driver
  • Power saw
  • Solar panel hanger
  • Fully-charged battery or extension cord
  • Flat pry bar
  • Caulk gun

Learn more: Complete List of Recommended Tools & Their Uses

Solar System Installation Process

Now that you obtained the permits, acquired your solar system, and have the tools at hand, it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.

Read More: 6 Solar Installation Safety Tips You Need to Know

Install the Racking System

ROOF-MOUNTED

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. Locate your rafters and mark them with a chalk line to visualize the layout for your racking rails.

After measuring everything, bolt the flashings to the rafters at the marked locations. A flashing is a thin sheet of material that prevents leaks and provides an attachment point to mount your racking rails.

Once the flashings are set, bolt the racking rails to the flashings. 

Learn more: 33 Tips For Installing Mounting Rails & How to Install Solar Panels on a Tile Roof

GROUND-MOUNTED

Ground mounts are a bit different from roof mounts. Because there are no roof rafters supporting the weight of the solar panels, you’ll need to build a standalone metal foundation to support the array.

Before building the support structure, 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, 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.

Read more: Design and Planning Tips for Your IronRidge Ground Mount Installation

Inverter Installation

If your system uses microinverters or PV optimizers, these small units will need to be screwed onto 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.

Read more: 8 Tips on How to Install a Solar Inverter

Solar Panel Installation Process

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 the racking. If the 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.

Learn more: The Best Angle to Install Solar Panels

Wiring the System

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.

Learn more: Solar Panel Wiring Basics: Series vs. Parallel

Post-Installation

Now that you’re done installing the solar system, there are a few more steps left before you flip the switch:

  • Schedule and pass your solar inspection – An inspector will review your solar system to ensure it is properly and safely installed.
  • Complete the interconnection application – Get Permission to Operate from the utility company and connect it to the grid.
  • Set up monitoring – To ensure optimal functioning of your solar, setting up a monitoring system is a must.

Read more: Inspection Checklist

Ready for a DIY Solar Installation?

While this is a fairly simplified overview of the DIY solar installation process, it should give you a sense of the bureaucratic and physical requirements.

If you decide you’re apt for the job and want 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, tailored to every product in your solar panel kit. Moreover, you will also get full phone and email tech support from our team of NABCEP-certified engineers.

Check out our solar panel kits or reach out to us for a free solar panel analysis & layout design for your home.

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