DIY Solar Panels: What You Need to Know (2021)

While many homeowners are switching to solar power to help reduce or even eliminate month-to-month utility costs, there’s no arguing that the startup cost of solar panels can be high. One way to save money upfront is with DIY solar panels, but is the challenge of building your own system worth what you save on installation costs?

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the pros and cons of DIY solar panel installation, including important safety factors and whether it’s really guaranteed to save you money.


DIY Solar: Considering the Cost Savings

To begin with, let’s talk dollars and cents.

According to Energy Sage, the average gross cost of DIY solar system installation is $16,680. In other words, that’s what you’ll pay for your actual solar components, before taking into account rebates and other tax incentives.

By contrast, the average cost of having your installation done by one of the top solar companies can exceed $20,000 — and that’s after tax credit incentives and rebates.

In other words, choosing DIY solar panels can definitely be less expensive. But why is this, exactly? When you go with a professional installation company, a big chunk of your overall cost is going to the design of your new solar power system, as well as labor costs. By eliminating those two expenses, you can shave several thousand dollars off the total price tag.

The flip side is that professional installers are generally able to buy solar panels, solar inverters and the best solar batteries from wholesale distributors, which means they can access a wider range of products and get them for lower prices than what’s available to the general public.

In thinking about the cost of solar panels, it’s also important to factor in the longevity of your system. After all, $16,680 is still a steep investment, so how much value can you expect in the long run? In general, a residential renewable energy system built with the best solar panels should last anywhere from 25 to 35 years. Average that out to 30 years, and the cost of installation can be annualized to around $556.

Pros and Cons of DIY Solar Panel Installation

Beyond price, there are a number of DIY solar energy pros and cons to consider before attempting to create your own solar panel system.

Advantages of DIY Solar Panels

Here are a few of the major benefits of DIY solar:

  • DIY system design: Another main reason to consider DIY solar panels is that you have total control over the design of your system. So, if you’re an amateur solar enthusiast, electrician or DIYer and have a very specific vision for how you want your solar array to be assembled, going the do-it-yourself route can give you free rein to do as you please.
  • Cost savings: The most obvious advantage of DIY solar panels is the cost savings they offer. If you go for a DIY project, you’ll be racking up the savings — both on your electric bill and solar system installation. By eliminating the need for design and labor expenses, you can potentially save a decent chunk of change on your residential solar energy system.
  • Easing into solar: DIY solar panels can also be a really smart option for those who are looking to start small, with a more modest home solar project. For example, maybe you’re not looking to go completely off-grid just yet, but want to try out a couple of panels to see how much they offset your energy costs. The DIY route can be very cost-effective, especially if you have low energy needs.

These are all notable perks to the DIY solar route, but there are also some drawbacks worth noting.

Disadvantages of DIY Solar Panels

While there are notable perks to the DIY solar approach, there are also some drawbacks worth noting:

  • Product availability: One of the primary disadvantages of DIY solar panels is that you’re much more limited in the range of products available to you. As mentioned, professional installers have direct access to the most efficient solar panels from leading distributors. As a consumer, your selections are going to be significantly more limited. In other words, there may be top-of-the-line solar panels that you can only get if you go through a professional installer.
  • Potential safety hazards: DIY solar installation can be dangerous. To do it right, you need to be pretty knowledgeable about electrical systems and how solar panels work. Without that know-how, you run the risk of loose connections and other wiring problems. These issues can be real fire hazards, jeopardizing the safety of yourself, your home and your family.
  • Efficiency issues: Professional solar installers have the knowledge needed to design a solar system that helps you achieve your energy goals. An installer can recommend the exact types of solar panels, roof mounts, inverters and battery banks you need, as well as the proper placement of those components. Without their expertise, you may wind up with a solar system that isn’t as optimized or as efficient as it could be.
  • Legality: In some municipalities, DIY solar panels may actually be illegal. You should always check with your local zoning board to ensure that you’re even permitted to do a DIY solar installation, especially if you’re planning a completely off-grid system.
  • Navigating savings opportunities: Professional installers can help you claim all of the rebates and tax incentives you’re eligible for. Identifying and securing these opportunities on your own can sometimes be a bit of a hassle.

The bottom line: Installing your own residential solar system can yield some notable advantages, including cost savings, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the wisest option. Due to the safety hazards, limited product options and lack of real solar expertise, many homeowners will conclude that DIY solar system installation just isn’t worth it.

Deciding Whether DIY Solar Panels Are Right for You

So after weighing the pros and cons of DIY solar, what are the next steps? One thing to keep in mind is that many solar installers offer no-obligation estimates. Even if you’re leaning toward a DIY solar system, there’s no harm in considering your options and learning a bit more about the solar installation process.

And if you do decide to go with DIY solar panels, one important step is to check local zoning ordinances to be certain you can legally install your own system. From there, start researching different solar panels, batteries and inverters, while also ensuring you have the right baseline knowledge regarding electrical work.