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Investing in renewable energy helps you reduce your environmental impact while saving money on your electricity bills. If you want to take a small step toward using solar energy, or if you want to extend the solar power you’re already using, a do-it-yourself (DIY) solar panel kit could be a good way to avoid professional installation labor costs and take advantage of solar power.
Note that DIY solar panels are meant to power smaller spaces, such as sheds or poolhouses. They’re not meant to power your entire house. If you’re interested in a solar panel system for your home, take a look at our guide to the best solar panel companies.
What Are DIY Solar Panels?
DIY solar panels come in the form of a solar kit that includes the basic materials you need to set up a solar energy system yourself. These are meant for small-scale applications and are not recommended to power your entire home. Most aren’t made to be connected to the power grid. They’re best for off-grid solar use, such as powering a detached workshop, a small guest house, or even an RV. If your system doesn’t generate enough electricity to fully power these spaces for a day or two due to overcast conditions, it won’t be a big deal.
What’s in a DIY Solar Panel Kit?
Most solar panel kits include the following items:
- Cables: You need solar cables to connect the components of your system and conduct power from your system to the space you are powering.
- Mounting hardware: Some mounting hardware, such as the racking your panels are adhered to, is designed for specific panel types. We recommend sticking with the same brand or manufacturer if your kit does not come with mounting hardware made for the included panels.
- Solar battery bank: A battery ensures continuous backup to help get you through low solar energy periods, such as nighttime or rainy days.
- Solar inverter: A power inverter or charge controller converts the input power from batteries into output power.
- Solar panels: These panels absorb solar energy to generate electricity.
You need to buy cables and mounting hardware separately if your kit doesn’t include them. Kits typically don’t include tools you’ll need for assembly and installation. Also note that kits come in different sizes. You can get kits with varying numbers of solar panels and battery backups, depending on how much energy and backup power you need.
Benefits and Drawbacks of DIY Solar Panels
See the benefits and drawbacks of DIY solar panels at a glance:
➕Eliminates installation costs
➖Requires solar project skills
➕Lets you get solar on your timeline
➖Disqualifies you from many solar incentives
➕Gives you more control over system design
➖Isn’t covered by a warranty
DIY Solar Panels Cost
One of the biggest reasons people choose to install solar panels on their own is that it saves money on the labor costs of hiring a professional solar installation company. According to EnergySage, solar kits from popular brands such as Grape Solar, Renogy Solar, and Eco-Worthy cost in the range of $575 to $875 for a 400–600-watt system size. Kits range between $1,000 and $1,350 for an 800-watt system size.
Installation typically accounts for around 10% of the total cost of a solar system. That said, the amount of money you save by skipping professional installation will likely be minimal. You may find that any money saved isn’t worth it overall.
It’s also important to note that installing solar panels yourself often disqualifies you from solar incentives that can help you save money through solar tax credits and exemptions. Incentives and rebates, such as net metering, are usually reserved for larger system sizes and professional installations.
Professional vs. DIY Solar Panel Installation
A DIY solar installation lets you control the process and timeline while eliminating labor costs. However, you must factor in the cost of any tools your kit requires. More importantly, installing solar panels requires assembly skills and an understanding of your energy needs and how to run cables to power your space.
Since professional installers already have this expertise and the necessary tools, many find it easier to have a pro do the job, especially since labor is only a fraction of the cost of going solar. A professional solar company is licensed, so you can get solar incentives to help you save money. Professionals handle most of the paperwork needed to get a permit for the installation, and licensed installation means you’ll get a labor warranty if you have any issues with your system. Since your system may require repair or maintenance, not having a warranty is one of the biggest cons of DIY solar projects.
Factors to Consider Before Installing DIY Solar Panels
Before purchasing a solar kit, there are a few things DIYers should consider:
- Climate: Installing solar panels may not be worth the money if you live in an area that’s often overcast.
- Energy needs: Evaluate how much electricity you require to determine the system size you need.
- Solar panel type: Not all panels perform the same. Monocrystalline panels are the most energy-efficient, but they’re also the most expensive. Polycrystalline panels are slightly less efficient. Thin-film solar panels are the least efficient and most affordable.
- Time: Installing a solar system properly takes time. Don’t make the investment if you don’t think you can complete the job.
A DIY solar system might be a good option for you as long as you understand you won’t get a warranty or solar incentives. Make sure you have expertise in solar power systems, understand the capabilities of an off-grid system, and are comfortable with the time it takes to install. If you prefer to be grid-tied or to have warranty coverage and help with permitting, we recommend spending a little extra for expert installation. You’ll likely save money and time in the long run and won’t have to deal with the headache of troubleshooting if you run into issues during installation.
DIY Solar Panels FAQ
Can I buy solar panels and install them myself?
You can buy solar panels and install them yourself if you have some solar expertise and the tools for assembly. You will need to buy a solar panel kit that includes the necessary equipment, such as a racking system and other roof mounting hardware. However, note that these kits are designed for small-scale installations, not for powering an entire home.
Can you build your own solar panels?
You can build your own solar panels with the help of a solar panel kit that includes solar equipment. However, it won’t include assembly tools.
Is it cheaper to build your own solar panels?
Building your own solar panels eliminates labor costs. However, you’ll need to buy any tools your kit requires, and you won’t qualify for most solar incentives. You’ll save roughly 10% of the total system cost by not hiring a professional installer.
How many watts of solar power does it take to run a house?
The average house needs between 17 and 21 400-watt solar panels to generate enough solar power to run it.
How We Chose the Top Solar Companies
We researched and analyzed dozens of solar panels and solar installation companies. We then formulated a rating system based on each solar installer or manufacturer’s services and products. We weighed several significant factors, including the quality and type of solar panels offered, the customer support network, warranty lengths and limitations, and additional benefits such as mobile apps for monitoring and customer service.
Speaking directly to representatives, we determined how each solar company personalizes its solar panel installation for each home. We also analyzed each company’s warranty options to ensure their product and performance guarantees match or exceed industry standards.
We evaluated each provider based on their rating and history with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to determine reputation. In addition, we analyzed the 100 most recent Google Reviews for each provider across various locations and branches.
Read more: Our Methodology