DIY Solar Panels: Are They Worth It? (2024 Guide)
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Solar panels are an appealing way to make your home more eco-friendly and reduce your monthly energy bills. However, they’re expensive to install, with a large portion of the cost going toward labor. Do-it-yourself (DIY) solar panels have become increasingly popular as a result, but this is a complex project that requires knowledge and skill.
We’ve spent more than 300 hours researching the best solar panels available, including DIY solar kits. Our guide explains what a DIY solar panel project entails and explores whether it’s worth the money you save.
Pros and Cons of DIY Solar Panels
Solar Panel Cost
One of the primary appeals of DIY solar panels is that you can save money. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), solar panels cost an average of $3.45 per watt in Q3 2023, which works out to $17,250 for a typical 5 kilowatt (kW) system. Roughly half of that costs goes toward labor, overhead, margin, customer acquisition, and other costs that do not apply to a DIY installation.
However, professionally installed solar panels come with a few benefits that can help offset the higher price:
- Wholesale discounts: Professional installers get better deals on solar panels and other equipment. You will likely pay more for the same components if you buy them yourself.
- Financing: Many solar companies offer financing options to make your project more affordable. Getting a loan for a DIY project will be significantly harder, so you may have to pay the full cost upfront.
- Warranties: Professionally installed solar panels typically come with a warranty from both the manufacturer and the installer. These warranties can save you money if something goes wrong with your system in the future.Tax incentives:
- Peace of mind: An experienced installer can maximize the reliability and efficiency of your solar system. For most homeowners, that extra assurance justifies the higher cost.
- Convenience: Installing your own solar panels requires a significant time investment. Professional installation costs more but saves you time, hassle, and risk.
- Tax incentives: Federal and state governments, utility companies, and municipalities offer a variety of incentives to lower solar installation costs. However, DIY installations may not qualify for many of them.
Solar Panel Installation
It’s possible to install solar panels on your own, but DIY solar installation requires serious know-how and tools. Some solar companies design solar panel kits targeted toward DIYers. However, these kits are often meant for small builds, such as converting a shed, RV, or boat.
Installing a solar energy system requires knowledge of electrician work. You’ll have to work on your roof and with buried wires. The stakes are high for a mishap; crossed wires can malfunction and even cause electrical fires. Additionally, it may be illegal for you to do this work without a professional, depending on your municipality’s zoning laws. Many zoning laws also prohibit installing off-grid solar energy systems.
DIY solar panels work best for small projects or to supplement a traditional energy source. If you want to power you home with solar, we recommend hiring one of the top solar companies to design and install your system.
Solar Panel Maintenance
Professional solar companies include a warranty with installation that protects your investment if there’s a malfunction or installation error. They’ll complete repairs or replacement if necessary and may even cover the cost. DIY solar panel installation doesn’t come with this support.
How To Find the Best Solar Panels
You’ll need to consider many factors when selecting the best solar panels for your project, including the panel type, efficiency rate, and warranties. We’ll go over each of these factors in more detail below. A solar panel manufacturer can help you with your selection, but hiring an installer is the best way to ensure you get the right panels for your project.
“If you work with a turn-key installer that communicates at each step of the process, the home solar installation should be easy and worry-free,” says Matt Johnson, co-owner of Namaste Solar. “A seasoned installer should handle all the logistics from design to permitting to finding all the incentives and rebates available.”
- Monocrystalline: solar panels are the most popular. They’re the most efficient and have a simple, low-profile design ideal panels for residential homes. Monocrystalline panels are created from pure silicon and come in two different variations: passivated emitter and rear contact (PERC) and bifacial. PERC panels have a conductive layer added to the backside of cells to increase energy absorption. PERC panels are most commonly used in rooftop solar systems. Monocrystalline solar panels are the most popular. They’re the most efficient and have a simple, low-profile design ideal for residential homes. Monocrystalline, or mono, panels are created from pure silicon and come in two different variations: passivated emitter and rear contact (PERC) and bifacial. PERC panels have a conductive layer added to the backside of cells to increase energy absorption. PERC panels are most commonly used in rooftop solar systems.
- Bifacial: Bifacial panels absorb light on both sides at a higher rate than PERC panels. For this reason, they’re typically reserved for ground-mount systems that expose both sides of the panels.
- Polycrystalline: Polycrystalline solar panels use older technology than mono panels and are a cheaper option. However, these panels are less efficient than monocrystalline offerings and, in turn, require more panels to power your home.
- Thin-film: Thin-film panels are the standard for small DIY solar panel kits. They’re also the cheapest solar panel option. The manufacturing process for these panels is less complicated, so they take little time to make. They’re also the least efficient panel type, but they have practical uses. Small DIY solar projects, such as RVs and small off-grid systems, use thin-film solar panels.
The video below offers an overview of common factors you should consider when shopping for DIY solar panel kits:
DIY solar panel installation is possible if you feel comfortable dealing with the issues outlined in this guide, but we only recommend it for small projects. Solar panel installation is complicated and can be dangerous, so you may prefer working with an installer. A professional can help you determine the correct number of panels for your project based on your budget and energy needs. If you do decide to install panels yourself, make sure to do your research and take the proper safety precautions.
Use our tool below to connect with reputable professional installers.
FAQ About DIY Solar Panels
Are DIY solar panels worth it?
DIY solar panels are worth it if you have the expertise and tools for the project. They might not be worth it for a full-sized home, but they work well for small projects such as converting an RV or shed.
Is it cheaper to build your own solar system?
Yes, it’s cheaper to build your own solar panel system. Since you don’t have to pay for labor and other overhead costs, you could save $5,000 or more with a DIY system. However, installing solar panels is a complicated process with many possible mistakes, and you may have less access to cost-saving solar incentives.
How many solar panels will I need to run a house?
You will need 17–25 solar panels to run a house. The exact number varies depending on your annual energy usage, the number of peak sunlight hours in your area, and the wattage of the panels.
Our Rating Methodology
The This Old House Reviews Team is committed to providing comprehensive and unbiased reviews to our readers. This means earning your trust through transparent reviews and data to back up our ratings and recommendations. Our rating system for solar providers is on a 100-point system based on five factors:
- Payment options (40 points): Options include purchase, loan, lease, and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). Companies receive points for each of the four options they provide.
- Solar services (30 points): Does the company provide in-house installation of solar panels and battery backups? Can the company also monitor energy production and perform energy-efficiency audits to ensure system performance? The more options available, the higher the score.
- Warranty options (10 points): The success of a residential solar system depends on the workmanship, performance guarantees, and length of product coverage. The more warranties a company offers, the higher the score it receives.
- State availability (10 points): We award the most points to companies with the broadest service area and state availability.
- Reputation (10 points): We factor in how the Business Better Bureau (BBB) scores each company. We deduct points for any alerts or pending lawsuits.
To share feedback or ask a question about this article, send a note to our Reviews team at firstname.lastname@example.org.