DIY solar panels: What are the pros and cons?

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Going solar has significant financial benefits: it reduces your monthly electric bill and can even increase the value of your home. Tax incentives and rebates, like the federal tax credit for solar and local net metering rules, can reduce your net cost by 30%, but solar is still a substantial investment, and the price tag can result in sticker shock. 

If you're DIY-minded, you can build your own solar power system—but there are some advantages and disadvantages to doing it alone. In this article, we'll break down the pros and cons you need to know about do-it-yourself solar panel systems before deciding.

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Key takeaways about DIY Solar

  • Installing a DIY system is possible and may come at a lower cost than hiring a solar installer.

  • DIY solar is an excellent application for items like RVs, vans, small appliances, and a home battery backup.

  • Going with a DIY setup requires much more work on the homeowner's end and may keep you from accessing equipment warranties.

You can compare solar quotes from qualified installers on the EnergySage Marketplace.

According to data from the EnergySage Marketplace, the average cost of going solar for homeowners (after accounting for the federal tax credit) is about $20,650 in 2023. Of that amount, design and installation labor costs contribute about 10% of the total bill; this 10% is what a DIY solar installation will save you since you'll still have to buy the equipment and components yourself. Regardless, it's still tempting to look into building your own solar panel installation to save money and be in complete control of your home renewable energy project.

Your solar energy system should continue to generate electricity for 25 to 35 years, so you must consider the upfront costs and the relative financial benefits of all your solar options. If you buy a home solar kit like the ones for sale at Costco or Home Depot, it may be less expensive per watt, but you aren't getting the same quality equipment that solar installers can offer you. For the most part, solar installers buy from equipment distributors that don't sell to the general public – and they're often getting lower prices because they can buy in bulk and have access to the best solar panel brands. Going for the more expensive option now may save you money in the long run because you'll likely have a system built to last a few decades, offsetting your monthly electric bills. Essentially, here is what we recommend:

For small-scale off-grid installations, you can DIY it

Solar panels are portable and convenient for a variety of off-grid uses. You don't even have to build your own solar panels if you don't want to – there are inexpensive solar panel kits for sale that include each component you'll need for a DIY solar installation. Building your own solar panel system is a good option for constructing a small off-grid system to power a cabin, RV, boat, or tiny home.

For a whole-home solar panel system, work with a solar installer

When it comes to installing a full-scale solar power system on your property, working with a solar installer with significant experience can save you both time and money in the long run. Some of the top solar companies have been installing solar energy systems for decades – experience that no amount of online research or DIY guides can replicate. Your solar installer can also help you find the financial incentives available in your area and complete the permits and applications necessary to get your solar energy system up and running. A solar panel system is complicated, so many companies across the U.S. specialize in providing professional solar installation services. However, that doesn't mean you can't build your own solar panel system – you can install your own panels; a DIY solar panel setup can be a viable option for some solar shoppers wanting to tap into renewable energy.

DIY panels can be an excellent option for going off the grid and some small home applications. However, it may be best to go with a professional installer to power your entire home.

Pros Of DIY Solar Panels
Cons Of DIY Solar Panels
Provides more energy independence for homeowners by not being tied to the electricity grid.Require much more maintenance that would otherwise be covered by an installer warranty.
Effective in powering limited appliances, like in RVs or boats.For an entire home, installation may be difficult for an individual without the knowledge and experience of a professional installer.
Allows homeowners to save roughly 10% on the overall cost of installation that would otherwise go towards labor.DIY installation may be illegal where you live according to local zoning laws.

Most home DIY all-in-one solar panel solar kits (including items like solar batteries and inverters) are designed for off-grid use, so you can't use them and remain connected to your utility. If you're an average homeowner, going off-grid is probably not in your best interest – accessing utility-generated electricity is essential if your solar array doesn't produce enough electricity to meet your needs at all times of the day throughout the year.

However, home solar kits can be a good solution if you're not trying to power your entire home. RVs, boats, and the increasingly popular tiny houses are all opportunities to explore do-it-yourself solar because they are already off-grid and mobile. Storage kits are also a good option for backup to help in the case of a blackout and can contain battery banks and systems.

On a related subject, DIY solar projects can be helpful if you have a large property and want to power an outlying area, like a barn or tool shed, or want to install outdoor lights easily. In those cases, your electricity demands will be relatively low, so purchasing a small home solar kit and installing it yourself is feasible.

To install a DIY solar project, compare several options beforehand. Grape Solar is a major manufacturer (among others) and offers a few different DIY products and components for both grid-tied and off-grid systems, which you can find more information on below.

DIY solar kits

System Size (Watts)
System Cost
$ / Watt
Grape Solar 400 watt PV solar panel kit400$588$1.69
Grape Solar 600 watt PV solar panel kit600$857$1.42
Renogy solar 12-volt/24-volt premium kit800$1,350$1.69
ECO-WORTHY off-grid solar panel kit800$1,090$1.36

When you decide on DIY solar panels, remember you get what you pay for. A home solar kit may be less expensive, but solar installers offer tremendous value for a relatively little additional cost (remember that 10% figure?). When it comes to installing a costly electrical system on your property, finding someone who knows what they're doing can save you both time and money in the long run.

Some of the best solar installers have been in the business for decades – an experience that no amount of online research or DIY guides can replicate. Every state requires that installers are licensed and qualified to install solar, and independent certifications like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Solar PV Installation Professional Certification ensure that the company you choose to work with has an intimate understanding of the process. Because of this, they can provide experienced insight and help you assess what equipment is the best fit for your property and whether a battery system is right for you.

Your solar installer will also help you complete and file the permits and applications you must submit to get your solar power system up and running. This is particularly important because your utility won't let you connect your system to the grid without a sign-off from a certified electrician.

Because of your solar installer's experience, they'll also have a strong understanding of the financial incentives for solar available in your area. They might even be able to help you save more money by finding any rebates and tax incentives you may have missed. Lastly, many equipment manufacturers will only honor their warranties if a qualified installer has installed their equipment. Many installers will also offer an additional warranty to back up their work.

The DIY solar panel installation process can be simplified into six major steps:

1. Design and size your system based on energy needs

First and foremost, it is important to consider your needs. Every home is different, just like every household is different. In general, DIY solar panels could be for you if you only need to power smaller devices and not your entire home. There are many different options for what system design is best for you. These include off-grid systems (the most common for DIY panels), hybrid on-grid/off-grid systems, and grid-tied systems.

2. Purchase solar equipment and components (solar panels, batteries, inverters, racking, etc.)

Equipment and components, including panels, can be purchased with help from the EnergySage Buyer's Guide. You can compare panel, battery, and inverter models based on efficiency, warranties, and more specs.

3. Install the racking or mounts for the panels on a roof or the ground

Once you have the necessary equipment, designs, and permits, it is time to install your equipment. This begins with installing your racking and mounting equipment for roof mount systems. To start, mark where your system will be installed, drill where lag bolts will be put in place, caulk the holes, put in lag bolts, and lock rails onto them. For ground mount systems, the steps are similar; only the panels will be installed at the ground level on a racking system.

4. Install your equipment

The first items to install are the solar inverters, which convert the electricity generated by your solar panels into usable electricity. After these are installed using provided bolts, you must connect a grounding wire. This piece of copper wire across the rails is a safety precaution against lightning strikes and other faults. After this, you can attach your solar panels to your racking equipment.

5. Connect to your main electrical board

After fully installing your panel and system, schedule an inspection with the local construction authority closest to you. This will ensure that your system complies with local ordinances. Once you pass this inspection, you can apply to connect to the grid. The local utility company will give you a meter to record your power exports.

6. Get in touch with your utility company and request permission to turn on (PTO) if necessary, in your area

From there, turn on your system after you have the proper approval and check how the system is functioning with a solar monitoring app.

One of the benefits of working with a certified solar installer is the warranty that comes with their service. Solar panel manufacturers provide a range of warranties that guarantee you will have support and coverage in the unlikely event of an issue caused by unusual circumstances, such as large hail or falling tree branches. Power output warranties guarantee that panel performance won't fall below a specified level over the warranty term (usually 25 years). For instance, a manufacturer might provide a warranty to guarantee that peak power output won't fall below 85% for 25 years.

Those warranties don't come with a DIY solar power system, so you'll be on the hook for all upkeep, maintenance, and repairs for your solar system. Luckily, there's still not too much to do. For the most part, if you keep your panels clear of debris, you'll be just fine. You can also clean your solar panels, but be sure to use the right equipment to avoid damaging your system. Read more about general solar panel system maintenance.

If you're considering a DIY solar panel kit but still have concerns about the best options, process, and general cost, check out a few of the most common questions we encounter when talking to solar shoppers:

Are DIY solar panels worth it? 

DIY solar panels may be tempting to install, but their long-term worth may be up for debate due to quality alone. Typically, a solar panel system should continue generating electricity for 25 to 35 years, so investing in quality equipment and a reputable installer is essential. If you purchase a home solar panel kit from a retailer, you may pay less per watt. Still, you won't get the same efficiency or quality that professional installers usually offer with their products.

You'll also likely forgo any warranties with your solar panel system, as warranties often only apply when a certified installer installs the system. It's also important to mention that DIY solar panels are typically not worth it if you still need to rely on some utility power and remain connected to the grid. They are best used for small off-grid applications, like RVs, where a solar generator or solar battery bank can provide you power when you otherwise may not have access.

Do you need to be an electrician to install solar panels?

As a DIYer,  you don't need to be an electrician to install solar panels. It's certainly not illegal to go the DIY route if you choose to. However, when it comes to installing a costly electrical system on your property, we recommend relying on professionals with technical know-how —their experience is invaluable, and it can make a massive difference in your system's overall quality and performance. Plus, solar installers will help you fill out permits and file necessary paperwork you might not know is required.

If you're wavering between a DIY solar system and hiring a solar installer, getting a ballpark estimate for an installation may help you decide. With our Solar Calculator, you can see upfront cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type to determine if a solar installation is the best choice. If you want quotes from local contractors today, check out the quote comparison platform in the EnergySage Marketplace.

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2024
Please enter a five-digit zip code.
  • 100% free to use, 100% online
  • Access the lowest prices from installers near you
  • Unbiased Energy Advisors ready to help
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