Do-It-Yourself Solar Kits or Go Professional Installer, Here is the Scoop.

Can I install my own solar kit? Excellent question but before you get closer to an answer you need to examine a long list of variables to see if DIY solar is right for you. Homeowner installation of most solar systems is not something everyone would tackle, but mostly because solar kits come partially assembled with simple designs is might be right for you.

The first practical advice we give our customers before they tackle a home or off-grid solar project is it’s important to assess your skill level. Having said that, we are interacting with numerous customers who have successfully tackled their own home and off-grid solar installation with impressive speed. I have a good friend who designs boats near Seattle WA who tackles window replacement and other straight forward DIY projects with his wife… no problem. I would classify my friend as tenacious but not particularly experienced at these types of home DIY projects.

After weighing your skill level you need to consider the size of the solar panel system you want to install. I’m sure I would not find much agreement in this, but the truth is, the biggest difference in installing a small solar system and a large solar system is basically the number of panels. That may sound strange but grid tied home solar systems are fundamentally similar. You may install one type of solar system with microinverter’s and another with a central inverter, but both are fundamentally the same principle and require similar techniques and NEC building code considerations.

One advantage to microinverter’s are the solar panels operate at 240 VAC rather than high voltage DC making electrical wiring a little safer. Whether you are using microinverters or central solar inverter’s you will still need some electrical skills, tools and savvy. We have a customer in Northern California that after getting bids for a ground mount system he saved himself $15,000 by purchasing a pre-built ground mount system from us, then tackled his own building permit and finished the installation, including permit sign off, within 7 days. Pretty impressive, especially for a investment counselor.

Grid-tied and off-grid systems both require’s a company that will offer on-going support. I mean really have someone who will be there well after the sale to provide diagrams and installation instructions. That is why when it comes to buying your own equipment for your residential or off-grid cabin, don’t buy cheap. We recently were sent a memo from one of our favorite solar manufactures warning their dealers that some companies were doing the bait n switch with cheap solar panels. You should make sure your solar dealer is listed with the BBB and has a secure website that is verified with 3rd party credentials. To often DIYers end up which a cheap price on their solar kit but a low level of support. You are going to need some hand-holding throughout the process of installation.

Get tooled up!

Solar guys guard their secrets as closely as an prison inmate guards their chow. The fact is if you are installing solar electrical equipment you are going to need some basic stuff but you are not building a piano or a rocket. Now I know here is where I should list things like wire strippers and ladders, but it seems to me the average DIY homeowner would have a pretty good feel for this already. What they may not understand is solar specific tools for both site analysis and installation. Most sites have some type of shade issues but it goes back to proper support. We have solar consultants routinely check sites for DIY customers. Goes back to how much on-going support the solar company you choose offers.

Solar Building Permit Considerations.

The appropriate solar system building permits will need to be obtained from the local code authority. Because this can be a painful process again how much support is your solar equipment provider willing to provide? We have a solar permit document service we offer our customers. For a fee, we will do all the drawings and complete the solar permit application ready to sign and submit to your local building department. Inspectors will be on the lookout for all possible National Electric Code violations. If the DIY homeowner follows the drawings after the building permit is issued and pays attention to details, asks lots of questions and takes his or her time, our experience is there is usually no problem.

Safety, Safety, Safety

We do have many disagreements with our solar associates about many aspects of the solar industry but one thing we agree on is safety. This part of the discussion does not just apply to DIY homeowners though. Truth is most solar companies could take a lesson in safety for their workers. Fall support harnesses, gloves, proper shoes and knowing your limits are critical for both solar companies and homeowners is critical. Even if you are a confident DIY’er, we always recommend they hire a licensed electrician to complete the connections. A broken bone, fall or other injury is always a risk when tools, heights and electricty are present.

Solar Rebates

Some states will not let a homeowner receive their solar rebate if they do not hire a licensed professional to do the solar installation. We think that is just plain wrong. Whenever I hear this I am always suspicious of the states motives. It is more the norm than the exception for government bureaucracy to create more government bureaucracy. Seems to me that freedom to build your own anything on your property is fundamental to who we are as Americans. Tea Party is always shouting about less government but you don’t seem to hear them scream about important issues like this. Just because a DIY homeowner wants to install their own ground or roof mount solar system does not mean it will still not get done right. The BBB complaint board is full of licensed contractors who have done shoddy workmanship.

Go Pro or Do-it-yourself? (DIY)

That again depends on you and what you are trying to install. If you do decide to DIY your own home or off-grid solar system, start by doing your homework. This begins by building a quality team from your advisers to your solar equipment company. Take your time and study the documents, plans and pay attention to detail. I have seen the self satisfied faces and heard the voices of many solar customers who decided to become their own solar installer and did not regret it. The more you understand your solar system the more satisfying you will find the experience.

Contributing Source: Homepower Magazine