Installing solar own panels on your roof instead of hiring contractors can save you about half on the cost. You’ll also recoup the investment many years sooner. However, this project is a lot more complicated than hammering out a bookcase in the garage. Not only do you need to get up on the roof and bolt in the support framework for the panels, you’ll also need to draw up electrical plans for approval and route connections from your roof to the power box.
As the videos shared below illustrate, it’s absolutely possible to install your own solar panels, but you’ll probably need some help along the way, either from online experts or professional electricians. Take a good look at the advice and details below to figure out if installing your own solar panels or hiring contractors makes more sense for you.
What’s not to love about installing solar panels? You’re helping the environment and creating your own power. Not only will your house be a little more self sufficient, you may even make money off of the power you produce. Before you have the parts dropped off in your driveway, you should estimate the amount of power your photovoltaic system will generate.
To start, you need to figure out the dimensions and angle of your roof, as well as an understanding of which direction the shingles point. Once you have those numbers, you should be able to estimate how many panels can fit on your roof, the amount of direct sunlight they’ll absorb and how much power they’ll potentially generate. Some companies will even fly a drone over your house to help estimate the usable space on top of your house and suggest panel placement.
Once you estimate the kilowatts your solar panels will generate, compare that number with the amount of energy you use each month. Then you can figure out how soon the panels will pay for themselves. Even if it will take many years for the panels to recoup, some states have excellent incentives to make the installation worthwhile.
If you want to check your state, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables is one of the most comprehensive resources online.
On or Off the Grid
Before buying your panels, you’ll need to decide if you want to be on or off the grid. On the grid means being connected to the larger local power system, which can be useful for several reasons. If your panels aren’t producing any kilowatts, you can always rely on the power source you’ve always been using. If your solar panels produce more kilowatts than your house needs, many states allow you to sell the energy back to power company.
If your house is off the grid, you will definitely feel more self-reliant, but also need a battery for backup at night or days when the sun is giving you enough power. A generator will also be necessary in case of emergencies.
Building and Electric Permits
You don’t need to be an engineer to write up the permit applications for your solar panels, but it would definitely help. The requirements vary from state to state, and even town to town, so homeowners who are taking advantage of solar energy in Seattle may have different local regulations to follow than ones in New York. Wherever you’re located, you’ll be able to have an electrician review and certify your plan, either in person or online.
Many cities require plans from a structural engineer to detail how the panels will attach to the house. Yes, you may have to research federal and local building codes or hire an expert to write the plans for your house. If you skip these steps, you risk getting being fined and shut down. You certainly won’t be able to connect to the local grid without the proper approvals and inspections.
Working with an electrician, you should be able to figure out all of the equipment you’ll need in addition to the panels. One of the big decisions to make is what type of inverter you want to purchase. These boxes convert the direct current (DC) created by your panels to the alternating current (AC) used by your house. Some systems wire all of the panels into one or two central inverter boxes, other systems have individual inverter boxes underneath each panel.
Many variables have to be checked before buying an inverter (or several). In particular, the watts capability, battery life, peak power capacity all need to be considered. One of the advantages of mini-inverters wired to each panel is that one panel can be in the shade or covered in snow and the rest of the panels will still work.
In addition to the inverter, you also need to research junction boxes, trunk cables ground wires, disconnect boxes and other equipment. Thankfully, some companies sell all-in-one kits. You still have to be smart about what you’re ordering to optimize the system for your setup, but at least you’ll know all the parts should work together.
Don’t forget that you should have safety equipment any time you work on your roof, including a harness that enables you to anchor yourself to the roof frame, in case you slip. If you fall off of your roof, you’re probably going to break a bone somewhere.
Once you have all of the plans approved, follow them carefully. Up on the roof, you’ll need a measuring tape, lumber crayon and chalk line to draw where each section of the frame will go. You’ll also be able to see if everything is straight before you start drilling.
After you find the studs and make the holes for the bolts, you can attach the frames and ensure they’re all level. Then, depending on the system, you’ll have to set up the wiring, inverters and junction boxes. Holes will also need to be drilled to feed the wires from the roof down through the house to the power box.
Attaching wiring to your power box can be intimidating, even if you know the electricity to the box has been shut off. Many homeowners hire a professional electrician to ensure the panel wires are properly connected to the power box and meter. You’ll also need to get an inspector from the local power company and building department to okay al of the connections.
Monitoring the Power
Once the panels have been connected, several apps enable you to monitor their production and efficiency from your phone. You can check if the the system lives up to estimates and whether you can optimize any aspects of the build.