DIY Solar:Your Ultimate Guide
You change your own oil and never pay for cable installation. Now, you’ve heard about do it yourself solar panels, and you’re intrigued...but is DIY solar realistic for the average homeowner?
We certainly think so. In this guide, we’ll provide a step-by-step overview of what it takes to design and install your own system, and explain how you can save thousands by doing it yourself.
What is DIY Solar?
DIY solar panels aren’t panels you have to build from scratch (phew!). Instead, they refer to solar system kits that ship directly from a warehouse to your doorstep. You’ll be responsible for taking care of the installation -- either by building it yourself or hiring a local contractor to help.
A DIY solar panel installation involves:
- Configuring and designing your personalized solar system based on your unique energy needs (this includes choosing the size and number of solar panels)
- Filing for permits with your local building authority and utility company
- Buying your solar panels, racks, inverters, and other essential solar panel equipment
- Mounting the solar panels and connecting them to your racking system and inverter
- Programming your system settings and flipping the switch!
Does DIY Solar Save Money?
Yes! According to a 2019 solar industry report produced by NREL, turnkey installer Vivint charges $3.25 to $3.50 per watt to build a solar system, with $1.78 per watt going toward installation costs.
That means more than 50% of your project costs go toward installation, a job most homeowners are perfectly capable of handling themselves.
For the average home solar system producing around 6.9 kW (6900 watts), you would stand to save more than $12,000 by installing your own system. Not bad for a few weeks of work!
Not sure if you’re equipped to tackle your DIY solar project? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. When you purchase your solar panels from Wholesale Solar, our team of seasoned solar designers will guide the way. We offer free solar estimates, system sizing and design, permit help, tech support, shipping on complete system kits, and other tools and resources along the way.
Free DIY Solar Workshop
Learn how to install solar panels by yourself! Your free DIY Solar Workshop is packed with videos, product comparisons, installation guides, and other resources to help you conquer your solar project from start to finish.
I Don’t Have a Construction Background. Is DIY Solar Installation Still Possible?
Building your own solar system sounds like a huge undertaking, but many of our customers are happy to report that the DIY solar process is easier than it first appears.
Most solar components are plug-and-play, meaning every cable snaps into a dedicated port. And since we provide a as part of your system package, there’s no guesswork about which cable goes where. Everything’s clearly labeled; all you have to do is plug it in. Installing your own system requires some other basic skills. You should be able to:
- Tighten screws and bolts in place with a wrench / screwdriver
- Lift up to 75 pounds (recruit a friend if needed!)
- Dig holes and pour concrete (applies to ground mounts only)
- Wire the system to your electrical service panel
That’s about it!
The last point is the only one some people don’t feel comfortable with. But that’s okay: many of our customers choose to bring in a licensed electrician for the final electrical hookup, typically paying a few hundred dollars for 1-2 hours of work.
That’s the beauty of a DIY project like this. You have the freedom to do whatever you’re comfortable with and leave the rest to professionals. No matter your approach, we’ll walk you through it every step of the way.
What are the Pros and Cons of DIY Solar?
Learning how to install solar panels requires extensive research and plenty of hard work. We know it’s not for everyone, so we want to highlight the pros and cons of DIY Solar approach and let you decide for yourself.
Some DIY solar panels pros and cons to consider:
- Save on most labor costs (which can account for over 50% of a traditional solar panel installation cost). For an average-sized system, you could pocket more than $12,000 by installing it yourself
- Design your solar electric system from scratch to suit your specific needs. Choose from a wider selection of brands and only buy as much as you need (no “one-size-fits-all” packages).
- Speed up your payback period. If you install your own system and claim the federal solar tax credit, your grid-tie system can pay for itself in as little as 3-6 years.
- Fewer unexpected costs and surprises along the way. You’re in control of everything
- It’s hard work. You have to put in a lot of sweat equity to make your DIY solar dreams a reality. Finishing your build is immensely rewarding, but some homeowners may not have the time to commit to a project like this.
- Some local building departments may not allow DIY solar projects. Especially for off-grid systems, certain jurisdictions require solar systems to be built by a certified professional.
- Professionals typically offer a 5-10 year labor warranty when they install a system. If you go DIY, you’re solely accountable for the quality of your work.
Who is Wholesale Solar?
Wholesale Solar distributes solar electric equipment direct to consumers. We sell individual solar components, as well as complete system packages suitable for grid-tie, off-grid, energy storage, RV/mobile, and commercial applications.
Since 2002, we’ve shown homeowners, installers, and commercial clients how to install their own solar power systems. We have helped more than 10,000 thrilled DIY solar customers achieve energy independence. Now it’s your turn.
- 100% Employee-owned (we benefit by working for you)
- USA-based (offices in California and Oregon)
- One of the highest rated solar companies on Google (4.8/5 Stars)
- Industry-leading design & support techs (before, during & after installation)
- Live USA-based sales & support team (available by phone, chat or email)
Yes, I'm Interested in DIY Solar!
The Step-By-Step Timeline
Your DIY solar installation is a big project with a lot of moving parts. Here’s a step-by-step project roadmap to keep you on track.
Need more guidance? This is just a sneak peek of what’s available inside the Workshop. Be sure to sign up for full access to our collection of videos, tools, and tutorials that walk you through the entire process.
Do the math.
Between reduced energy bills and tax incentives, solar pays for itself in a few years. Our solar ROI calculator will help you figure out your solar payback period to see how long it takes to break even on your investment.
Choose your system type.
Do you need a grid-tied or off-grid system? Download our Getting Started Guide to learn the basics.
Size your system
How large does your system need to be to cover your monthly power usage? Enter your location and monthly power bill into our system size calculator to help scale your system to your needs.
This will give you an early cost estimate and help set a realistic budget. It also gives you a sense of how much space you need to mount your array.D
Ask for help.
Enlist the help of a design tech early. There are a whole host of factors that impact what you need. It helps to consult with an experienced designer to point out unforeseen problems and iron out any kinks in your design.EF
You'll need a permit to make sure your system is up to code. Grab our solar permitting guide to make sure you complete your project by the book.G
Place your order.
After extensive research and careful deliberation, it’s time to go solar! Your design technician will process your order, schedule your freight shipment, and provide documentation for your system components.
Your components are on the truck, and it’s almost time to...H
Install your system.
It’s finally time to tackle your solar panel installation! You’re about to build your system from the ground up. Our DIY Solar Workshop is packed with installation guides and videos that guide you through the process.
Still not sure you’re ready to take on a DIY solar project? Sometimes all you need is a little inspiration. Take a look at our Install of the Month feature, where we showcase the awesome systems that Wholesale Solar customers have built for themselves.
If these folks can do it, so can you!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! Over half of our customers install and maintain their own solar power systems. Some hire extra help for part of the installation. Most have an electrician connect the wires to you’re their home electrical panel.
If you commit to the research, there’s nothing stopping you from completing the entire installation yourself. Of course, if you get stuck, our experienced design and support team is here to lend advice and get you back on track.
We suggest leaving solar panel manufacturing to the companies who keep tight control on production quality and safety. You can find information on the web about building DIY solar panels, but we don't recommend it because the panels would not be approved for permitting.
However, there's plenty you can do yourself—sizing your system, picking components, mounting and installing the solar panels, inverter(s), safety disconnects, and so on. The more you do yourself, the more you’ll save.
Your system size depends on your unique circumstances. Some common factors that influence system size are:
- current energy usage
- available build space
- exposure to sunlight
- future plans for system expansion
We have two calculators to help you size your system:
To understand what we factor into these calculations, take a look at our article: "How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?"
Of course, there’s no substitute for personalized help. Give us a call at 1-800-472-1142 to connect with an expert solar tech. We’ll help you design the perfect system for your needs.
The cost of your system will depend on how much electricity you plan to use. To estimate the answer to that question:
- Check your electric bills for how much power you use during your highest months of usage.
- Decide whether you’ll be paying for an installer or not.
- Learn about the solar incentives that may be available to you.
- Contact your county or city building department to learn about installing "to code"—both for safety, and to pass inspection.
In over your head? Call us at 1-800-472-1142.
Many of our grid-tied customers do. Grid-tied solar—for homes that are already plugged into utility power—is less complex to install than off-grid and can be easily expanded.
Because you are tying into the utility grid, your installation may be more regulated. Check out the regulations, legislation, and policies in your state, and plan to have an electrician or licensed contractor do the final hook-up.
Of course! Off-grid solar power is for independent-minded people who want no restrictions on where they choose to live. Off-grid solar power allows you to buy undeveloped land that you can afford more easily. Where other people wouldn’t have power, you’ll have clean, effective solar energy.
Do It Yourself (With Our Help!)
Our design techs are ready to get your system designed, packaged, and on its way for your DIY install.
Call us today at 1-800-472-1142
Or click below for your