Homeowners know that they can save money by doing many home improvement projects themselves.
From the simplest paint job to more complex projects like redoing a bathroom or a kitchen, if you cut out costs for labor and profit of contractors, all you have to pay for is materials. And if you need to pick up a new tool or two, you can probably use it again in the future.
So, if you’re handy around the house, maybe you’ve thought of putting up your own solar panels on one of Virginia’s nice fall days?
DIY Solar Sounds Like a Money Saver. But It’s Actually Not.
For solar, you may have heard that PV panels and other equipment only account for part of the cost of a typical home solar installation. As Direct Energy Solar explains, “The DIY route is especially compelling when you realize that ‘soft costs’ like marketing and administration account for more than 50% of professional installation expenses.”
It’s easy to find DIY solar kits online and YouTube is full of videos telling you how to put up your own solar panels.
So, couldn’t you save a ton of money by climbing up to your roof and bolting on your own solar panels?
Probably not, experts say. DIY solar can actually be more expensive than a professional installation.
Even worse, DIY solar poses serious dangers not just to your home but to your personal safety too. Here are the top four reasons why installing solar is one thing that you should probably leave to the professionals:
1. Serious Danger of Falling or Electrocution
The best place for solar on most homes in Virginia, especially in an urban or suburban area, is on the roof. Unlike your backyard, you’re probably not using your roof for anything else right now. And on top of a house is often where you get the best sunshine.
But the danger of DIY solar on the roof is that…you have to climb up to the roof. Then, you have to stay up there on a pitched surface while carrying equipment and tools. Falling from a roof of even a single-story building can lead to pretty serious injuries or worse. That’s why the pros strap up when they go up top. And they also have serious training in safety procedures. If you don’t, is it worth the risk?
Meanwhile, even if you don’t fall off the roof, you could still zap yourself while trying to connect the wires of your solar system to the wires of your home’s electrical system. Again, no amount of money savings is worth this kind of risk.
2. Risk of Damage to Your Home
DIY solar, if installed incorrectly, can lead to damage both to a home’s roof and to its electrical system. If you’re not experienced, it’s easy to poke holes in your roof as you’re trying to attach solar panels to a roof rack. And holes can lead to a leaky roof which can cost thousands of dollars to repair or replace.
But the really scary stuff is working with electricity. As Solar Power Rocks explains, “Installing solar panels isn’t as simple as plugging them in. Technically complicated, high-voltage wiring is involved. There’s a risk of injury while you do the wiring work itself, and a further risk later if the wiring is done badly. Hooking up strings of solar panels incorrectly can create a surge in power that can blow up an inverter—and even burn down your house. If wires are cut improperly, they could later be shorted out by rain, and pose another fire risk.”
3. Cheap Equipment + Improper Installation = Low Production
The main selling point of DIY solar kits is that they’re cheap, not that they’re high quality, as Direct Energy explains. “Although there are some respectable home solar kits on the market, most units compete on price. They use components that are good enough—but not great.”
But even if you do the extra work to find high quality parts and then spend the extra money to buy them, if you install solar panels improperly, they’ll produce less electricity than they should and will be more likely to break down in the future.
Most of the work putting up solar is not in the actual installation but in the planning. You have to figure out several things before you even order your equipment:
- Figure out which panels are correct for your roof
- Calculate the correct number of panels for your unique electrical requirements
- Select the correct inverter to maximize production from your panels
- Choose the best place on your roof for the panels based on angle to the sun and potential shading
Finally, you will certainly void warranties on solar panels and other equipment if they’re not installed by a qualified professional. And you might even be breaking state or federal law if you try to connect improperly installed solar panels to the electric grid. “Most states require permits, certifications, and even a licensed electrician to legally wire solar panels and connect them to the grid. This is done in order for electrical codes and safety standards to be met,” according to Solar Cost Guide. And don’t forget about applying for local building and electrical permits. It’s complicated!
4. You Might Miss Out on Solar Incentives
The main incentive available in Virginia, the 30% solar federal tax credit, requires that a solar system be installed and operate up to certain standards. A qualified, licensed solar installation company will make sure that your system qualifies for this benefit. But going DIY could disqualify you from the federal tax credit. Missing out on this credit can cost you $5,000 or more on the average 5 kilowatt home solar system in Virginia, which can erase most or all of your savings trying to DIY.
Better Ways to Save Money on Solar
The only time DIY solar makes sense is on small applications done off the grid, for example, a tool or garden shed. Otherwise, solar is too complicated to do yourself — and it’s too dangerous to get up on your roof or work with your home’s electrical system unless you are properly trained. It’s safer, better and nearly always cheaper to get solar from a professional.
Even so, there are ways you can save money working with a qualified solar installer.
First, look at multiple installers and ask for quotes only from those that are likely to do high quality work at a fair price. Our article on 7 steps to choose the best solar installer can help.
Second, as EnergySage explains, “the biggest installers typically don’t offer the best price.” Large national or regional installers have the most overhead, from advertising to layers of high paid corporate executives. A local installer can usually give you the best price — and probably the best value too, since their business relies on their reputation for local customer satisfaction.
Finally, compare your equipment options carefully. While large installers usually don’t offer the best price, they may also only offer a limited number of choices of PV panels and inverters. The most expensive panels aren’t always the best value. Sometimes a large increase in price only brings a small increase in efficiency. An experienced local installer, focused clearly on value, will help you sort out your options and recommend equipment that gives the best balance of quality and price for your unique situation.
Here at Main Street Solar, we pride ourselves on educating Virginia homeowners to make the best decision on solar for their home.
Ask us for a free quote today, and we’ll come by your place and give you a plan for solar that will be affordable today and will give you solar satisfaction for decades to come. There’s no cost and no obligation. We’re happy to help!
— Andrew Brenner, Main Street Solar