Solar energy has now become a viable option for homeowners, and installation costs are dropping rapidly. However, installing solar panels for the whole home still means a substantial investment for most people, even though they can expect to see a return over a few years. Some homeowners, particularly the handy ones, consider DIY solar panel installation a way to save on the initial costs. There are advantages and disadvantages to building and installing solar panels yourself, and it's a good idea to be aware of both at the outset.
DIY solar panel installation is a lower cost option than professional installation. For experienced DIY-ers and hobbyists, it's a fairly simple and rewarding project. However, there are some drawbacks to this approach. Home safety is a major concern when dealing with electricity, and any mistakes can be both costly and dangerous. Furthermore, in order to qualify for the financial incentives offered by various government agencies, the installation must be done by a certified professional. For some smaller projects, such as bringing power to a barn, shed, pool, or off-grid property, a DIY project may be the best way to go.
Are DIY Solar Panels Right for You?
For most people who consider DIY solar panel installation, the primary motivation is to save on the installation costs. These can run tens of thousands of dollars, even with the financial incentives offered by federal and state agencies. While homeowners will recover their investment over a period of years, many people may not be able to afford the initial outlay. Building your own solar panels costs much less than having them professionally installed, making it an extremely cost-effective option to consider.
The other strong motivation for DIY solar panel installation is for energy independence, which is what attracts people to solar energy in the first place. Being able to build your own solar panels and hook them up to an electrical system takes self-reliance to the next level. And finally, for many homeowners who are enthusiastic DIY-ers and hobbyists, it is a fun and intriguing project.
However, there are several drawbacks to installing your own solar panels, and these are discussed in the next section. In general, this is a better approach for smaller projects, such as adding power to buildings like sheds, off-grid cabins, barns, and even swimming pools. For the entire home, it may be better to opt for a professional installation.
Benefits and Drawbacks of DIY Solar Panels
While the costs of solar energy installation are falling rapidly, it's still a major investment for most homeowners. Despite the fact that they will recover their investment in just a few years because of low-to-zero energy bills, it can be a big obstacle in the decision to go solar. This is a major reason why many people, especially if they are handy DIY types, consider another option.
Building your own solar panels costs much less than a professional installation. It's also a relatively simple project, and many people find it to be a rewarding exercise in self-reliance. However, there are several major drawbacks with DIY solar panels that may outweigh the advantages. For safety, quality, and durability, it is better to go with professional installations for the whole home. However, for smaller projects, DIY solar panels may be suitable.
Safety is a major concern in any electrical projects, and solar panels are no exception. Any mistakes could create fire hazards or damage the roof of your house. Installing solar panels on roofs is also a dangerous task and should not be undertaken by someone without the proper equipment and training.
The quality of solar panels used by professionals is better than you can get with DIY panels or even home solar kits. That's because professional installers buy their materials in bulk and qualify for manufacturer discounts, allowing them to use superior quality materials. The solar panels used by professionals will be safer and last longer.
Installations by professionals come with long warranties. Some professional installers will guarantee their work for as long as 25 years. In many cases, manufacturers of solar panels will only honor their warranties if the installation is done by certified professionals. Furthermore, DIY solar panels don't last very long, and their efficiency tends to decline over time. If anything does go wrong, with a professional installation you are covered.
DIY Solar Panels Do Not Qualify for Financial Incentives Various federal and state government agencies offer financial incentives for homeowners to install solar energy panels. However, the work must be done by properly certified personnel in order to qualify. This excludes the majority of DIY solar projects.
COMPLIANCE WITH CODES
Unless you're very skilled or well trained, your DIY solar project may not be in compliance with electrical and building codes. This will affect your home insurance policy and its overall safety and security.
WHEN IS DIY SOLAR INSTALLATION THE RIGHT CHOICE?
For all of the reasons listed above, the DIY approach is not a good choice for your whole home. For whole home solar installations, it's best to opt for the professionals. It is safer, and if there are any problems with the system, you do not have to deal with it alone. However, the DIY solar panel approach works well for smaller projects, such as powering a shed or barn, charging your car battery or laptop, etc. DIY solar panels can also work for RVs, boats, and small houses.
How to Build a DIY Solar Panel
DIY-ers and hobbyists may still want to go ahead with a DIY solar project. It's fairly simple, and you can easily build a small panel that you can use to charge your car batteries or power your laptop. The first step is to design your solar array and then buy the solar cells you will need for the design. It's a good idea to get all your equipment and tools together before you start actually building the panel.
A slightly easier DIY option is to buy a home solar kit from a major retailer instead of building your own panels. This comes with the panels already assembled. These can be a good choice for smaller, off-the-grid projects like barns, RVs, boats, and cabins. However, the quality of the panels in home solar kits can't match those used by professional installers. That's because professional installers buy quality material in very large quantities at heavily discounted prices.
Building a DIY solar panel is a simple and fun project for DIY-ers and hobbyists. It's not a substitute for a professional whole home solar installation but can generate enough power for small projects and buildings like barns and sheds. You can buy most of the things you'll need for this project from online retailers.
What you'll need:
DESIGN YOUR PANEL
Plan the layout of your solar cells on a wooden board before you order them. Use as many cells as you will need to reach a voltage of 12 to 24 volts. A higher voltage will be dangerous.
BUY THE SOLAR CELLS
As with everything else, you will be balancing cost with performance when choosing solar cells. You can buy them from online retailers like eBay or Amazon. When you get your solar cells, make sure to unpack them carefully. They are fragile and break easily.
LAY OUT SOLAR CELLS ON WOODEN BOARD
Mark out the lines on the wooden board for the placement of the solar cells and lay the cells out on the board. Next, drill holes into the board for the wires to pass through.
WIRE THE SOLAR CELLS
Connecting the cells in series will give you the maximum voltage. Start by soldering the wires to the cells and then connect the cells to each other with the wires. For a higher voltage, use more cells.
FIX CELLS TO THE PANEL
Fix the cells to the panel. You can also build a frame where individual cells can be added or removed more easily. Once your panel is ready, you can take it outside in the daylight to see how it performs. If you need more voltage, you can add more cells.
CONNECT PANEL TO AN INVERTER
You will need at least 12 volts to power an inverter. The inverter converts the DC to the 110/220V AC used by most devices. It can also be connected to charge battery packs.
While the costs of solar energy installation are dropping rapidly, they're still too high for many homeowners. Some people consider DIY solar panel installation as a low-cost alternative to professional installations. While the lower cost is attractive, there are many drawbacks to making and installing your own solar panels. Safety, quality, and durability are all concerns with homemade solar panels. While it may be better to go with a professional installation for whole home solar, DIY panels are suitable for smaller projects like off-grid structures, RVs, and boats.