Going solar has major financial benefits: it reduces your monthly electricity costs and can even increase the value of your home. Incentives like the federal tax credit for solar can reduce your net cost by 30 percent or more, but solar is still a big investment, and the price tag can result in sticker shock. To save money, it’s no surprise that many homeowners are considering DIY solar panel kits when they decide to go solar. Below, we break down the top things you need to know about DIY solar before making a decision.
DIY Solar Can Be Less Expensive, but Your Options are Limited
According to data from the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, the average gross cost of going solar for homeowners (meaning your costs before incentives and rebates are applied) was $29,225. Of that amount, design and installation labor costs contribute about 10 percent of the total bill – this ten percent is all that DIY solar saves you, since you’ll still have the buy the equipment yourself. Regardless, it’s still tempting to look into a DIY solar installation to save money and be in full control of your project.
Your solar energy system should continue to generate electricity for 20 to 30 years, so it’s crucial that you consider both the upfront costs and the relative financial benefits for all of your solar options. If you buy a home solar kit like the ones for sale at Costco or Home Depot, it may be less expensive per watt, but you aren’t getting the same quality equipment that solar installers are able to offer you. For the most part, solar installers buy from equipment distributors that don’t sell to the general public – and they’re often getting lower prices because they’re able to buy in bulk.
DIY Solar Works for Small Off-Grid Projects
Most home solar kits are designed for off-grid use, which means you can’t use them and remain connected to your utility. If you’re an average homeowner, going off-grid is probably not in your best interest – being able to access utility-generated electricity is important if your solar energy system doesn’t produce enough electricity to meet your needs at all times of the day throughout the year.
However, home solar kits can be a good solution if you’re not trying to power your entire home. RVs, boats, and the increasingly popular tiny houses are all opportunities to explore DIY solar, because they are already off-grid and mobile.
On a related subject, DIY solar can be useful if you have a large property and want to power an outlying area, like a barn or toolshed, or want to easily install outdoor lights. In those cases, your electricity demands will be relatively low, so purchasing a small home solar kit and installing it yourself is feasible.
Installing Solar is Complicated, and Requires Training and Experience
When you decide to DIY solar, remember that you get what you pay for. A home solar kit may be less expensive, but solar installers offer tremendous value for relatively little additional cost (remember that ten percent figure?). When it comes to installing an expensive electrical system on your property, finding someone who knows what they’re doing can actually save you both time and money in the long run.
Some of the best solar installers have been installing solar energy systems for decades – experience that no amount of online research or DIY guides can replicate. Every state requires that installers are licensed and qualified to install solar, and independent certifications like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners’ (NABCEP’s) Solar PV Installation Professional Certification ensure that the company you choose to work with has an intimate understanding of the process.
Your solar installer will also help you complete and file the permits and applications that you need to submit to get your solar energy system up and running. This is particularly important because your utility won’t let you connect your system to the grid without sign-off from a certified electrician.
Because of your solar installer’s experience, they’ll also have a strong understanding of the financial incentives for solar available in your area, and might even be able to help you save more money by finding an incentive that you may have missed. Lastly, it is important to note that many equipment manufacturers will only honor their warranties if a qualified installer installed their equipment. Many installers will also offer an additional warranty on their own work too.
There are Other (Better) Ways to Save Money on Your Solar Installation
Of course, when making such a big decision for your home, you’ll want to find the solar option that has the greatest financial benefit for you. However, DIY solar isn’t the only way, or even close to the best way, to save money when going solar.
EnergySage data shows that solar shoppers who compare their options on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace save 20 percent or more off the costs of installation, as compared to shoppers who don’t compare quotes from multiple installers beforehand. The reason is simple: when solar installers compete for your business, you win! Considering that design and installation labor costs usually only make up ten percent of the cost of a quote, this means you can save just as much or more by simply comparing your options from prescreened solar installers competing for your business.
Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.
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