Installing solar panels on your home can help reduce your electricity bills and decrease your carbon footprint. While hiring a solar company to install a system can be expensive, opting for a do-it-yourself solar panel installation can save you thousands of dollars. As someone who recently installed solar panels myself, I learned firsthand how DIY solar can be an affordable way to go green. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through the entire process of installing and setting up your own solar panel system from start to finish.
Researching DIY Solar Panel Systems
The first step is researching the different types of solar panels and components needed to construct your system. There are a few main considerations when selecting panels:
Solar cell types – The most common residential solar cells today are monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon cells which convert sunlight into electricity via the photovoltaic effect. Monocrystalline panels tend to be slightly more efficient but cost more.
Panel wattage – Panels typically range from 250-400 watts. Multiply the wattage by the number of panels to calculate your system’s total wattage. Most homes need 3,000-8,000 watt systems.
Panel certification – Opt for panels certified by the Solar Panel Certification Network, UL, or CSA to ensure safety and quality standards. Top panel manufacturers include LG, Panasonic, and SunPower.
Other key components include:
Inverter – Converts the DC electricity from the panels to usable AC current for your home. Microinverters can optimize each panel’s output.
Mounting equipment – Racking, mounts, and hardware needed to securely affix panels to your roof.
Wiring – Electrical wires and conduits to connect the system components.
Safety gear – Equipment like harnesses and ropes for working on a roof.
I spent over 50 hours researching components and costs to determine the optimal system for my needs and budget. I highly recommend reading DIY solar guides and watching installation videos to understand the process before purchasing any equipment.
Creating a Design and Obtaining Permits
Once you select your components, the next step is creating a system design. Sketch out panel placement based on the layout of your roof and desired power output. Factor in potential shading from trees or other buildings that could impact sunlight exposure. Online tools like PVWatts can help you model system production.
Most municipalities require permits to install solar panels, so check with your local permitting office. Submit your system plans and equipment specs to get the necessary solar permits before installation. The permit application process can take weeks or even months, so tackle this early.
Ordering the PV Equipment and Tools
With permits in hand, now you can order the solar equipment, including:
Solar panels – Have panels shipped to your home or pick up locally if available. Order a bit extra to account for any potential breakage or defects.
Racking and mounts – Rails, L feet, clamps, and hardware to mount panels. Stainless steel is best.
Inverter – A central or microinverter(s) sized according to your system’s wattage.
Electrical box and wiring – A PV disconnect box, conduit, copper wiring, junction boxes, and connectors.
Safety equipment – Harnesses, ropes, helmets, gloves, and other safety gear. Never work on a roof without proper fall protection!
You’ll also need common installation tools like drills, screw drivers, wrenches, saws, and more. Provide plenty of time for shipping and material delays. Safety should be your top priority, so don’t skimp on equipment designed to protect you.
Installing the Solar Panel Mounting System
With all the parts secured, it’s time for installation. Here’s an overview of the process:
1. Mount the rails – Fit aluminum or steel rails onto your roof’s rafters using lag bolts secured into the roof joists. Proper reinforcement is critical.
2. Attach the mounts – End clamps, mid clamps, and L feet fasten to the rails to create mounts for the panels.
3. Secure the panels – Carefully place each panel onto the mounting system and bolt into place using the manufacturer’s instructions.
Proper roof preparation and waterproofing is vital before attaching any components. Consider having a roofing specialist inspect your work in progress and upon completion to ensure roof penetrations are adequately sealed.
Take extreme safety precautions when working on your roof, including having someone assist as a spotter. Also account for weather delays – never install panels on a wet or windy day.
Wiring the Solar Panels and Components
With the structure in place, it’s time to wire up the system:
1. Connect the panels – Link solar panels together in series to produce the desired voltage. Parallel connections can raise amperage. Use MC4 connectors to join panels.
2. Run conduit – Secure conduit lines across your roof and down to your electrical panel using conduit straps. Feed the wiring through conduit for protection.
3. Connect to the inverter – Run wiring from the panels to the inverter(s) using weatherproof junction boxes. Connect based on the specs of your system and components.
4. Wire to the panel – Feed the inverter output to your main electrical panel. The PV disconnect switch cuts power from the panels.
5. Ground the system – Ground all components properly using copper clamps and grounding rods. This safeguards your system from lightning strikes or electrical faults.
Install cable management devices to neatly run and secure all wiring connections. Improper electrical work can cause fires or electrocution, so consider hiring an electrician if you are unsure about the wiring process.
Configuring Your Solar System
With the physical installation complete, it’s time to activate and configure your solar components:
Inspect the system – Have an electrician inspect all electrical connections and the installation for safety. Only proceed after approval.
Activate the inverter – Turn on your inverters and sync to the panels following manufacturer guidelines. The inverter may need to update firmware.
Monitor productivity – Link inverter and panel monitoring devices to track system production and identify any issues.
Meet with your utility – Contact your utility company to enable net metering and complete required inspections and paperwork. This allows you to sell power back to the grid.
Maintain your system – Periodically clean panels, check wiring, and trim any new overhanging branches. Monitor output for anomalies and troubleshoot as needed.
With diligent research, strategic component selections, and safe installation practices, you can successfully save thousands by building your own solar array. Just take it slow, follow all permitting and electrical codes, and don’t be afraid to call in a professional if any aspect is beyond your skill level. Investing the time and effort into a DIY solar installation will provide renewable energy and significant electricity savings for decades to come.