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DIY solar vs. a solar provider

6 min read

Whether you want to sidestep rising energy costs or do your part to reduce your carbon footprint through renewable energy, once you decide to go solar you'll almost certainly want to get the panels installed and producing electricity as quickly as possible. And if your main motivation for installing rooftop solar is to save money (like it is for many people), you'll probably want to get them up and running as economically as possible. So is the do-it-yourself (DIY) route the best way to save money? Is it better to go with a local company or a national solar installer? We'll walk you through the plethora of options so you can make the best choice for your home!

For the do-it-yourselfer

In this age of HGTV and YouTube, many homeowners are tackling improvement projects on their own in the hopes of saving a few bucks. And with many big-box stores selling DIY rooftop solar kits, you may wonder how hard it can be. Designing and installing your own system may save you some money upfront, but there's a lot more to it than climbing on your roof and drilling some panels into the joists. Ask yourself this question before considering a DIY solar kit - are you comfortable doing electrical work in your home? If the answer is no, go straight to the next section! A rooftop solar system involves multiple electrical components that must be configured properly to be safe and functional. If, like most homeowners, playing with high voltage makes you nervous, the DIY route is not for you.

If you're not scared off by electrical work, you could save about 10 percent1 on a rooftop solar system by installing it yourself. However, getting the most out of your solar system (and saving the most on electricity) requires selecting the right-size system for your home and optimal placement for maximum sun exposure. With a DIY kit, you'll need to calculate those things yourself. To qualify for tax and rebate incentives (and maybe even avoid fines), you'll also need the proper permits. Permitting requirements vary based on location so you'll need to research and follow the process for your area.

The process to get your system up and running is actually quite complicated and can be a bit of a hassle. Residential solar energy systems need to be connected to the utility grid to pull any additional power needed (ex: at night) from the grid and to push any excess solar energy to the grid. Because of this, it requires communication and paperwork with both the city and the municipality. Permits, inspections, and specific forms are required to get approval for interconnection. All of which is usually taken care of by a solar provider to make the process simple and easy for the customer. It's not impossible for a homeowner to do this on their own, it might just be a little more difficult to navigate for someone who doesn't have experience with the process.

One more thing to keep in mind when DIY-ing is that solar manufacturers often will not honor warranties on their products unless they are installed by licensed electricians. So if something goes wrong with one of your panels, or any of the system components, you may need to pay to replace or fix it.

Because the process is complex and a miscalculation could compromise your long-term efficiency, most homeowners will find DIY kits best reserved for small, off-grid applications like a shed or an RV.2

Hiring a professional

Most homeowners are best served by leaving rooftop solar installation to a professional. Solar installers have completed specialized training and have the right experience and tools to determine your energy needs and the best placement for solar panels. They can ensure your panels function at their best for many years to come and a reputable company will stand behind their work with a long-term warranty. They'll handle all the red tape for permitting and, because professional solar installers are up-to-date on renewable energy incentives, you'll be confident that you're getting the best rewards available.

Another advantage of hiring professional solar installers is payment flexibility. Larger companies will usually offer more than one financing option to get those panels on the roof - in addition to purchasing your system outright or through financing, you may be able to select a solar PPA or a lease for solar.

Choose the best company

There are only about a billion solar companies out there vying for your business - so which one do you choose? As with any major purchase, you should explore more than one option to find the company best suited to your project. Many solar companies offer free estimates and anyone you work with should design a system suitable for your home’s needs. They should also be able to walk you through their calculation of the system size and placement, the timeline for completion and the warranty details.

As you consider your options, remember the cheapest choice is not always the best one. The company you choose will not only be your point of contact throughout the installation, they will be your go-to resource with any questions or problems throughout the lifetime of your system, which should be more than 20 years! So it's important to choose a reputable company you are both comfortable working with and confident will be in business a decade or two from now. Generally speaking, larger and more established companies are more stable than small newcomers. In any case, find out whether the company has their own installers or if they will outsource installation to someone else. Most of the larger companies can have more rigorous quality inspections and offer more security to their broad customer base.

Know your upgrade options

A final piece to consider when choosing a solar company is what will be included - either now or later - in your solar setup. If you plan to install only grid-tied solar panels, the comparisons between installers will be pretty straight-forward. But if you have (or plan to have) a solar charging station for an electric vehicle or you're interested in a home battery, you may be best-off with a company that can install and manage your entire setup. The major manufacturers of home batteries and other solar products (like LG Chem and Tesla) are moving toward partnerships with national solar companies to manage their installations.

Whatever option you choose for going solar, take time to do your research - quality solar panels (and whoever installs them) will be with your home for years to come. DIY solar may be the right option for some, but if saving money is the main reason you're considering installing the panels yourself, know that it may end up costing you more if it's not done correctly the first time. Plus, you can still save money by getting a solar energy system installed by a professional company. Many companies install solar with no up-front cost and we have a post full of tips for saving money and energy to help you find other, low-risk ways to be frugal with solar!

If you have further questions or want to know more about the details of going solar with a professional company, call us today.

Endnotes 1. https://evergreensolar.com/how/diy/ 2. https://news.energysage.com/diy-solar-panels-pros-and-cons/

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