This project can take one to three days, depending on the number of panels and the installers’ experience.
This one takes some heavy-duty equipment.
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Battery bank (optional)
Installing solar panels is a great way to make your home more energy-efficient. If you want to adorn your roof with these panels, here’s the low-down on how to install solar panels yourself.
Prepping to Install Solar Panels
Though you may feel the itch to climb onto your roof and start installing your solar panels right away, there are a handful of steps you have to take before you can have those panels installed.
Survey the Site with an Engineer
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If you’re DIYing solar panel installation, you’ll need to find a local structural engineer to conduct a site inspection and approve your project. The engineer will inspect your electrical system and roof and may make suggestions to help you make an informed decision in your purchases for the project.
Apply for Building and Electrical Permits
Before you can climb on your roof to install some sleek, new solar panels, you’ll need to make sure you’ve acquired the right permits. You’ll need a building permit, but some municipalities require an electrical permit on top of this.
Applying for the permits, waiting for the approval, and conducting the necessary inspections can take anywhere from two to six weeks total, so you’ll want to be proactive if you want your installation to happen quickly. If you have a local homeowners’ association, you should also check with their policies to ensure you’ve paid any required fees for the installation.
Prepare the Roof for Solar Panel Installation
Let’s face it—if your roof is out-of-date, then you may need to replace your roof before you can mount an entire solar panel system to it. Solar panel systems can last over 25 years, so installing panels on an older roof can make replacing your roof a major pain when it comes time to get a new roof.
Inspect your roof to ensure the tiles or shingles are secure. Also, while trees offer a great reprieve from the scorching summer heat, they can interfere with your panels. You’ll want to trim branches that hang over the location of your anticipated solar panels before installing them.
Buying Solar Panels
Depending on your budget and home setup, you’ll also want to consider which solar panels are right for your home. The type of solar panel you choose depends on your budget and the amount of power you’ll need to produce to generate enough electricity for your home. Some homes may also need an entirely new electrical system.
The solar panels aren’t the only equipment you’ll need to install. You’ll need to factor in which mounting system you want, the type of inverter system for converting solar energy into usable household electrical energy, and whether or not you want a backup generator for storing electricity on a rainy day or during a weather emergency.
It’s important that you follow safety guidelines for installing solar panels, including fall protection. You can simplify the installation by renting a ladder, boom, or scissor lift to get the panels onto the roof with ease. If you have a steep roof, consider using scaffolding to help prevent dangerous falls.
Inspect Your Roof
Photo: Michael O'Keene / Adobe Stock
Even if you have a new roof installed, you’ll want to make sure that your roof is in tip-top shape for installing a solar panel system on the day of the installation. Check the installation site to make sure that there are no loose tiles or shingles where you’ll install the panels.
Lay the Wiring
Though most people notice the giant panels on rooftops, there’s a hidden side to the panels where the wires connect to send energy to the inverter system. The electrical system for your solar panel is key to harnessing solar energy for use in your home, and you’ll have to install it before you can put up the panels.
First, refer to the electrical wiring diagram for details on the specifics of your wiring system. Be sure to have a multimeter on hand to ensure there’s no sign of a voltage as you’re installing the wiring system, and wear gloves, eye protection, and boots to protect yourself when handling any electrical runs. Then, run the wires along the frames of where you’ll install the solar panels so that you won’t have a hard time later on with the installation due to obstructions.
If your solar panels use spring clamps, you’ll need to open a terminal to run the wires and then release the terminal to clamp the wires down. If your panels don’t come with a clamp bar, use wire clips to secure the wires and prevent wind, rain, or snow from displacing them.
The racking is what holds the solar panels in place on your roof. Racking is actually the only equipment you’ll install directly to your roof. As such, you’ll want to make sure the racking is even and firm.
One of the sturdiest ways to install the roof mounting system is to bolt them to the roof rafters. The type of roof you have you have largely affects how you’ll install the racking system.
For composite or asphalt roofs: You’ll need to remove the shingles to install a racking system for most composite and asphalt roofs.
Mark the points where your racking system will be installed with measuring tape and chalk to help you line up the racks.
Slide the flashing under the marked shingles.
Mark where you’ll need to drill through to reach and secure the flashing.
Remove the flashing.
Apply a roof sealant.
Place the flashing back.
Tighten the flashing using an impact drill.
Place the racking rails onto the flashings.
For metal roofs: Metal roofs don’t contain shingles for securing a racking system. Instead, they use roof clamps attached via a seam or bolt. Since there are many configurations for installing racking onto metal roofs, you’ll need to follow the instructions included with the product for installing these systems.
For flat roofs: If you have a flat roof or a low-slope roof, you may be wondering if you can still install a mount. Flat roofs require a ballasted mount. These mounts don’t require any permanent installations, as the racking is heavy enough to hold your panels in place.
Mount the Solar Panels
With the racking system installed, you’re now free to place the panels onto the rails. Line up the mounting holes so that they’re even with the rails, then secure the panels with clamps, tightening the clamps until they’re nicely wedged between each panel as you go. Make sure to follow the instructions and use the correct clamps for the end of each row of panels, as some systems require a separate stopper sleeve for end-of-the-row panels.
Connect the Inverters
Photo: Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock
The energy your panels produce needs to go through an inverter or series of microinverters for use within the home. How you connect the solar panel system to the inverters depends on the type of system you choose.
Some systems require a connection in the circuit after the battery, some require a connection to only the circuit that supplies AC power to devices in your home, while others require more steps—such as connecting to the solar panels, the grid, and your circuit board—and warrant a professional solar panel contractor’s hand.
Install the Battery Bank (Optional)
If you’re hoping to store some of the energy you’ve harnessed from your solar panels and want to install a battery storage system along with the panels, this is a good time to do so. You’ll likely need to tweak your inverter so that it pairs with an off-grid battery bank’s inverter.
The last step to having a solar panel system is to contact your local government to inspect the new system and perform an assessment. Once your assessment is complete, you’ll receive written authorization to interconnect your system to the local utility company’s power grid. This is called Permission to Operate (PTO).
DIY Solar Panel Installation vs. Hiring a Pro
Solar panels are a major investment, and you don’t want to risk ruining them during a DIY installation. Since the panels go on the roof, there’s also a chance of injury if you do it yourself. Lastly, installing the electrical wiring tends to require a skilled electrician to ensure there are no electrical hazards.
For these reasons, it’s best to hire a solar panel installer near you to do the installation. Solar companies have ample experience installing solar panels, making it a simpler, safer, and faster process than installing solar panels yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I install solar panels by myself?
While you can install solar panels by yourself, it can be a complicated process full of lots of manual labor, risky roof work, and knowledge of electrical wiring. Most solar panel installation projects should be reserved for a trained professional—especially if you plan on connecting your panels to the electrical grid rather than for off-grid use, which doesn’t require utility services.
How hard is it to install solar panels by yourself?
DIY solar panel installations are hard to manage by yourself. You’ll likely need some help or prior experience to make the project worth the effort.