Could DIY solar work for your home?

September 11, 2020   By Jackie Whetzel

Could DIY solar work for your home?

As summer continues to chug along, many Texans are still utilizing their household as a 24/7 entertainment source due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More people are staying home right now thanks to “safer at home initiatives” in effect around the country – resulting in higher energy consumption (and elevated utility bills).

If you’ve thought about ways to save energy, you may have considered installing DIY solar energy panels.

If so, you’re not alone.  

According to the Pew Research Center, 96 percent of Americans are interested in saving on their utility bills by installing solar panels, yet only six percent of American homeowners have done so.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA), however, estimates that small scale solar energy capacity will grow by 44 percent over the next two years. Essentially, many states are getting involved in cleaner energy projects.

In fact, in 2019, Texas ranked sixth in the nation for solar energy production, according to the EIA. This is largely because of the vast expanses of West Texas that are legendary for their abundance of sunshine and solar farms.

You don’t have to live in West Texas to opt into solar energy though. Anyone can jump into the clean energy realm with a little bit of time and research.

Here are a few things to consider before investing in solar power for your home:

Is your home suitable?

Solar panel systems can work in any climate, however, not all rooftops are created equal when it comes to being a good candidate for solar panels.

“If there are trees near your home that create excessive shade on your roof, rooftop panels may not be the most ideal option,” the Department of Energy says, adding that the size, shape and slope of a household’s roof are all vital factors. The DOE offers several resources that will help you gauge your household’s rooftop potential.

What are your goals?

Before you sign the dotted line on a solar system, you should first decide how much energy you want to save and if you want to utilize backup energy or not. Do you want to go fully off the grid? Or is some traditional energy dependence acceptable for your household? Narrowing these factors down will help you make a quicker decision when you’re presented with a plethora of options.

Pick a system

Now that you’ve ironed out the details of what you’re looking to accomplish with solar power, it’s time to pick a system – and there are many options to choose from. The three main types are:

Grid-tied solar panel systems. These systems are typically smaller than others, have the lowest upfront cost, and come with simple installation plans. When we say simple – we mean they can be easier to get up and running than the others. As its name gives away, grid-tied solar panel systems are connected to a power grid. They also utilize net metering.

Off-grid solar panel systems. Off-grid systems are completely energy self-sufficient (therefore more expensive). Because they are off the grid, they are usually larger in size and require additional panels. Why? It takes a lot more solar to fully support a household’s 24/7 electric needs.

Hybrid solar panel systems (with battery capacity). The distinct feature of hybrid systems is the battery storage capacity that they have. Like grid-tied solar panel systems, these systems connect to the grid, offering the perk of backup power during grid outages. The saying that you get what you pay for rings true with these systems, though. The added battery component does result in higher costs.

Become a permitting process expert

Now that you have a plan for what type of solar panels you’re looking to install, you should research all the permit requirements in your area. You will likely need both utility and building permits and an inspection prior to your DIY install.

DIY solar panels vs. professional installation

Solar panel installation can cost upwards of $10,000 to $20,000 per household, however, this is one DIY project that isn’t as simple as most. If you’re considering trying to do a DIY solar install project, you should have a good idea of what you’re doing before you attempt it, as there’s always a risk of structural damage and the possibility of the panels coming down if not installed properly. 

According to the DOE, “Right now, the best way to install solar is through a qualified professional who holds a certification to do so and works with high-quality solar panels.” However, the DOE says, “In the future…, you will likely be able to install solar yourself. SETO awardee Fraunhofer CSE is developing a plug-and-play solar array that enables consumers to easily attach the panels to their roofs using an adhesive roof mounting system and connect it to the grid in under 12 hours.” 

They added, “This is still in development – until it is available at your local home improvement store, you should work with a certified solar installer.”

If you’re not completely confident in your ability to navigate the solar DIY project solo, it may be best left to the pros. There’s a reason why a miniscule number of American households have completed the installation listed above.

Other things to consider

As we move toward 2021, we continue to add to the overall energy consumption of our country, yet we have the most diverse energy sources to draw from in our history.

Whether you elect to pursue the DIY route, or you choose a more traditional contractor option, the need for supplementation of home energy will likely continue to increase.

The EIA projects that non-hydroelectric renewable energy resources (specifically solar and wind resources) will be the fastest growing sources of electrical generation in the United States over the next two years. These renewable sources will contribute 13 percent of the total electricity generated in the country by 2020.


Jackie Whetzel is a freelance writer who has been featured in newspapers and publications across the country. She has written on the topics of energy, education, government, and business. You can find her on Instagram.