5 Reasons DIY Solar Panel Kits Will NOT Save You Money
Cost savings are the only reason to consider buying a solar panel kit and installing it yourself. Who wants the hassle otherwise?
But will you actually save any money?
Sticker price is only one part of this equation. If you think it’s that simple, then you’ve come to the right place, because it isn’t.
For example, one dealer sells a 6.5kW solar panel kit for $18,000. How much more would it cost to have a professional install it for you?
Here’s why that’s not as simple a question as it seems:
When thinking about the “costs” of solar, you have to also consider the savings you’ll be enjoying on your power bills. That is the point, after all, right? But those savings build up over the life of the system. And good solar installations will last 30 to 40 years. By that point, the initial sticker price will be a distant memory. What has happened in those decades since then – that’s what really matters.
With that in mind, here are 5 reasons solar panel kits will not save you the money they at first appear to.
No Installation Warranty
If you mess something up during the installation, even something minor, you’ll bear the full weight of all the additional costs that result. Remember – this is about cost savings, and if solar panel kits actually deliver any. So, what happens if you make a minor mistake when you wire your panels to your inverter, and the inverter malfunctions a few years later?
You have to pay for that. And every dime you pay to fix your mistake reduces your actual savings from using a DIY solar panel kit.
But reputable solar installers have warranties. Coastal Solar’s is 25 years. That warranty means you won’t have to pay for unforeseen costs down the road, even 23 years later.
The only way solar panel kits won’t end up costing more than the sticker price is if you do a perfect installation that lasts for 25 years. What are the chances of that?
Pretty low. Why? Because most people aren’t experts.
Here’s an incomplete list of just some of the skills and knowledge you’ll need to master if you plan to install your own solar panel kit:
- Roofing assessment. You must make an appraisal on if your roof can handle a solar array, or if you should replace your roof first. Do you know what to look for?
- Roofing installation (you don’t want your roof to leak six months later, right?)
- Electricity, DC and AC, wiring, and related house systems
- Solar energy and how it works
- Solar panel placement
- Position of the sun (get this part wrong, and you’ll lose money over the life of your system)
The less you know about these now, the greater your chances of missing something really important that leads to higher costs down the road. And you’ll have no warranty to protect you. Any extra costs incurred by your lack of skills or knowledge eat into your sticker price savings from DIY solar kits.
Time Is Money
The less you know about all the items on that list up above, the more time you’ll have to spend learning about them – before you even begin your installation.
Less Initial Knowledge = More Time Required
So get ready to spend many hours and many months reading manuals, calling help lines, watching Youtube videos over and over to be sure you know which wire is which, reading blogs, talking to friends or family who know more than you about this, sitting on hold or standing in line waiting to get your permitting questions answered, figuring out what tools you need… shall we go on?
And this is just to get ready to buy and install your kit.
After all this time, you still have to actually buy your solar panel kit. There are hundreds to choose from, all with technical jargon-heavy names like this: Renogy 300-Watt 12-Volt Polycrystalline Off-Grid Solar Start Kit for Solar System with MPPT Charge Controller.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, this ain’t.
Look at that product name again. How much time will you have to spend just to understand what all those terms mean? Because you need to know what you’re buying before you buy it, right? How do you know if you want or need all those things? Is 300 Watts a lot? How much power will that give me? How much will it save me on my bills? What’s polycrystalline? Is that good?
And even after you learn enough to know what all that means, you now have to make a decision about quality. Which kits are better? How do I know? So now you’re scouring consumer reports charts, reading reviews, wondering where the panels were made, and if that manufacturer even has a phone number (some solar panel kit manufacturers are in China and have zero customer service).
And after you finally buy it, now you have to install it. This will take you much more time than a professional.
Once again – the less you know, the more time you’ll lose with solar panel kits.
Most people on forums and blogs who tout DIY kits as big money-savers also have a lot of pre-existing expertise about solar, electricity, and construction. You can tell because of how they rattle off terms that most people don’t understand. For those few expert people – maybe they do save money with kits. Maybe. And if you know someone like that, they’ll assure you how simple it all is. For them. But not for you.
And if the solar panel kit dealer offers tutorials and extra help with your install, there’s only one way they can offer that service: Build it into the price. That means their prices are higher than they would have been, and closer to the cost of just paying an expert installer.
Unless you’re already very skilled – prepare to commit at least a year of your life to this. Because you still have a job and a family, right?
The Multiplier Effect – Easley’s Law
The less you know, the more likely you’ll make a mistake. We could call that #Easley’s Law of Replacement Referees. But some mistakes aren’t about damage or warranties. Some are about actual money.The less you know, the more likely you’ll make a mistake. We could call that #Easley’s Law of Replacement Referees. Click To Tweet
For instance, if you get the placement, orientation, or tilt of your panels wrong, even just a little, this can lead to energy production losses of anywhere from 5 to 10% (or more if you don’t address shading properly).
Is 5% a big deal?
Well, let’s again remember this isn’t about sticker price. It’s about 30 years of solar energy. If your system underperforms by just 5% each month, how much savings on your power bill will you lose over 360 months (30 years)?
Even if that 5% loss costs you just $5 a month of power bill savings, in 30 years that’s $1800. This is real money, and it’s money you are losing, that you would have saved, had a NABCEP-certified solar installer done it for you.
The multiplier effect simply means that small mistakes made during installation can mean thousands in lost savings over the life of your system.
How confident are you that you’ll install your system as well as a professional? If you think you can do it as well as them, then why are they called a professional? And why do they have such rigorous certification standards?
Home Depot’s New Best Friend
Again, this depends on what kind of tools you already have. But most people don’t have all the tools required to install a solar panel system. That means you’ll have to go buy some stuff. Even if it’s just $100 of supplies, that’s still $100 you wouldn’t have spent if you’d gotten a professional solar panel installation.
You have to add all these things up.
Money spent on tools. Money lost over 30 years due to installing an underperforming system. Money lost due to a breakdown that would have been covered by warranty. Money lost due to spending so much time on this that you weren’t using it for other, perhaps profitable endeavors.
It adds up. And the cost differences between solar panel kits and a professional installer aren’t that much. They get narrower as the system gets larger. After tax incentives, we’re only talking a few thousand dollars in most cases. Over 30 years, it won’t take much for the DIY solar panel kit to catch up in cost to the pro-installed home solar energy system.
Risk of Severe Damage Goes Way Up
Electricity isn’t something to mess around with.
If you don’t know how to work with it, then you shouldn’t be practicing on a solar panel installation at your own house. Go take a class first! (And add that to the costs of your DIY kit).
Why? Because the danger is very real.
Wiring, voltage, charge, current, resistance – this stuff can kill you. It can also start a fire in your house, or cause the whole system to shut down and require parts to be replaced.
Same with roofing. If you mess your roof up, now you’ve got leaks to fix.
If you mess up while building your new bookshelf from Ikea, you just drill a new hole and hide the mistake with a houseplant. If you mess up your solar panel kit installation, you could burn your house down. Granted, that’s the farthest extreme. More likely is a fried panel or shorted out wiring, things like that.
But it doesn’t matter. All these damages will cost you money (and time) to fix. And while you’re paying for that, your solar panels will also be out of commission until you can fix the damaged systems. All that energy you aren’t producing for the days or weeks it takes to fix – that’s money you’re losing too.
DIY Solar Panel Kits – A Wise Perspective
Think about this: You’re about to spend $18,000 on a 6.5kW solar panel kit, and you still have to figure out how to install it. Spending that kind of money and then trusting your own untrained skills to make sure everything gets done right – that’s an $18,000 gamble.
The question is, why make it?
Get it done right the first time, enjoy the security of a 25 year warranty, the absence of major hassles down the road, and peace of mind that you know it was installed by a certified professional.
And time is in many ways more valuable than money. The time you’ll save by not doing it yourself is in the hundreds of hours – depending on what you already know. Most of us don’t know much.
What’s better for your house? This one:
Renogy 300-Watt 12-Volt Polycrystalline Off-Grid Solar Start Kit for Solar System with MPPT Charge Controller
Or this one:
Outback Power VFXR 2120 Watt Grid Tie Solar System Kit with 3,500 Watt Inverter and Battery Backup
Can you make your choice? Can you tell your spouse why in a way he/she will understand? If that sounds like a different language to you, it’s only the beginning. This is what you’re up against with solar panel kits and DIY installation.
More Questions to Explore!
How Solar Works
Even when using a professional installer, you should have some basic knowledge.