When it comes to do-it-yourself projects like converting your home to solar, tapping into that “handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun” can at times seem an overwhelming project to undertake.
However, the benefits can equate to over a 50% savings in setup costs (not to mention well deserved bragging rights), which is enough to appeal to many a handy person to strap on their tool belt and give it a shot.
If you’re the type who enjoys taking on such ambitious projects, we’ve compiled a few basic tips and tricks that will hopefully save you time and frustration down the road:
Divide by 4:
The goal isn’t to cover every square inch of roof with as many panels as it can fit, but rather enough panels to meet your energy consumption.
A quick way to estimate how much energy you will need your panels to produce is to look at your energy bill, take your highest kilowatt usage and divide by four.
Four is the low-end estimate of average peak sunlight hours in most places on earth. Many places such as California and Arizona will get more than this, but staying conservative with your calculations of how much sunlight you expect the panels to receive is always a better call.
For example, the average U.S. household uses around 30 kw of energy a day according the US EIA and, at worst, probably gets around 4 peak sunlight hours, it would be safe to assume such a household will need enough panels to harvest around 7.5 Kws of power a day.
If you want to get specific with your calculations you can check out the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Isolation Map to see how much light your longitude and latitude can expect to receive during the year.
Aim for the equator:
When determining where to point your solar panels, a good starting point is to face them towards the equator.
With this general bearing in mind, do some research to determine if there are any shade obstructions in the area from mountains, trees or neighboring structures that might merit slightly shifting the direction of the panels to the east or west in order to collect the most sunlight.
If you can’t find an area that will always be shade free during peak hours, consider installing micro-inverters or power optimizers on your panels so you don’t dampen the power output of your entire system.
Hire a professional to create a permit package:
We know, you want to do this project yourself otherwise you wouldn’t be scrolling through this article, but if there’s one place you want to bring in outside help, this is it. Dealing with the bureaucratic rules of states, cities and HOA’s can drain the momentum of even the most adamant do-it-yourselfer, sometimes stalling a project more than a year.
If you submit a self drafted plan for a permit package, it’s likely it will come back denied, cryptically marked with red ink. Because city clerks measure performance by how many plans they are able to pass through in a day, if your plan looks like a lot of work to correct, it will get moved to the bottom of the pile and can take months to get back to you–every time you submit it!
The benefits of having a professional draft and submit your plan will also pay off additional dividends by providing you with a roadmap of what you will need to do to make your project safe. The majority of solar installation is electrical, and if panels are wired incorrectly, disasters such as fires or electrocution can occur, which might have easily been avoided using a professionally made plan on how to wire your system.
When it comes to nature, anticipate the worst
Wind. Wind will be your worst enemy when it comes to installing PV panels. They act like sails, after all, and a high gust and can easily rip them off the roof or out of the ground:
If you’re installing panels on your roof, make sure the standoff legs mounting the panels are drilled with lag bolts through the center of support beams no less than every four feet. If you’re mounting on the ground, dig a massive hole 10 feet deep and 4 feet around to bury the poles that support the panels.
Splurge on quality equipment:
Since a self installation will shave about 50% from the price tag converting your home to solar, invest some of that money into using the best equipment possible. Use highest quality metal and wood you can buy. Purchase the long lasting sealant over the generic. You’re going to be putting in a lot of sweat to making your home run off the sun, so might as well make sure the materials will last as long as possible.