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Planning Your DIY Solar Installation

Whether you are a professional installer or a Do-It-Yourselfer, planning ahead is the key to a hassle-free solar installation.

The planning should start with system sizing. Before you purchase your system, you should make sure it is the right size for your home. With a grid-tied system this means checking the estimated system output and comparing that to your electric bills. This process may be more complicated than it sounds, but if you start by calling Go Green Solar (866-798-4435), a knowledgeable solar consultant will help you with the calculations.

Though the labor to install the solar equipment can be a DIY project, the generation of plans for a permit is NOT a DIY project. The National Electrical Code (NEC) has had numerous significant changes in the last few years. We keep track of which ones apply to your project. Go Green Solar offers a permitting service, that is mandatory.  If the building department has questions on the plans we generate, we will respond and revise the plans to meet their requirements.

Solar Plan Set

The plans will have the setbacks required for your local fire codes so you know how much roof area can be dedicated for solar and will show exactly where the solar panels will be so you can follow our layout when it is time to install. Keep in mind that you need to add the spaces between the panels in your measurements and that many solar racking types require 2” of rail past the last solar panel frame to support the end clamps.

During the development of your plans, Go Green Solar will work with you to make sure that your main service panel can accommodate the system. NEC code section 705.12 limits how much solar can be installed based on the main service panel busbar rating and main breaker rating. The solar system will also need its own dedicated circuit breaker installed as far as possible from the main service breaker so you may have to move some loads or replace some of your breakers with slimmer ones to make room.

Solar Conduit Run

Another thing to plan ahead is your conduit run. The wires have to get from the solar panels to the ground level equipment. You can transition from the roof by running conduit through the attic, through the eave or around the eave. Each of these choices come with their own set of challenges. Going through the attic or eave will require flashing and weatherproofing that roof penetration. Running conduit around the eave can be awkward, especially considering that the NEC code only allows for 360 degrees of conduit bends between pull boxes. For example, if there are four 90 degree bends in a run of conduit, that is 4 x 90 = 360 degrees total. Even if you aren’t worried about that NEC rule, too many bends without a pull box will make it difficult to pull the wire through so you may as well heed the code.

To make your install easier, Go Green Solar will also provide a shopping list that details additional items needed that are not included in the solar kit such as the list of all the conduit parts you will need to avoid extra trips to the hardware store. You don’t want to forget all the little things like the conduit connectors, straps and grounding bushings. You should also measure the conduit run and then buy at least ten to twenty more feet of wire than you think you need. There is nothing worse than coming up one foot short on a long wire run.

Before going to the hardware store to get all that conduit and wire, think about the other things you may need, like a clamp to connect the grounding wire to your home’s grounding rod or ufer if your local code requires it. The Go Green solar shopping list will tell you the screws for mounting the inverter, disconnect or other enclosures to the wall in case they are not included with the equipment or the ones that are included are not appropriate for your walls. Think about things like how you will patch the wall if you need to make a hole to access your flush mounted main service panel, what sealant you will use for the holes in the roof and the PV breaker for the main service panel.

Once your solar kit arrives, take the time to check all your parts before you start installing. Count everything (even the nuts and bolts) to make sure it is all there. If there are parts that need to be assembled, do it ahead of time. There is no need to be sitting on your roof in the hot sun, slowing down your installation while you put the bolt and nut on each solar panel clamp when you can get that done the night before while watching TV.  

Other things you can do ahead of time to make things go easier is read the installation manuals for the equipment you will be installing. Gather all the tools and bits you will need so they are ready to go on install day (check out our previous article to get the list). Make sure all your power tool batteries are fully charged the day before install day.

It may sound like a lot, but all this prep work will be totally worth it and allow you to breeze through your DIY solar installation. 

Author: Harold Tan

I believe clean, renewable energy is key to the evolution of society as a whole. Solar powers our planet, why not harness it to power humanity? Let's power our homes, our work, and our vehicles with solar energy. It begins with raising awareness and encouraging those around us to go green.

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