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Should You Be Your Own Solar Installer?

Choosing to go solar is easy. Everybody wants to save money, right? Choosing whether you should have a contactor install your solar or go the do-it-yourself route is a tougher decision. Yes, installing the solar yourself will save you even more money but is it worth it?

First, let’s ask the easy questions. Are you an electrician or roofer? If the answer is yes, then you should be able to handle at least half of the installation process without much difficulty because it involves things you do every day. If you aren’t an electrician, don’t fret, you are not automatically disqualified, if you’re handy, you can still get through it. 

The electrical work that you will need to do might be slightly more complicated than regular household wiring but it is not that much different. It also depends on what type of system you are installing. If you do microinverters like Enphase, almost the whole job is regular household 240 volt split phase. Only the wires on the solar panels are DC and those are simply plugged into the microinverters with the connectors that are already on the equipment. That part really is plug and play. If you are doing a string inverter, then it will be DC power from the solar panels to the inverter but it really isn’t that different. The biggest rule is that if you run it inside the house (attic wire runs are common) it must be in metal conduit. 

The other part of the electrical work that might not be in every electrician’s daily routine is the conduit. It is common for residential rooftop solar installations to have EMT conduit running from the roof to the ground level equipment. There really isn’t any special things you need to know about bending EMT conduit, it just takes a fairly inexpensive bending tool and some practice. There are also lots of ways to cheat using LB’s and pre-bent 90 or 45 degree sections. You can also avoid a lot of EMT if you run the wiring through the attic. There you can often get away with flexible metal conduit for the DC and if its AC, some jurisdictions will allow Romex with no conduit at all just like any other household wiring. 

The real hurdle on doing the electrical work for solar is knowing electrical safety, if you are an electrician, we would hope you already have a good grasp on that. If you aren’t an electrician, there are plenty of other ways to learn electrical safety if you don’t already know it.

So now let’s talk about the roofing part of the solar installation. A roofer would have an advantage here because they are familiar with some of the basic concepts but not so much of an advantage that non-roofers can’t do it. 

First, you are going to make holes in the roof for the attachments that will hold the system down. The hardest part is that these holes have to made in the middle of the rafters and even an experienced roofer does not have to do this very often. But if you buy your solar kit from you will get a revolutionary tool for free that not only finds the rafter but guides you to drill directly into the center of the rafter. 

Next, you have to properly seal these holes to avoid roof leaks. This is where a roofer would have an advantage, but a handy do-it-yourselfer armed with the right roof attachments, flashings and sealant can do this just fine on their own. 

Finally, safety matters here too. Ladder safety and the safety rules for working at heights above six feet are important. Roofers deal with this every day but a do-it-yourselfer can become just as knowledgeable and be just as safe.

So if you’re handy with construction jobs, have a good knowledge of safety for working with electrical, ladders and heights, a good set of tools or a friendly neighbor who will lend them to you and, you can follow instructions, then you can do the job. Just make sure you purchase your solar equipment from to get expert advice, the right equipment and the rafter finding tool that will save you a lot of frustration.  

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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1 Comment

  1. Having self-installed 96 ground mounted, re-tiltable panels (4 times/year) I can highly recommend doing it that way. My last 5.7 kW of panels cost me under $10,000 before tax refunds etc versus an estimate of $22,000 for 5 kW with me still installing the underground wire and the base for the panels. They are installed in landscape format on Unirac 14 ft rails cut in half and Unirac legs for the 38 and 65° tilts and separate, short legs for the 12° summer tilt, with Enphase inverters. The only problem is that Ilinois has re-written the RECs regulations so that self-installers can no longer qualify. A photo and graphs of monthly production starting in 2007 for the 1st 8 kW are available if desired.

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