7 Things I Learned Installing My Own Solar Panel System for my Home | CircuitBread Practicals
The photovoltaic solar installation is constantly changing and the experience of planning, installing, and approving a residential solar system varies from state to state. There are still many things to consider that will apply to installing solar today, tomorrow, and for many years to come. In this list, we go over 7 things that we learned in the process of installing our residential photovoltaic solar system, in roughly chronological order of how the installation process goes.
#1 See if you can install the solar yourself
We address this topic more thoroughly in another article but if you are researching the installation of solar panels, you should spend the time to see if you can install them yourself. You can save an incredible amount of money and have significantly more control over the project if you do it yourself. And, as long as you have a basic understanding of electrical work and are reasonably physically fit, it is not particularly challenging. Even if you cannot do all aspects of the project, consider hiring out individual parts as it makes sense. If you can do everything but the electrical work, an electrician running conduit from your main box to the roof would cost considerably less than having solar installers do the entire project.
#2 Use a solar design plan company
While we recommend installing your own solar system, creating the plans themselves can be extremely specialized and tedious. For a few hundred dollars, there are companies that will create plans that they guarantee will be approved by your jurisdictional authority. Their familiarity with the NEC, the typical things that are required, and relatively low cost makes it worth it to use a 3rd party for this. That being said, garbage in - garbage out. Provide them as much information as possible and make sure that information is as accurate as possible as well. Even if they guarantee the plans will pass, it is a waste of your time as well as yours to make multiple revisions to the plans due to inaccuracies in the information given them.
#3 Familiarize yourself with the NEC
Even if you do not create your own plans, we recommend you familiarize yourself with the NEC codes referenced in the plans. This is to make sure you understand the “why” of certain things and make sure you know what aspects of the plan are flexible and which aspects are fixed. It is also helpful when discussing any questions with the plan reviewers or the inspectors, to make certain that you’re all on the same page.
#4 Inspect your equipment immediately upon delivery
The vast majority of the cost of a system is the panels and inverters and they are usually delivered via freight. Freight shipments tend to have a rougher transit time than typical delivery methods, so there’s a surprisingly high breakage rate. When these large investments in your money are delivered, inspect it immediately and thoroughly. Even before you receive the shipment, find your supplier’s return and/or damage policies and familiarize yourself with them. The sad truth is that if you don’t follow everything exactly, you may be liable for the costs of any damage, even though you are the only one in the process that had zero affect on the whether or not the components arrived safely. Document things, be proactive, err on the side of caution, do not assume that the supplier or freight company will do the right thing - protect yourself and be careful. There are thousands of dollars on the line here.
#5 Ground your equipment but don’t fall to the ground
Once you have your equipment and install it, make sure everything is thoroughly grounded. The plans may say to run a ground line from one point to another but they don’t always specify exactly how the ground is attached. Ground all the electrical boxes, ground the panels to each other and their mounting rails, ground everything you possibly can. We thought we were being very aggressive in how we grounded our system and our inspector still asked us to run more grounding. So, do not be surprised if your inspector also makes additional requests on this front. All this grounding is to protect your equipment and your home from many things but particularly lightning strikes. In regards to a different kind of ground, don’t fall to the ground. If you’re doing a roof mounted system, take proper safety precautions. One fall from the roof, even if it doesn’t kill you, will most likely wipe out any cost benefits of installing a solar system.
#6 Prepare yourself for bureaucracy
While there is paperwork before installation, both with the government and the power company, I was surprised at how much more bureaucracy there was to wade through after the installation as well. Prepare yourself for paperwork, going in circles, and working with seemingly nonsensical requirements. I was fortunate that I worked with extremely polite and helpful people but, at the same time, they were restricted by their organizations in how the process needed to be done. Check your paperwork, be as thorough as possible, and be prepared for, despite this, needing to do things over again. Which leads us to the final thing we learned.
#7 Be Patient
Broken panels, supply channel issues, and the bureaucracy were surprisingly intermingled in causing us delays. Something that, if everything had gone smoothly, could have taken as little as 1-2 months, ended up taking us around 8 months. This tested my patience at times and at times made me wonder why I agreed to this mess. The solar installer option started to look more appealing. However, as I kept things in perspective and realized that, for me, I saved over $20K doing it myself, then some delays and frustration were well worth it. The actual installation only took 2-3 days and then probably another 8 hours worth of work researching the equipment (admittedly, I had help, or else it probably would’ve taken longer) and doing the paperwork. I did spend much more time worrying and complaining about delays, but that wasn’t productive. And, even if it took several times longer than that, it still would have been worth it versus using an installer.
Hopefully these items are helpful as you’re considering your own installation or are unsure exactly where to start. If you have any questions or concerns, leave a comment below!
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