If your household is anything like mine (read: cheap), you’re always looking for ways to save money and try out your DIY skills.
But what if you are not “handy” with roofing and/or electrical? Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that DIY solar is out of your reach. When we were researching our 2010 project, we were told at one point (mistakenly) that homeowners were not allowed to do their own installation in Minnesota. In a panic, I checked around with the installers in the area and found some of them willing to let us work as the general contractor and they would provide the labor and expertise at a negotiated rate.
While it turned out that homeowners actually are allowed to do the install themselves in MN, some states require that a qualified installer do the work. If that’s the case, please use this blog as a reference so you can be an informed consumer. Perhaps you can lower the cost by doing some of the initial legwork and application process yourself. It might even be possible for you to do the installation yourself, but have the system design and final install reviewed by a professional to qualify for state and/or utility incentives.
According to this article in Forbes, the bulk of the professional installation cost is due to red tape:
Prices have plummeted so much over the past two years that the solar panels and associated supplies cost about $8,000 for a typical 4,000-watt residential system. A qualified solar specialist or electrician should be able to install these panels for about $2,000 given that it’s only about a day of work… But the average price of a residential system in the U.S. is about $20,000. So where does the extra $10,000 go?… Studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and by the University of California, Berkeley both confirm that these higher prices are almost exclusively related to the paperwork it takes to “officially” install a standard rooftop system in the U.S. That’s right, government red tape -‐ local, state and federal.
As homeowners, we can eliminate some of the extra cost of installation by taking care of the “red tape” ourselves. We can be our own general contractor and apply for permits, source and purchase materials and file utility rebate applications. All the steps that we can do on our own can chip away at the professional installer bill.
And lastly, here’s an example of someone who had their entire PV solar panel system installed by a professional, but still ended up with a great deal:
…Our final cost for the system was $1,212. Even in the northern reaches of Montana, our small system has been producing about $300/year in electricity savings for us, which equates to about a four-year payback period. As energy prices increase, this payback period becomes even shorter. Not to mention the added property value for having a $10k solar system installed.