We get tons of calls from customers who want to know the benefits of hiring a licensed solar panel installer as opposed to just buying a Do-It-Yourself solar panel kit from a hardware store. Their argument usually comes down to thinking that DIY solar panels are cheaper to install than having it done professionally. But is it worth the price?

YouTube is loaded with how-to videos, from making solar panels to learning how to french braid. In fact, here’s a video on DIY solar panels that I came across which has gotten over 1 million hits. In it, a pretty handy guy talks about a solar panel kit that he purchased from a local hardware store and installed himself. Take a peek (it’s less than 3 minutes):

It’s easy to understand why people who have watched this video, or similar ones, are curious about installing their own panels. I mean, this guy isn’t a professional electrician or installer, but if he could do it, then so could I! Right?

While watching the video, I admit that I cringed a bit at those jimmy-rigged guitar wires. Ingenious? Definitely. Safe? Nope. There are so many red flags in this video – here are just a few concerns:

Permits? We don’t need no stinkin’ permits!

Nothing in this entire project is done up to code. The wiring, the car battery in a box with a ventilation hose, not to mention the holes he had to drill in his roof to run the wires…the county inspector would have a field day at his house with all of the code violations. And just because it fits doesn’t mean you should use it. Using incorrect materials for a project can lead to potential hazards. And when you’re doing it with electrical components connected to your house, you’re putting your entire family at risk.

Lots of work without a lot to show for it

If you look at all of the work he went through to get his little 50 watt kit installed, what it really comes down to is that he spent a lot of time and effort putting together something that only powers 2 light bulbs. That’s not really going to save him a heck of a lot of money or provide enough power to even be reflected in his electric bill. It’ll be something fun to point out to his friends as a novelty, but there’s no real ROI associated with it.

What’s the real cost?

The video implies that he only spent $250, but if you look at all of the components, it appears he used a bunch of old items that he had on hand: a car battery, wood to build the box, guitar wires, dryer vent hose, etc. The true cost of materials if someone else were to do this project would probably be closer to say $800+, with construction permits added to that.

The typical residential solar system size is about 3kW, so it would take 60 of these kits to equal that, which would run about $15,000 – not really that cheap. The panels would all need to be connected to each other (the roof would be completely covered), as well as to an inverter system. Battery backups would also run in the thousands if you wanted to store the power generated. And if something goes wrong? Who’s going to fix it? What kind of warranty, if any, do you have on the parts?

Just thinking about the ins and outs of everything that could go wrong gives me a headache.

Now on the other hand, here’s what you get if you use a licensed solar installer:

  • highest quality of workmanship
  • best warranty on workmanship and materials
  • they’ll keep it all legal with necessary permits and inspections
  • provide you with info on local and federal tax incentives, and will even fill out the rebate paperwork (trust me, you don’t want to deal with all of that paperwork)
  • safety and peace of mind

Now it’s up to you to decide what’s worth it to you – to be cheap or be efficient?