“A full, grid-connected home solar DIY project is certainly not for every DIY enthusiast. But learning solar by ‘doing’ solar should be encouraged. Build your knowledge and skills via small, manageable DIY solar projects. They’re very rewarding and such projects are easily resourced. The more you learn, the more capable you become of larger scale DIY solar ventures.”
Anonymous. (Wise words)
“I did it my way”
There are three primary drivers behind a good old do it yourself. The first is the promise that you will save squillions (at least on paper) without the need for tradespeople and buying prefab from a shop. Why buy a bookshelf from the shop when you can build one!
The second is that whatever the project—be it a new fence, dog house, kitchen or garage—you can customise the design to satisfy your particular tastes and functionality requirements in a way prefab cannot.
The third, and for many the most important driver, is that you rise to the challenge of completing a project that is all yours. In the lyrics of the song made famous by Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way” is a serious driving force behind any DIY project.
Remember the Taubmans advertising campaign…I did it my way? The guy (Carter Edwards) is painting his house with Taubmans…doing it ‘his way’? This advertising campaign is now part of Aussie TV commercial folklore. (Follow the link above for a trip down memory lane).
In a way, this campaign, way back in 1978, marks the infancy of the DIY boom. A boom that became a commercial revelation, a revelation that evolved quickly to become an industry worth countless billions in Australia and across the world. (Dulux used the same song in The UK in the 90s).
The point being made here with “I did it my way” is that marketing boffins across the world know that the primary driver for DIY is just that, doing it yourself. Saving money and customising generally comes second to the notion that whatever the project, you are doing it yourself.
A DIY Home Solar System: Should I, or Shouldn’t I…?
In the last decade, the residential solar industry has also boomed. Everywhere you look around your suburb, you’ll see ever-growing numbers of solar arrays adorning home roofs of all shapes and sizes. Cheap electricity from the sun is proving very popular indeed.
It only stands to reason that DIY and home solar would become an item. Increasingly, the terms ‘DIY’ and ‘home solar’ are appearing together in the same sentence. DIY home solar is happening, and the market is starting to support it, big time.
Google DIY solar and you will find any number of DIY solar kits for sale and ‘how to’ videos that will set you on a path to completing an ‘I did it my way’ solar array that powers your home.
So, with an ever-growing supply of DIY home solar options, neatly packaged materials and instruction, can you assume that DIY solar is a cakewalk? An easy project, where you just buy some stuff and follow some instructions?
Simply put: can you undertake the installation of a home solar system all by yourself? The short answer is yes, of course you can. The important question is, however, should you?
It’s at this point one is inclined to just say no, don’t go there. But where’s the Aussie DIY, have a go spirit in that?
In all seriousness, it is possible to install your own home solar system successfully. The reality is, however, that such a project is fraught with potential hazards and traps that could cost you a lot of money, physical pain and worse.
OK, you’re starting to get the hint here that we’re not so hip to the idea of DIY home solar. No, that’s not the case, and we’re not trying to be killjoys here. We are however strongly advising serious caution and a healthy dose of ‘be realistic’ (subjective as ‘realistic’ often is).
A DIY home solar system project is best suited to the person with a particular skill level. It’s an advanced skill level project, and not for everyone.
Some Critical Considerations to Address Before You Even Entertain the Idea
1. Do you have plenty of experience installing or working with solar systems?
2. Do you understand the structural dynamics of roofs?
3. Are you an electrician or builder?
4. Are you comfortable working at heights?
5. Do you know how to put many holes in roofs yet maintain roof seal integrity?
6. Do you understand DC electricity and AC electricity?
7. Do you have an arsenal of tools akin to that of a tradesperson or builder?
8. Have you ever worked on or walked on a tiled or slate roof?
If you have answered yes to all of these questions then go ahead, knock your socks off. You’re well placed to achieve a DIY Solar install you can be proud of. In fact, if you have answered yes to 1, or 3, or a combination of these, you are in a great position also.
If you have answered no to all or the majority of these questions, call the professionals. A DIY homes solar system is not at all advisable for you.
For those in the NO box, and that will be an awful lot of you, it’s not all bad news —read on. Later in the article, we’ll highlight manageable home solar projects you can sink your teeth into. These projects will skill you up for bigger solar undertakings later.
Let’s Look at Some DIY Home Solar Details
The bad news here is that you are immediately on the back foot. You will not be able to claim your government rebate. To claim your rebate your system must be installed by somebody accredited by the Clean Energy Council of Australia. We’ll assume you’re not.
Currently, the rebate is worth approximately $600 per kW. So, on a 10kW system, you’ve just cost yourself $6000.
The cost of professional installation of a 10kW system is approximately $20,000 EXCLUDING the rebate. 10% of this price is installation. So, doing it yourself doesn’t really save you all that much…$2000. You’re still behind.
Sourcing super cheap DIY solar kits to claw back some money is ill-advised. They simply do not last and will ultimately cost you more.
In terms of costs, you are already behind and you still have not added any tools and peripherals you will need to purchase. There are always a host of other incidentals that always pop up on even the most well-planned projects, and they cost.
If you are connecting to the grid, and let’s face it, most will want to do this, you will need a licensed electrician to inspect all your work and make the connection for you. This will also cost, and quite a bit, even if your work was perfect.
It’s very important to note that warranties on any parts may well be voided if they are not installed by licensed installers. And, of course, you will have no warranty on labour.
As you can see here, there is not a great deal to be saved. In fact, by virtue of losing your rebates from the outset, expect to pay more for a DIY system, and you’ll have a limited backup in the future should something go wrong.
Currently, there seems to be no financial benefit to a full, grid-connected DIY home solar installation—in fact, only extra costs.
Still, as we discussed earlier, most often DIY is not about the money or saving it. It’s about the thrill of the challenge, completing a successful project, self-satisfaction, and your friends and family saying, “Wow…that looks like a bought one…”
Many will recall the home insulation roll out under the Rudd Government. All the financial incentives saw huge uptake of the program. Because of this, countless cowboy insulation installers hit the roofs, using inexperienced labour.
People died, and quite a number. We have to remind you here that installing insulation is far less complicated than installing a solar system.
Poorly installed electricals, DC or AC, creates hazards including fire, electrocution and others. There is also the inherent danger of working at heights. It’s likely you’ll be getting friends to help, so it’s not just your safety at stake here.
Appropriate safety equipment is required, such as harnessing for working at heights. Without a full understanding of the risks, serious injury and death are very real possibilities. Again, this is not sensationalism to discourage you, just very realistic warnings about safety.
The Process (in brief)
Firstly, you will need to source your system and all components. You will need to be confident you’re eyeing off a system that will last. You must be well researched and well versed in the technology. You must also have planned for on or off grid, battery storage and inverter capacity.
(By the way, it’s assumed here that you are sufficiently clued in to know what size system you need to meet your electricity demands.)
Secondly, you will need to be aware of the loads you are adding to your roof and if your roof has the capacity to handle it. You will need to be familiar with fixing to the materials from which your roof is constructed. If you are not a builder, you will require assessment of your roof capacity.
Even though council planning approval is usually not required, you are advised to check with them about any rules relative to your home and your DIY plans. Is there a law that prohibits your intentions? You find this out yourself.
You will need to have planned the hoisting and positioning of your panels, including mounting, which will be determined by your roof materials.
You are messing with your roof here. You’re walking on it, working on it and putting quite a number of holes in it. Mistakes here can be incredibly costly. Heard of swarf? Do you know what metal fillings can do to a metal roof if not removed?
After your panels are installed, they need to be connected to all your light and power points. Assuming existing wiring, there is still some serious know-how required here. Remember an electrician has an apprenticeship of 4 years to understand this stuff. They also have qualifications and accreditation. Even electricians require solar accreditation.
Despite the serving suggestion on the DIY advertising, a home solar system is a not a plug and play system. It’s complex. There is assumed knowledge and the instructions are nothing like your kid’s Lego instructions.
Even if you are intending to stay off the grid, the solar system installation process requires significant skills, research, and knowhow. Builders and electricians have these skills. You have to ask yourself…Do you?
Conclusion. So, should you?
For those with the appropriate skills and qualifications, as mentioned above, sure thing. Do your product research and get stuck into it. These people, in some circumstances, may even save a little money, and will likely realize satisfaction and reward.
For the majority of us, however, even the clueyest and bravest DIY aficionado should take pause and think. The outcome you really want here is cheaper, cleaner power. The most efficient path to this is most likely via professional installation.
We can sense that many of you might be disappointed to read such a cautionary tale. You were very excited about taking your home into the 21st century with a full DIY solar makeover, and we may have taken the wind out of your sails.
Take heart. We LOVE solar, and we encourage you to learn all you can and take on a solar project of your own, for all of the satisfaction we know you will get. To learn the ropes, here are a few suggestions.
- There are lots of portable camping solar kits. Purchase a DIY solar kit and learn the basics. You will learn plenty and you will have free, renewable electricity on your remote outback adventures.
- Research the materials and solar power your back shed. Again, there is far less at stake here and you can learn solar at low cost, free to make mistakes without your life and house being at risk.
- Do an online course. Get clued in before you undertake a project or do it in concert with your project for practical skilling. Knowledge is power.
There is many a handy person with amazing skills which they learned simply by doing. In the early days of solar panels, many were experimenting with solar themselves. It was very much a do it yourself situation because solar was well out of the mainstream a decade or so ago.
Now everything is going solar. It’s popular, and it’s a technology that will become a part of your life. We thoroughly encourage solar understanding and integration, and for that matter, DIY.
For most of us a full, grid-connected DIY solar system should be left to the pros, for cost, safety, and peace of mind. There are plenty of other solar projects that can be undertaken that will be incredibly rewarding without the serious stakes involved.
Relax into solar, it’s DIY-friendly. Build the cubby house before you take on the Taj Mahal.
If you want to see how much solar or battery storage could save you over the next 5 years, then take our solar saving calculator quiz below!
Or talk to an Instyle Solar expert about the best solutions for home energy storage or PV-panels.
Otherwise, head back to the solar blog to find even more great educational content.