Should You Hire a Contractor to Install Your Solar Power System?

5 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of Planning Your Solar Power System

You could install your own photovoltaic (PV) solar power system. Many self-installed systems work just fine, and the owners are happy with the results. On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons to use a contractor. A PV system has many complexities, some of them very subtle. Experience counts for a lot.

Before you go DIY, first consider all the items on this list:

  • You may not be able to connect to the grid with a self-installed system. Before you do anything else, check with your utility company and your county building department.

  • You may not be able to get insurance for your home with a self-installed system. Check with your insurance company.

  • Getting permits and inspections will be your responsibility. Visit your county building department and ask about the range of requirements you'll be expected to meet.

  • Some equipment manufacturers will simply not sell equipment to anybody but licensed contractors.

  • When selecting equipment, it's imperative that you understand the installation manuals. If they're poorly written or confusing, don't use that piece of equipment.

  • You may not be able to save much by installing yourself. Contractors buy large quantities of materials, and they get much better prices, which they can pass on to you. In addition, installations can require expensive tools.

  • You can probably find a contractor who will work with you on an installation.

  • You won't get a ten-year installation warranty if you go it alone.

  • If you don't understand electricity, forget installing the system yourself. There are a lot of dangers with a PV system, and you need to understand exactly when and where these dangers can rear their ugly heads.

Some manufacturers offer complete kits for solar PV systems. If you're going to install yourself, there are some big advantages in using kits.

  • The design has been worked out, and it's going to operate the way it's supposed to (given that you mount and connect the equipment properly).

  • You'll get all the parts that you need and they'll work well together.

  • When you design and install your own system, and it's not working up to par when you finish, the manufacturers of the individual components are often reluctant to honor warranties. When you use a kit, the warranty terms are spelled out precisely; basically the only requirement is that you install the system properly, which is easy enough to prove by a simple visit to the site.

  • With most kits, a customer service number is provided so that when you run into problems an expert can help you through the mess. Terms vary, so understand what kind of support you'll get and whether you have to pay.

  • The price of a kit is very attractive, compared with buying separate components from separate manufacturers.

  • Assembly instructions are well written and concise (they better be, or they won't sell many kits). They take you through every step of the process and they spell out the dangers and potential problems.

Of course, you still have to apply for your own permits and deal with inspectors on your own. Even if you're really good with electricity and tools and are capable of installing a kit system like a pro, that doesn't mean you're an expert at working through the permit process, which can sometimes take every bit as much time as installing the system itself. And it can be very frustrating, as most government bodies seem to be set up to serve the government bodies, not the "customers."

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The Essentials of Planning Your Solar Power System

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