Homeowners often are tempted to tackle home improvement projects themselves because they are sure the task is not too complex or because they want to reduce the monetary cost of the job. For some do-it-yourself tasks, imperfect results can be touched up and are not readily apparent.
Installing a solar energy system might seem like one of those projects that would be easy to do yourself. After all, there are do-it-yourself kits for solar power on the market. But, an efficient system tied to the grid actually requires expertise to maximize the energy output and maximize your investment’s return in reduced energy costs.
Doesn’t it make sense to ensure that every last ray of sunshine hits your solar panels just so and generates as much energy as possible?
What is required for setting up a solar energy system? The basic steps involved in installing a solar energy system on a home include planning where to place the solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and how many are appropriate, installing them, installing and connecting an inverter (unless panels with inverter chips built in are used), and wiring the equipment to your home’s electric panel. But, doing it right — particularly the planning part — is more complex than buying and mounting panels.
As a homeowner, you may still be tempted to go the DIY route. However, hiring someone with a lot of experience makes more sense in most situations. Every home is different and the architecture and electrical needs should be considered. Designing a solar power system for most homes requires some customization and expertise from a professional who has dealt with that type of residence, the climate in the area, and other factors. RGS Energy, for example, has designed plans for and installed more than 22,500 solar energy systems in 10 states, ranging from sunny California to snowy New England.
The Design Process
Let’s take a more in-depth look at the design process RGS Energy and other solar energy system professionals use. First, specialized design engineers will do a complete structural analysis of your home and the property (if the solar PV panels are not going to be installed on the roof). This involves looking at the architecture to determine where panels and the inverter can possibly be mounted. Is there room on your roof to properly mount the panels to optimal advantage year-round? Also, it is important that the roof be structurally sound enough to support the additional weight.
Equally important is examining the building’s physical structure to determine possible placement for the solar panels is looking at when and where direct sunlight hits the building. Solar panels are most effective and perform at their optimum capacity when they are placed in direct sunlight. Differences throughout the year need to be considered. So it is important to determine:
- What part of your roof or area planned for the panels gets the most daylight hours?
- Do trees or other buildings cast shadows on this planned installation area at certain times of day?
- Can the branches be trimmed or other obstacles moved?
- What is the optimal tilt to use in your latitude in each season?
A professional can also determine the best type of mounts to use for your solar panel installation, given the design and quantity planned. There are three main types: flush mounts, ground mounts and tracking mounts.
Flush mounts are mounted on a roof flat facing the sun but in a fixed position that does not change. This is generally the least expensive option, but the panels are hard to access for cleaning (also hard to access for thieves!).
Ground mounts are also relatively inexpensive. The panels are either mounted directly on the ground or on a pole. One advantage of ground mounting is snowier areas is the easy access for snow removal. A disadvantage is being close to the ground puts them closer to potential hazards from debris, sports equipment and more.
Tracking mounts use a more sophisticated moveable panel system to tack the sun’s path through the sky to maximize solar exposure. These systems are more expensive and really require knowledge on how to set them up.
Once the system for your home is designed, a professional will produce a complete set of blueprints and specification sheets. The solar experts will also order materials.
Other considerations for DIY solar panel installation:
Professional installation has other pluses over a do-it-yourself approach:
Cost considerations: The materials make up most of the cost for solar power systems. The savings in labor costs may not be worth the time involved in self-installation. Additionally, a solar installation professional is likely to get the materials for your home at a better price than you can.
Grid-tie requirements: Connecting home solar energy generation to the electrical grid is not easy. In some parts of the country there are details involved in dealing with the local utility, some areas so not allow a self-installed system to feed into the grid (they require a certified installer to do the work).
Permitting, certification and inspections: An experienced solar energy company will know what the permitting and building inspection requirements are in the area. They will also know, based on the local ordinances and utility, whether the solar panel installation needs to be certified. Certification may be needed to take advantage of tax incentives.
Equipment and safety: Professional solar power installers have the equipment and safety knowledge to deal with being on a roof, setting up the materials and finally dealing with electricity.
A full-service solar energy system company like RGS Energy can oversee your entire solar panel installation project and provide a point of contact throughout the life of your energy generating system. Experience does make a difference.
To find out how solar energy could power your home and to get a free installation quote, visit www.RGSEnergy.com.