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Inexpensive Power With DIY Solar Panel Kits

Stephanie is always looking for ways to lighten her carbon footprint. She is enthusiastic about solar power and solar gadgets.

Save Money with a Solar Panel Kit

The cost of professional solar panel installation has come down over the past few years, but some handy homeowners may wish to build and install their own system with a DIY solar panel kit.

Because these solar power "all in one" kits generally include smaller and/or less powerful panels, they are especially useful for living spaces that require less energy, like boats, recreational vehicles (RVs) and workshops/sheds. They are also a convenient, portable solar power alternative to propane tanks, gas generators or batteries for outdoor activities such as camping, fishing or hunting. They can even be used to provide power for construction sites.

A kit can save you money and time because it includes all the components you need to generate free solar electricity, guard against utility rate increases, and reduce your carbon footprint. Over time, you can choose to add more panels to your array as desired to generate additional power. Going with a DIY kit is less expensive than purchasing panels from a manufacturer. In fact, you can save up to 50% over retail solar panel prices.

While there are also instructional videos that show you how to build your own solar panels, in my opinion, going with a kit gives you the best of both worlds: (1) reliable solar panel components; and (2) the opportunity to work on a hands-on home improvement project that will save you thousands of dollars over the life of the system.

A DIY kit is portable and convenient to use for camping or other outdoor activities

A DIY kit is portable and convenient to use for camping or other outdoor activities

Components and Cost of a Solar Panel Kit

In general, homeowners that purchase a DIY solar panel kit find that it is easier and less expensive than contracting with a solar power company to install individually purchased components of a solar array.

These kits allow you to go "solar out of the box," as some have described it, because it includes everything you need to switch to solar power:

  • Photovoltaic (PV) panel(s)
  • Solar inverter
  • Charge controllers

While the assembly of the components is required, you likely will not need to hire a professional solar installer to complete the tasks. It is possible an electrician may be needed, however, as discussed below.

As with any solar power system, you can find a range of prices and quality for solar panel kits. The most expensive kits include more solar panels, with higher quality inverters and charge controllers. For example, a kit from Home Depot can cost you nearly $1500, (prior to federal and state incentives and rebates), but there are some less expensive options available on Amazon.

Solar Panel Kits are Easy and Inexpensive

How to Install Your Kit

Installation of a kit is designed to be relatively simple for the person who likes to undertake DIY projects. The best kits will include detailed instructions that show you how to install your panels. Many people will be able to build their solar panels in just a few hours and can have the entire array up and running in a day.

Be sure to read the enclosed instructions before starting your project. That said, you can expect the following five steps to install a kit:

1. Select a location for rooftop installation that receives the most unshaded sunlight each day—usually a south-facing area for those of us that live in the Northern Hemisphere

2. Locate roof rafters using a stud finder and install the mounts for the panels in a rafter.

3. Place mounts to allow at least 3 inches of air flow under installed solar panels and tilt the panels to increase efficiency, depending on the latitude of your location.

4. Drill holes for mounts and install with lag bolts; flashing over the mounts is recommended to avoid roof leaks. Rails are then bolted onto the mounts and the panels installed on the rails.

5. Interconnect the junction boxes on each panel, as shown on the instructions. A wire will run through a conduit to each successive component of the solar panel kit system.

The ease of installing a solar panel kit was explained by the CEO of Ready Solar's "Solar in a Box," as follows:

“The pre-mounted, pre-wired, grounded solar modules do away with the complexity of installing traditional solar electric systems and cost about the same as the piece parts. It’s like making a cake. You can buy the eggs, flour … all separately. [But] most people would just choose to buy the cake.”

On the other hand, some property owners would prefer to pay for professional installation of a solar panel array because of the convenience, reliability and the prospect of a warranty to provide future assistance/repair when necessary.

Solar panel kit installed on an RV

Solar panel kit installed on an RV

Kits for Boats and RVs

Solar panel kits for boats and RVs generally cost less than those for homes because fewer panels are required to provide power. On average, expect to spend $800-8,000 (before rebates or incentives), depending on the size of your boat or vehicle and your energy requirements.

The panels are installed in a similar manner to rooftop solar panels on homes, except that you will not be drilling into roof rafters. Installation instructions included in DIY solar panel kits will include different step-by-step directions, depending on the surface on which you will be placing them.

Panels on boats and RVs can be used to generate clean, free electricity both when in operation and when parked or docked. Use them instead of gas generators or propane and save money over the life of your vehicle! Plus, just think how convenient it will be to tap into solar power each day, rather than worry about running out of fuel when you are cooking dinner or checking emails on your computer.

Marine and RV Solar Panel Kits

Where Can you Buy DIY Kits?

There is a wide range of solar panel kits at different prices with various watts/power output available online. Suggested links are set forth below.

You can also find DIY kits at major home improvement and hardware store retailers, including Lowe’s, Home Depot and Costco. The benefit to shopping at brick and mortar stores is that trained professionals can help you determine the size of kit you will need, including the number of panels, for your estimated energy needs.

Solar inverter is included with your kit.

Solar inverter is included with your kit.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Stephanie Marshall

Comments

Dave. on February 04, 2016:

Great article! But just so you know that solar kit from Amazon is practically the same thing as the harbor freight 45w set up plus one more 15w panel. And if you went through harbor freight with a 20% off coupon you would pay less than half of what Amazon wants! ($216 harbor freight.) just making sure no one over pays

Ryan Holley from Oregon on May 14, 2014:

If you do happen to purchase your own solar equipment, check out my 10 Quick Tips to Install Your Own PV System. These tips will ensure that you are taking the correct actions when installing. Thanks!

Chris525Moore on November 11, 2013:

Neat!

Ingenira on May 04, 2013:

Thank you for the step by step guide. Helpful and useful !

Lillee McLoflin from Texas on May 02, 2013:

Very informative! Great hub!

Alex Munkachy from Honolulu, Hawaii on May 02, 2013:

I recently moved to Hawaii and find myself spending more time outside absorbing the rays of the sun... solar power is something more people should use more of.

Sam Little from Wheelwright KY on April 30, 2013:

I have a friend who is into frugal living. I am gonna pass this on to him. This was an excellent read.

Malin from California on April 30, 2013:

Great hub. I like how you touch on kits for boats and RVs and not just traditional homes. A lot of useful information written in a way that keeps it interesting, voting up.

solarguru on April 03, 2013:

Stephanie,

Thanks a ton for all the info it was of much help. I too have embarked on many solar DIY journeys. I personally have had a great experience with solar products from Silicon Solar. They have a wide variety of solar products and accessories. Check it out for your next project.

http://www.siliconsolar.com/shop/solar-store/solar...

Joshua Rueff from Kansas City on April 02, 2013:

Thanks! I'd love to do some of the work myself, but I'm not sure how much I can really do - I'll be doing more research online to figure that out, your links to quality solar equipment on amazon and whatnot definitely help - thank you for the advice, wow... $1500-that's really not bad at all!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 02, 2013:

Hi jrueff,

Depending on the amount of electricity you hope to generate and how much work you are planning to do yourself (as opposed to hiring a contractor), a DIY solar panel kit for such a small dwelling could cost as little as $1500. Best to you, Steph

Joshua Rueff from Kansas City on April 02, 2013:

This is great - I've been dreaming about setting up a solar powered system for my house for a few years now - even started building a wind turbine to compliment the system (only finished with the blades and "head" of the thing so far).

Do you know how much it would cost for a solar powered electric system for a tiny house - about 300 square feet? I'm thinking about building one of these tiny houses, and even considering a yurt.

katecupcake on December 07, 2012:

This is wonderful! Right up my alley, and I love that you included the RV bit. I've considered adding one to our Winnebago and this is just the information I needed to get some research done!

AadonJones on November 28, 2012:

Everyone wants to get solar panel systems at affordable prices. Despite this, homeowners usually wish to install panels by themselves for reducing money on their electric bills. They should also use panel kits for better savings.

http://www.everythingsolar.com.au/

HomeEnergy from California on November 08, 2012:

I second Skyler. Unless one get the kick from doing for fun, I don't think that building solar electric panels for real power generation purposes is a good idea. Some companies try to push forward the "know how" and claim a sure success and "cheap solutions". Just as people won't build their own cars - people shouldn't try to build solar panels "for real".

Skyler on November 07, 2012:

I have been surfing the web for DIY solar and this is one of the most informative articles I have found. For what i can tell so far, it is encouraged to build you own solar systems but not your own solar panels. Complete solar kits are a great place to start and the companies you listed have been around for a long time and usually provide good support for DIY projects.

Here is a short article about why making you own panels is not a good idea http://webosolar.com/blog/diy-solar-photovoltaic-m...

I read a similar (more elaborated) article in a renewable energy magazine.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 21, 2012:

Thanks Teresa! Hope you enjoy solar hot water. It's a great option for people with pools, definitely. Best, Steph

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on April 21, 2012:

Impressive article. We are in the process of investigating solar options for our pool and hot water. You've reduced my workload with this article. Thank-you!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 26, 2012:

Thanks Nick! I agree that, while you can make your own solar cells, the best results can be achieved with a kit that includes manufactured solar panels. Appreciate the comment, Steph

Nick Marsh on February 26, 2012:

Great tips on this hub! The use of those rubbermaid plastic boxes make great use of hiding the battery banks. I would like to get a head-start on this eventually, once I get some land of course. There are DIY kits to make the solar cells themselves, but there is a risk of breaking/damaging these cells for the sake of saving money.

Great instructions on the interconnect for the solar charger, this appears the hardest for me!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 03, 2012:

Good tip! Thanks much, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 03, 2012:

Hi Tools, with these DIY solar panel systems, they are fairly inexpensive, so people can often realize a return on investment more quickly than larger solar systems. Best, Steph

Old man Jenkins on February 02, 2012:

Solar panels are not heavy. Be sure to use a charge controller between the panel and the battery.

Toolsonline from Up to my Neck in it! on February 02, 2012:

They look fairly easy to instal, I just hope they can pay for themselves in energy savings.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 25, 2012:

Hi Mary,

Yes, I am with you on hiring a professional installer for solar panels, but some of these solar panel kits are great for smaller projects such as sheds, workshops, RVs, etc. For those uses, we just might be able to handle it ourselves. Thanks for the comment. Cheers, Steph

Mary Hyatt from Florida on January 25, 2012:

Thanks for all this useful info. I could never install this myself, but would hire someone to do it if I could afford it. I really believe in solar energy. I'll vote this UP, etc.etc.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 24, 2012:

Thank you whoisbid! Yes, its nice to spend time compiling information and resources for people who are considering going solar. I am very passionate about solar power, so it was a labor of love. Best to you, Steph

whoisbid on January 24, 2012:

Hey Steph,

I think you did very well on putting that stuff together. I know how long it takes to put something together like this (believe me - I have done it a thousand times for a very serious job) You deserve to have it rank well.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 19, 2012:

Thanks Kevins blog,

I hope that this information on solar panel kits is useful to educate homeowners considering the renewable resource. Best, Steph

kevins blog52 from southern Indiana on January 18, 2012:

Hi stephhicks68,great hub very informative well written, and interesting. I voted up and interesting.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 11, 2012:

Hi Peggy,

The solar panels at Costco are made by Grape Solar. They have people there to help you determine how many you need, which will impact the ROI for you and your home. Most larger solar panel arrays (bigger - generates more power - but more expensive than DIY solar panel kits) have about 10-15 years return on investment. Houston would be a great place to tap into solar! You could also consider a solar panel lease... cheers, Steph

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 11, 2012:

Hi Steph,

I have seen solar panels at Costco and would love to have some put on our house. Wonder how soon it takes to get back the return on one's investment? We have a great number of sunny days in Houston. Wish more contractors would use them when building new houses in sunny climates. Just makes sense to be using solar panels and their costs would be less with a contractor's discount. Excellent hub! Up and useful votes.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 10, 2012:

Thanks Robie - it is exciting to see more and more homeowners switching to solar power here in my hometown. I am noticing solar panels everywhere - on homes, on businesses, traffic signals, etc. Best to you, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 10, 2012:

Hi HomeEnergy - thank you for the additional tips for DIY solar panel kits. My personal preference is to go with a professional. Appreciate the comment. Best, Steph

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on January 10, 2012:

This hub is great-- explains how it works and makes it seem pretty easy to do. I just paid my electric bill and they keep going up so the idea of solar is looking better and better. Voted up up up

HomeEnergy from California on January 10, 2012:

A hub well written.

I totally agree that home made solar panels are not something you want to mess with.

As for DIY installation, few tips:

1. In some states (e.g. California) only systems that were installed by certified solar contractors are eligible to state tax rebates

2. Solar panels are heavy, so one will need some lifting mechanism

3. Get a quotation for a turn key project from a certified solar contractor, it will serve you as a benchmark.

4. No utility will connect your system to the grid unless it was approved by a certified electrician. If it is an off grid system (such as boat or RV) don't mess with electricity. Call a certified electrician to do the wiring & grounding job; your life is valuable

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 09, 2012:

Hi Alexander Mark - thanks for the tip on the broken link... and yes, there is a lot of information to consider with respect to DIY solar panel kits. Good luck and let me know how it goes. Cheers, Steph

Alexander Silvius from Portland, Oregon on January 09, 2012:

Sweet! This hub is chock full of information and links. I now feel able to make decisions about what kind of solar system I can set up, had no idea how easy it is to obtain and set up solar panels.

By the way, the link to Home Depot is broken, but a quick search for solar panels on their site reveal a multitude of options.

This helps me get started - I may even purchase a small DIY kit to supplement some of my energy needs to experiment with since they are also portable.

Great info!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 09, 2012:

Thank you jesimpki - DIY solar panel kits are so easy and inexpensive, they are a great starter for people interested in solar power. Best, Steph

jesimpki from Radford, VA on January 08, 2012:

Well put together. Voting up!