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DIY Solar Panel Kits vs. Working with Solar Companies


If you’re considering going solar and are thinking about using DIY solar panel kits, read this first. Here’s our side-by-side comparison of buying solar panel kits and working with reputable solar companies.

What You Get In Solar Panel Kits

Many DIY solar panel kits don’t actually include all the parts you’ll need to correctly install your solar system. They lack wire, conduit, fittings, breakers, AC/DC disconnects, junction boxes and a sub panel. These aren’t included in the solar panel kits, so you’ll have to find and purchase them on your own. Not only that, but the parts that are included in solar panel kits are far less efficient and produce much less power than the equipment that comes from reputable solar companies. Most DIY solar panels are from manufacturers in China and offer very low efficiency. Solar panel efficiency is extremely important when it comes to offsetting your electric bill, so be wary of the parts included in DIY solar panel kits. You may find that you do not have enough roof space to fit all the low-efficiency solar panels needed. When you work with a solar company, they design a system that fits your home and your electricity needs.

Solar Panel Efficiency

Solar panel efficiency is typically conveyed as a percentage. This number is the amount of sunlight the solar panel is able to capture and convert to electricity. Solar panel efficiency is closely tied to total output of the panel, which is typically conveyed as total DC output in watts. The higher the solar panel efficiency, the higher output of watts. Take for example the DIY solar panels available at Costco, Grape Solar. The Grape Solar panels available at Costco only have an efficiency of around 15% and output of 235 watts. This is extremely low by today’s solar panel efficiency standards. It takes 22 of these polycrystalline solar panels to make a 5kW solar array. By comparison, SunPower, makers of the world’s most efficient solar panel available to homeowners, has a 21% efficiency rated panel with an output of 345 watts. You would only need 15 of these SunPower solar panels to create the same size system as the 22 panel Grape solar array.

As traditional solar panels age, they corrode. Solar panel efficiency is affected by this corrosion and it causes a loss in power output. The panels found in DIY solar panel kits have neither high efficiency nor a long life expectancy. SunPower solar panels feature a unique copper foundation that gives them strength and durability against corrosion. DIY solar panels use metal paste that offers no strength and causes the cells to crack and lose power when exposed to changes in temperature. SunPower actually guarantees a maximum output efficiency for the 25-year life of the panel that no other manufacturer can touch:

“…the power output of the PV Modules will be at least 95% of the Minimum Peak Power rating for the first 5 years, and declining by no more than 0.4% per year for the following 20 years, so the power output at the end of the final year of the 25 year warranty period will be at least 87% of the Minimum Peak Power rating.”

Do SunPower solar panels cost more than traditional DIY solar panels? Yes, and for good reason.

Upfront Solar Panels Cost vs. Lifetime Value

Now consider cost versus value. Between buying solar panel kits and hiring someone to help you install them, you could hire a solar provider and receive a turnkey solution with a much better product, warranty, and assurance for nearly the same price.

Not only will you likely have the added cost of hiring someone to install your DIY solar panels, as stated above, you’ll also need to buy a higher number of panels if you do decide to use solar panel kits. These are two factors that have an overall effect on how much solar panels cost if you use DIY solar panel kits that you won’t even have to worry about with solar companies. Despite how much DIY solar panels cost, and how good of a deal solar panel kits seem, purchasing, installing and maintaining them won’t save you enough to be worth missing out on all the benefits you receive from working with a trained solar provider. Professional solar companies can provide you with the most efficient panels on the market so you won’t need as many to do the job right.

Planning on selling your home in the future? While I don’t have any substantiated evidence to back this up, I’d have to imagine most potential buyers would not like to hear that the solar on the roof was a DIY project. Again, consider the cost versus the value. Purchased solar has been shown to increase home value in California, but a smart homebuyer will want to know who did the installation and warranties the work.


Solar Panel Installation Mistakes and Liability

Installing your own DIY solar panels can be extremely dangerous. Besides the obvious dangers of climbing onto your roof while holding a 40-lb, 65″x40″ piece of equipment, there are the dangers of working with electricity. Solar panels create DC electricity. The moment the panel is in the sun, it’s creating power. All you’d have to do is touch both leads to get shocked. Safety is a huge issue when installing solar. When working with live electrical lines, mistakes can be lethal!

At Baker Electric Solar, all of our installers are insured union electricians. This means you can rest easy and know that your roof and solar panels are getting the best care in the industry.

The DIY Solar Permitting Process

Before you can install your solar system to power your home, you first need to go through a complicated permitting process. The first step of permitting is drafting the plans. This requires detailed measurements of your planned system that you must get approved by your city. The criteria for getting plans approved depend upon the jurisdiction you live in. Every city has different requirements for the approval process. Some cities require complicated structural engineering reports, and some require you to submit a stamped letter of approval from your HOA before they will begin the permitting process. Depending on where you live, this process can take two to three weeks.

The hassle of permitting is yours to deal with when you install your own DIY solar panels, but that headache can be avoided when working with a solar provider. Reputable solar companies will handle permitting for you.


Getting the Utility to Approve Your System to Be Turned On

When you choose to install your own DIY solar panels, another thing you have to consider is all the work that goes into getting permission to operate your system from the utility. The first step in getting permission to operate is filling out a long Net Energy Metering application. During this process, utilities like SDG&E ask for a lot of detailed information, which is another reason solar companies are so helpful because they know how to speak the utility’s language and how to answer all of their highly technical questions.

Before you can operate your solar system, an inspection from the city is required. Once this is complete, the inspector informs the utility and they review it for approval. If your system is approved, your utility will then issue permission to operate and you can finally begin using your solar system to generate power for your home.

Comparing DIY Solar Kit Warranties to the SunPower Warranty

What happens when that DIY panel stops working? Who honors the warranty, the company you purchased the panels from or the manufacturer?

Unlike many DIY solar panel kits, SunPower has a 25-year warranty that guarantees your panels will be free from defects as well as an efficiency warranty that ensures your panels are producing the amount of power they should be for decades to come. It’s hard to even find the efficiency of DIY solar panels stated outright, so compare that to the fact the SunPower actually guarantees your panels will perform as they should, and that just goes to show you how SunPower solar panels are the best choice when it comes to solar panel efficiency and warranty coverage.


Push the Easy Button and Go Solar With a Full-Service Solar Provider

While solar panel kits might seem appealing at first, the small amount they may save you in upfront cost isn’t worth missing out on the lasting benefits that come from trusted solar companies. Avoid the headache of permitting, installing and maintaining your DIY solar panels on your own and get a free quote with us today! Baker Electric Solar is one of San Diego’s most trusted solar companies and a SunPower Elite Dealer. We can get you the solar panel efficiency you deserve by designing and installing a customer solar solution using SunPower solar panels.