DIY stands for Do It Yourself. We’ve heard this term on small projects from plumbing to gardening to interior design. But DIY for solar here in Arizona is a little less common and a little more complicated. It requires a lot of planning and the ability to learn how the installation process needs to come together. Or, hire someone to help you install from start to finish.
Planning your DIY Solar system
Before you order your DIY solar panel kit, it is important to plan the location as to where your array will be installed. In most cities or counties, a permit is required in order to obtain permission to install on your property. It is recommended to learn what the requirements are prior to purchasing any solar products. Usually these requirements are found online and may include where it can be installed and certain limitations on ground-mount solar arrays. Plan the array to face south, or south/west if at all possible. However, there are many that will put panels on others sides for aesthetic purposes. This is done often, but you will need more panels since sun exposure will be less. Once you know what your city requires, plan the location of your array. We recommend using Google Maps using a screen shot or any generic solar array planner. These programs will give you an idea how many panels you can fit on your roof, and where.
The next step is to plan the size of your DIY solar system. This can be calculated by your annual kilowatt usage provided by your utility company. For those of us that live in sunny Arizona, we can expect a minimum of 4-5 hours of sun per day…if not much more. Thus, if you have a 5000 watt system, you can expect it to produce 25,000 watts per day. Production will decrease the longer the clouds or rain keep your panels shaded.
Solar size calculation
We use this rule of thumb for sizing homes in Arizona:
Annual KWH, Divided by 1750, gives you the array size.
For example, if you consume 30,000 kwh per year, an array size of around 17,000 watts, or 17 kilowatts would be recommended. Variations in this calculation could be your exact sun exposure and asmuth.
Solar array design
Most cities or counties require an engineered solar design. This is best when hiring an engineer who has done many of these. He will take your address, and the proposed layout (rough draft) and will calculate and draw using AutoCad (or similar design program) to match the system size. His drawing will be an image of solar panels on your roof.
Once you have your engineered drawing, and the necessary paperwork for submitting your permit, then you are ready to get started. Most of the time it takes 1-4 weeks to receive your actual permit once you submit to your city. When you have received your permit, then it is time to order your solar products. This can take a few weeks to arrive so plan accordingly.
Ordering your DIY solar kit
By now you are really close to submitting for your permit. You already know the exact size of your array, how many panels you need and your inverter requirements. You already know (or should know) if you need a panel upgrade, additional electrical work, and where the conduit will be running in order to reach your panel. We recommend consulting with a licensed electrician for this process. The kit that you will order will more than likely have panels, inverter and optimizers. If you are just going with a micro-inverter, then there will be no need for optimizers.
Here is a breakdown of a standard DIY solar kit, and additional needs for an install:
- Solar panels
Additional materials needed:
- Roof lag screws, roof flashing, and hardware to connect racking to roof rafters. Waterproof silicone to ensure your roof will not leak.
- Racking system. This can be UniRac, Iron Ridge or even wood. This is usually determined once you have your actual array designed on your roof.
- Mounting hardware to connect the solar panels to the
- Wiring, conduit.
- Emergency shut-off switch or DC shut-off switch
- Any additional breaker, panel or electrical work needed
Note that once you have the standard DIY solar kit, you will still need to purchase the remaining items on your own, or thru your electrical contractor. The reason why these items are NOT included in a DIY solar kit, it because quantities are extremely variable. For example, some installs only need 200 feet of wire and conduit, other installs may require 500 feet of wire and 300 feet of conduit. A landscape array may need more racking and brackets than an upright installation. These are just a couple of examples as to why there is not a “cookie cutter” package for everyone.
Once the materials arrive, and you have a permit, it is time to install. This can very variable as some jobs are installed on shingle roofs, tile roofs, or even a pergola where the solar panels will be the roof and ceiling. Even a ground-mount system will be extremely different than all of them.