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For anyone considering DIY solar I highly recommend it. I just added 4000 watts of capacity to my originally 3500 watt system for a net cost of around $3,000 after 30% tax credit, including panels, mounts, racking, conduit and wiring. The original system cost about $20k to install 14 years ago so more than doubling the system output for around $3k seemed like a no brainer. The reason I had the extra capacity in my inverters was that the company that installed my system didn’t have the 3.5kw inverter available that the contract called for so they installed two 3kw inverters instead for my 3.5 kw of panels. I should have done it a long time ago but I had no idea how easy it would be. Even if you have no aptitude or ability to install one of these systems yourself it still makes sense to buy a complete engineered kit with panels and inverters and hire a handyman and electrician to install it. Even after paying the labor you’ll save thousands over having one installed by a solar company. You won’t get a solar company warranty but you will still have the manufacturers warranties on the components and could still buy the same system 2 more times over versus the cost of a solar company install. I can provide more details if anyone is interested.
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Having never experienced a solar installation. It seems like the initial installation is much harder due to connecting to the grid. Getting that right seems something that would put this out of the DIY category for many people.

In contrast, I can see how adding capacity, once the connections are in, would possibly be DIY. But this is all speculation and fear on my part.


c
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Yeah. You’re right, adding panels is easier but all of the wiring before the inverters is plug and play and all of the wiring after and into your electrical service panel is standard. You can hire an electrician for the final connection if that’s too intimidating or even have him complete all of the AC wiring.
The other area that I thought would be a deal breaker is the submitting of plans for permitting, but the place I bought the panels from has engineers and tech advisors available to talk to and will provide engineered plans.
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It seems like the initial installation is much harder due to connecting to the grid. Getting that right seems something that would put this out of the DIY category for many people.

It's actually not that bad usually.

It may be out of the DIY category for many people - but it's usually not much more than adding a new circuit breaker and new wiring for an outlet. (which is also out of the DIY category for many people)

I think if you shop around for a good solar installer you won't save money by "hiring a handyman and electrician".
But if you don't shop around, you'll get the guys who charge you $5/W instead of ~$2.75/W. (who probably then subcontract it to someone that you could have hired directly to do it for ~$2.75/W)

I did my installation myself with help from family. And it took a fair amount of time to do (determining what to install, getting permits, and the actual installation itself)

Looking back it wasn't much more skill needed than what you need for installing a circuit breaker. (On the electrical side at least - roofing and flashing work was probably similar skill level, but it's definitely a very different skill set.)
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I think if you shop around for a good solar installer you won't save money by "hiring a handyman and electrician".
But if you don't shop around, you'll get the guys who charge you $5/W instead of ~$2.75/W. (who probably then subcontract it to someone that you could have hired directly to do it for ~$2.75/W)


How do you "shop around"?

I've only made 4 phone calls so far. Two to Google's first choices when I ask for "solar installers in <mytown>". They aren't interested unless they do it all themselves, and they want to sell me a $40,000 system from the get go. These are fairly large companies with a multi-state presence, so I understand that I'm probably more trouble than I'm worth to them. (And they don't like the fact that I'm in TVA territory because, um, TVA.)

One phone number is dead. The last is to a guy who is concerned that I have a structural engineer certify that my roof is OK for it. Well, I'm not using my roof, I'm "flying" a few narrow ones off the edge of my deck. He's never heard of it and doesn't really seem to want anything to do with it, absent (yes) a written report from a structural engineer. (For the record the deck is built on 6x6 posts, with 2x8 joists one foot on center and Trex decking on top.) The day may come when I expand into and add a ground-mount system in a sunny side yard we have, but I'm not there yet. (Cost and HOA rules among other issues.)

Anyway, is there a way to find a good "solar installer" who will work with a DIYer and not think I'm crazy? I haven't permitted anything yet, but then I haven't hooked anything up, either ;).
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Anyway, is there a way to find a good "solar installer" who will work with a DIYer and not think I'm crazy?
In my area there is a non-profit that will do the installation with you providing some of the labor.
I don't know about Tennessee area.

In general I think it will be difficult to find a solar installer who will work with a DIYer.
But if you're not going to DIY, finding a solar installer who will be reasonably priced (ie. similar prices to handyman + electrician) is IMO a better approach for hiring it out.

Well, I'm not using my roof, I'm "flying" a few narrow ones off the edge of my deck. He's never heard of it and doesn't really seem to want anything to do with it,
I don't blame him for not wanting to deal with it.
All the liability of your project and very little compensation for dealing with a non-normal install. And having to deal with someone who appears to be doing the project as a science experiment, not as a serious installation.
(you may not agree with those characterizations of your project/you. And they may not be accurate. But I think that's what a contractor is going to have as their perception.)

How do you "shop around"?
I'd start with asking the people around you who have solar who they used. (or who was the subcontractor that did the actual install)
I would also check https://www.solarreviews.com for who it has listed as installers in your area.
They list basically everyone - so there will be installers listed there who charge way more than average . And ones that try to get you to do a lease / power-purchase-agreement.
I have not yet seen a PPA that was a better option than outright purchase from a competitor. And having that type of contract severely impacts you when you want to sell your house.
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...is there a way to find a good "solar installer" who will work with a DIYer and not think I'm crazy? I haven't permitted anything yet, but then I haven't hooked anything up, either.
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If you take the path of non-conventional, you are going to find it extremely difficult if not impossible to get your utility provider to sign off and allow any DIY project to be connected to their grid in any way, shape or form. So, unless you plan on going completely off grid, you might want to contact your utility company and find out what type of customer generation they approve of before you start throwing money at this ad hoc project.

Just sayin'
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<<How do you "shop around"?
>>




Keep shopping. I'm guessing that you'll find a small electrical contractor willing to help you if you keep looking.


You haven't really looked very much so far, looking at your shopping efforts so far.


Seattle Pioneer
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Google wholesale solar.

I bought my panels for about 60 cents per watt. Add roof mounts, racking and wire and you’re up to about a buck twenty. Add the inverter on a simple system and you’re still well under $2 per watt. And that’s before the 30% federal tax credit.

It really is not very difficult to install. Even in California. PG&E will inspect the system before allowing the grid tie, but if you do everything according to the approved plans, they won’t have anything to complain about.

I love using cheap electricity to power my electric car and all the air conditioning my wife wants.

Good luck!
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but if you do everything according to the approved plans,

That seems to be the hang up for me - where do you get the approved plans? Yes, I know I would get a building permit from my city. But where do I get plans that the city can approve/disapprove?

--Peter
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It really is not very difficult to install.

Let me guess - your house is a single story with a relatively flat roof.

PSU
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In general I think it will be difficult to find a solar installer who will work with a DIYer.

Yep, so far anyway.

I don't blame him for not wanting to deal with it.

Actually, I understand their reluctance. They'd rather sell their pre-packaged stuff from their current vendors and have their installers slap it on a bunch of roofs at their current mark-up. And I mean that with no disrespect, it's their business, I get that.

And having to deal with someone who appears to be doing the project as a science experiment, not as a serious installation.
(you may not agree with those characterizations of your project/you. And they may not be accurate.


It's not, but it kind of is. We have a new house, which has an almost new cedar shake shingle roof. (In some areas you cannot permit a roof installation with cedar shake because of fire concerns. I have other issues, including splitting the shingles and potential roof leakage.) It's not the kind of roof you want to put a solar installation on anyway - or at least I don't. (Of the three I have talked to, they're not eager for it either. You can hear their enthusiasm drop when I tell them it's a cedar shake roof. Doesn't fit the 'easy to do' profile.) That's why I can up with flying them off the deck, which actually seems to work fairly well.

I would also check https://www.solarreviews.com for who it has listed as installers in your area.

Thanks for that. There are a couple of local leads there which did not come up from a simple google search, including one electrician I have used for other work. Didn't think of him.
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You get engineered plans from the company that sells the system. They are also available for free technical assistance during the build.

About my roof pitch. It’s 4/12 with wavy concrete tiles. And you’re right, I would have been much less enthusiastic about working on a second story. Fortunately my house is only one story.
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About my roof pitch. It’s 4/12 with wavy concrete tiles. And you’re right, I would have been much less enthusiastic about working on a second story. Fortunately my house is only one story.

My house is a two story with a 12/12 pitch.

PSU
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"It really is not very difficult to install."

Let me guess - your house is a single story with a relatively flat roof.


Mine is a mostly 2 story with a 4/12 pitch roof. And I didn't find it that difficult. 4/12 is a very typical suburban home style roof.

Of course if you have a very slanted roof it becomes more difficult - as does even just a normal re-roofing.
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you can ground mount the solar panels
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you can ground mount the solar panels

If you have available land. The lot size on new homes around here is getting smaller and smaller. My preference would be a ground mount system so maintenance is easier.

PSU
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You get engineered plans from the company that sells the system.

That doesn't fit my definition of a DIY system. More of a DIY install. Lot's of people should be capable of a DIY install.

My issue is that I'm putting together my own bits and pieces. I'm wanting a smaller system - I don't want to generate all of my own electricity. I'm just trying to take the top off the usage. So what plans do I need for that? Can I get away with just an electric inspection? I'm looking at maybe 6 panels - something around 2 kW of label generation. It's not a lot of weight on the roof.

--Peter
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"You get engineered plans from the company that sells the system. "

That doesn't fit my definition of a DIY system. More of a DIY install. Lot's of people should be capable of a DIY install.


My plans were drawn in visio, google sketchup, and powerpoint.
Since my city has a sample plan that they provide to everyone showing what they want to see in plan submisisons, I made sure I was similar to that.

IMO even if you spend $300 to get professionally done plans (and potentially even engineer-stamped plans if you need that for your AHJ) the fact that you're doing all the work still makes it a DIY system.

Creating the plans isn't that bad I think, but it did take me time to research everything.
For example, I would read articles about whether a system was a "grounded" or "ungrounded" system - and I'd think doesn't everything need a ground wire? And I eventually realized that all that metal on the roof does have a wire bonding it to earth. But the "ungrounded" in those articles was referring to that the positive and negative wires on the solar panel strings weren't connected to ground.

And I had to learn about the 120% bus-bar rule and how to apply it.

And the 80% derating factor for wires with continuous current. That's the factor that is why you have a 40A breaker with wire rated as if it would carry 40A, but only have the inverter that does 32A (~7600W) on that breaker. That 32A ==> 40A breaker is why there's a lot of 7600W inverters. Because 40A is a pretty standard breaker size. So if you do 40A breaker, and you want to maximize the power fed in through that breaker you naturally wind up with a 7.6kW inverter.

I think those and grounding/bonding were the main things that weren't something I had encountered before with just adding-a-circuit-breaker type electrical work.
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So what plans do I need for that? Can I get away with just an electric inspection?
You'd have to ask your AHJ.

My guess is they'd consider it a mechanical and electrical inspection - since you're doing something with the roof and electrical work.

It's not a lot of weight on the roof.
It can be a fair amount of uplift on that roof - wind can catch the panels and lift up on them. (down too - but I think people don't think about uplift)
My AHJ (the city building dept) has a rule that as long as the rails are attached every 4' that's good enough and they don't need engineer-stamped plans for it. (they might have had some other requirements too - but wasn't something that stood out in my mind)

FWIW, I think the first thing you do is find out what the deal is with your power company and how it'll affect your billing.
If you're where the power is more expensive, and you have net metering it may be better for you to do a larger system where you can generate more kwh during the summer and send those to the grid. Then during the winter while you're not generating much the credits from the summer offset the power you consume.
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If you're where the power is more expensive, and you have net metering it may be better for you to do a larger system where you can generate more kwh during the summer and send those to the grid. Then during the winter while you're not generating much the credits from the summer offset the power you consume.

I'm in So Cal - not nearly as wide a swing in daylight hours as seen in more northern latitudes. The general projections I see have reasonable generation year round. The bigger issue is cloud cover, particularly in May and June. Fortunately, when there's cloud cover, you don't need as much (or any) AC use.

I have no desire to put excess electricity into the grid to offset winter usage. We don't use AC in the winter, we do in the summer. If I can generate enough to cover the AC usage plus a bit, I'm happy. I'm also cobbling together bits and pieces. Used panels or blemished panels sold at deep discounts. I'll spring for a new inverter or two, depending on the panels.

Thanks for the suggestions on roof attachments. That's the part I need to learn more about. I'm pretty comfortable with the electrical portion of the job. I guess I'll also have to check in with the city and see what assistance they might have.

--Peter
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you can ground mount the solar panels

If you have available land. The lot size on new homes around here is getting smaller and smaller. My preference would be a ground mount system so maintenance is easier.

PSU


>>>> I agree on the ground mounted system...you can adjust the panels quarterly to better capture the sun's rays...you also eliminate any roof issues such as replacement leaks etc.
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The engineered plans that come with the system are specific to your region. They will ask you what type of roof you have and recommend proper mounts and racking. The engineering will take things into account such as snow and wind loading. They will sell whatever size system you want, from tiny to extra large.
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