Inexpensive Solar Power with DIY Solar Panel Kits

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 solar power system with a DIY solar panel kit.

Because these solar power "all in one" kits generally include smaller and/or less powerful solar 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 solar panel 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 solar panels to your array as desired to generate additional power. Going with a DIY solar panel 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 solar panel 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.

DIY Solar Panel Kit is portable and convenient to use for camping or other outdoor activities
DIY Solar Panel Kit is portable and convenient to use for camping or other outdoor activities | Source

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.

A solar panel kit allows 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 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, this solar panel kit from Home Depot will cost you nearly $1500, prior to federal and state incentives and rebates.

On the other hand, there is a less expensive solar panel kit currently available at Amazon.com, which is only $479 and well suited forrecreational vehicles (RVs), boats or swimming pools.

Solar Panel Kits are Easy and Inexpensive

Solar Panel Kits from Amazon

How to Install a Solar Panel Kit

Installation of a solar panel 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 a solar panel kit. 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 solar panel 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 solar 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 solar panels installed on the rails.

5. Interconnect the junction boxes on each solar 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 | Source

Solar Panel 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.

Solar 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.

Solar 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

Would You Consider Switching to Solar Power with a DIY Solar Panel Kit?

  • Maybe, it sounds like a cost-effective way to use solar energy
  • Yes, we have already installed solar panels
  • No, it still sounds too expensive and like too much hassle
  • Not sure, but I'd like to find out more about DIY solar panel kits
See results without voting

Where Can you Buy DIY Solar Panel 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 solar panel 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 a solar panel kit
Solar inverter is included with a solar panel kit | Source

© 2012 Stephanie Hicks

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Comments 40 comments

jesimpki profile image

jesimpki 4 years ago from Radford, VA

Well put together. Voting up!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

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


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 4 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

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!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

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


HomeEnergy profile image

HomeEnergy 4 years ago from California

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


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

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


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

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


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

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


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

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.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

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


kevins blog52 profile image

kevins blog52 4 years ago from southern Indiana

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


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Kevins blog,

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


whoisbid profile image

whoisbid 4 years ago

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.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

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


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

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.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

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


Toolsonline profile image

Toolsonline 4 years ago from Up to my Neck in it!

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


Old man Jenkins 4 years ago

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


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

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


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Good tip! Thanks much, Steph


Nick Marsh profile image

Nick Marsh 4 years ago

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!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

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


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

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!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

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


Skyler 3 years ago

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.


HomeEnergy profile image

HomeEnergy 3 years ago from California

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".


AadonJones 3 years ago

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/


katecupcake profile image

katecupcake 3 years ago from Texas, USA

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!


jrueff profile image

jrueff 3 years ago from Kansas City

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.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 3 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

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


jrueff profile image

jrueff 3 years ago from Kansas City

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!


solarguru 3 years ago

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...


Malin profile image

Malin 3 years ago from California

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.


lorddraven2000 profile image

lorddraven2000 3 years ago from Wheelwright KY

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


mercuryservices profile image

mercuryservices 3 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

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.


Lillee McLoflin profile image

Lillee McLoflin 3 years ago from Texas

Very informative! Great hub!


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 3 years ago

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


Chris525Moore 2 years ago

Neat!


NRGTitans profile image

NRGTitans 2 years ago from Oregon

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!


Dave. 7 months ago

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

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