How to install solar panels (Detailed Step-By-Step Guide)

So many people want to go solar but wonder what the steps are to install solar panels. If that’s you, we have some information you should enjoy. It is a guide to installing solar panels, and we keep it short and sweet.

But, we saved a bit of room for some essential tips and information you will want to know. So, keep reading as we get started. 

In this blog, we discuss:

  1. The steps to install solar panels
  2. FAQ about solar and solar panel installations
  3. The Dangers of installing solar panels
  4. Grounding a solar system and why it is important
  5. When to Hire A solar Panel Expert of Electrician 
  6. Essential information to make installation of solar easier
Man on a roof installing solar panels

Before You Start 

Before you start, you want to know a few things. Those include:

  • How much sun do you get per day or on average
  • Whether you want to install the system on a building or a platform
  • Whether you need a solar professional or electrician 
  • If you DIY, will it void the warranty?

These points help to reduce the risk of problems long after your array is assembled and running. Warranties are a big deal.

You want to make sure you understand the warranty terms for the physical pieces of your array and the labor, shipping, and installation should a part require replacement. Here are a few other questions people commonly ask.

Can I install solar panels on my home myself?

You can install solar panels on your home yourself. You will need some electrical wiring experience, and we suggest that you also use a professional solar contractor or electrician to do the wiring and connection processes to ensure that you:

  • Do not electrocute yourself, which can be fatal
  • Do not destroy expensive solar components with accidental shorts or arcs
  • Do not start an electrical fire that damages or destroys your home, solar array, and solar components. 

Is it difficult to install solar panels yourself?

It is not overly difficult to install solar panels. They fit onto a frame and then are fastened into place. However, installing the entire solar array can be more challenging, especially if you do not have electrical wiring experience.

Even so, some solar components, especially those that come in a kit, have snap-connectors making them plug and play.

If you are shopping for a solar kit, read the details carefully and look for kits with built-in safety features such as inline fuses or breakers. 

How to install solar panels at home 

The basic system is to start with the installation of a rack or platform. If the panels are roof-mounted, a roof racking system is first installed. A ground platform is needed if the panels are ground-mounted, and installing the solar panels is not difficult.

What is more difficult is wiring them. If you have little or no electrical experience, please be safe and hire a professional solar contractor or an electrician to do the wiring. 

Solar panels, by design, attach to a frame. If you use a kit, the pieces are easy and match.

However, if you are sourcing the parts separately, be sure the clamps will fit and provide a secure attachment based on severe weather in your area. 

Step 1: Find the Best Location

The Goal – Is to find the best location for the array to receive the most sun and the best quality sunlight. That ideal location may be the roof of your house, garage, or barn, or it may be on a platform on the ground. 

For most areas, a direct southern view is best. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West, making a southern facing array always in the sun. There is much less chance of shading if the solar panels face the South.

The best angle for solar panels will depend on where you are in the world. Direct south is best for most applications. Because the sun moves throughout the day, the south is the best location unless you use solar trackers. 

Tip: Improve solar locations with sun trackers. These devices follow the sun and reposition the panels or array to face the sun directly. A direct position provides more sunlight on the panels. A glancing direction means more of the incoming sunlight refracts off that glass rather than absorbs into the solar panel. 

Not only is the correct location about harnessing as much sunlight as possible, but also about keeping the distance between the array and house as short as possible. The longer the distance that energy must travel, the more energy is lost.

If you have a ground installation at some distance from the house, you will need to use heavier gauge wire. 

Step 2: Run the Conduit 

The conduit connects the solar panel or array to the house or battery backup system. You can dig the trench or run the pipes now or at the end of the process. It is better to do all of that now, run the wires through the conduit and leave them unattached until you are ready to connect them.

It is a lot of physical work to dig a trench or attach the pipe to the side of the house, and you will appreciate the fact that the chore is done as you get near the end of the array installation. 

The regulations for depth of buried conduit differ depending on the application, conduit material, and its location. Be sure to check with your local government building authority for final depths.

The deepest requirement is 24-inches or two feet, and the shallowest is four inches. When in doubt, dig the trench to 24-inches. Be advised that you may need a permit or inspection for a buried electrical conduit, and you may also need to contact your gas company. 

  1. Dig the trench to the appropriate depth.
  2. Pull the wires allowing for ample excess wire on each end.
  3. Pull the wires through a single piece of conduit. Work in single conduit sections and slide the conduit down the wire rather than pulling the wire through the conduit. The wire will work-harden if you pull it through the conduit, and it will become challenging to work with it. Leave a gap between conduit pieces of about 4-5 inches. You will close the gap when you glue the units together. If using metal pipes, the pieces must be soldered before you run the wire. Start at one end and solder on one piece.

Once the conduit is bonded, you can leave the wires loose until it is time to hook up the two components. 

Step 3: Building the Platform

There are DIY options for building a solar platform from scratch. But, honestly, it is much easier and will save you a TON of time if you use a kit. Frame kits may also be less expensive than sourcing parts for a durable solar array platform. 

  • Start with a solid foundation, which is essential to add solar panels to a roof or a ground platform. For roof installation, lag bolts are attached to the rafters, and a piece of flashing is used on top of the shingles to prevent leaks. The flashing slides under the shingle wherever a lag bolt installation occurs.
  • For ground platforms, prepare to sink posts or cement for the base of the platform. You should follow the building code for your area, as there will likely be an inspection. The building code will spell out whether you need 4×4 posts or another type of lumber to mount the frame. 
  • For roof installations, the framing connects to the lag bolts. Because the lag bolts connect to the roof’s rafters, the frame becomes securely attached to the building. It is also removable should roof repair become a necessity. 
Solar panel mounting rails

Step 4: Mounting the Panels

How to install solar panels on the roof 

In short, the solar panels connect to a roof-mounted frame. The solar panels sit on the frame and are clamped with either a bolt, bracket, or other clamping devices. If you are using a kit, the clamps will match the frame making it easy to secure the panels to the roof. 

The hardest part about installing roof panels is installing the lag bolts which attach the frame to the roof. These bolts attach to the roofing rafters and a piece of flashing.

How you mount the panels to the frame is dependent upon what type of panels you have. For example, suppose the positive and negative connections are close or far apart. Also, important is the design you choose for wiring the panels to other components. For example, you can opt to wire:

  • In series and form a string
  • In parallel, such as with a microinverter
  • Or in a hybrid formation

How to install solar panel brackets 

Solar panel brackets are just a nut and bolt attachment. They come in a variety of styles, and each is slightly different. Many slide onto the solar frame railings and then tighten to hold the panel in place.

The end brackets will have a spot to hold a single panel, and the middle brackets will have a spot to secure two panels. Some solar panel kits may use single panel brackets. 

The basic is to position the bracket to capture the panel and then tighten the bolt that clamps the bracket to the panel. You may need only a single socket wrench with the correct socket type, or you may need two socket wrenches – one to work the top bolt and one to hold the nut onto the bolt. 

If you use a kit, you will find that the clamps that hold the solar panel to the framing will match, and most slide down to lock the panels in place with an easy-to-access bolt that chinches the clamp to the panel. 

  • Once you have installed the first panel, it is a simple task to place the second panel and then clamp it. The slide clamps sit between the panels, so you would lock the first panel’s top into place as you lock the bottom of panel two to the frame. 
  • The process is straightforward. For roof applications, you may need to wire the panels as you install them. Many styles of solar panels for roof applications will have a hinge that allows the panel to swing up so that you can access the roof, frame, and the backside of the solar panel. That is an advantage over a clamp system. 

 Step 4.5 How to install solar panels and inverter 

The focus here is to connect the solar panel to the inverter. This means that the solar array is grid-tied and without a battery backup system. If a battery backup system is in place, you will connect the solar panels to a solar controller to prevent overcharging batteries. 

Solar panel inverter on a wall

To connect the solar panels to the inverter, you will need:

  • Wire to make the connection. Use the same gauge of wire that you used to connect the solar panels.
  • Ferrules and heat shrink tube covers for electrical wires
  • A multimeter for testing your connections. 
  • An inline fuse unit to protect the solar inverter from electrical spikes. 

Generally, the wires from the solar panels run through a conduit to the inverter. Attach the inline fuse unit and then the fuse unit to the inverter. Remember positive wire to the positive terminal, the ground to the ground terminal. Double-check the connections are correct before powering up the inverter. 

If you are using a kit, it is a good chance that the components may snap together. If not, you would:

  1. Strip the wire ends
  2. Add the ferrule and crimp in place.
  3. Add the heat shrink tube and shrink it to fit over the connection. Remember that the purpose of the tube is to remove any spot where the bare wire may accidentally cause an earth ground.

Ferrules: Some have rings on the end, making adding a wire to a bolt connection on a box easy. Others are just straight tubes that gather twisted wire to contain them in a wire socket with a screw clamp. 

Step 5: Wiring the System and Components

If you are unfamiliar with electrical wiring standards, you should leave wiring the system to a solar professional or an electrician. Your goal is to connect the solar panels into strings or groups and then attach them as a unit to the conduit wiring and to do so safely. 

  1. The panels need to be wired together to form pairs or a string. The process involves stripping the wires and then wiring them to the solar panel if they do not have an attached wiring connector. The wires will run to a junction connector or into a fuse or circuit breaker. The wiring point – fuse box, circuit breaker, or junction box is connected to the conduit wire. 
  2. Be sure to note the color of the wire. Generally, red is positive, and black is negative, but not always. 

How to install solar panels wiring 

Solar panel wiring installation is not overly complicated if you understand basic electricity procedures. First, there is a positive wire and a grounding wire. Most solar components have a port for a positive wire and a grounding wire. Next, you would use a ferrule to attach the wires to the components. 

Tools include:

  • Wire stripping pliers 
  • Ferrules for socket installations and bolt installations
  • Heat shrink tubing for electrical use. These help to seal bare wire, so accidental grounding does not occur. 

A few bits and bobs that are handy include ferrules and shrink sleeves. If the connecting box has slots where the wire inserts into the slot and is then locked into place with a screw clamp, then a ferrule is handy, especially where the wire is a twisted bundle of smaller wires.

The heat-shrink sleeve reestablishes the wire seal so that accidental grounding does not occur. 

Note: When securing the wires to the mounting box, be sure to inspect each wire along the entire length. You are looking for small nicks, cuts, or breaks in the wire insulation coating. Any nick, cut, or break in the coating can lead to a grounding or earth fault. 

Note: If you are not familiar with electrical wiring procedures, seek the help of a solar panel professional or electrician. However, there is a lot you can do yourself to install solar panels and a solar array so that you would need the electrician only for the wiring parts of the project. 

How Do I connect the system to the grid to earn money?

If you can earn money, it will depend on the rules controlled by your local utility. Not all utility companies offer solar credits. 

To connect to the grid, you would use a hybrid inverter in place of a string inverter. The hybrid inverter would send excess energy shuttled away from the controller to the grid.

The local utility would monitor the flow of energy from your meter into the public grid, and you would be paid for that energy if such a program is available in your area. The payment may be in the form of solar credits rather than money. 

Step 6: Ground the System, including the Panels and the Mounting System.

Do I need to ground my solar panels?

Yes. You must ground the solar array and each of the solar components. What ground does is shuttles electricity away from you, your solar panel, and your solar components.

Too much electricity or an accidental ground can cause electrocution, destroy solar panels and components, and cause electrical fires. 

Because the mounting system is made of metal, it must be grounded along with the solar array and panels. A proper earth ground will prevent many tragic events, including:

  • Accidental death from electrocution 
  • Accidental fire from power surges 
  • Damage to the panels, array, and solar components in case of power spikes

Each solar component that attaches to the circuit must also receive aground. That includes any electrical device on the system that is inside the home too. 

Step 7: Form the Circuit by Connecting the Electrical Components.

The steps involved here vary depending on the configuration of the solar array. For example, if you have a solar battery backup, then there will be more components. Start with the following:

  • Solar Controller if you have a battery backup. We suggest an inline fuse to protect the controller from spikes in power. 
  • Move on and connect the solar controller to the battery backup system. 
  • Connect the battery backup system to the inverter
  • Connect the inverter disconnect and then to the inverter and on to the house or energy destination

Many of these components use a screw clamp to hold individual wires in place. A good tip is to use ferrules and heat shrink covers to make the connection more manageable, more secure, and a lot safer. 

Step 8: Test the System

Before you test the system, review each electrical connection and double-check that the positive wire is in the positive terminal and that the grounding wire is attached to the ground and at each component attached to the grounding terminal. 

The goal here is to complete the circuit and turn on the power while checking that everything is working as it should; if the system passes the test, power it up to full power and inspect it once more.

After that, the system should produce electricity, store energy, convert or invert the energy from DC to AC and then power your home. 

Here are some more common questions for installing solar panels;

FAQ Installing Solar panels

How long does it take to install solar panels?

Usually, about three days if you know what you are doing. It will take longer depending on the size of the installation and the area where the installation occurs – roof vs. ground. If you are inexperienced, the process can take several weeks or more. In addition, you will want to have the unit inspected by a solar expert, which can also add time. 

How much does solar panel installation cost?

The actual cost will vary from one location to the next. For a 2,000 square foot home, expect solar installation to run from $10,000 – $20,000. Other factors affect pricing, such as the size of the system, demand, etc. Some installations may be less expensive. 

What are the dangers of installing solar panels?

There are three primary dangers:

  1. Electrocution, which can lead to death
  2. Electrical damage to solar panels, solar components, and your home
  3. Electrical fire to your home, solar array or outbuildings, and solar components. 

Sources

Solar Panel Setup FAQ

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