It doesn’t take an electrical engineer to start generating electrical power using solar kits. Solar kits range in size from small devices designed to charge you cell phone to rooftop panels you can use to power your home. Kits contain all or most of the parts you need, and vary in price from $50 to tens of thousands of dollars. You can get your start with solar using a kit and most of the larger, more costly kits will allow you to expand your system by adding panels later. This page will help you understand the parts most kits include, give you the pros and cons of solar kits, and help you understand the range of kits available today.

Is a Solar Kit Right For You?

Generating solar power is more than just slapping a dozen panels on roof and calling it a day. If you don’t know a solar expert, follow this decision tree to learn if you should consider buying a solar kit.

Installation:

Are you handy and comfortable with hand tools and assembling projects?

Learn more about solar kits:

You need to understand the technologies available, how many panels you need, and how to install the panels on your roof or elsewhere on your property.

Consult with a solar contractor or installer:

You need basic understanding of electrical wiring and construction to install a solar kit. Can you find an installer who will install a kit you buy?

Create list of specifications:

You need to what you need before you buy the first kit you see online. Think about:

  • Your budget
  • The total amount of energy you want to collect.
  • Where and how you will mount the panels.
  • If you want a grid-tie system, a grid-tie with a battery bank, or an off-grid system
  • The inverter technology you need to use
  • The panel technology you need.
Hire a solar contractor or installer:

Write a list of your expectations for the installer, including who will handle building permits, inspections, connecting the system to your household wiring. Spell-out the installer’s fees.

Get quotes on installed systems:

Review the option of contractor-installed complete systems. There is value to a turn-key system where the installer is obligated to repair or replace defective components during the warranty period. Also, the cost may not be more than a kit you buy that is installed professionally.

Will you grid-tie your system?

Grid-tie means connecting your solar system to your utility’s electrical grid. A non-grid-tie system is not connected to a utility’s grid.

Utilities generally require a licensed electrician complete the connection to the electrical grid. n electrician will connect your system safely and so that it does not back-feed the grid when the utility’s power fails.

A kit can be a good option when you do not grid-tie or otherwise need an electrician to complete the connection to grid power.

Are you planning to apply for rebates or incentives?

Often incentives and rebates require licensed installers.

A kit can be a good option if your state’s incentives or rebates plan does not require professional or licensed installers.

Is your installation complicated by your installation location?:

Installation can be straightforward or complicated. Do you have a tricky location, limited space, or other unusual situation?

If it it a straightforward installation, an installer can help you maximize the efficiency of your panels.

Some rooflines or ground-installation locations are picture-perfect and don’t require much skill to work with.

Are you planning an especially large installation?

Generally, the larger the installation, the more customized the system will be. Kits, by their nature, tend to be one-size-fits-all, and may not meet your needs.

A kit might be a good option for you.

Do you expect to finance your panels?:

Some lenders will not approve loans for solar kits, and instead require a permanent installation.

A kit might be right for you.

You face challenges if you want to install a solar kit. Review your options carefully before you place your order because you may face obstacles you cannot overcome easily.

You may find that a solar panel kit may meet your needs. Continue reading this page, and compare your options. Fortunately, many dealers offer solar kits so you may find one right for you.

Pros & Cons of Solar Power Kits

The average cost of home solar systems is about $30,000. Of that amount, design and installation labor costs make up about ten percent of the total bill. A do-it-yourself kit might help you avoid those costs — but beware of possible pitfalls and explore the pros and cons of solar kits.

Solar Kit Pros May save money

As mentioned above, about $1 out of every $10 spent on a home solar system goes to design and installation costs. If you’re handy with tools and can calculate how much energy your system needs to produce, designing and installing a solar system might be a smart choice.

Satisfaction of DIY installation

For some homeowners, there’s nothing better than planning, working on, and looking back on a completed project. Installing a solar kit hits all of the right buttons for a DIY project, including saving money on an electric bill every month.

Easy upgradability

Many who start with solar see the savings first-hand. After weighing the cost and calculating the break-even point, they expand their systems. Most solar kits offer the option of adding panels later to increase their power-generating capacity.

Boost your home’s value

Generally, solar systems boost home values. However, buyers may be suspicious of an amateur-installed system. Retain all of your building permits and documentation relating to grid hookup approval to show buyers you did it right.

Solar Kit Cons Installing yourself requires training & experience

Solar installation requires carpentry and electrician skills, which not all homeowners have. Both are great to know, but tackling a more down-to-earth project as a first project might be a smarter choice with fewer consequences if you fail.

No recourse if you make a mistake

The consequences of making a mistake when wiring DC circuits can be expensive. One advantage of hiring a professional installer is that if the installer makes a mistake the installer pays for it. If you fry a charge controller because you wired it backwards, you pay for a new one.

Warranty claims may not be possible

Some manufacturers require a professional install their equipment to honor their warranties

Comprehend your county building codes

You must be fully versed in your county’s building codes to install panels in compliance with your local rules. For example, you may need a building permit.

Get approval from your utility

Utilities usually require a licensed or otherwise certified electrician to connect a system to the grid. Many utilities have other requirements, too, and it’s up to you to know what these are before make the connection.

Local installers understand local incentives

Local installers might help you save money or increase your tax benefit by finding a local incentive you may have missed.

Some kits are incomplete

Some kits include everything you need, down to the wiring and nuts & bolts. Others don’t include the mounting hardware, wiring, or an inverter. Shop carefully.

What’s in Solar Panel Kits

Complete kits contain most or all of these six basic parts:

Panels Controller For Battery Systems Inverter Batteries Mounting Hardware Wiring and Connectivity
Solar panels come in different sizes, and use different cell technologies. Big-box retailers offering panels sell kits with panels in the 100-watt range. Online solar dealers offer bigger panels – 200 to 300 watts – if you want to handle and install fewer panels. See this LetsGoSolar page to learn more about your panel choices. You need a charge controller if you will connect your solar panels to batteries, such as in an RV system. You do not need a charge controller if you plan to connect to your electrical utility’s grid, which is called a “grid-tie” system. Charge controllers prevent a solar system from over-charging batteries. They come in different capacities and use different technologies affecting efficiency. (Link to this LetsGoSolar page.) Solar panels create DC voltage (think of a car battery or how a flashlight works. Inverters convert DC voltage into AC voltage like what you find in a wall outlet. Inverters come in different capacities and use different technologies, which affects their efficiency. Even the best inverters waste energy during the energy conversion process, which is one reason why you may need to buy more panels than you think. Hyperlink to this LetsGoSolar page. In home-based systems, batteries are an option. If you want to live off the grid, or are installing a solar system in an RV, then your battery choice is crucial. Very few kits include batteries. You need to send your panels’ power somewhere, be it a battery or to an electrical grid, or a combination of the two. See the LetsGoSolar Battery page to learn more about your choices in solar batteries Some kits contain hardware to mount panels to a roof. The challenge for kit sellers is some kit buyers mount panels on their homes, and others mount them on RVs, and some don’t install them on roofs at all. Read the fine print to learn what, if any mounting hardware your kit includes. See this LetsGoSolar page to learn more. Some kits contain wiring and grid-tie equipment a licensed electrician must install. Most do not because installations are not standard. If you’re considering a kit that contains wiring and connectivity parts, make sure you can use them.
Pro tip: The industry benchmark for solar panels is cost per watt. Generally, a lower cost per watt is better, but panel efficiency and warranty comes into the equation. Pro tip: You get what you pay for in charge controllers. More expensive controllers, called MPPW controllers, are worth the cost for larger systems. Pro tip: If you’re building a battery-based system, be sure to buy a “pure sine wave” inverter, which mimics the power utilities send us. Watch for efficiency and warranty length Pro tip: Most homeowners grid-tie alone. Batteries are expensive, and the life of batteries is short (5 years or so). Avoid batteries unless you’re off-grid or live with unreliable power Pro tip: You have several options for installing solar panels on either a residential roof or an RV’s roof. Hire an installer if you have a tile roof, or if the pitch is steep. Pro tip: Unless you’re an electrician, you’ll probably underestimate the amount of wire you will need. Do not attempt to connect a system to your home’s power center yourself. Hire an electrician who can certify the work.

Solar Panel Kits Shopping Guide

Before you start shopping for a kit, look hard at what you hope to accomplish with your solar system. You probably fall into one these three categories.

  • Live off the grid

  • Stay on the grid and cut your electric bill

  • Power something small that’s off-grid, such an RV

The more ambitious your plans, the more planning you will need, and the more you must understand about available products. Study the kits in the table below to understand the range available. By no means is this table complete. Most online solar dealers will work with you to mix and match parts to build the system that matches your needs.

Solar Panel Kit Name Panel Watts Charge Controller Features Inverter Features Hardware & Wire Other Features Sellers Price
Grape Solar Model # GS-200-KIT 200 35 amp Xantrex C35 charge controller 450-watt Xantrex inverter Wire included none Costco, Home Depot, Lowes $600
Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit img2 100 Renogy Wanderer 30A PWM Charge Controller none included Includes wire and panel mounts Options to upgrade controller to more efficient models Renogy.com, Amazon.com $200
Sunforce 1500 Watt Solar Kit 37116 img3 1,500 Three Sunforce 30A charge controllers 2,500-watt Sunforce inverter pure sine wave Call Sunforce to learn what wire and hardware is included Designed for multiple batter banks. Big-box retailers online $9,000
Solar Panel Pack 180 img4 180 watts 12A MPPT None. Designed to work with Aspect Solar generators Included Portable use. Folds into included carrying case Aspect Solar $1,159
Off Grid Solar Kit 400 Watt optional, it’s a terrible image. img5 400 watt Zamp Solar 5 Stage 30A 2000 Watt Zamp Solar Pure Sine Wave Connector kit, wire, fuse, tool. 25-year warranty Back Country Solar $1,659
340W Small Remote Power System SRP-4 img6 340 watt Morningstar PS-30M Available as a $420 option Flush-mount roof-mount available as a $192 option Seller will mix and match components MrSolar.com $2,000
On-the-Go Portable 50 Watt Solar Charging Kit img7 50 watt None None None Handy stand-mounted design designed to fold. Earth Tech Products $300
Tiny House 320 W DC 2-Panel Solarland Off-Grid Solar System 320 watt Morningstar ProStar PS-30M None Many extra-cost options available Seller will develop custom kit per your specs Wholesale Solar $1,191
2000 Watt DIY Solar Install Kit w/Microinverters img9 2,000 watt APSystems YC500A micro inverters None Separate options Seller offers financing Go Green Solar $4,671
Enphase 2,120 Watt Grid Tie Solar System Kit img10 2,120 watt Enphase M250 micro inverters None Connector kit, wire, fuse, tool. 25-year warranty on inverters and panels Northern Arizona Wind & Sun $4,175

Most do-it-yourself kits tend to be less than 1,000 watts in generating capacity. Go Green Solar and Wholesale Solar offer do-it-yourself kits of up to 10 kilowatts in size. If you cannot find a kit that matches your needs, contact Wholesale Solar, Go Green Solar, or Northern Arizona Wind & Sun with your specifications to get a quote on a custom kit.

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