How to Set Up Your Own Solar Panel System for the Homestead

Building a DIY solar panel system can get you off the grid while you harness the power of the sun.

Solar panel system on a homestead house.
Photo by Elle Hughes

As renewable energy gains popularity, many homeowners are considering installing solar panels to power their homesteads. Solar is a great way to take control of how you get power for your property, and it doesn’t take a lot of technical know-how. We’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of how to setup your own solar panel system. Let’s get started!

Step 1: Assess your energy needs for your solar panel system

Before diving into your DIY solar project, you need to determine your energy requirements and how many solar panels you need. There’s no hurry if you’re already on the grid. You can build slowly and supplement your current power with solar until you reach 100% solar.

Figure out your energy needs

To find out how many solar panels you need, first you need to figure out how much power you home uses. You can do this by calculating your average energy consumption:

  1. Take a look at your last 12 bills from the electric company. 
  2. Add the total kilowatt-hours (kWh) used from each month together. That’s how much energy you use in a year. 
  3. Divide by 12. This will give you the average kilowatt-hours your home uses in a month.

To give you a rough idea, the average homeowner uses 10,632 kWh per year, 886 kWh per month or around 30 kWh per day, according to the Energy Information Administration. Repeat this same process to find out how many kilowatts you use per month.

Yearly kwh usage
Photo by DIY Homesteading 101

Determine your peak sunlight hours

Next, you need to figure out how many peak sunlight hours your home gets each day. You can get this information by using the free solar resource data tools provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

How many solar panels do you need?

Now that you know those numbers, you can figure out how many panels you need. Solar panels usually produce 150 to 400 watts with a typical production ratio of 1.3 or 1.6. To find out how many panels you need use this formula: 

Number of panels = how much power you need per year / production ratio / panel wattage.

  1. Get the number for how many kWh per year you need.
  2. Divide that number by the production ratio, so by 1.3 or 1.6.
  3. Divide that number by the wattage of one solar panel. The answer is the minimum number of solar panels you need.

For example: 

My home uses an average of 14,000 kWh per year and I picked out a 400-watt panel. So using the equation, 14,000 is divided by 1.3 to get 10,769. Then, 10,769 is divided by 400 watts, which equals around 27 panels.

Now remember the peak solar hours? Yeah, if you have fewer peak solar hours, you’re going to need more panels to make up for the lack of sun during the day. To maximize how much sun your panels get, consider factors such as location and shade from trees.

Pro tip:
Not mounting your panels to your roof? You can get solar tracking mounts that automatically move your panels to follow the sun’s path throughout the day to maximize how much sun each panel gets. These can be expensive, though, so manual tracking mounts that you have to go out and adjust may be a more budget-friendly option.

Step 2: Obtain solar permits and permissions

Gloved hand tightening a bolt on a solar panel array.
Photo by Los Muertos Crew

If you’re not out in the country and want solar for your urban homestead, you’ll need permits and permissions from your town or city. Some areas have specific guidelines and restrictions, so if you don’t want a hefty fine, make sure to adhere to local laws and obtain the necessary permissions before getting into your solar adventure. Contact your local building department to find out the regulations and permits required for installing a solar system.

Step 3: Choose the right solar panels and components

Now that you know how many panels you need and have your permits sorted out, you can start shopping for solar for your homestead. There are several places you can get solar panels for a DIY solar system. Big box and warehouse stores like Costco and Home Depot sell solar kits; sometimes you can get them at big discounts. Amazon also carries a selection of DIY solar kits. 

Here are some things to keep in mind while you’re shopping for your DIY solar panel installation:

Renogy 400 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel Bundle Kit

Solar kit found on Amazon
  • Monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient (produce more power) and last longer. They cost a little more, but the trade-off is worth it. Most panels you come across will be monocrystalline.
  • Polycrystalline is a little less efficient, but it’s cheaper than monocrystalline.
  • Thin-film solar panels are meant for small projects, like lighting your chicken coop. They aren’t meant for powering your home since they aren’t as durable and don’t produce as much power as monocrystalline or polycrystalline.
  • Look for solar panel kits with mounting frames and solar batteries to make solar panel installation easier. (You don’t want to buy all of these separately and then wonder if they are compatible.) Btw, you’ll need a good set of solar batteries if you want to be off the grid since that’s where you’ll get power from at night or during cloudy days.
  • Make sure your DIY solar kit comes with a solar inverter, which converts the direct current (DC) generated by the solar panels into alternating current (AC) for use in your home. If not, purchase one separately. Look for inverters with special features, like a solar monitoring system that tracks the energy usage of various appliances and the performance of your solar system. This allows you to monitor energy production, identify any issues and optimize your system’s efficiency. 
Video: Do It Yourself Solar Power? – Easy DIY Solar Panel Installation!

Step 4: Finalize inspections and interconnection

Contact your local utility company to schedule inspections and interconnection procedures if you’re on the power grid or in an urban area. Compliance with local regulations and utility interconnection requirements are crucial to ensure the smooth integration of your solar system with the grid.

Step 5: Set up net metering

If you’re connected to the power grid and supplementing your power with solar, you’ll want to set up a net metering contract with your electric company. What is net metering? The electric company essentially buys the extra power your solar system produces. They either pay you for the energy, or they give you a credit on your electric bill. Contact your electric company to get started.

Step 6: Maintain and monitor your solar system

Most people think you just set up a solar system and don’t need to do anything after that. Not so. Solar panels must be cleaned regularly to keep them as efficient as possible. You don’t want grime blocking the sun.

Clean off your solar panels every six months, or when you notice an efficiency drop. Also, be sure to clear off pollen in the spring, snow in the winter and leaves in the fall. You can clean your panels by spraying them with your water hose and wiping them with a soft cloth.

FAQ

Can a home run solely on solar power?

Yes, unless you’re entire property is covered in trees. Even if your panels get particle shade throughout the day, you can make up for the lower power output by adding more panels.

Can you put solar panels in your backyard?

Yes, you can. Many people mount solar panels to their roof, but you may find that your backyard gets more sun. In that case, you can use ground mounts to install your panels in your yard.

Can you live off-grid with just solar panels?

Yep! Off-grid just means you don’t rely on the power grid for electricity. You can use professional solar companies to get you off the grid or DIY your solar panels.

How many solar panels do I need for a 2000-square-foot house?

It will vary depending on your energy needs and how much sun your solar panels will get, but you can expect to purchase around 27 to 35 solar panels.

Will the government pay you to get solar?

Unfortunately, no, but they do offer tax credits and rebates for adding solar to your house. Check out the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Homeowner’s Guide to the Federal Tax Credit for Solar Photovoltaics for more information.