Updated Aug. 2022

Every year, solar panel installation gets simpler and faster, but it's nowhere near a DIY project (unless you live in the boonies). Installation requires the expertise of an electrician who has solar installation training as well as familiarity with local permits and fire codes. Friends and neighbors with solar might be able to refer you to a good installer who can give you a free quote.

Performance-based initiatives (PBIs), where owners of solar systems are paid based on actual energy production, have proven effective in getting owners and installers to focus on proper installation. "The most trusted solar panel companies recommend and encourage the buyers to get professional help for the solar rooftop installation in their homes," says Rita Sinha, manager at solar company Luminous India.

Installers carry their experience over to their other jobs, so everyone benefits. Proper installation makes maintenance easier too. Go with a certified professional to get the job done right.


Coming Up With a Plan

First, installers will ask general questions about your home, such as the age and angle of the roof, the type of roof (clay, shingles, tiles), and what your monthly electric bills are so they can design a system to meet your power needs.

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The installer will evaluate your home to make decisions on the best panels, inverter, racking, and other components. He or she will visit your home by appointment for an inspection of the roof, attic, and electrical system.

One goal of the visit is to determine the best location for the hardware, somewhere you'll barely notice it (like the garage). Another goal is to ensure that the installation will meet code. The electrical panel in an older home, for instance, might need upgrading. In the attic or on the roof could be lurking other issues that need repairing before the solar system gets installed.


Design and Permits

Equipped with all the info and measurements, the installer will draw up a plan for the system and site, including the number of panels, where they go, a wiring schematic, and how it all ties in to the utility. The installer will submit the plans to your local permitting department. Requirements vary by location, so it's good to work with a local installer who knows the ins and outs. Approval usually takes one to three months.

Read about how same-day permitting is launching solar into warp speed.

The day arrives when your personal power plant is to be installed. Surprisingly, the actual installation is often the easiest step. Typically the work takes one to three days.

Want to see everything step by step? Follow along as a solar panel system is installed on a house in the woods, just one story in our Solar Success Story series.


Mounting Methods

An installer can use one of several mounting systems to attach panels to the roof. The system might differ from one house to another on the same block based on the size and shape of the roof and the kind of shingles.

Direct mounting is the most common method. Mounts are placed four feet apart on the rafters, then holes are drilled into the rafters. The mounts are secured by steel bolts and the surrounding area sealed. Each solar panel is fastened to the mount. Finally, the panel is connected to the electrical supply.

Connect with a friendly local installer today to explore your solar options!

The alternative to directly mounting the panels on the roof is to build a framework on the ground, and some are really impressive! These systems can either be fixed or can tilt/swivel to track the sun for maximum power capture. Ground frameworks are a good option if you have wide-open space where the panels will get sunlight from dawn to dusk.


Inspection and Connection

Each city, county, and utility has its own inspection process. As solar systems grow in popularity, inspections and approvals are generally getting quicker, but depending on region it could be days or months. A city or county inspector will visit the home to make sure the installation was done as permitted.

A rep from the utility must sign off on the installation before officially connecting it to the grid, a process that can take days or weeks. Here, a local installer is also beneficial because he or she might be able to navigate the system and keep you abreast of progress.

Then comes the momentous day when your installer flips the switch and you start generating your own clean energy!