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How Are Solar Panels Installed?

We explain everything you need to know about the solar panel installation process and how to determine energy needs.
Solar Panels
9 minutes
Written by:
Joey Cheek
Updated on:
November 30, 2022

Solar panel installation is a great way to reduce your monthly energy costs and help the environment. With solar panels, you can generate renewable energy for less than the utility costs of energy companies, so you save money while saving the environment. 

However, installing a solar panel system doesn't happen overnight; it's a process that involves several steps. 

In this article, we explain everything you need to know about the solar panel installation process, including how to determine your energy needs, how to choose a solar installation company, and much more.

What are Solar Panels?

Solar panels are a type of renewable energy system that generates electricity from sunlight. Solar panels are made up of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, which are semiconductor devices that convert sunlight into electricity. The more sunlight that hits the solar panel, the more energy they generate.

Solar panel systems provide an environmentally-friendly source of energy that can reduce your carbon footprint. They are often installed on the roof of a home or business. Solar panels come in a variety of sizes and shapes. They can either be mounted on the roof of your home or ground-mounted.

In most cases, solar systems are connected to an electrical grid, so you can use the energy they generate at any time. That said, there are also off-grid solar systems as well. Solar panels can be used to power homes and businesses, but they can also be used to power remote locations like government facilities, farms, and remote cabins.

How Are Solar Panels Installed?

Installing solar panels involves several key steps. First, you will have to have your roof inspected to ensure that it's structurally sound. During inspection, a technician will check for damage and other potential issues that may arise during the solar panel installation process.

If everything looks good after inspection, then the technician will install a mounting structure for the solar panels. Once the mounting structure is in place, they will then install the solar panels. Once everything is installed, the technician will connect the solar panels to the home’s electrical system.

Keep in mind that you can usually get a solar contractor to provide you with a free solar panel installation cost estimate. By obtaining multiple solar panel installation cost estimates from a few different solar companies, you can compare costs and choose the contractor that best suits your needs and budget.

How to Install Solar Panels (Step-By-Step Guide)

Now that we have gone over the basics about solar installations, let's take a closer look at the actual process many homeowners experience when getting their solar systems installed. Keep in mind that the process can vary from region to region. Different installers may use different equipment and so on, but the general process is more or less the same in most cases. 

Step 1: Determine If Installing Solar Panels Makes Financial Sense for You

Before you even start looking into how to install solar panels, you need to determine if solar panels make financial sense for you. While solar panels are typically a good investment, they aren’t for everyone or every property. That said, if you’re in a good position to take advantage of solar power, this can be a sound long-term financial decision. 

In order to determine if solar panels are right for you, you will need to look at your current electricity costs, your property’s location, and your future energy needs. 

Your current electricity costs will play a big role in determining if solar panels are a good fit. If you have relatively high electricity costs, you’ll likely be better off going solar. In other words, the more you spend on electricity, the more beneficial it is to go solar.

Likewise, the more you know about your property’s location, the easier it will be to calculate the cost of going solar. This includes things like the sun exposure of your property, the average temperature, and the average rainfall.

You’ll also want to take into account your future energy needs. If you have plans to add new appliances or equipment in the near future, solar panels now could save you money on future energy costs as well.

Step 2: Pick a Location for Your Solar Panel Installation

Before you install the solar panels, determine the ideal location for the panels. You might think this would be the rooftop, but it’s not always the best place. You need to first consider the sun’s movement at different times of the year. You also want to make sure you’re picking a location that makes sense based on your property’s layout.

The sun travels in an arc across the sky during different times of the year. During the summer months, it’s in the southern sky, and during the winter, it’s in the northern sky. This means you can get sun all year long, but your panels will receive the most sunlight during certain times of the year. This is important because the amount of sunlight your panels receive directly impacts their output.

You also want to make sure you’re picking a location that makes sense for your property’s layout. If your panels are blocking windows or doors, for example, it can create a safety hazard. If you’re blocking a window or door with solar panels, it can also create an accessibility issue. Assess your property and ensure you select an ideal and safe location for your solar system. In most cases, a solar panel technician can assist you with this assessment.

Step 3: Calculate How Many Solar Panels You Need

Once you’re sure that you want to install any panels, calculate how many solar panels you need. Solar panels come in all shapes and sizes, so it can be difficult to decide on the ideal solar power system size. However, there are a few things you can do to get a ballpark figure.

You can start by calculating the amount of power you need. You can do this by estimating how much power your home uses every month. There are some great online energy calculation tools that can help you estimate your average energy costs. This can help you decide how many panels are required and what solar panel size is best for your specific situation. 

Step 4: Decide on a Solar Installer and Prepare the Documentation

Once you’ve decided on the panels you would like to install, decide on a solar company and pick an installer and get a few documents prepared. These documents include a written estimate, a contract, and any permits that might be required by your municipality or utility company. 

Written Estimate: This document outlines the total cost of solar panel installation. It will also include things like an itemized list of parts, labor costs, and the total installation time. Ensure the document is itemized and includes everything you requested.

Contract: Outlines the terms of the agreement between you and the installer. This will include things like the payment terms and dates, warranties, and the timeline for installation.

Permits: In most cases, you need a city permit before solar panel installation. If you are installing an off-grid system, then this may not be necessary. However, if you are in an urban or suburban area, then you will most likely need a permit from your city council. This is something you'll want to arrange before buying the system. 

Utility Paperwork: You may also need to get some paperwork from your local utility company, this is especially true if you plan on selling excess energy back to the energy grid, which is something you most definitely want to do, as it can dramatically reduce your solar panel payback period. 

Step 5: Final Steps Before Installing Your Solar Panels

Once you’ve confirmed everything above, finalize a few things before your solar panels are installed. 

Approve the location of your solar energy system. Remember, the best place for your solar panels will depend on a number of factors, including the amount of sunlight you receive, the direction of the sun, and the surrounding landscape, 

Look for areas of your roof that are in good shape and are not blocked from the sun or in shade throughout the entire day. This will make it easier to install the panels and ensure they last as long as possible. 

A solar panel installation assessment can help you determine all of these things and choose the ideal location for your solar installation. 

Step 6: Install Your Solar Panel System

Once everything is confirmed, you can start the actual installation of your solar equipment. Most solar panel systems consist of three components: The panels, the mounting system, and the inverter.

Panels: The actual solar panels are where energy collection starts. Ensure you’re using high-quality panels that are rated for your state/region. You should also make sure they are facing the right direction for your location.

Mounting System: The mounting system will be what connects the panels to the roof. You’ll want to make sure the mounting system is sturdy and secure, but also easy to remove when the panels come to the end of their life.

Inverter: The inverter is what turns the power from the panels into electricity you can use in your home. Ensure the inverter is durable and sturdy enough to handle the power and volume of electricity it will receive.

Step 7: Repair and Maintain the System When Necessary

Once your solar panel system is installed, maintain it and make repairs when necessary. This is especially important during the winter months when sunlight is scarce.

You should also clean the panels regularly. 

Research maintenance contracts to make sure you’re receiving the best care for your panels. This can save you time, money, and stress when it comes to repairs. 

Also, your rooftop solar system may need some occasional repairs. If you notice anything wrong with your panels, schedule a repair as soon as possible. A licensed repair technician will be required. 

Installing solar panels on your home or business is a step toward a more sustainable future. While solar panels may require an upfront investment, it has several long-term benefits. First and foremost, by generating renewable energy, you reduce your monthly energy costs and help the environment. 

If you’re interested in installing solar panels on your home, make sure you understand the process and have everything in order before commencing the project. Research any solar tax credits or grants that can help you finance the installation of your solar system.

Remember also that before you buy any solar panel system, you should take the SmartSolar.org Quiz. This will help you find any rebates and tax credits that you may be eligible for, which can save you 30% or more on the cost of purchasing and installing a solar energy system.

Joey Cheek

Meet the author:

Joey Cheek

Joey Cheek spent 10 years on the US National Speedskating Team where he competed in two Olympic Games, winning gold, silver, and bronze medals. He attended Princeton before diving into the startup and tech world. In 2011 he launched a livestreaming platform for sports before leading a team of engineers building next-gen news and content apps for Fortune 100 companies. He is the CEO and co-founder of SmartSolar.org, whose mission is to move the earth to cheap, abundant, carbon-free energy.

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