If you’re just starting looking into home solar energy, you’ve probably considered buying solar panels at Home Depot, Lowes or another home improvement retailer. Solar installation kits from a big box retailer appeal to the DIY Weekend Warrior in all of us.

Homeowners who buy solar panels at a retail store typically fit into one of two categories: Those who plan to install solar panels on their own, and those who are buying solar panels for a contractor to install. Regardless of which category you fit into, it’s best to do your homework first.

10 Things to Keep in Mind When Buying Retail Solar Panels

#1. Voided Warranties

Many manufacturers void their warranties if the panels are not properly installed by a licensed professional. So if you’re buying solar panels at Home Depot and plan to install them yourself, read the fine print.

#2. Disqualified from Incentives

In Maryland, many solar tax credits and rebates are only available for installations completed by licensed contractors. If you’re hoping to keep installation costs down, you’re better off avoiding do-it-yourself (DIY) solar panels altogether.

#3. No Grid Connectivity

DIY solar panels cannot legally be connected to the utility grid, so you won’t be able to participate in Maryland’s net metering program and sell excess electricity to the power company.

#4. Lower Energy Output

If solar is simply a hobby, then it really doesn’t matter what equipment you use or who handles the installation. But if you’re concerned about maximizing your electricity bill savings or minimizing your carbon footprint, DIY panels are not the way to go. Click here to learn why.

#5. Sure You Have the Right Tools?

You probably already have a tape measure, wire strippers, and ladder. But does your solar kit also come with the 25+ other tools needed to install a home solar system?

  • An AC/DC multimeter?
  • Fuse pullers?
  • A torque wrench?

Some solar kits actually include these tools, but most do not. Be prepared to shell out a few hundred dollars extra for tools.

#6. Do You Know What You’re Doing?

Angle of incidence? AEER? Bypass diode? Combiner box? Band gap? Do you know what any of these terms mean? If not, you’re better off letting a licensed professional handle everything — including the solar panel selection. Otherwise, you may be in for an unpleasant “shock.”

#7. Higher Equipment Costs

Wholesale solar panel prices are at historic lows. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll save money buying solar panels at Lowes and Home Depot. Unlike installers, who provide a service, home improvement stores make their money through equipment sales. You’re probably paying more for solar panels at a retail store than you would from an installer.

#8. Lower Quality Equipment

Solar kits targeted towards the hobbyist crowd are often of lower quality. Even worse, a lot of the solar panels sold at home improvement stores are low-cost, low-quality Chinese panels. Be especially wary of retailers that sell installation services by third-party providers, as the cheap solar panels these installers use are typically inferior quality.

#9. Kit or a la Carte?

The best solar panel systems for homes combine the best solar products on the market. At Renewable Energy Corporation, we use American-made solar panels from SolarWorld USA, solar monitoring from Enphase, and other top quality products. When you buy a solar kit, however, you’re stuck with whatever components come in the kit.

#10. Limited Selection

Most retail stores carry a very limited selection of solar kits and components. If you buy solar panels at Home Depot or Lowes, they may be able to order components for you, but you’ll definitely have to wait, and you’ll probably have to pay additional shipping fees.