- System Size: 8.16 kW
- Yearly System Output: 13,556 kWh per year
- Federal Tax Incentive: Qualifies for $3,544.80 Federal tax credit
- Utility Rates: 13 cents/kWh
“Beginning to See the Light” with Tom D.
Welcome solar friends! It’s that time of year again: as winter begins to melt away into spring and the sun pokes its head out from behind the clouds, we welcome in the prime months for solar. The extra spark of energy in the air makes us feel like anything’s possible! To celebrate, we’re sharing our March Install of the Month. It goes to Tom D., who installed his own grid-tied system. This is a great one, since Tom is an example of someone who didn’t even know DIY solar was an option. But after he talked to us, he saw the light. In his own words…
After I talked to Brent on the phone, I felt confident that I could readily do the installation myself while getting a better system with an optimized ground mount, and save a bunch of money too. – Tom D.
A better, optimized system that saves you a bunch of money? That’s what DIY solar with Unbound Solar is all about! Right on, Tom!
Interview with Tom
How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch?
When I received my system I actually didn’t get started right away. Instead I took my time to plan things out (find the perfect location, etc.), get my documentation and plot plan together for permit, and purchase the additional materials I would need.
After receiving my equipment, it was six weeks before I finally visited my county building department to apply for my permit. I walked out with my permit, which only took 35 minutes, and three days later I had the foundation holes dug for my ground mount piers.
I was working on the installation in my spare time, so it took roughly four weeks from getting my permit to turning the system on. I was surprised how easy the permit and inspection process was here in California, in my county anyway, and how easy it is to complete the PG&E online interconnection application.
How many people did it take?
Four people including myself. My neighbor who owns a small excavator dug my pier foundation holes and the 200 foot trench. Another friend who owns a small tractor with a front-end loader backfilled the trench and also helped me place the horizontal 3” pipe rails onto the vertical piers. My wife helped with feeding the wire into the conduit as I pulled it through from the other end. Everything else I was able to easily do myself.
Brent and his associates at Unbound Solar were fantastic in providing any assistance I needed via telephone and email, as well as providing informative online videos.
Did you have any previous construction experience?
No, not really. I have had very little construction experience and absolutely no electrical experience.
[A solar install company] did a very nice presentation, but when I was shown the price breakdown in the quote, I was quite surprised. The cost of the installation represented 2/3 of the overall cost of the complete system. That was when I got online and found Unbound Solar. – Tom D.
What was the most difficult part of the installation?
There were a few unknowns up front, especially the mystery of the permit and inspection process. If only I would have known it would go so smoothly!
Another mystery for me, as a non-electrical person, was understanding how the electrical connections would be made at the inverter site and getting another breaker in my heavily populated electrical panel as I was already maxed out. But once I had a clear perspective on these things, it all came together nicely.
Another challenge was trying to come up with a suitable support structure for holding the 3” diameter steel pipe posts in place prior to filling the foundation with concrete. Once I came up with a viable solution for my particular setup, it was a piece of cake. (See the wooden braces in Tom’s install gallery above! – Ed.)
Also, the soil where I live is both rocky and hardpan, making for poor soil conditions to dig into. When I got my first IronRidge project report that specified a 60” hole depth for my foundation and piers, I called Brent and shared my concerns regarding what I expected with my horrible soil. In minutes, Brent produced a revised plan to allow me to dig only 36 inches deep, and the holes would have a wider diameter.
As expected, it was very hard work digging down to 36 inches, so I can only imagine what it would have been like if I had to go to 60 inches! This quick revision on the specification was one of the big advantages of working with Unbound Solar.
Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?
It was the communication component of the system that I forgot to address up front. This is the feature that allows me to monitor the output of each individual PV Module via phone app or computer. I probably should have ran CAT 5 cable in my trench out to the inverter from my house but now I am ordering the SolarEdge Wi-Fi kit instead and that should do the trick nicely anyway.
How/Why did you choose to self-install?
I had solicited a quote from a company that had a kiosk setup in Costco. They did a very nice presentation, but when I was shown the price breakdown in the quote, I was quite surprised. The cost of the installation represented 2/3 of the overall cost of the complete system. That was when I got online and found Unbound Solar.
When I talked to Brent on the phone, I felt confident that I could readily do the installation myself while getting a better system with an optimized ground mount, and save a bunch of money too. It turns out that there is quite a bit of satisfaction in doing a D.I.Y. project like this; my friends and family are all impressed … but I know that it really wasn’t all that hard to do.
It turns out that there is quite a bit of satisfaction in doing a D.I.Y. project like this: my friends and family are all impressed… but I know that it really wasn’t all that hard to do. – Tom D.
What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?
It’s really easily justified when you do the math. Based on my average monthly electric bills for the last twelve months and adding up all equipment and installation costs (then subtract the tax credit), the payback should be only about 48 months. Purchasing solar is also a sure hedge against the future hikes in utility company electric rates.
It’s Your Turn
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