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March 28, 2008

DIY Solar Power Install on the Cheap

at 5:33 am. Filed under Electronic Hacks


So you think that installing solar power in a house has to be expensive? This article shows that it is possible to do it yourself on a small budget.

"I put the batteries in their container, and connected the 2 together in series with a #1 Car Battery Cable from Canadian Tire that cost $14. The connectors where already on it that fit the batteries I got them, so it was convenient. So 2 X 6 volts 225 amp/hour Deep Cycle batteries connected in series = 12 Volts 225 Amp/Hours. Inverter and CableI connected the 300 Watt Xantrex Inverter (Also from Canadian Tire) to the batteries using #10 Cable. (This is plenty for the small loads it will be drawing)"




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45 Responses to “DIY Solar Power Install on the Cheap”

  1. Bobby D Says:

    Excuse my ignorance, but how well do solar panels work when they’re covered with snow?

  2. Mr. Maigo Says:

    300 watts(which those don’t look big enough to put out) isn’t enough for anything that’s actually plugged in (except for THE clock)

  3. DigitalMind Says:

    Bobby : It’s not good to have the solar panels covered in snow, that picture was actually taken with the solar panels facing the WRONG way while I was setting it up. The angle is much different also. They keep a snow removal thingy from cars near the back to remove the snow from the panels.

    Mr. Maigo : 225AH Batteries * 12 volts means I have a “bank” of 2700 watts of power in the batteries. (Although I don’t like to discharge more than 40%) They had NO power at this place, now they have lights, they can use their laptop and recharge their cell’s. I could have put a 700 Watt inverter and then they could use a microwave but this setup is mostly for smaller things. Not sure why you’d think A clock would take 300 watts of power.

    Batteries are recharged with the solar panels in back, and they have a Generator to recharge the batteries if ever needed. (Although it has never been needed yet, the panels are charging enough)

  4. DigitalMind Says:

    PLUS, they mostly use this just for lighting their house. (They used candles for over a year) so a few 13 Watt compact fluorescent bulbs (equiv. to 60 watt bulbs) makes a huge difference.

  5. Mr. Maigo Says:

    lol, no the clock is the only thing that doesn’t use over 300 watts.
    But yeah, 300 watts is much better than 0

  6. DigitalMind Says:

    Yeah that’s all it is. A LOT BETTER than nothing. It changes the experience a lot to be able to have simple things like a light that can turn on by flipping a switch in comparism to finding candles in the dark. I’ve been approached by a lot of people that want something similar for their off-grid cabins.

  7. Mr. Maigo Says:

    Les Stroud (Survivorman) did a documentary about going off the grid. I can’t imagine raising 2 kids with about that much power

  8. cbl Says:

    Mr. Maigo is quite the naysayer! 300W is plenty of power for running a house in the boonies. What uses more than 300W is a better question? Dishwasher, Dryer, Oven, Hot water heater, Big Guitar Amplifier….None of which are really needed (except the guitar amp of course) when you can use a wood stove for heat and cooking needs and even hot water. Bravo to you. Now get this kit up to or over 2500W and under 2K $’s and you’ll make millions

  9. Mr. Maigo Says:

    Yes, in the boonies, not in the cities.

  10. Alan Parekh Says:

    I would love to lessen my demand on the grid. I hate monthly bills and having an inexpensive auto replenishing method of lighting a few of the most used rooms such as the living room and computer room would be great. I have been thinking about wind power for awhile but I am now leaning more towards solar. I am going to have to keep my eyes open for solar panel sales!

  11. Kozz Says:

    Agreed. I’ve seen countless awesome articles on Make, Instructables.com and so on for how to generate your own power using solar, wind, etc. Except that I’m one of those geeks who’s never handled a soldering iron, and the thought of winding my own coils, mounting magnets, etc is very intimidating. That and figuring out how to take the electricity generated by the windmill or solar panel and convert it to something usable by my lights, appliances, etc (amps, volts, watts, DC to AC, etc). Although it’s fascinating to me, I’m absolutely ignorant about anything electrical. Best I could ever do was wire a cheap car stereo.

  12. DigitalMind Says:

    Personally, although I have yet to actually try it, I have a feeling you get more bang for your buck with Windpower than with Solar. (Assuming you’re not surrounded by REALLY tall tree’s) However I still can’t figure out how to make my own windgenerator, (I’ve been reading and reading) so I went with Solar which is pretty simple. I plan on making a wind turbine eventually, i’m just not there yet. 🙂

  13. Alan Parekh Says:

    LOL, you could use some old hard drives. 🙂

  14. Kozz Says:

    There are plenty of ingenious renewable resource-harvesting projects at Instructables.com such as those for a Windbelt (http://www.instructables.com/tag/?q=windbelt), Savonius wind turbine (http://www.instructables.com/tag/?q=savonius), Solar Heater (http://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Heater/). Lots of brilliant people there. They probably read hackedgadgets.com. 😉

  15. limeybastard Says:

    don’t let the inspector see any of this – it all looks hokey. btw.it is illegal to have the batteries indoors, having them in a container that is not vented is a good way to increase the possibility of an explosion, or poison your dog – read a book!

  16. DigitalMind Says:

    ah limeybastard,

    You need to read a little more … there are only 2 batteries and only 30 watts of panels. I seriously doubt the batteries will ever be charged enough to get to the point of releasing gases. ALSO, the container has breathing holes on the top and on the bottom just in case… Put it this way, how often do you see an RV with batteries hanging around the outside ? Almost all RV’s are powered with batteries and an inverter. A small setup like this is very safe, the only thing the inspector might complain about is the grounding which I will be fixing soon.

  17. Midnightrider Says:

    All RVs have the batteries outside or in a location sealed off from the living space.
    I take it that’s an outside door. Build a little box outside that won’t catch the house on fire if something goes rally bad.

    Better off safe then sued

  18. DigitalMind Says:

    Toxic Gases are emmited from batteries when they are charged to a point that they are bubbling inside.

    They only have 30 Watts of panels, which is just enough to compensate for the power they use for lighting daily. The batteries have never reached a full charge, and they probably never will with the 30 watts of panels.

    I know what you’re saying, but again, only 2 batteries only 30 watts of charging power. It’s in an already well ventilated box that is right NEXT to the front door. When they upgrade to 4 batteries, and have more panels to charge it, then it’ll move outside. (And I will need to make a weather proof box for the batteries to not freeze in the winter when they are low) If we could have afforded to put it all outside right away that’s what we would have done. Fact of the matter is this was a present for my sister. My mum and I stretched every dollar so that she can have lights. I researched the toxic gasses, I made my call, I know it’s safe. People saying otherwise aren’t really reading the situation.

    But thanks for all comments good or bad anyways! 🙂

  19. AJ Howell Says:

    This is in response to DigitalMinds Post. You may just not be reading the right material on how to build a wind generator or wind turbine. It is actually not that tough if you have some mechanical skills. The to best books on the internet that I have come across for doing this can be found on my sites at: http://www.squidoo.com/solarwindelectricity and another that is actually launching today sometime at: http://www.squidoo.com/efficientplanetreview
    Efficient Planet was written by a good friend of mine and contains how to’s and any other info you may need on building a wind generator. Their are a few aspects of building a wind generator that you need to consider before building one. Read this material and I am sure you will be able to get one together. You can also find some more material on my website at http://www.ajswebinfo.com. I have just gotten around to building this site, so some of the links are hooked up yet. But I have the green section set up and their is information there on wind electricity generation that may help you.

  20. DigitalMind Says:

    Hi AJ,
    Since the last time i’ve posted, i’ve learned a lot more about how to build a wind turbine and how they work in general. I now believe I understand the principles and will soon be starting to build my own. The biggest issue now is simply having the right tools. I appreciate the links though and will visit them for sure. Thanks …

  21. AJ Howell Says:


    I hope that helped you a little bit. But since I posted that message. I actually wrote down some information about a solar wind electricity generation plant I built for my home. I think the information will be very useful to you because I have explained the basic components of the system and how they work. Visit my page on this at http://www.squidoo.com/solar-wind-electricity-generation-energy-efficient I know, it’s a long URL. But when you get to the page scroll down to the part that says Facts and Components of a solar wind generation system. I have listed the basic components of a system and where you can find some stuff to build one cheap. If you need some more help or tips (I am not sure how big of a system you are going for here) you are welcome to email me. aj@ajswebinfo.com and I will help you if I can. Read my post there though, I think it will give you good food for thought. AJ

  22. dab Says:


    I have a question/idea/hack/mod…Is it possible to have 20times 12v car batteries connected in series to run a 1000W heater and how long would it run for. Or what about in parallel and have it connected to an invertor and how long would it run then. This can then be connected up to a generator/solar PV to recharge the batteries etc. Has anyone tried this and did it work..Is it cheaper than the cost of electricity via the power grid.

  23. Alan Parekh Says:

    Hi Dab,

    There is no magic way to increase your power of batteries by using different configurations. Other than the obvious which is 2 batteries will have twice the power of one battery.

    If you put 20 12 volt batteries in series it will give you 240 volts DC. A resistive heater such as a baseboard heater will work fine however a heater with a fan would not work since the fan operates on AC.

    Since Watts = Volts * Amps you can see that if the battery is 10 Ah any configuration will be identical as far as power goes.

    eg. series: (12V * 20) * 10Ah = 2400 W

    parallel: 12V * (20 * 10Ah) = 2400 W

    One big advantage of running the high voltage is the conductor size can be much smaller.

    So the long story is if you are going to draw lots of current you will need a huge system.

  24. DigitalMind Says:

    … Everything Alan said above, PLUS the mention that car batteries are the lowest grade to use. Car batteries are meant to give quick bursts of power in short intervals. They don’t last long in these kinds of systems. (See http://www.techienation.com/choosing-batteries-for-your-solar-renewable-power-system/ )

    Even IF they would last long, imagine the amount of solar panels you’d need to power a 1000 Watt heater. Lets just say you ran it for only 3 hours a day. That means you’ve used 3000 Watts of power. Solar Panels typically cost about 5$ per watt. If you’re lucky and get an average of 6 hours of GOOD sun per day, this means you need 500 Watts worth of solar panels in order to recharge your batteries so that you can use the heater again tomorrow. That’s $2500 worth of panels.

    Instead you should look into solar heaters and collectors (Someone here made one from cans painted black with a wooden frame and glass cover), getting more south facing windows, etc etc.. Google Solar Heating.

    Good Luck !

  25. dab Says:

    thank you

  26. Linza Says:

    Is this compliant with the National Electrical Code? What local regulations exist on off-grid power in the area where this install took place?

    Also, as another response to the solar-panels-covered-in-snow comment: my experience has been that PV panels, because they are black and absorb heat, will melt up to a half-inch of ice coating in about an hour. The snow does prevent this from happening, as it reflects sunlight, but it only takes a long-handled broom to take care of that problem. The ice scraper is an extra-fancy method!

  27. Melchizedek Camus Says:

    Hi Alan,

    I came across your website as I was doing research on solar energy.

    Aside from the link to the article you provided, do you have a sort of existing “checklist” and DIY instructions that you could
    probably email to me? The reason I asked is that I am working with a group of volunteers here in a small rural community in the
    Philippines and one project we are researching now is how to be able to set up solar panel collectors. The target beneficiaries are
    mostly farmers with no access to electrity (we have 10 farmer families within the area we do volunteer work and needs only power
    to enable them to light their homes at night – just two flourescent lamps, power a small radio – and that’s it.)

    Btw, I am also an educator and volunteer hence any input you can provide is greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

    Melchizedek “MC” Camus
    319A Acacia St., Lakeview Subd.
    Calamba City, Laguna 4025

  28. Eric Says:

    Note about car batteries (lead – sulfuric)

    I don’t know about toxic, but hydrogen is very explosive. I witnessed a poor soul blow the top off a battery by not jumping it correctly. We washed most of the acid out of his eyes but it put the fear of BLINDNESS into him. It isn’t a function of charge level but voltage applied.

    Advice: Vent the batteries outside. The electrolyte will act like antifreeze down too a certain point. A cold battery won’t have the max current that a warm one will but it beats a cane with a red tip or sitting in a snow bank watching the house burn down.

  29. Engineerman Says:

    Does anybody understand the difference between Watts and watt-hours anymore??

    You cannot say that:
    “Even IF they would last long, imagine the amount of solar panels you’d need to power a 1000 Watt heater. Lets just say you ran it for only 3 hours a day. That means you’ve used 3000 Watts of power.”

    A Watt is a rate, like miles/hour, not a quantity of energy.
    For that you are looking for watt-hours.

    If you were to study some basic power distribution, you would be able to accomplish so much more…

  30. Solar Canuck Says:

    I have to totally agree with Engineerman and earlier comments from Digitalmind, using photovoltaic solar panels for space heating is completely impractical.

    Solar thermal is the cheapest way to extract heat from solar, either through air heating or water heating..here is a link to an inexpensive DIY solution for heating:
    http://napenergia.freeweb.hu/gyak/szp/sztgyi_en.htm. These do work well if properly constructed. Retailers in my area sell commercial versions for around $2500. They can easily be built for under $250.

    As for Mr. Maigo’s comments about not being practical in the city.. a 300 watt inverter would be enough to power about Twenty 15 Watt CFLs or a few CFLs and an efficient TV or an efficient computer, but this is beside the point it could just as well be a 1000 watt inverter.

    It all depends on the application you are using the system for, in this case, running some CFLs, a 75 watt inverter would work. The inverter simply converts DC to AC power and should be sized to the application. In a larger wattage system, a small inverter would be a bottleneck and not allow the system to work to its potential. In a small wattage system like this, a larger inverter would use more power from the batteries unneccesarily.

    Panel wattage and battery amp-hours, with an appropriately sized inverter are all important based on the end application. In this case it is more than sufficient.

    As for concerns of ventilation, I might run a couple of small ABS or PVC pipes from the box to the outside. The cost would be under $20.00

  31. Solar Canuck Says:

    I misread Engineerman’s comment “Does anybody understand the difference between Watts and watt-hours anymore??” I’m not sure of the beef? …terminology? 3hours x 1000 watts = 3000 watt “hours” or 3 KW “hours”. Digitalmind’s example was correct although he missed the watt “hours”, so watt? (Punny)
    His example of 500 watts input at 6 hours (based on 21.53 feet of collector surface) is also correct, it equals 3KW “hours” or 3000 watt hours…


    Lets keep this simple and practical, here is the potential for a small 60 watt system ..I am using Sunforce’s calculations here, if you had a 60 watt panel and could get 7 hours of light a day, 7 days a week = 2940 watt hours (or 196 amps) per week,(being extremely optimistic), here is an example of what you could power:

    1 x 10 watt CFL for = 294 hours or/
    10 x 10 watt CFL(s)= 29.4 hours (=4.2 hours per night)or/
    1 x 50 watt Laptop = 58.8 hours (=8.4 hours a day)or
    1 x 75 watt TV = 39.2 hours (=5.6 hours a day)

    This is very extreme, as I am using SunForce’s calculation of 7 hours daylight, more realistically, you might get 4 to 5
    hours of sunlight or 2100 Watt hours (60 Watts * 5 hours * 7 days),dont forget those cloudy or rainy days. I would double the panels to 120 watts to ensure I got the results above.

    I think you can see the potential though for a small system. You don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to do this. Sunforce, Coleman and others put out small kits, including panels, controllers and inverters in the $299-400 range. Add a deep cycle battery or 2 and you are in business.

  32. Phil Says:

    a few years back on Tomorrows World tv programme a chap ran a twelve volt train set by shaking what looked like a cheerleaders pompom on a stick. He said it produced static electricity which ran the train. Or was that direct current, electricity is all Greek to me. Again on the same programme another chap had a filter that cleaned up motor oil from thick black sludgy stuff to clean oil. I reckon big business bought out both inventions to stop joe public from benefitting from them. Red.

  33. Charlie Says:

    if anybody is looking for more information on how to install solar panels, here is a great resource for smart homeowners who are sick of paying too much http://budurl.com/homeenergyresources – this kind of thing is especially useful in these tough economic times. highly recommended. here’s the link: http://budurl.com/homeenergyresources

  34. ANDY Says:

    look at the hacks developed by the European Union!
    This is the EU’s eco grid consortium…

    Anyone know a good way to make/compress your own hydrogen? Does it take more electricity to make Hydrogen than it does to just use electricity? That question always caused me a lot of worry.

  35. timgray Says:

    300 watts is a plenty for most homes. If you use CFL’s and LED lighting you can run the home on less than 200 watts easily. This is a perfect setup for any cabin and has more than enough power for daily living.

  36. Gary McCray Says:

    Hi Alan,

    I made up a 360 watt system from 2 used 4 panel (Arco Concentrator) panels and one Evergreen 120 watt panel and have been using it for 3 years. Actually puts out a max of about 420 watts using a Outback MX60 MPPT controller into 6 fork lift batteries. Runs a SunDanzer chest freezer full time and about a dozen dual tube 12 volt flourescent fixtures.
    It is operating at about 1/3 of its capability.

    Contrary to what Mr. Maigo says, it has plenty of grunt run a decent Inverter and periodic power for Microwave, TV,s, electronics, computers and most of the rest of the stuff you really need to run from electric. Not really good for resistance heating elements: ranges, water heaters or space heaters, but there are other much better solutions for those anyway.

    I will be adding another 4 panel Arco “panel” into the mix for 480 watt approx listed total and an inverter for heavier use in the next couple months.

    (3 of the ARCO subpanels are supposed to equal 120 watts but I use 4 because they have been run using a concentrator which is hard on them).

    P.S Outback MX60 (or newer MX80) worth its weight in gold. Increases system efficiency by 30 to 60 percent and is much easier on the batteries than non-MPPT.

  37. joseph Says:

    hey everyone,
    i ran across this site doing a search on diy solar power. the set up on here seems to work pretty good , so my question is what parts were used and how much did the total come out to? i am thinking about going solar and doing it myself. any info from the author of this post or anyone else of real knowledge would be greatly appreciated. please send any info to cordlesspickle@gmail.com

  38. Jon Says:

    Yikes! Watch out when you go to grab your jacket or you’ll get shocked…

    Anyway, nice pictures of a real DIY solar power installation. I’ve been looking through some guides and have found a couple of good ones:


    Let me know what you think!


  39. Nick Says:

    The new website for his original article reference is http://hackedgadgets.com/2008/03/28/diy-solar-power-install-on-the-cheap/

    the old servehttp.com has gone under.

  40. Alan Parekh Says:

    Hey guys,

    I found the new location of the article. The link in the HG article has been updated to here.

  41. diy solar panels - Dave Says:

    Sweet article – This is exactly how I got started building my own panels.

  42. TST Says:

    I built something similar, have a look at this one, http://sites.google.com/site/reukpower/

  43. DigitalMind Says:

    If anyone’s still interested, this same solar installation is about to go through a major upgrade. It’s worked perfectly since it was installed. http://www.techienation.com/2010/11/22/diy-solar-power-install-2-getting-ready/

  44. Solar Paint - Hacked Gadgets - DIY Tech Blog Says:

    […] most of us think of solar power we think of solar panels or the new round Solyndra solar tubes that we were starting to see, too bad it looks like Solyndra […]

  45. Richard Says:

    what if I just want to get aC power so that it would supplement my power, do I need th batteries?

    Does solar put out DC power? If so, can I just have a an inverter to supply power into my home circuit? Can’t I just basically spin my meter back wards during the times when my power created is more than my burn rate?

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