It’s not rocket science

March 14, 2010
It’s true that the necessary parts to have a usable solar/wind system are fairly expensive, but the skill required to make it work isn’t rocket science. In fact, it’s probably easier than auto repair. Probably more often than not, contractors will simply follow the available instructions. At worst, they might cut corners. If you do it yourself, you could probably save quite a bit of money while knowing exactly what you did and how well it was done.

Do the Research and Planning

Chances are you’re reading this blog because you want to know how renewable energy works and how you can use it. If you don’t know how to do something, you research it and find out from those who do. I didn’t know a thing about Tesla coils until a couple of years ago. Since then I’ve made a few.

Once you’ve developed a better understanding about how the parts work together and what they’re called, you can begin to plan. Here’s some good things to remember:
  • Do your homework.
  • Failure to plan is planning to fail.
  • Plan your work and work your plan.
  • Know your limits, (then reduce them).
  • Make long term plans in short term intervals.

Consider Economic Efficiency

In some instances, it might be more economically efficient for someone else to do the work. What costs more? How much is your time worth? Let’s assume the following scenario as an example:
  • You normally get paid $15 an hour.
  • You estimate it would take you ~20 hours to install your renewable energy system.
  • That would cost 20 * $15 = $300 of your time.
  • Unless someone else can do it for less than $300, you might want to do it yourself.
The above example of course doesn’t factor in intangibles. Even if you you could find someone to do it for a little less, perhaps you would still want to do it to know how it was done. Therefore the knowledge would be worth the extra hours spent as well as the peace of mind knowing it was done properly.

Consider Electrical Codes and “Qualified Personnel”

Perhaps you watched the Enphase Micro-inverter System Installation video I mentioned in my last article. Don’t let the phrases about electrical codes and “qualified personnel” scare you. Electrical codes are good to consider, but you can find and research this information on your own.

What if I miss something?

Realize that people just like you already install their own light fixtures, ceiling fans, switches, and sockets. Be honest and ask yourself if you really think anyone has studied all the electrical codes. More than likely they simply follow the instructions. Realize also that even some of the jobs done by some “professionals” could be questionable if not disturbing.

Common sense should always be used. Always turn the electricity off before servicing something electrical. By using common sense we also understand that like colored wires are usually connected together, you need larger wire for more current or power, and they shouldn’t be hanging out in the open. If there’s something you’re not sure about, ask someone or look it up.

What if I’m not “qualified personnel?”

What makes a person “qualified?” Do you think I’m qualified even though I’ve had no formal training? Does reading blogs, watching videos, and researching what you want to do, doing it, and then gaining experience make someone qualified? You must crawl before you can walk, but you won’t get anywhere if you don’t ever crawl.

Notice the video says “all work should,” not “must,” but this is all according to who? The contractors, understandably, want to get paid. They’re licensed. The reason why they need a license is because they are in the business of installing systems for other people and therefore are liable. It’s unlikely that you will sue yourself if you screw up.

Some Personal Experience with Supposed Professionals

Preparing for a Hot Tub

At some point my dad decided we would get a hot tub. The people that delivered it would connect it, but we had to supply the wire and conduit they would use to connect it to the breaker box. (We also ran the required wiring from the main breaker box and installed the dedicated external breaker box. Understandably, they would only wire it to an available box.)

Everything sounded good, but there was something fishy. They would not connect it to a GFI (ground fault interrupter) breaker in the breaker box because the hot tub already had an internal GFI circuit breaker. (Don’t we also want to protect the people outside the tub from electrocution?) When asked why, they said because a GFI breaker in a box would always trip without reason. But what they didn’t know, I researched on the web to learn about GFIs.

Learning about GFIs

A GFI is designed to detected differences in current in both the neutral and hot wires. If a GFI circuit breaker is far from the device it’s connected to, a delay in current causes the breaker to trip when it should not. However, our breaker box would be right next to the hot tub.

Had the GFI been far away, at the main breaker box, then what they claimed would probably have been true. Needless to say, when the installers went through the trouble to bypass our GFI breaker, we connected it back like it should be and haven’t had any problems since.

Hearing From a Friend

One of my best friends used to work with a general contractor. He told me about some interesting things they did and did not do. Then there’s the issues with government and insurance contractors. If you plan to find a real good contractor, you may have to do as much research to find one as you would learning to do the work yourself.