In this guide, we’ll answer all of your questions about backyard solar panel pergolas and patio covers.
We’ll explain everything you need to know about these products, from their cost and benefits to the installation process. Plus, we’ll provide tips on how to choose the right product for your needs.
Why should you consider a solar pergola?
If you aren’t familiar with the term, let’s understand what a pergola is.
A pergola is an outdoor living space built on columns and a roof consisting of beams or slats. It offers shade without blocking out the sunlight altogether.
As this is a structure built specifically to protect from the sun, it is ideal for installing solar panels. Instead of choosing a conventional pergola roof, it would be beneficial to opt for a solar pergola roof as it offers shade as well as free electricity.
How about a solar patio cover?
Now, you may be feeling confused. What is the difference between a pergola and a patio?
Not much really. Both are structures to extend your living space outside the four walls of your home. These spaces allow you to enjoy the beauty of nature but at the same time offer you protection from intense sun and rain.
A patio, specifically, is an extension of your living space outside with no walls and often with a roof similar to that of the main building. For instance, if your home has asphalt shingles on the roof, the patio roof will be of the same material.
As the roof of a patio offers complete protection, it is a more functional space than a pergola. Though you can have a patio without a roof, it would be more useful with one.
Instead of a conventional patio roof, you can choose to have a solar patio cover. This will offer you protection from the elements as well as generate electricity for your needs.
Solar pergola or solar patio cover? Which is better?
This is a question for you to answer. Though both are solar roofs for outdoor spaces, their functionality differs vastly. While a patio cover offers better protection from rain and sun, a pergola roof is more open and can provide you with just partial shade from the sun.
Whichever structure you are choosing for your outdoor space, you can have solar panels installed on the roofs to take advantage of the abundant sunlight falling on them.
If you have an existing pergola or patio, you can consider adding pergola solar panels on the roof to generate free solar power. If you are familiar with electrical connections and are comfortable climbing onto the roof, you can do this yourself with an appropriate solar pergola kit.
Let’s get to know more about a DIY solar pergola/patio kit.
What comes in a solar pergola kit?
A typical solar conversion kit for a pergola or patio includes:
- Solar panels
- Top slats
- Angle braces and bearing boards
- Hardware for installation
You may need some more things if you are planning to do the installation by yourself. Extra items required for a solar panel system are:
- Solar inverter
- MPPT charge controller
- Solar battery
- Connectors, junction boxes, and cables
Installing a solar panel system on a pergola/patio
As you might have guessed, a pergola or a patio is essential for this solar project. If you don’t have one in place already, you should get one built in your backyard. Make sure that the pergola or patio that you build will go along with the overall design of your home for aesthetic purposes.
Building the structure itself involves much investment and effort. But if you live in a place with lots of sunlight, this would be worth it. This would be a good opportunity to go solar. Since your main roof is not suitable for installing solar panels, this way, you can take full advantage of the sunlight falling on the pergola roof or patio cover.
Once your structure is ready and you have bought the solar conversion kit, you can begin the installation steps.
1. Choose the design for the solar panel structure
This is more relevant in the case of a pergola as it comes with an open roof design. You can choose between an open or a closed design for the solar panel structure. In an open design, the roof structure will continue to remain open and not much of the solar panels will be visible from below.
In a closed design, you should be aware that the solar panels can be seen from below. This may or may not gel well with the overall appearance of your home. If you are concerned about aesthetics, you can opt for transparent solar panels.
If you are considering transparent panels, you need to understand that they are less efficient than regular ones because they allow some sunlight to pass through them without absorption. This means more panels are required to generate the energy you want. Moreover, transparent panels are not fully transparent either.
2. Decide the orientation of panels and get the support in place
If you’re living in the northern hemisphere, which you most probably are, you can get the best out of your pergola solar panels by facing them south. The ideal angle of tilt is 30-45° to capture the maximum sunlight incident in the location. This means you may have to lift the support timber to ensure the angle of tilt is optimal.
3. Fix the slats below the support timber
This is only if you are choosing the closed structure design. Having slats below the support timber will help hide the pergola solar panels when seen from below. This will help you enjoy the perks of a solar power system without it marring the looks of your home.
4. Fasten the solar panels on the support timber
The pergola solar panels in the kit come with brackets and screws to secure them onto the support timber. You won’t need any additional mount for this. The supporting timber would suffice.
5. Complete the electrical connections
Once the pergola solar panels are firmly in place on top of the support timber, all that is left to do is to connect it to the other components of the solar system – solar inverter, MPPT charge controller, and solar battery.
That is all! Now, you are ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
- You should attempt installing this on your own only if you can handle working on rooftops and have basic knowledge of electrical wiring. If not, seek help from a professional.
- You should not ignore working at height hazards or compromise on safety guidelines.
- You should comply with building codes relevant to your location.
- While finalizing the design for the DIY solar pergola, ensure that the support timber is strong enough to handle the weight of the solar panels and that the functionality of the space is not lost.
Is it possible to fix a DIY solar pergola on your own?
Is this really a DIY project?
The answer is “maybe” if you are up for it. Before you begin the work, you must ask yourself this question. So, are you up for it? You need to remember that this is no easy task.
Even if you begin the process and midway you feel that you have bitten off more than you could chew, you should not hesitate to take help from a solar technician. There is no point in endangering your own safety and well-being to get this done.
Moreover, professionals working in the solar field would know exactly how to get this work done to reap the maximum benefits. By roping them in, you can avoid errors, missteps, and risks.
Does a solar pergola kit offer value for money?
You can figure this out by finding answers to these questions.
- Does the pergola/patio need a roof?
- Is the pergola/patio of standard dimensions or custom-made?
- Will solar energy come in handy around the house?
- What are the other choices for installing solar panels?
As long as the answers to these questions indicate that a solar pergola/patio is a welcome addition and nothing contradicts this, you can conclude that the investment would be worth it.
Instead of choosing a conventional roof for your pergola/patio, installing a solar roof is beneficial in many ways.
- The solar roof will capture the free energy of the sun and make it available to you. This will help you reduce your grid energy usage.
- It offers better protection from the elements in your outdoor space, both from the sun and rain.
- It adds value to your property.
If rooftop solar panels are not an option, your pergola or patio offers a fantastic opportunity for you to generate solar power.
If you are still not convinced about the financial viability of this project, let’s take a detailed look at the cost involved.
How much does a solar pergola kit cost?
The cost of building a basic pergola or a patio cover is around $15 – $25 per sqft. This is excluding the cost of solar panels. This means the cost of a 10’x10’ pergola/patio structure would be in the range of $1500 – $2500. You may expect to pay more as the size increases. Pergola/patio design and materials used also influence the cost.
Some of the choices you need to make are:
- Size of the pergola/patio – between 8’x8’ and 20’x20’
- Length of the post – 8” to 12”
- Material used – cedar, pine, teak, aluminum, or fiberglass
- Design – attached to the main structure or freestanding
- Mounting style – surface-mounted or in-ground
Depending on the choices you make in the design of the pergola/patio, the cost can go up to $6,000 for even a standard one or $10,000 for a custom-built one.
The cost of installing solar panels will come to around $3/watt according to EnergySage. If you are choosing a 6kW solar energy system to provide power to the entire home, it would cost around $16,000.
Again, how large a system you can install on a pergola/patio depends on various factors, such as the size of the roof. A 6kW solar system needs about 330-350sqft of rooftop space. However, for the same roof size, the cost of solar panels varies based on:
- Capacity of the system or expected power output
- Solar panel type – monocrystalline, polycrystalline, or thin-film
- Solar system type – off-grid or on-grid
- Your location (local taxes, solar incentives, and rebates vary)
Besides the cost of building the pergola/patio and paying for the solar power system, you also need to account for the labor cost. However, if you choose a DIY solar panel patio cover, you can avoid this.
According to EnergySage, the cost of solar panel installation for a 6kW system after tax credits is $12,299. If you are opting for a smaller sized system, the cost will come down. For a 5kW system, it would be $10,249. A 4kW or a 3kW system would be more economical.
Adding to this the cost of building a pergola/patio, it will cost you a minimum of $17,300 for a 6kW solar system.
How much electricity this system can generate will depend on the sunlight it receives. If you live in a sunny location with at least 5 hours of peak sunlight, a 6kW solar system should generate 30kWh/day, which should be sufficient to power your home. This means you end up saving your entire utility bill amount.
If you choose to install a system with lesser capacity, your savings will be lesser. The average return on investment or ROI for solar installation is around 10%.
Pros and cons of solar pergola/patio cover
Benefits of having a solar panel pergola
1) Light the space with solar-powered lights
A wide range of lighting options is available for outdoor spaces like pergolas or patios. Not only do they look beautiful and liven up the space, but they will also come in useful when you want to use the space at night.
2) Ideal for utilizing sunlight
Pergolas and patios are ideally positioned in the sunniest part of your home. If you are keen on installing solar panels, you will not find a better spot for it. Instead of choosing rooftop solar panels for your entire home, with a solar pergola kit, you can generate maximum electricity from minimal space.
3) Add-on to your rooftop solar energy system
If you already have rooftop solar panels in place and would like to increase the energy output, the pergola/patio roof offers the perfect space for this.
4) Offers more shade and protection from rain
If you make this aspect a part of your project, you can weatherproof your pergola/patio by installing solar panels on the roof.
5) Solar panels improve the appearance
If done aesthetically, installing solar panels on pergola/patio roofs can make them visually more appealing.
Drawbacks of solar panel pergola
1) Unsuited for smaller pergolas/patios
To make this worth the investment, the roof must have space for enough solar panels that can generate a usable amount of electricity. If the electricity produced is negligible, it would be a waste of effort and money.
On the other hand, if more solar panels are crowded on a small roof, it will spoil the appearance.
2) Building a pergola/patio from scratch is expensive
Installing solar panels on your existing pergola/patio roof is more economically feasible than building the entire structure from the ground up.
3) Existing pergola/patio roof may not be suitable
If the current pergola roof is unsuitable for installing solar panels, as in the case of flat-roofed pergolas/patios, you may have to spend extra for modification. This will add to the project cost.
4) Pergola/patio roof is not strong
If the roof is not strong enough to support the additional weight of the solar panels, you may have to add extra pillars for support. This again will hike up the project cost.
Frequently asked questions
Are sliding or transparent solar panels a good idea?
Pergolas or patios are meant to be outdoor living spaces where you get to enjoy the sunlight. Installing solar panels is bound to block the sunlight. Is there a way out?
Having transparent or retracting solar panels will allow you to enjoy the sun. However, you need to remember that transparent solar panels are less efficient and generate less electricity. Retracting solar panels will not generate any electricity in the retracted mode. However, it is useful to enjoy the open sky when the sun is no longer shining.
Will solar pergola/patio cover protect from rain?
If the solar panels are installed with waterproofing as a goal, this is possible. The angle of tilt and overlapping of solar panels is important for protection from the rain.
Will plants grow in a solar pergola/patio?
It shouldn’t be a problem if the plants are chosen based on the availability of light inside the structure. However, you need to avoid plants such as climbers spreading on top of the pergola/patio roof. This will end up blocking the sunlight from reaching the solar panels.
Installing solar panels on the roofs of pergolas or patio covers is a brilliant idea. Not only does a solar pergola roof offer you extra shade and protection from the rain, but this will also help you generate enough electricity to power your entire home.
If you cannot install solar panels on the roof of your home or if you want to generate more energy, a solar pergola/patio cover is the best choice. No doubt, this is a great way to save on energy bills, reduce your carbon footprint, and add value to your home.
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