While a Tesla roof might seem positively futuristic and financially out of reach for many homeowners, solar shingles can be a cost-effective way to go solar. Why? Because a solar roof is both a solar electric system and a roof!
Table of Contents
- How a solar roof works
- The benefits of a solar roof
- The look
- Cost-effective roofing and solar combined
- A high-performance roofing solution
- Effective use of space
- No external wiring or roof penetrations
- Easier to repair and replace
- Are there any downsides to solar roofs?
- Solar roofs vs. solar panels
Oh, and Tesla isn’t the only name to shout from the solar rooftops. In fact, Elon Musk’s company was pipped to the post by several others making solar shingles as far back as 2005.
So, should you install a solar roof? Here are a few things to think about.
- Solar shingles
- No change in home appearance
- Costs $20,000 – $100,000
- No drilling into your roof
- Easier to repair
- Less energy efficient
- 20 year lifespan
- Fewer skilled installers
- Solar panels
- Solar array mounted to roof
- Costs $15,000 – $40,000
- Requires drilling into roof
- Harder to repair
- More energy efficient
- 25 year lifespan
- More installers available
How a solar roof works
Tesla introduced its solar roof in 2016, shaking up the solar industry forever. But how does a solar roof work?
The Tesla roof uses tempered glass shingles to replace all the standard shingles on your home’s roof. Some of these shingles are also solar panels, meaning that nearly every inch of your roof could, in theory, generate electricity.
Because most roofs have a few spots that don’t get much sunlight, Tesla Roofs also include a few inactive panels. These look the same as the solar shingles but don’t produce energy, which helps to keep down the cost of installation and saves resources.
Tesla Roofs are the only full solar roof currently available, but they’re not the only option for going solar without solar panels. In fact, the first solar shingles were brought to market in 2009 by DOW Company, and several other companies also make solar shingles.
What’s the difference? Solar shingles are just that: shingles. They’re designed to either integrate with your existing or new roof shingles or tiles or to sit on top of them. Either way, the look isn’t quite as seamless as a full Tesla Roof.
The benefits of a solar roof
There are many benefits to going solar, and solar roofs and shingles offer all these and more.
Solar roofs provide all the benefits of a rooftop solar array without dramatically changing the appearance of your home. That’s because solar shingles are designed to look as much like regular roof shingles as possible. Most solar shingles can be integrated into an existing tile or shingle roof, or can be laid over top as a sort of second skin for your roof. Even if they’re attached on top of your roof’s regular tiles, the profile of solar shingles is a lot lower than with mounted solar panels.
With a Tesla Roof, all the tiles look the same, regardless of whether they’re active solar shingles or inactive tiles. This makes a solar roof or solar shingles a great fit for homeowners who don’t like the look of more conventional solar panels. A solar roof may also enable homeowners to benefit from solar without invoking the ire of homeowner associations.
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Cost-effective roofing and solar combined
A new roof can be a costly proposition, as can a solar installation. What if you could combine the two and save some cash?
If your roof is due for an upgrade, consider a solar roof. Sure, it will cost more than a regular roof, but it will typically cost less than a regular roof plus a conventional solar array with similar power output.
How much does a solar roof cost? This depends on the size of your home, the availability of skilled labor, and a few other factors. It can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 to install solar roof shingles on a single-story home. For a Luma or Tesla roof, you’d be looking at the higher end of that range, plus the Tesla Powerwall battery or other battery storage.
If you’re just thinking of integrating a few solar shingles into your current or existing roof, the cost will be much lower than for a full Tesla Roof or Luma roof. Some homeowners just opt for a band of solar shingles around the edge of the roof, for instance.
A high-performance roofing solution
Worried that a solar roof won’t be as good as a regular roof? There’s no need for concern. These roofing shingles perform just like regular shingles, only they produce electricity while keeping your home watertight and safe from the elements.
The key here is that solar shingles combine solar cells with the roof sheathing. In more conventional solar arrays, solar modules are mounted on top of shingles (or other roofing material).
Effective use of space
Solar shingles can be a great way to go solar if you have a small roof that makes a standard solar set-up difficult or even impossible. For the same reason, solar shingles can be a good choice for a roof with awkward space constraints, such as dormers, skylights, and so forth.
After all, a shingle is far smaller than a solar panel. This means you can squeeze a few shingles onto a small area and maximize your rooftop real estate. You might even decide to skip your rooftop entirely and instead install a solar roof on your garage, shed, or an auxiliary dwelling, especially if these get more sun exposure than your home.
No external wiring or roof penetrations
Standard solar arrays have to be mounted on top of roofing material, which usually means drilling into the roof. Some metal roofs allow for solar modules to be clicked into place, but regular roof shingles and tiles require solar installers to penetrate the roofing material, which can cause damage and create weak spots.
These problems are unlikely if you use an experienced and skilled solar installer, but they’re still a risk with regular arrays.
In addition, standard solar installations involve external wiring that connects the mounted solar panels to the inverter and main service panel inside your home. With a solar roof and most solar shingles, all the wiring is internal and hidden. This reduces the risk of damage from wind, rain, birds and other wildlife, and so forth.
Easier to repair and replace
Another key benefit to solar shingles is that they’re lightweight and relatively easy to repair and replace. If one or two get damaged, you can quickly replace these with fresh solar shingles or inactive shingles as needed. It’s much harder and more costly to replace or repair an entire solar panel.
Solar shingles are also built to withstand rain, snow, and wind. And if something does go wrong, most companies offer a good warranty, so you can get your shingles replaced for free. Tesla even offers a lifetime warranty for its physical shingles, which is great if you’re planning on staying in the same home for a long time. If you think you’ll move home in the next 25 years or so, though, that lifetime warranty might not be all that useful, given it’s hard to take your solar roof with you (unlike solar panels).
Are there any downsides to solar roofs?
So far, so good, but what about the disadvantages of solar roofs?
Cost and efficiency
As discussed, solar shingles aren’t cheap, despite being more cost-effective per watt. Compared to the price of a standard rooftop solar installation ($15,000 to $40,000), the Tesla solar roof has been reported as ranging from $30,000 to nearly $100,000. What’s more, Tesla has shifted its prices dramatically, and without warning, several times, catching customers off guard. Tesla also now insists that solar roof customers buy the Tesla Powerwall battery, which raises the cost even more.
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High-efficiency shingles from other companies tend to be less expensive and just as efficient as Tesla’s shingles, but they’re all less efficient than the best solar panels. In general, a solar shingle typically produces between 13 and 63 watts. They need high sun exposure and a good slope to meet their maximum output, though.
The main reason is that building-integrated solar panels (BISPs, or BIPVs) don’t typically allow for air to circulate underneath, which means they overheat quickly, which impairs electricity production.
This lack of efficiency combined with higher upfront costs can mean a longer payback period for solar roofs. In fact, solar roofs don’t offer anything like the return on investment of a standard solar array, unless you’re in need of a new roof anyway.
Lifespan and flexibility
Solar roofs and shingles also have a shorter lifespan than most regular solar panels. While a standard solar panel can usually keep producing electricity for 25 years or more, solar shingles usually last just 20 or so years.
One other downside of a solar roof is that it can be hard to take with you if you move. Unlike solar panels, solar roofs are custom-made to fit your home. Solar shingles or DecoTech integrated panels may be able to go with you if you move, depending on the type of roof at your new home.
Other downsides to solar roofs
While solar roofs are increasingly popular, you might not be able to find a skilled installer in your area. In contrast, conventional solar installers are easy to find, which also means the labor cost of an installation is typically lower than for a solar roof.
The same goes for solar shingles. While there are more installers for these than for Tesla Roofs, it’s still very hard to find a credentialled installer in most places, especially if you live outside of a big city.
Finally, you’ll want to consider the environmental cost of installing a solar roof. Chances are you’re interested in these products because you want to live a greener lifestyle. Sending your current, perfectly respectable roof to a landfill just so you can install a solar roof isn’t very sustainable.
Solar roofs vs. solar panels
On balance, most homeowners will be better served by solar panels rather than a solar roof. Solar panels are easier and cheaper to install, can go with you if you move, and are efficient at producing electricity.
If, however, you really hate the appearance of standard solar panels, don’t plan on moving home for many decades, and need a new roof anyway, a solar roof might be a good fit. Solar roofs are also a good choice for homeowners who love the idea of a high-tech roof with no visible wiring or significant upkeep.
As for solar shingles, these might offer a great in-between option. They’re low profile, easy to install, relatively cheap, and easier to take with you if you move. They’re typically far less efficient than solar panels though, and you’ll have an easier time finding a solar panel installer. But, if you’re replacing your old roof anyway and don’t like the idea of solar panels, consider hanging a few shingles to cut your utility bill.