Solar panel systems are becoming the norm for clean energy, but solar roofing is another, albeit less common, alternative.
The most important consumer-interest distinction between solar panels and solar roofing is cost — a solar roof with Tesla can cost double what you’d pay for Tesla solar panels. Solar roofs are generally purchased by homeowners who can afford to design and build a LEED-certified — and often luxury — home.
Whether you fit into that niche of homeowners or are just curious about Tesla solar roofs, our Tesla roof review will cover what you need to know before making a deposit.
Attention: Tesla also offers conventional solar panels.
If Tesla (or SolarCity) did your solar project, leave a review on our Tesla reviews page.
Tesla’s solar roof is designed to look like a traditional roof and does away with the need for separate solar panels.
Solar roofs are a type of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). BIPVs blur the line of distinction between the structure of a building and the energy-producing solar modules that, in traditional solar panels, are separate entities. In short, a solar roof functions just as any other roof would while also producing electricity via solar energy.
Tesla’s roof is made out of 72-watt glass solar tiles layered on architectural-grade steel tiles. These roofing tiles can function on their own in a new build or overlay existing shingles. Vent covers and ridge caps complete the roof.
A Tesla solar roof incorporates both solar and non-solar tiles. According to the company, the two look identical from the street. The ratio of solar to non-solar shingles will ultimately depend on the preferred energy offset and desired price.
Over the years, solar panels have arguably come a long way in both efficiency and aesthetics. Where they used to be blue and rather clunky, panels now generally come in polycrystalline black with sleek-looking mounting hardware that keeps panels close to the surface of the roof.
Tesla’s glass solar tiles and steel roofing tiles look deceptively similar to asphalt shingles and don’t require brackets or mounting hardware, so they don’t draw attention to the roof from the street. But even up close, a solar tile looks just as subtle and sleek as an asphalt shingle.
We asked Scott Hamilton Harris, an award-winning green luxury home builder, for his take on solar roofing. Harris is the COO and co-founder of Building Construction Group and has worked with Tesla and other solar brands throughout his career.
“Most of us grew up without seeing solar panels on roofs, so without pre-planning, panels can look like an elephant of an accessory, stealing the main stage for the architecture of your home,” Harris explains. “For this reason, our clients have preferred solar roofing tile from Tesla over panels.”
A roof made out of glass doesn’t sound like it would hold up particularly well in a windstorm or hailstorm — occasions where solar panel integrity is often jeopardized.
But Tesla claims that its steel tiles, which add both longevity and corrosion resistance to the overlaid glass solar tiles, are capable of withstanding extreme weather conditions. These tiles have an industry-best Class F wind rating and Class A fire rating as well as a Class 3 hail rating.
Tesla’s solar roof homepage even has a video on repeat showing a hammer hitting its solar roof next to conventional roofing materials. The clay roof tile breaks while the solar roof tile absorbs the impact without being permanently compromised.
Solar roof shingles are built to last at least as long as conventional solar panels, upwards of 25 years. But the shingles come with warranties to back up your purchase in case they’re not holding up as promised.
There’s a 25-year product and module warranty against defects and a 25-year warranty against roof leaks, known as the weatherization warranty.
Production longevity is also comparable to solar panel production. A Tesa solar roof purchase is protected by a production warranty that guarantees your solar roof will produce at least 95 percent of its rated power after five years and 85 percent of its rated power after 25 years.
Tesla indicates that its solar inverter, which converts the direct current (DC) electricity your panels generate into alternating current (AC) that your house can use, operates at 97.5 percent efficiency.
All Tesla warranties protect customers’ investment to an extent but they are pretty similar in coverage to the industry standard for a traditional solar panel installation.
A Tesla solar roof installation includes a connection to Tesla Powerwall, a home battery that stores the energy you produce with your solar tiles. The Powerwall is covered by a separate 10-year warranty and enables you to power your home at night or during a grid outage.
While optional, a $11,500 Powerwall is automatically included in each online quote estimate. You can remove it from your quote if you’d like to see how your options look without battery storage.
Keep in mind your energy needs as you consider a Tesla battery. The latest version of Powerwall has a capacity of 13.5 kWh, which will power the average home and energy output for 24 hours before depleting the battery. Therefore, to go completely off-grid with continuous power available at night, you’d need multiple Powerwalls to meet your energy consumption needs.
One of the most common complaints we get within solar reviews is system down time.
With the Tesla app, you can monitor your solar roof’s energy production in real-time. This is important because if something goes wrong, you want to be able to notify Tesla immediately for servicing under warranty coverage, where applicable. Service requests and scheduling is also accessible from the app.
You can control your system from anywhere with instant alerts and remote access, including Powerwall operation. You can schedule when you want to draw energy from your Powerwall and how much energy you want to save for backup before nighttime or before an anticipated outage, such as a forecasted storm.
Built-in connectivity ensures that Tesla’s inverter continues to improve with each software update.
Tesla makes it easy to realistically plan financially for a solar project by providing pricing details upfront from your first visit to their website. This is a departure from the typical solar company, which will often require a consultation before giving you an estimate.
After you receive your initial solar roof estimate, you’ll pay a deposit for Tesla to take the next steps in designing your solar roof, submitting permits, and preparing for your installation. This deposit is refundable up until the point where you sign off on your design.
Just like a solar panel project, each home’s energy needs and roofing layout is different, so it’s impossible to know exactly what your roof would cost until you input your own information into Tesla’s quote generator.
But for example purposes, we got quoted about $60,000 for a solar roof and Powerwall for a 2,500 square foot home in Utah after applying the expected state and federal tax incentives.
The solar-generating parts of a solar panel or solar roof project (solar roof tiles, inverter, battery, etc.) are eligible for the Federal Solar Tax Credit and the non solar-generating parts (roof tear off, non-solar tiles, etc.) are not. Also, keep in mind that the federal tax credit applies to taxes owed; it is not an automatically applied discount. Consult a tax professional for help with your particular situation.
The $60,000 solar roof is almost exactly double the price tag of a $30,000 solar panel system setup on the same home.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk purchased SolarCity in 2016, boldly entering the solar market, and Tesla is a highly publicized household name for electric vehicles in addition to solar.
But there are other solar roofing companies out there just as well-versed in building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs). Suntegra is a New York-based solar manufacturer that began selling solar roof products before the announcement of Tesla’s solar shingles. Luma, Ergosun, and GAF Energy are also worth looking into.
As you shop for solar roofing, you’ll find that there are a variety of types of solar shingles in addition to Tesla’s tiles:
While Tesla’s solar roof has its benefits, there are some clear deterrents for prospective buyers.
Where solar roofing is relatively new compared to solar panels, it needs more time to evolve to account for that and to improve even further on efficiency, encourage a competitive market, and hopefully lead to increased affordability.
“We expect that the technology behind solar tiles will improve in the future,” says Daniel De Bohan, COO of Smart Energy. In the meantime, De Bohan explains that it’s difficult to retrofit tiles, therefore “we only recommend them for new builds, as they can be implemented into the design of the home.”
If you are considering Tesla’s solar roof for your current home, you should know that flat roofs aren’t eligible, and roofs made of metal, clay, wood, or architectural shingles will have to be removed. Newer, single-layer roofs of some designs may be eligible for solar roof installation on top of the existing roof, eliminating the need for roof removal. Steep pitches, multiple levels, and roof obstructions can drive up the cost of your solar roof.
Many consumers just don’t have this type of disposable income, whether that’s the full amount upfront or double the monthly loan payment of what they’d pay for solar panels.
The exception to this? If you’re paying an astronomical amount for your electricity and also need to buy a new roof in the near future, those two factors could justify the cost of a solar roof. Just remember that, like normal panels, you may have to upgrade your solar tiles after 25–30 years.
Over time, solar roofing could become more affordable for the average consumer, similar to how solar panels have become more affordable in the past couple of decades. But for now, solar roofing remains a niche market.
“Going solar is one of the best decisions you can make if you want to lead a more sustainable life, and you have a couple of options for doing so,” explains Freedom Solar Power CEO Bret Biggart. “While both solar panels and solar roofs are effective at generating energy, solar panels continue to be the more feasible, cost-effective option for both home and business owners.”
November 29th, 2022
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