The simple answer to whether solar shingles are worth the investment is generally yes. Of course, this is dependent on several factors being fulfilled according to everyone’s unique requirements.
These factors include your power needs and expectations from solar, the shape and size of your roof, the climate in which you live in, and your budget. It also depends on whether homeowners (you and your buyer) view solar roofs as an improvement to the resale value of a house.
In this article, we touch on the characteristics of solar shingles, the available options in the solar market, and other commonly asked questions.
What are solar shingles?
Solar shingles are also known as solar roof shingles, solar panel shingles or photovoltaic shingles. They are a relatively new technology and are considered a building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) product. Thus, some sources sometimes refer to them as BIPV shingles.
BIPV shingles look similar to ordinary shingles on your roof and serve the same purpose as regular roof tiles. The key difference is that solar shingles can generate electricity by harnessing the sun’s solar energy. Each solar shingle contains photovoltaic or solar cells that are linked together to the solar power system installed in your home.
What are solar shingles made from?
How much power can solar shingles produce?
There are a few variations and brands of solar roof shingles in the market now. All of them are designed to be lightweight and weatherproof. The power output of these products varies greatly, from as little as 13 watts to high as 114 watts per solar shingle.
Output is affected by the direction of the sun facing the solar shingles. In the US, the best roof side for installation is south facing. Southwest and southeast are also good directions.
How long can solar shingles last?
BIPV shingles have the same lifespan as solar panels. The average lifespan is at least 20 years; some brands promise a warranty of up to 30 years. Beyond this duration, your solar roof can still produce energy but at a reduced capacity.
How many solar shingles do you need?
It depends on the total electrical output you expect from your solar power system. The higher the output, the more solar roof shingles you would need. This will also depend on the building and roof size.
Are solar shingles easy to maintain?
Yes. All you need is a garden hose that is powerful enough to hit the solar roof tiles. Some brands claim that they are maintenance-free.
Types of solar shingles
As of 2021, there are only two types of solar shingles in the market. Type 1, which was available in the market earlier, sits on top of existing roof tiles. It is installed as an additional layer over existing normal roof tiles.
Type 2 takes the place of roof tiles. Original roof tiles are replaced by this type of solar shingle. Among this type, there are two variations.
Most brands have products that look a little different from the existing roof tiles. Some are suitable for any kind of tiled roof and some are made for only concrete roofs.
The newest product in the market is by Tesla which gives the solar roof a seamless and uniform appearance. However, the installation of Tesla’s product requires a total replacement of the entire roof with its solar and non-solar tiles.
Some manufacturers only produce Type 2 solar shingles of a certain roof material but Tesla claims to have up to four options for its solar roof: Tuscan glass tile, slate glass tile, textured glass tile and smooth glass tile.
Solar shingles vs solar panels: the pros & cons
Solar shingles can produce as much energy as conventional, roof-mounted solar panels. However, this section is about the differences in terms of pros and cons when comparing the two solar products.
Pros of solar shingles vs solar panels
- Solar shingles are more aesthetically appealing
Solar panels have earned the reputation of looking out of place and ungainly on roofs. That is because solar panels must be installed on brackets that stand on rooftops. These stick above the outline of a roof and look totally different from the tiles or surface of the roof.
In contrast, solar shingles are much less noticeable than solar panels because they are integrated into the roof. For example, thin-film solar shingles lie flat against existing roof tiles. Type 2 solar shingles are made to blend in with existing roof materials. In fact, Tesla’s solar tiles and non-solar tiles are identical to create a sleek look.
- Better resale value
Aside from eco-friendliness, aesthetics plays a major role in the value of a home. Studies by the US Department of Energy in recent years have shown that the value of a home can be increased by as much as $15,000 or more with solar shingles. In fact, one of the reasons some homeowners have held back from installing solar panels on their rooftops is that they are ugly, and cause the curb appeal of the house to drop.
- Cost effective during roof replacement
If you need to replace some roof tiles or build a new home, installing solar power shingles can be more cost effective than installing solar panels. Since solar shingles serve the purpose of roof tiles as well, you would save on labor and traditional roofing material.
- Suitable for weight-sensitive roofs
Solar panels and their brackets can weigh quite a bit. This makes solar shingles a better candidate for roofs that cannot take much weight.
Cons of solar shingles vs solar panels
- Limited options
Solar shingles are a relatively new solar product. There aren’t as many styles to match any kind of conventional roofing. For example, if you have a Spanish-styled roof, you might have a tough time finding a matching solar shingle.
- Limited installers
Because solar shingles are relatively new, not every solar roofing installer offers this option. At present, it might be challenging to find a suitable installer as easily as for regular solar panels.
- Limited types of roof
Solar panels can be installed on any kind of roof that can hold up their weight, but not the same can be said for solar shingles.
- Slightly less energy efficient
Solar shingles can sometimes be less energy efficient than solar panels as it is entirely dependent on the roof slope and direction. With solar shingles, you cannot install trackers or racks like for solar panels. Furthermore, solar panels still produce more energy per watt.
- Entire roof replacement
This disadvantage only applies to Tesla’s product. It is their policy, which requires the entire roof to be replaced by both solar and non-solar shingles to create the famous uniformed look.
How much do solar shingles cost?
The cost varies greatly depending on the local solar roof contractor’s pricing, the chosen brand for installation, your power needs, and the size of the roof discounting accessories of a solar power system.
A sensible way to compare would be to go by a per watt basis. The average cost of a solar shingle is about $4 for most brands, except Tesla’s at only $2 per watt. The highest cost is close to $7 per watt.
Other hidden installation costs should be considered as well. For instance, Tesla’s solar roof shingle might be the cheapest in the market, but Tesla will only do the installation if your entire roof is replaced with its product. That bumps up the cost very significantly, especially for a large house; by at least double the cost for a massive house.
Can you walk on solar shingles?
Yes, but it is not advisable. No doubt solar shingles are made to be weatherproof against rain, snow and even hail. However, this does not mean that anybody should step on them for no reason, especially if you are not a qualified solar or roof installer.
First of all, it is a safety hazard. Solar tiles are very slippery due to the smooth glass coating designed to keep the elements and debris off of its surface. Accidentally falling off even a single-storey building can break your bones or kill you.
Secondly, the thin film of some solar roof shingles can break easily under pressure. There is no sense in spending tens of thousands just to ruin this investment.
If at all you need to clean them, just hose them down from below. If there is a fault in the solar power system or there is a leaky roof, contact a qualified professional to do the job.
Can solar incentives and tax credits be applied to a solar roof?
Yes, it definitely can in the United States. The US federal government provides a 22% tax credit in 2021. Certain American states and local jurisdictions offer additional incentives. However, the extent of perks for both may change after 2023.
Now, back to the question of whether solar shingles are worth it. Indeed they are for homeowners who want to retain aesthetics with roof functionality while harnessing the benefits of green energy. Moving forward the efficiency of solar shingles may catch up to solar panels, and possibly replace them for roof installations.