Solar shingles are an alternative to traditional solar panels that look less noticeable and provide more curb appeal. They’re durable, weather-resistant and offer the same energy savings as many of the best solar panels, but they’re significantly more expensive.
To help you determine whether solar roof shingles are worth the investment, we at the Home Media reviews team have created this guide answering key questions and weighing the pros and cons.
What Are Solar Shingles?
Solar shingles are a fairly new solar technology. They function similarly to traditional solar panels but look less noticeable on your home. Like solar panels, they absorb sunlight and convert it into usable electricity. However, they fall into a category of solar products known as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). These products replace conventional building materials, such as roofs and skylights, with photovoltaic materials, allowing you to reduce building material costs while generating solar energy.
DOW Chemical Company introduced solar shingles to the U.S. market in 2011. However, interest in shingles really took off in 2016, when Tesla purchased Solar City and launched the Tesla solar roof. Several solar manufacturers have since expanded their product catalogs to include solar shingles or tiles. Shingles still aren’t as readily available as solar panels, but they’ve gained popularity as a viable alternative.
Solar shingles are designed to resemble standard asphalt shingles. They’re made from thin layers of photovoltaic (PV) sheets that cover a glass base. Solar shingles can lay on top of your existing roof shingles or replace them completely. They’re built and tested to withstand elements such as rain, hail and wind like regular roofs.
Pros and Cons of Solar Shingles
We’ve listed some advantages and disadvantages of solar shingles below.
+ Built for long-term durability and weather-resistance
+ Can replace traditional roofing materials
+ More aesthetically pleasing than solar panels
+ Cost-effective option for complete roof replacement
– Low efficiency rating and power output
– More expensive than solar panels
– Not as widely available as solar panels
Solar Shingles vs. Solar Panels
Solar shingles and solar panels both reduce energy costs by generating renewable energy, but they have some key differences. Compare the two options in the table below.
Solar panels are larger and more visible on a home’s roof. Their appearance varies depending on the type of solar panels installed. Polycrystalline panels are blue, making them very noticeable and potentially clashing with your home’s aesthetics. Many homeowners choose monocrystalline panels for their sleeker black color. However, any rack-mounted installation is still noticeable.
Solar shingles are smaller and more low-profile. If you opt for a solar roof, your entire roof will be replaced with solar shingles, offering the most inconspicuous installation.
Efficiency and Power Output
Solar shingles and solar panels function similarly, but they have different efficiency rates and power outputs. High-efficiency monocrystalline (mono) solar panels are the most efficient, with rates as high as 24%. This means they convert 24% of the sunlight they absorb. Solar shingles have lower efficiency rates of 14% to 18%. The more efficient a solar panel is, the fewer you’ll need to power your home.
Solar panels also have larger power outputs. They range as high as 400+ watts of electricity, whereas solar shingles generate 13 to 70 watts per shingle. It may take as many as 20 to 30 shingles to match the power of one solar panel.
Solar panels typically last 25 years or longer with proper upkeep. Solar shingles have a slightly shorter life span of around 20 years. This time frame varies by manufacturer. Homeowners should review the warranties that come with their solar shingles. Some manufacturers include separate coverage for power production and durability. Review your warranty closely for full details.
Most solar shingles use copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) cells. This material keeps the shingles flexible and thin while providing adequate energy conversion. Some solar shingles are made from monocrystalline silicon cells, the same composition as high-quality monocrystalline solar panels.
Solar shingles are considerably smaller than standard solar panels. They’re typically about the same size as asphalt shingles, or 12 inches wide by 86 inches long. Each shingle weighs around 13 pounds per square foot. Most roofs can handle this amount of weight, eliminating the need for additional roof reinforcement. Solar shingles are less than an inch thick, which helps them maintain a low profile.
How Much Do Solar Shingles Cost?
Solar shingles cost more than typical solar panels due to the number needed for adequate power. Based on multiple estimates, solar shingle installation can cost $20 to $30 per square foot. This totals $40,000 to $60,000 for a 2,000-square-foot roof.
Standard solar panels are more affordable, averaging $15,500 for a standard 5-kilowatt (kW) system according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The total cost of solar shingles depends on several factors, such as your power needs, roof size and selected installer.
Homeowners should take advantage of solar tax incentives and rebates to offset costs. The federal solar tax credit provides a tax reduction equal to 30% of your installation costs. This credit rolls over to the next year if the taxes you owe are less than the credit.
You may qualify for additional state or local incentives in your area. Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) for details.
How Many Solar Shingles Do I Need?
Solar installers will consider your energy needs and roof size when determining how many shingles you need. The average roof needs about 350 solar shingles. The higher your needed power output, the more shingles you’ll need. However, you won’t have to cover your entire roof with shingles. Installation typically takes one week to complete.
A roofer will also assess your roof’s condition. You’ll need to replace any broken shingles and repair other damage before the installation. This will reduce the chance of improper installation or faulty panels. If your roof needs a lot of work, consider installing a solar roof. This will save you money on roofing materials.
Solar Shingle and Roof Manufacturers
Several solar manufacturers and companies offer solar roofing options. We’ve provided a brief overview of some top companies below.
CertainTeed Solar Shingles and Tiles
CertainTeed makes solar shingles with monocrystalline solar cells, the same technology used in mono solar panels. The company’s Apollo Tile II system integrates with flat concrete tiles and works for new or existing roofs. The Apollo II system integrates with asphalt roofs.
Luma Solar produces monocrystalline shingles with a Miami-Dade hurricane rating of Class 5+, meaning they can withstand Category 5 hurricane-force winds. Lumar’s solar shingles can be installed on metal roofs and have upgradable technology, so homeowners can keep their solar technology up-to-date as their systems age.
SunTegra Shingles and Tiles
SunTegra offers affordable solar shingles and tiles installed directly over your current roof. Its solar shingles are installed in large sheets over composite shingles, while its tiles are installed individually for a more blended appearance. Both solar roofing options have a sleek, black design and are less noticeable than traditional rack-mounted solar panels.
Tesla Solar Roof
Though known for its electric cars, Tesla moved into the solar industry in 2016. It offers high-efficiency solar panels as well as the Tesla Solar Roof, which uses a combination of glass and steel to improve durability. The Tesla Solar Roof replaces your entire roof, making it one of the most expensive solar roofing options.
Timberline Solar Roofing by GAF Energy
GAF Energy’s Timberline solar roofs are designed to shed water and withstand winds up to 130 mph. The company takes a different approach to installation than competitors: It mimics solar panel installation by rack-mounting shingles to avoid drilling into your existing roof. Its shingles come in four colors to match your home’s exterior.
The Bottom Line: Are Solar Shingles Worth It?
Solar shingles offer an alternate, more aesthetically pleasing option than traditional solar panels. They can be integrated with your current roof or replace it entirely for optimal discretion. However, they’re less efficient and have a lower power output than typical panels, meaning you’ll need more of them to produce adequate energy. They’re ideal for homeowners interested in solar power who need to replace their existing roofs, as installing a solar roof cuts down on roofing material costs.
We recommend comparing quotes from at least three solar installers to ensure you get the best deal. Use the tool below to begin your search for a provider in your area.