Dear EarthTalk: My roof needs replacing and I’m also thinking about getting solar panels. Do solar shingles make sense or are they still too newfangled to trust? – Peter. H., Boston, MA
Going solar is becoming an increasingly appealing choice for homeowners looking for sustainable energy solutions. Solar shingles are an innovative and aesthetically pleasing alternative to traditional solar panels, thanks to advancements in solar technology. However, whether they’re a good fit for you depends upon a number of factors.
Solar shingles, or solar roof tiles, are a great way to add renewable energy to your home without sacrificing curb appeal. They blend in seamlessly with your existing roof, so you won’t have to worry about them looking out of place. Solar shingles are also a great way to increase the value of your home.
Solar shingles are becoming increasingly common in new construction homes, and they’re also a great choice if your old roof needs repair or replacement. Combining the installation of solar shingles with your roof renovation kills accomplishes two things at once. However, solar shingles tend to be more expensive up front compared to traditional solar panels; you’ll have to crunch the numbers with the help of one or more local installers to see what makes the most financial sense for you. Definitely get a few bids to make sure you’re getting a fair deal.
Since solar shingles haven’t been around as long as conventional photovoltaic panels, they don’t have much of a track record of reliability. That said, solar shingles tend to last longer and are more resistant to the elements than photovoltaic panels, as they are designed to be part of the actual structure of the roof itself. If you can’t find any with a warranty of less than 25 years, keep looking. If you’re contemplating the move to solar shingles, proceed with caution and do your homework regarding different manufacturers’ products and warranties—and find/read real customer reviews.
The suitability of solar shingles also depends on your geographical location and the direction your roof faces. It’s important to figure out how much sunlight your roof gets throughout the year to determine how much energy solar shingles can generate. If your roof doesn’t get enough sunlight because of shade or its position, the effectiveness of solar shingles may be reduced, making them less cost-effective. Google’s free Project Sunroof website lets you see if your roof would be a good host for solar panels or shingles.
While solar shingles definitely cost more than photovoltaic panels—typically at least twice as much—it might pencil out if you need roofing tiles replaced anyway. The best way to find out is to interview and get bids from roofers, solar installers and others well-versed in the technology.
Some of the leading manufacturers of solar shingles include CertainTeed Solar, Luma Solar, SunTegra, GAF Energy’s Timberline Solar and, yes, even Tesla. The latter’s solar shingle solution is the priciest of the bunch—$70,000 isn’t unheard of for one of Tesla’s Solar Roofs—but may be the most reliable given the company’s head start in the business and huge cash reserves.