A Guide to Solar Shingles

Many companies have now begun approaching residential solar PV systems in ways that meet both a homeowner’s energy needs while also answering to the aesthetic qualities of the house. Solar roofing (a.k.a. solar shingles) is an option worth exploring for those who are turned off by the ungainly aesthetics of conventional solar panels. With solar roofing, rather than placing panels on top of the roofing, the solar array is integral to the roof itself. This not only makes the solar array less obtrusive but also saves by substituting for other roofing materials. Here we explore some current developments in solar roofing technology, the advantages, plus the drawbacks of solar shingle roofing systems.

What Is a Solar Shingle?
Solar shingles, also called photovoltaic shingles, are solar panels designed to look and function as conventional roofing materials while also producing electricity. Although some appreciate the forward-looking appearance of a roof clad in conventional solar panels, others regret the lost appearance of a traditional roof. Solar roofing, then, is made to produce electricity while also resembling asphalt shingle or slate tiles. Solar shingles are a type of solar energy solution known as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV).

How Do Solar Shingles Work?
Like traditional rooftop panels, solar shingles convert solar energy into electricity by harnessing the flow of electrons released when sunlight hits a semiconducting material. While solar shingles and solar panels generate electricity with the same fundamental photovoltaic effect, they have significant installation differences. Solar shingles are not mounted on racks like other solar panels. Instead, they are attached directly to the roof deck in place of conventional roofing shingles. Solar shingles are typically installed at the same time as the roof, either during new construction or when replacing an old or damaged roof. This helps homeowners avoid replacing older but functional shingles before necessary and can be performed by a single roofing contractor.

Pros of Solar Shingles
Solar shingles are an aesthetically superior way to harness the power of the sun to produce clean, independent energy. They are sleek, weather-resistant, and have a long lifespan.

• Lower Utility Bills: Reducing energy costs is the number one reason homeowners install solar roof shingles. A typical residential installation comprises 350 tiles, and the setup lowers monthly energy bills by 40% to 70%.
• Long Lifespan: Solar shingles have a longer lifespan than regular shingles. They maintain maximum output and efficiency for 25 to 30 years. Solar companies offer their own warranties, and tile longevity depends on the manufacturer. For example, Tesla solar roofs come with a 30-year warranty. Be sure to check with your shingle manufacturer to understand your warranty and maintenance requirements.
• Weather Resistant: Like many traditional roofing materials, solar shingles are suitable for all climates. The outer shell comprises impact-resistant glass that is far from fragile. Many solar tiles boast impact ratings beyond the highest available rating of four. To receive a rating of four, the roofing material must withstand hail up to 2 inches in diameter, approximately the size of a tennis ball. The weather-resistant material can withstand winds up to 130 mph.
• Sleek Aesthetics: Traditional solar panel systems are bulky and unattractive, and they offer weather protection for your home. Solar shingles prevent water intrusion like traditional shingles while having a sleeker aesthetic that blends in with your roofing materials.
• Increased Property and Resale Values: All new roofs increase property and resale values. A solar roof increases your home’s value by $20 for every $1 reduction in your annual energy costs and, according to Zillow, can sell for 4% higher on average.

Cons of Solar Shingles
Solar shingles are a relatively new technology. They are limited to certain regions, relatively expensive, and have a lower output than traditional solar panels.

• Expense: Solar shingles are the most expensive roofing material on the market. Factors affecting the cost of solar shingle installation include brand, roof type, and installation costs. A solar roof can cost between $40,000 to $60,000 before the federal solar tax credit.
• Limited Availability: Solar shingles account for a tiny 1% of all solar installations. Still in their infancy, many regions do not offer full access to the new technology because of limited brands and production.
• Lower Efficiency: It takes an average of 350 tiles to lower utility bills by 40% to 70% while the average solar panel installation reduces energy costs by 90%. Solar shingles are less efficient than traditional panels, and constricted airflow beneath the shingles decreases their efficiency. Most solar tiles produce between 13 to 63 watts of power.
Installation: Solar roofs require highly specialized installation, including a licensed electrician for wiring. This, combined with potential waiting lists for materials, could lead to extended lead times for installation.
• Return on Investment: Like most roofs, you can recover up to 100% of your investment when installing a new roof. However, because of the new technology, solar roofs are expensive. It takes the average homeowner approximately 15 years to recover their full investment with solar shingles, while it only takes five years to recover the full investment when installing traditional solar panels.

How Long Does Solar Tile Roofing Last?
The expected life expectancy of solar shingles is around 30 years. The shingles do not stop producing at this point, but power output will begin to degrade over time. Though solar roofs may continue to generate electricity and serve as a protective weather screen beyond this point, each manufacturer has its own product and performance warranty. The typical power performance warranty for solar shingles is the same as solar panels because the core cell technology is the same. You can expect to get at least 90% of the system’s rated power after 10 years and at least 80% of the rated power after 25 to 30 years. It should be noted that since solar roofs are a new technology, it hasn’t been officially confirmed whether they live up to the 30-year expectancy.

Solar Tiles Compared
Some of the most popular solar roofing brands include CertainTeed, Luma, SunTegra, Tesla, and Timberline.

CertainTeed Solar Roof Shingles: CertainTeed solar products only work with asphalt shingled roofs, so wood, metal, or tile roof owners may want to look elsewhere. This solar shingle system comes in a stock size of 14 all-black monocrystalline cells (70 watts per shingle) with a standard 25-year limited-power warranty. The CertainTeed shingles can be positioned over existing roofing and include water channels to safeguard against leaks. The length of the installation warranty depends on the rank of the CertainTeed-credentialed installer, as outlined in the warranty section of the Apollo-II solar shingle spec sheet.

Luma Solar Roof Shingles: Luma solar roof is an upgradable shingle option with a smartphone app for monitoring energy consumption. Luma monocrystalline solar shingles boast an impressive 80 watts per shingle and come with both a 25-year limited power warranty and a 5-year limited product warranty.

SunTegra Tile Solar Roof: SunTegra shingles are low-profile monocrystalline solar shingles that install over the conventional roofing material but without racking. Lightweight, with 50% fewer parts than conventional solar panels, SunTegra installs relatively quickly. They come with a 25-year limited power and 10-year limited product warranties. SunTegra is a good fit when working with clay and concrete tile roofing. One downside is that they have a lower efficiency than other solar roofing systems on the market.

Tesla Solar Roof: The Tesla solar roof consists of identical monocrystalline solar and non-solar tiles. The tiles are made of tempered glass and claim to be “three times stronger than standard roofing tiles,” with a 25-year limited warranty to support that claim. These shingles have an ASTM D3161 Class F wind rating, which means they can withstand winds up to 110 mph. One big advantage is that they blend relatively seamlessly with regular roofing. Disadvantages include long waitlists for production/installation and relatively higher cost compared with other brands.

Timberline Solar by GAF Energy: Timberline Solar monocrystalline shingles were a 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) award winner for Best of Innovation. These solar roof shingles were highlighted as the “first nailable solar energy shingle” designed for fast installation. Like the Tesla solar roof, the Timberline shingle replaces your roofing. Therefore, the overall price is higher since you get two products: a new roof and solar technology. They are the largest single-unit shingle, can withstand winds up to 110 mph, and come with a 25-year warranty. Timberline is rated as having the highest efficiency of any solar roof tile.

For Further Reading:
• This Old House has an overview including the pros and cons of installing solar shingles at: https://www.thisoldhouse.com/solar-alternative-energy/reviews/should-you-buy-solar-shingles.
• Wikipedia’s overview of solar shingle roofing technology can be found at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_shingle.
• BankRate presents thoughts on the subject at their article “Should you replace your roof with solar shingles?” found at: https://www.bankrate.com/homeownership/solar/what-are-solar-shingles/.

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