Tesla Solar Roof vs Solar Panels: The Great Debate

Tesla Solar Roof vs Solar Panels

When Tesla Solar Roof was launched in 2016 after the acquisition of SolarCity by Tesla, it was supposed to take the solar industry by storm. 

To its credit, Tesla Solar Roof did create a few ripples and that is definitely something but not the kind of coup expected. Industry experts point to various reasons for this turnabout.

Fast-forwarding to 2022, it has still not managed to catch the imagination of the solar buyers across the board. Its price is one of the major deterrents for an average household. There is much apprehension and ambiguity about Tesla Solar Roof, most of it created by Tesla itself.

The complicated pricing model and proven unreliability of Tesla in honoring the contracts are driving away potential buyers. And also the fact that its customer service has earned a notorious reputation for not responding to complaints on time goes against it. Many current Tesla customers report waiting for weeks for a response when they are facing issues.

This is not all. Lower efficiency and limited portability along with difficulty in finding a certified installer are all setbacks for Tesla. However, the Tesla Solar Roof comes with many advantages as well. Its sleek design and appearance have managed to impress above-average homeowners. The fact that the installation cost includes complete roof revamping works both ways. 

Read on to know all about Tesla Solar Roof. Here, you will also learn how it fares in comparison with conventional solar panels.

Tesla Solar Roof

A short intro to Tesla Solar Roof

  • The Tesla Solar Roof combines the function of solar panels with roof shingles to offer solar roof shingles. These are in fact solar panels built into roof shingles. The advantage of having solar roof shingles is mostly for appearance. For homeowners concerned about solar panels spoiling the look of their homes, Tesla Solar Roof comes as a blessing.
  • For a roof of average size, a 6-kW Tesla Solar Roof will set you back anywhere between $35,000 and $50,000 or even more depending on the complexity of the roof. The price of Tesla roof tiles is complex. You need to spend on active Tesla Solar Roof shingles, which costs $1.80 per watt, non-solar roofing materials, which costs in the range of $13.30-$18.54/sq ft, and the cost of dismantling the existing roof @ $3.53/sq ft.
  • Tesla assures you a beautiful solar roof, 24×7 energy security, and a 25-year tile and power warranty. You get to use the Tesla app to monitor energy production in real-time and remote control the system from anywhere.

For many homeowners, especially in the premium segment, installing traditional solar panels in the yard or rooftops can spoil the look. Tesla, known for its out-of-the-box ideas and innovatively designed products, announced Solar Roof in 2016, though actual installation began only in 2018.

The Tesla Solar Roof integrates solar panels seamlessly into the roof shingles, taking away the undesirable appearance of solar panels. This way, homeowners get to enjoy solar power without sacrificing the aesthetics of their homes. 

However, for the sleek look, Tesla Solar Roof will remove the existing roof entirely and replace it with solar roof tiles. However, all the new shingles won’t have solar panels, though the entire roof will be laid with Tesla’s shingles. The cost of a Tesla Solar Roof includes active solar shingles, inactive shingles, Tesla solar inverter, and roof tear-off costs.

Tesla Powerwall is optional and will cost an additional $12,000 to $16,500 including hardware and installation costs.

Tesla Solar Roof cost breakdown

Many factors go into the cost of the Tesla Solar Roof. And, some of them apply to traditional solar panels as well. Such as the capacity of the system and to some extent the complexity of the roof. The roof structure affects the pricing of Tesla Solar Roof more as the entire roof needs to be replaced. 

The cost of installing Tesla solar roof tiles is not easy to comprehend or calculate. It has various components including the cost of active solar shingles, inactive shingles, and roof tear-off costs.

Here’s some more information on each one of these.

1. Active solar shingles (Cost: $1.80/watt)

These are the shingles with integrated solar cells that generate electricity. For a 6kW solar system, the cost of active shingles alone will come to $10,800. 

However, the cost of a conventional solar panel is in the range of $2.6-$3.0/watt. On this count, Tesla is a definite winner.

The Tesla solar roof tile measures 15”x45” and looks like a slate shingle. Though Tesla doesn’t offer information about the performance or power rating of its shingles, Electrek estimates it to be 71.67 watts. This means you will need 5-6 shingles to maintain the same energy output as a 400-watt traditional solar panel. 

2. Inactive shingles (Cost: $13.30-$18.54/sq ft)

Not all roofing materials can have solar cells. For example, the underlayment, the part of the roof that offers additional protection from leaks. All miscellaneous roofing materials that don’t have solar cells come under inactive shingles. Though they don’t have solar cells, for aesthetic purposes, they appear the same as active shingles. 

For an average roof size of 1,500 sq ft, the cost of inactive shingles will be between $19,950 and $27,810. The cost varies depending on the complexity of the roof structure. The roof is categorized into three – Simple ($13.30/sq ft), Intermediate ($15.30), and Complex ($18.58). 

While single-level roofs come under the “Simple” category, multi-level roofs that are more crowded are classified as “Intermediate”, and multi-level, heavily crowded roofs are categorized as “Complex”. There are no clear definitions provided for the “crowdedness” of the roofs. 

Tesla’s costs for inactive shingles are quite high compared to the typical roofing material available in the market. The usual asphalt shingles cost around $7/sq ft. Even the metal roofing choices come cheaper than Tesla’s. Only if you are opting for an ultra-premium range of roofing materials, you may find Tesla’s inactive shingles cheaper.

3. Roof tear-off costs (Cost: $3.53/sq ft)

If you want to install a Tesla Solar Roof, you just need to remove the existing roof completely. And, Tesla charges for this as well. For an average-sized roof of 1,500 sq ft, this would come to $5,295. 

You may be able to skip these charges if your existing roof is in good condition and has 3-tab asphalt shingles with a thickness of less than ⅜ inches. If this is the case, Tesla solar roof tiles can be installed on top of the existing ones.

If you have slate shingles, cedar shakes, concrete tiles, or architectural asphalt shingles, they need to be removed. The typical cost of removing asphalt shingles is around $0.55/sq ft. Even for slate shingles, it would be $1.63/sq ft, one of the most expensive.

This is a huge additional cost that you would incur for installing Tesla Solar Roof.

Cost comparison: Tesla Solar Roof vs solar panel

While it is easier to get a definite figure on the cost of a conventional solar panel installation, it is more complicated with Tesla. Though the amount may vary based on the complexity of the roof structure for Tesla, it would still be considerably higher than that of a conventional solar panel.

However, you also need to remember that Tesla installation involves roof replacement. When the cost of roof replacement is factored in, the cost difference is not very substantial.

For a roof size of 1,500 sq ft and a solar system requirement of 6kW, the cost of installing Tesla Solar would be $36,045 before applying incentives ($10,800 for active shingles + $5,295 for roof tear-off + $19,950 for general roofing materials). As conventional solar panels have higher efficiency, it is estimated that you would need only a 5.55kW system to generate the same solar energy. This means $16,650 (@ $3/watt).

The roof-tear-off charges would be $825 (@ $0.55/sq ft) and roof replacement charges would be $10,500 for architectural asphalt shingles. This means a total of $27,975. 

The difference in cost is approximately $8,070. This is the amount you can save by choosing the conventional solar panels over Tesla Solar Roof. Do remember that all these calculations are based on assumed system size, roof size, and roofing material. As these assumptions change, the cost also will change.

A question you may want to find the answer to is “Am I eligible for the federal solar tax credit for installing Tesla Solar Roof?”

The answer is yes but only for the cost incurred on installing active solar shingles. So, in the above calculation, out of $36,045 spent on installing Tesla Solar Roof, only $10800 would qualify for the federal solar tax credit.

Related: How much does it cost to install solar panels?

Tesla Solar Roof vs Solar panels: Pros and Cons

Advantages of Tesla Solar roof

Increase in home value: 

Installing solar panels raises the home value. Replacing the roof raises it further. The brand value and sleek looks of Tesla Solar Roof increase the market value of homes. 

Increase in lifespan of the roof: 

As Tesla installation involves the replacement of the entire roof, this also means an additional lifetime for the roof. Moreover, Tesla offers a lifetime warranty.

Sleek appearance: 

This is the main selling point of the Tesla Solar Roof. Traditional solar panels cannot compete with this.

Save the environment: 

This applies equally to both Tesla Solar Roof and traditional solar panels.

If you would like to learn more about solar energy and its benefits, this article is for you. Here are 5 Positive Environmental Impact of Solar Energy.

Disadvantages of Tesla Solar Roof

More time for installation: 

As installing Tesla Solar Roof also involves removing the existing roof and installing solar shingles, it is a time-consuming process. While a traditional solar panel may require 5 hours to install, Tesla Solar Roof can take anywhere from 5 to 10 days or even more.

Hard to find a qualified installer: 

As Tesla is a relatively new product, there are not too many contractors competent enough to install solar roof. 

High labor cost: 

As more work is involved in installing Tesla Solar Roof, it also entails higher labor costs.

Less efficient: 

This is an eye-opener for many Tesla fans. As the solar cells are integrated into roof shingles, not the entire surface of the solar cell will be exposed to sunlight. The shingles need to overlap to prevent water from seeping in. Moreover, the solar roof tiles are placed at the existing slope and angle of the roof, which may not be ideal for exposure to sunlight and generating solar energy. Solar panels are not affected by these factors.

Limited portability: 

It is easier to dismantle solar panels and reinstall them in another location. With the Tesla Solar Roof, this would be almost impossible.

Higher chance of failure: 

As there need to be more solar shingles than solar panels for the same energy output, the chances of failure are higher for Tesla. 

Is it worth it to install a Tesla Solar Roof?

This is the ultimate question that a homeowner needs a definite answer for. 

After Tesla began selling the solar roof tile, numerous studies have been conducted comparing various aspects of Tesla Solar Roof and conventional solar panels. Almost all of them came to the same conclusion. Tesla Solar Roof is not worth the additional investment for an average homeowner. It doesn’t make any practical sense to install one.

Tesla Solar Roof is more expensive, harder and cumbersome to install, less productive and less efficient, is almost impossible to transfer to another home, and comes with an increased chance of failure. 

However, some homeowners may find its aesthetic appeal alluring. If the cost is an important factor, Tesla poses no competition to solar panels. 

Another issue to take into account is the notorious customer service offered by Tesla for its solar customers. There have been instances when customers had to wait for weeks for a response from Tesla after lodging a complaint.

The unreliability of Tesla is another factor to consider for potential buyers. Though Tesla started selling its solar roof tiles in 2016, it began installing them only in 2018. In 2020, they canceled pre-orders with prepaid deposits, citing that the location is not within their serviceable area. 

Tesla also has a track record of changing the price of solar roofs for homeowners with active contracts. 

This brings up the question of the trustworthiness of the 25-year lifespan and warranty promises by Tesla. Only time can tell how good the Tesla Solar Roof is.

If you are considering a Tesla Solar roof alternative, all the available choices in the market come with the same or worse issues and reviews. Another option for you to consider is Tesla solar panels. They also come with the same sleek look without most of the disadvantages of solar shingles. The good news is they are cheaper than traditional solar panels.

Bottom line

From afar, Tesla Solar Roof may seem like an attractive option for a homeowner who wants to go solar. The closer you get to it and understand the ins and outs, you would realize that there are far too many pitfalls and red flags to ignore. 

Before diving headlong into a contract with Tesla, weigh the pros and cons based on your individual situation. Get quotes from local solar contracts and compare various aspects before making the decision. 

Just remember that this is not a one-time purchase, but rather a 25-year-long commitment.

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