Solar roof tiles are a great way to take advantage of solar energy without putting large panels on your roof. Here's what you should know about installing them.

In the realm of solar power, few things are quite as distinct as solar roof tiles - a relatively new invention that combines the appearance of a standard roof with the generating power of solar panels. In this guide, we're going to go over the benefits of shingles, some drawbacks to keep in mind, and then we'll talk about installing them.

The Benefits Of Solar Roof Tiles

There are two primary benefits to solar roof tiles.

First, they look similar to standard shingles. This makes them an excellent choice when you want to take advantage of solar power without installing a large panel or two on your roof. For that matter, some tightly-controlled areas don't allow visible solar panels, making these shingles the only viable option.

Second, solar roof tiles are extremely tough as a roofing material. The main reason for this is that a layer of quartz glass, which is considerably stronger than normal glass, protects them. As exposed outdoor fixtures, solar panels need to be strong enough to withstand practically any weather, so the tiles are among the most durable materials for a roof.

The third benefit - generating solar power - is so evident that it doesn't count for this list.

But Before You Decide To Install Them...

There are a few drawbacks to keep in mind when installing solar roof tiles.

First, they're only helpful on houses that get a lot of sunlight. Many homes have a sunny side that gets most of the light throughout the day, and that's the only place where you should install these tiles. However, if your house isn't angled the right way, the fixed position of the tiles might make them a poor choice. The only way to know if this applies to you is to get a professional evaluation.

Second, the tiles are more expensive than a traditional solar array. Various tax credits and incentives offset this, but solar tiles are still significantly more costly than a standard roof tile.

Finally, it's a bad idea to install them except when your roof needs replacing. If you tear out an old roof early, you could be losing thousands of dollars in lingering value. Solar roof tiles will bring your electricity costs down, but if you install them too soon, you might end up losing more than you save.

Standard solar panels avoid most of these problems. Frankly, the only reason to choose tiles over traditional panels is their appearance. This may change if the cost of the tiles comes down.

Installing Solar Roof Tiles

Now that you know more about the positives and negatives of solar roof tiles let's look at the process of installing them.

​Step One: Do Your Background Work

Aside from ensuring you get enough sunlight, there are a few more things to do.

First, measure the space on your roof. You'll need at least 300 square feet of tiles to get an appreciable amount of power. Remember, you probably won't be covering your entire roof in tiles - just the sunny sides. If you don't have enough space for the tiles, there's no point in going any further or paying for permits - that's why we measure the roof before anything else.

Next, check the building codes with your local government. You want to speak to a code enforcement officer - they may not know the answer off the top of their heads, but they can check to make sure you're allowed to add solar shingles.

If you're not, it's possible your municipality hasn't updated their codes yet. As a citizen, you can petition for them to take up the issue and allow it. Most areas have no objections to this, so it shouldn't be difficult. However, it may take a few weeks to go through the usual process for new codes, so you'll have to be patient.

Step Two: Install Your Solar Roof Tiles

Your solar system - including the battery pack, meters, and whatever else your system includes - should be set up and ready to go before you begin putting solar tiles on. The reason for this is simple: we want to make sure the overall system works before you start paying for (expensive) solar panels.

This may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Chances are you'll need to call someone out and have them do a final inspection of the system to ensure it's up to code, and depending on where you are, that can take some time.

Step Three: Gather Your Supplies

You need six things to install solar roof tiles properly.

First is a ladder tall enough to let you comfortably reach each part of your roof. Injuries from falling are a serious threat when roofing, and many of the worst falls come from problems with the ladder. We strongly recommend using an auto-stabilizing ladder, preferably with extra legs for stability. Even better, you should have someone hold the ladder in place whenever you're using it.

Do not take any chances when you're installing the panels. The last thing you need is expensive new medical bills caused by your attempt to save money on your electricity bills.

Next, you'll need a nail gun and some nails to go with it. You'll use these to install the things you're putting on your roof. Make sure you get proper roofing nails - those used for other projects won't be anywhere near as good.

After that, you need felt sheeting, which is widely available in roofing and home supply stores. Roofing felt is required in most areas - and a smart investment, too. This layer helps repel water and ensure your home doesn't suffer leaks. It can also help your house avoid rot, mold, and various other problems.

You'll also need the solar wiring. This may or may not come with the solar shingles - it usually does, but check to make sure. Any company selling the tiles is probably selling a compatible wiring system to go with them. In many ways, this is the most important thing of all - after all, there's not much point in installing solar tiles unless you can receive the energy from them.

Finally, you need the solar roof tiles of your choice. Tesla is currently the most well-known company selling these, but it's not the only manufacturer. You should already know which tiles you want to buy. They may need to be delivered, and that will eat up a little more time.

solar roof tiles

Step Four: Remove Your Old Roof

Call a dump truck or portable disposal unit, because you're going to need them. When you're ready to replace your roof (and the weather will be good long enough to get this done), it's time to start pulling out the old tiles.

Double-check the age of your roof before you do this. Many roofs built before 1975 contain asbestos as an anti-fire component. You'll need to take extra steps to protect yourself if you're removing one of these roofs.

Try to avoid damaging the existing structure of the roof as much as possible. Some roof tiles - especially those made with concrete or clay - are recyclable. If you're removing these, talk to your area's recycling centers and see if any of them are interested in the old materials.

Be sure to watch your step and note any areas that can't support your weight.

Step Five: Add The New Felt Sheeting

This is an easy part. Once the old roof is gone, roll out the felt you bought earlier and lock it in place at the corners and the seams. You only need a few nails to do this. If there are some weak areas of your roof that the felt will hide, consider marking them with a pen or a bit of spray paint. There is no such thing as being too careful when working on a roof.

Step Six: Add The Solar Wiring

Add the solar wiring to your roof, following the instructions provided with the wires. You may need to drill holes or weave the wires through the surface you're covering. Start at the top of your roof and slowly work your way down to the bottom tiles. Be particularly careful if you need to work from the ladder.

Step Seven: Add And Wire The Tiles

Begin installing the solar roof tiles per their instructions - this is usually nailing them in a specific spot. Doublecheck the installation and wiring instructions to see when to hook the tiles up. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to finish nailing them down, only to realize you should have connected the wires first. We want to avoid that.

Check each connection to be sure it's working. If you're not confident in doing this, have an electrician come out and check the connections for you.

Step Eight: Perform A Final Visual Inspection

This doesn't mean 'admire the roof from a distance.' Instead, you should scrutinize each tile to be sure it's locked in place, installed correctly, and generally as it should be.


Congratulations - you're done!

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