No doubt, you’re as excited as we are about Tesla’s May 2017 announcement that it was collecting deposits for its new SolarCity solar shingles. But did you know that Elon Musk didn’t invent solar shingles?

Solar panel and even solar shingles have been around for some time, and if you’re interested in installing them in your own home, you’re not limited to SolarCity. Below, we’re sharing the information you need to know about solar shingles!

What Are Solar Shingles, and How Are They Different From Solar Panels?

Solar shingles are photovoltaic shingles; they are solar panels that integrate into traditional roofing materials aesthetically and functionally. While the more common solar panels sit on top of the roof and are quite obvious, solar shingles blend in.

While they look different solar shingles and solar panels both do the same thing: capture solar energy from the sun and transfer it to a battery. As such, you can install them on a variety of homes in a variety of different climates.

A Better Looking Solar Shingle?

However, they are not complete dupes for roofing materials. One of the reasons Tesla made such a splash with its announcement was that its new panels looked almost identical to beautiful, expensive roofing materials, such as Tuscan roof tiles and grey slate.

Solar shingle is an example of a type of building material known as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). BIPV is more and more popular in new commercial and residential buildings because builders don’t need to build a building and then retrofit it for solar power. Instead, builders can integrate BIPV right into construction, saving time, money, and material.

While shingles and panels differ by brand, the main differences between the two are as follows:

  • Typically, you’ll use it on a new build or when a roof replacement is required (you won’t typically install shingles on a roof that still has years of wear left)
  • It's less obvious (though can still be seen), while solar panels stick out like a sore thumb, according to some people.

Why Install Solar Shingles?

There are a ton of great reasons to install any kind of solar system on your roof--be it solar shingles or solar panels--but a solar roof, in particular, can benefit you in a variety of ways. For starters, it can help you save some serious money on your electricity costs.

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Source: Pexels

Huge Potential Savings

Energy costs vary dramatically from region to region and depend heavily on depend and types of energy available local. Energy costs are also impacted by demand--if you’re in a very hot climate or a very cold climate, your energy requirement is much higher than if you lived in a very mild or temperate climate.

The energy you need also depends on the square footage of your house, its age, and energy efficiency, and whether or not you’re charging things like electric vehicles. So, energy savings from installing solar shingles can vary from person to person, but some estimates put possible savings on your electric bill as high as 70%. For some people, that’s some serious savings!

Smaller Carbon Footprint

Another benefit is a lowered reliance on fossil fuels and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re reading this and you live in the United States, your energy needs are most likely met via some kind of non-renewable energy sources, such as natural gas or coal.

Reducing your environmental impact (and therefore, your carbon footprint), means you’re helping to keep your corner of the earth clean.

Solar Shingles Are More Efficient

The efficiency of the solar shingle system, itself, depends on the unit you buy and how it’s installed, but use solar panels is bulky, time-consuming, and doing twice the work--not only do you have to be concerned about your roof, but you also have to be concerned about your panels.

If you opt for shingles, however, you’re “one and done.” You can determine the percentage of your roof that’s outfitted with it, and the rest is outfitted with regular roofing tiles. Most solar shingles can be installed like roofing tiles, right onto roofing paper, without any special preparation.

Solar shingles also make roof repairs much simpler; if you have panels and you end up needing a new roof or a roof repair, you’ll have to hire somebody to remove the panels until the roofing job is completed, and then reinstall them. With it, you simply replace the area that needs repair.

Great Aesthetics

Let’s face it--they have some serious panache, thanks to their space-age sleekness and modern aesthetics. There’s no doubt a solar shingle installation turns heads, and that might even extend to upping the value on your home, especially since most people are even less familiar with solar shingle than they are with solar panels.

To learn more about whether or not they will make a difference in your home’s resale value, check with a local realtor.

solar shingles on top of a building

Source: Pexels

What Are the Cons of Installing Solar Shingles?

As with anything, the solar shingle also has its downsides.

Expensive Upfront

There’s no way around it; it can be quite expensive. Costs are determined by the solar shingle maker you choose, the square footage of your house, and the battery and inverter you select, but it can take years before you begin to offset your initial investment.

Fortunately, there are a variety of tax credits currently available, and many companies offer very generous payment plans that might even make your monthly payment plan lower than your current electric bill.

You Might Not Like the Style

They are modern and sleek looking, but if you’re going for any other style (quaint village rustic farmhouse for example), you might not want it on your roof. And while Tesla’s SolarCity panels are beautiful, they’re still not in production.

How Environmentally Friendly Are They?

As much as we’d like to think that solar shingle is environmentally friendly, the truth is more complicated. While they can help us reduce our emissions, production of the photovoltaic cells raises lots of concerns. The production of solar panels often uses toxic chemicals, and there’s no way to recycle them.

clear light bulb planter on gray rock

Source: Pexels

Depending on Where You Live, They Might Not Be Enough

If you get lots of sun where you live, it might be enough to cover all your electricity needs and then some, but if you don’t get many days of sun or battle extremely high amounts of cloud cover, it might not be worth the investment.

Over time, we expect technology to get better and better and make a lot out of a little, but until then, you’ll have to work carefully with solar experts in your area to determine if your house (and your roof’s pitch and direction) is ideal.

Repairs Are Difficult

If your roof starts leaking or you sustain damage from a natural disaster, it’s relatively easy to find an affordable roofing company to repair. This is not necessarily the case with solar shingles, however. If you’re considering installing them, you should make a point of finding out how many roofing companies in your area are qualified to work them.

They Might Cost More

This is an obvious concern in the case of, say, a Tesla solar roof, but it might also be a concern when you’re going with one of the largest makers, Dell, and its Powerhouse line.

Less Efficient

Again, the technology on this seems to be changing by the minute, but for now, most solar shingles is less efficient than solar panels. This might not be enough to make a difference for you, but if you’re fighting cloud cover, for example, you’ll need all the help you can get.

It also can only be installed on roofs. If you need extra square footage energy that isn’t positioned on a roof, you’ll need to stick to panels.

What Should I Look for in a Solar Shingle?

If you’re installing, you should have two priorities: going with a reputable solar energy brand (Dow Powerhouse and CertainTeed are two of the biggest players currently) and choosing a reliable energy expert.

Most firms today walk you through the whole promise, from setup and purchase to rebate application to warranty. They have experts who should be able to help you make decisions make in your home, needs, and preferences.

The Bottom Line

Solar shingles can mean a lot of money up front and some serious research to make sure you’re doing it right, but the potential payoff is big. Here’s to a sunny future!

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