As electricity costs continue to rise, more homeowners are going solar to decrease their energy bills. The U.S. is the third-largest solar energy market in the world, and with the decreasing cost of solar technology, nearly 4% of homes have solar panels. We compare two forms of solar roofing – solar shingles vs. solar panels – and look at factors like cost, durability, availability, installation, and more to help you decide which is right for you.
- What Are Solar Roof Shingles?
- What Are Solar Panels?
- How Do Solar Shingles and Solar Panels Work?
- What Are the Differences Between Solar Shingles and Solar Panels?
- Pros and Cons of Solar Shingles
- Pros and Cons of Solar Panels
- When to Use Solar Shingles vs. Solar Panels
- FAQ About the Difference Between Solar Shingles and Solar Panels
- How to Decide Between Solar Shingles and Solar Panels
What Are Solar Roof Shingles?
Solar shingles, also known as solar roof tiles, are thin photovoltaic panels that absorb the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity to power your home. These shingles perform like traditional roofing materials, protecting you and your home from the elements while saving you money on your electric bill.
Solar shingles can be installed on top of your existing asphalt shingles, or a new solar roof system can be installed if it is time to replace your roof. Some companies, like Tesla, only offer solar roof systems.
What Are Solar Panels?
Traditional solar panels are simply a larger version of a solar shingle. They are a collection of solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells, that harness the sun’s rays and convert them into electricity.
How Do Solar Shingles and Solar Panels Work?
Conventional solar panels and solar shingles work on the same technology. Solar shingles are smaller and designed to mimic the aesthetics of traditional roofing materials.
The sun shines on the solar panel or shingle, which absorbs the light through photovoltaic cells. The photovoltaic cells lay between layers of semiconducting material like silicon. When hit with sunlight, the material energizes, creating an electric field.
All solar panels and solar shingles pair with an inverter. Solar roofs generate direct currents. The direct current passes through the inverter and is converted into alternating current to be used by your home, stored in your solar battery bank, or fed back into the national electricity grid.
What Are the Differences Between Solar Shingles and Solar Panels?
All building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) work in the same way, converting energy from the sun into electricity and have the same net metering policies, rules overseeing utility credits for excess energy sent back to the grid. However, solar panels are just one component of a roof, while solar shingles are an entire roof system.
3,000 megawatts of residential solar power were installed in 2020. However, only 1% were solar shingles, which are still in their infancy. Limited production and brands make availability scarce, and many regions do not have access to solar tiles.
Solar panel systems are available for installation in most areas. While most states have a solar energy presence, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming account for less than 1% of U.S. solar customers, and western states have the highest percentages of users.
Factors affecting the cost of solar shingle installation include brand, roof type, and installation costs. A solar roof costs between $40,000 to $60,000 before the federal solar tax credit.
|Cost Per Installed Watt||Cost Per Installed Square Foot||National Average With Labor|
|Solar Shingles||$3 to $8||$15 to $25||$49,700|
|Tesla Solar Roof||Starts at $5.50||$35||$75,000 to $115,000|
|CertainTeed||$6.40||$17 to $27||$47,000 to $75,000|
|SunTegra||Starts at $4.80||$15 to $21||$42,000 to $60,000|
|GAF||$3 to $5||$15 to $20||$42,000|
Solar panel installation is a more cost-effective solar energy system, costing between $15,000 to $26,000. However, unlike solar shingles, solar panels are a roof upgrade and require a roof in good condition.
|Cost Per Installed Watt||National Average With Labor|
|Solar Panels||$2.50 to $3.50||$20,000|
|Tesla Solar Panels||$2 to $2.75||$10,500 to $18,000|
|CertainTeed||$3.10||$14,000 to $17,000|
|SunTegra||$3||$13,000 to $16,000|
Solar shingles have a longer lifespan than traditional asphalt shingles. These solar roofs will maintain their energy efficiency for approximately 25 to 30 years. Weather- and fire-resistant varieties are available.
Longevity often depends on the manufacturer, and solar companies offer their own warranties. For example, Tesla solar shingles come with a 30-year warranty. Be sure to check with your shingle manufacturer to understand your warranty.
Like solar shingles, solar panels last 25 to 30 years at maximum energy production. After the projected lifespan, energy output decreases significantly.
Solar shingles protect your home like traditional shingles. They are more attractive and less bulky than solar panels and blend into your roofing materials. Many homeowners prefer the sleek look of solar tiles.
Solar panel installation offers a more cost-effective clean energy source for your home with an aesthetic tradeoff. Traditional solar panels are much larger and bulkier than solar tiles. However, since the rise of solar panels in 2008, panel design has come a long way.
Standard and nonstandard designs are available from many manufacturers to increase design aesthetics. Additionally, in-roof mounting is also available but will significantly increase the cost.
Solar shingles are best suited for new construction or roof replacement, working best on roofs with maximum sun exposure and surface area. Unlike solar panels, solar tiles cannot be angled to catch the sun. Typical solar shingles replace standard asphalt shingles, however, many manufacturers also make tile and wood shingle alternatives.
Roofing companies can mount solar panels on most roof types and materials, including metal, wood, and rubber. They are ideal for existing construction, and the angles can be adjusted to catch the sun for maximum energy efficiency.
Solar shingles are light and flexible, weighing approximately 13 pounds per square foot and do not need additional structural support. They are the same size as traditional shingles, averaging 12 inches wide by 86 inches long and are less than 1 inch thick.
Solar panels are much larger and heavier than solar shingles. On average, residential panels are 65 inches long by 39 inches wide and weigh around 40 pounds. Unless your roof is on the older side, it is likely its structure can support the weight of solar panels without additional support.
If your existing roof is in good condition, solar roof installation can take as little as one week to install over your traditional materials. However, if you are replacing your roof, it can take two or more weeks to install, depending on your roofing company.
Panels are easy to install with professional installation taking less than a day.
Maintenance and Repairs
Both solar panels and solar shingles are relatively low-maintenance. You should perform an annual inspection and cleaning.
When cleaning your roof, never use a pressure washer, no matter its material. Instead, wash the surface with a gentle, low-pressure spray and a commercial detergent designed for roofs to remove dirt and debris and increase energy efficiency.
Efficiency and Output
Solar shingles are less efficient than traditional panels. Constricted airflow underneath the shingles decreases energy efficiency. Most solar tiles produce between 13 to 63 watts of power. A typical installation setup lowers residential utility bills by 40% to 70%.
Solar panels are more efficient than solar shingles. They can be adjusted to capture the best angle of the sun and produce between 250 to 400 watts of power per panel. A standard residential installation lowers energy bills by 90%.
Solar upgrades are eligible for a government tax credit. Solar roofs installed between 2020 and 2021 are eligible for a 26% tax credit, while those installed between 2022 to 2032 are eligible for a 30% credit. There is no maximum amount a homeowner can claim and expenses include:
- Solar panels or cells
- Contractor labor costs, including permitting fees and inspection costs
- Balancing equipment, including wiring, mounting equipment, and inverters
- Energy storage devices with a capacity rating of 3 kilowatt-hours or greater
- Sales tax on expenses
Many states also have policies governing renewable energy, offering their own incentives and rebates.
Pros and Cons of Solar Shingles
Solar shingles are a great way to harness the power of the sun to produce clean, independent energy. They are sleek, low-maintenance, and weather-resistant. However, the relatively new technology is expensive, limited to certain regions of the U.S., and has a lower output than traditional solar panels.
| ✔ Clean, independent energy|
✔ Increase property and resale value
✔ Reduce utility costs
✔ Sleek, modern aesthetics
✔ Weather- and fire-resistant
| ✘ Limited availability|
✘ Lower output
✘ Higher failure rate
✘ New technology
Pros and Cons of Solar Panels
Solar roofs increase your home’s value by $20 for every $1 reduction in your annual energy costs. Solar panels are low-maintenance and readily available. However, the technology is heavy and upfront costs are steep.
| ✔ Clean, independent energy|
✔ Increase property and resale value
✔ Available in most states
✔ Reduce utility costs
| ✘ Heavy, may require structural support|
✘ Requires a large surface area
✘ High upfront costs
✘ Bulky aesthetics
When to Use Solar Shingles vs. Solar Panels
There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding between solar shingles and solar panels. The condition of your roof and the availability of solar technologies in your area play a large role in your decision. Three primary factors affecting your choice include:
- Cost: Solar shingles cost more than solar panels.
- Energy-efficiency: Solar panels are more energy efficient than solar shingles.
- Roof condition: If you are replacing your roof, solar shingles may be a better option as they are an entire roof system, whereas solar panels are a roof upgrade.
FAQ About the Difference Between Solar Shingles and Solar Panels
Yes, solar roof systems will work on cloudy days. They only need a visible light spectrum. If it is light enough for you to see, your solar energy source can generate electricity. However, the stronger the sunlight, the more power your panels or shingles will generate.
Your solar panels or shingles. However, your solar roof cannot convert the sun’s rays into power when covered. Solar panels are tilted and angled toward the sun, allowing snow and ice to slide off their surface, making them a better choice for snowy regions.
No. Solar shingles and solar panels need to be installed by a professional solar provider. Solar shingles are part of a new roof system or installed over your existing roofing materials. While some manufacturers make DIY solar panel installation kits, these kits differ from professional solar panel installation and do not hook up to the national electricity grid or qualify for incentives.
How to Decide Between Solar Shingles and Solar Panels
You don’t have to live in the Sunshine State to benefit from solar energy. Solar power is the fastest-growing energy source in the world, and it continues to increase in efficiency and decrease in cost.
If you’re stuck deciding between solar shingles or solar panels, contact a LawnStarter roofing professional to discuss the best options for your home and budget.
Main Image Credit: Photo illustration using Shutterstock and RawPixel photos.