What Are Solar Shingles?

solar shingle

Leonardo da Vinci predicted industrial solar use in 1447. He used “burning mirrors” to focus the sun’s energy and heat objects. Today, our use of solar looks quite different. DOW Chemical Company released the first solar shingles in 2011. But, what are solar shingles and how do they work?

Read on to discover how these technologically advanced shingles can lower your carbon footprint and save you an average of $1,587 annually on your utility bills. 

What Are Solar Shingles?

Solar shingles on a roof
Photo Credit: ben west / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

At their most basic, solar shingles, also known as solar roof tiles, are small solar panels integrated into a conventional roofing system. They are thin photovoltaic sheets, or solar cells, that absorb the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity to power your home. 

These shingles look and perform like traditional asphalt shingles, protecting you and your home from the elements while saving you money on your electricity bill. Many companies continue to develop solar shingles to integrate with other popular roofing materials like wood shakes and concrete, clay, and slate tiles. 

Solar shingles are a building-integrated photovoltaic component of your roof. A professional roofer can install them on top of your existing asphalt shingles, or they can install a new solar roof system if it is time to replace your roof. Some companies, like Tesla, only offer complete solar power systems with no re-roofing option. 

How Do Solar Shingles Work?

how solar power works

Solar shingle roofs work the same way as standard solar panel systems, harnessing the flow of electrons released when sunlight hits a semiconducting material. 

The sun shines on the shingle, which absorbs the light through photovoltaic cells. The photovoltaic cells lay between layers of semiconducting material like silicon. When hit with sunlight, the semiconductor energizes, creating an electric field. 

All solar roofs have an inverter and generate direct currents. The direct current passes through the inverter, which converts the direct current into alternating current to be used by your home, stored in your solar battery bank, or fed back into the national electricity grid.

How Are Solar Shingles Different From Solar Panels?

Solar shingles and solar panels are building-integrated photovoltaics. All BIPVs convert the sun’s energy into electricity and have the same net metering policies – rules overseeing utility credits for excess energy sent back to the grid. 

Photovoltaic devices can power anything from a small calculator to a jumbo jet, and, if there are enough of them, they can produce 100% of a building’s electricity, working anywhere, even in gray, overcast climates.

Solar panels have one function: to generate electricity. 

Solar shingles have a dual purpose: to generate electricity and protect you from the elements like regular roofing shingles. The chief advantage of solar shingles is largely an aesthetic one. Because they are an integrated roof component, from a distance they look like ordinary shingles.

Some other key differences include:

Solar ShinglesSolar Panels
AvailabilityLimitedMost regions
Cost$49,700 on average$20,000 on average
Durability25-30 years25-30 years
Roof TypeRoof replacement or asphalt shingles re-roofingMost roofing materials
Size12 inches x 86 inches and less than 1 inch thick39 inches x 65 inches
Weight13 pounds per square foot40 pounds each
InstallationStarting at 1 weekLess than 1 day
Output13 to 63 watts per shingle250 to 400 watts per panel

How Are Solar Shingles Installed?

Solar shingles require a labor-intensive, specialized installation. Individual shingles are typically 12 inches wide by 86 inches long and weigh 13 pounds per square foot. They are considerably longer and heavier than regular shingles which average 12 inches by 36 inches and weigh approximately 5 pounds per square foot. 

Unlike solar panels, solar shingles do not require a mounting system or rack. Professional roofers attach the shingles directly to your roof deck, and a licensed electrician wires the shingles. It typically takes 350 tiles for an average installation, saving you between 40% to 70% on your utility bills. 

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.  

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, weather-resistant, and have a long lifespan, however, they are a relatively new and expensive technology. 

Reduce utility costs
Clean, independent energy
Increase property and resale values
Long lifespan
Weather- and fire-resistant
Sleek, modern aesthetics

𐤕 Expensive
𐤕 Limited availability
𐤕 Require specialized installation
𐤕 Slow return on investment
𐤕 Lower output
𐤕 Higher failure rate
𐤕 New technology

Cost of Solar Shingles

With household solar, research suggests homeowners prefer a sleeker, more low-profile design, and they will pay a higher price tag to get it. Solar shingles are the most expensive roofing material on the market. 

Factors affecting the cost of solar shingle installation include brand, roof type, location, and installation costs. The average cost of a solar roof is between $40,000 to $60,000 before the federal solar tax credit.  

Cost Per Installed WattCost Per Installed Square FootNational Average With Labor
Solar Shingles$3 to $8$15 to $25$49,700
Tesla Solar RoofStarts at $5.50$35$75,000 to $115,000
CertainTeed Apollo II$6.40$17 to $27$47,000 to $75,000
SunTegraStarts at $4.80$15 to $21$42,000 to $60,000
Luma$4.40Up to $38$43,000
GAF Energy Timberline Solar$3 to $5$15 to $20$42,000

Are Solar Shingles Right for Your Home?

When compared with traditional solar panels, solar shingles are still new and expensive. However, they are worth considering if you need a total roof replacement, and many states are requiring solar systems for all new residential construction

When deciding whether solar panels or solar shingles are right for your home, consider the following factors: 

  • Budget: Solar panel installation is more cost-effective than solar shingles.
  • Location: You cannot adjust the angle of solar shingles, and snow and ice slide off the surface of traditional panels more easily.
  • Availability: Solar panels are available in most locations, but solar panel manufacturers and installers are more scarce.  

FAQ About Solar Shingles

Do solar shingles qualify for incentives or rebates? 

Solar shingles and solar panels are eligible for government tax credits. Systems 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. 

Can I DIY install solar shingles?

No. Solar shingles are part of a new roof system or installed over your existing roofing materials and require professional installation and wiring. 

How long do solar shingles last? 

Solar shingles last longer than asphalt shingles and maintain maximum output and efficiency for 25 to 30 years. Longevity depends on the manufacturer, and solar companies offer their own warranties.
Be sure to check with your shingle manufacturer to understand your warranty. 

Solar Roof Installation Next Steps

Clean energy is the way of the future and solar is shining bright. Just one hour of sunlight is equivalent to one year’s worth of solar energy for the entire planet.  

If you are in the market for a new roof and want to reduce your carbon footprint, contact a LawnStarter roofing pro to learn about the solar process and materials for your next big project. 

Main Image Credit: aginaw Future Inc / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Kimberly Magerl

Kimberly Magerl

Born and raised in Springfield, Illinois, Kimberly Magerl enjoys growing fruits and vegetables in her garden. When she isn't gardening, Kimberly enjoys trying new recipes and cooking with her home-grown herbs.