Many homeowners intrigued by the idea of using their roof to generate power are turned off by the look of the ugly black solar panels they’d need to install. Though renewable energy is surely good for the planet, solar panels aren’t known for their curb appeal.
That could change soon. In October 2016, the CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, announced his company’s plan to acquire SolarCity, a solar panel company, and to start manufacturing and selling solar roof tiles that would be much more attractive than the traditional solar panels. “The key is to make solar look good,” Musk said.
But beauty comes at a price, and it’s a high one in this case. Tesla estimates that replacing an average 3,000-square-foot roof with a Solar Roof could cost $65,550. Is that money a homeowner will make back over time? Read on for everything you need to know about Tesla’s Solar Roof:
Photography via Tesla.
How does the Tesla Solar Roof Work?
No more boxy black panels! Tesla’s Solar Roof looks just any other roof, with no hardware to be seen.
Tempered glass tiles replace traditional roofing materials. Two styles are available as of June 2017: “Textured” (black tiles that resemble asphalt shingles) and “Smooth” (gray tiles for a streamlined look). Two more styles will hit the market in 2018: “Tuscan” (a terra cotta look) and “Slate.” The solar panel tiles are mixed with non-solar tiles on the roof; while the solar ones cost more than non-solar, the two are indistinguishable from each other after they’re installed.
Are Tesla roof tiles available?
Tesla is currently taking $1,000 deposits for the first two styles; delivery, which started on June 1, is rolling out from California across the country.
How long will it take to install a Tesla Solar Roof?
According to the company, five to seven days—about the same as installing a traditional roof.
How durable is the Solar Roof?
The tiles may be made of glass, but they couldn’t be much tougher. Tesla’s warranty covers them for the lifetime of your house—or infinity, “whichever comes first.” The tiles get the highest possible ratings for hail, wind, and fire; according to Tesla, they’re “three times stronger than standard roofing tiles.”
Will I save money with Tesla’s Solar Roof?
A lot of variables are involved. But there’s a handy calculator on the Tesla site where you can enter your address to find out how many dollars worth of energy your Solar Roof will generate over 30 years (it estimates the average price of energy in your area and adjusts for inflation). A chart deducts the estimated cost of your Solar Roof, including materials and installation, and the Powerwall battery, which stores electricity generated by the roof during the day (so you’ll have power when the sun’s not shining). The chart then factors in the current 30 percent Solar Investment Tax Credit to end up with the “Net earned over 30 years.”
To determine what percentage of your roof tiles needs to be solar, the calculator considers the size of your roof and the average amount of sunlight your neighborhood gets. You can even customize the calculations by entering the average amount of your monthly electric bill so the calculator can take your power usage into consideration.
As for that federal tax credit for residential solar installations, the clock is ticking: The tax credit is being phased out, dropping to 26 percent in 2020, 22 percent in 2021, and zero after that.
Is the Solar Roof really worth it?
According to Tesla, a typical homeowner could expect to pay $21.85 per square foot to replace a 3,000-square-foot roof with a Solar Roof that’s 35 percent solar tiles—for a total of $65,550. (That price is before tax credits; also, it’s possible that a roof might need to be 70 percent solar tiles.)
That puts the upfront cost of the Solar Roof higher than a traditional roof, but Tesla asserts that the price tag is more than offset by the value of the energy the tiles generate. The amount saved in electrical bills will often—eventually—be more than the cost of the roof. And, as Tesla says, the homeowners will “benefit from a beautiful new roof that also increases the value of their home.”
An article in Consumer Reports in May 2017, “Doing the Math on Tesla’s Solar Roof,” investigates Tesla’s claims. Author Paul Hope describes the online cost calculator and writes, “If Tesla’s math is correct, it seems that in many cases the roof would more than pay for itself in electricity savings over the 30-year life of the warranty.” But he then points out that “Tesla’s calculator relies upon some important assumptions and predictions that delve deep into the economy of residential solar power in the U.S.”
After crunching the numbers for three houses in different parts of the country, Hope concludes that “for some houses, the potential savings do seem to make a lot of sense—again, assuming Tesla’s projections are accurate.” But homeowners must consider other factors, such as how they’ll finance the initial cost—if a loan is required, what will the interest costs be? Then there’s the question of how long they’ll be in their current home (30 years certainly isn’t typical), when they last replaced the roof, and how effective the Solar Roof will actually be (Hope reminds us that Consumer Reports didn’t run its own tests).
As for your own situation, your house’s location and other factors also have a bearing. The solar calculator at Google’s Project Sunroof will tell you how many hours of usable sunlight your home gets in a year. Overhanging trees and large adjacent buildings also affect feasibility.
All in all, you’ll need to run the numbers and weigh your options before making a decision. The benefit to the environment can’t be calculated in dollar signs—but it’s surely undeniable. And your shift to clean energy might well inspire others in your community to follow. As global warming escalates, a snowball effect could only be a good thing.
N.B.: If you’ve been thinking about converting to solar energy, get the basics by reading Hardscaping 101: Solar Panels Pros and Cons. And read about more roof options at:
- Hardscaping 101: Green Roofs.
- Roof Gardens: 10 Simple Layouts.
- Hardscaping 101: Wood Shake and Shingle Roofs.