Complete guide to the Tesla solar roof
Individual panel prices
Prices of DIY kits
Installed system prices
Tesla and SolarCity announced the launch of the Tesla solar roof in 2016 with the expectation that it would become the solar system of the future. Fast-forward five years and people are still confused about what exactly it is and how much it costs.
The confusion is warranted - Tesla changes their minds about the solar roof more often than Elon Musk tweets (and that’s a lot).
In this article, we’re removing the mysterious veil that hangs over the Tesla solar roof and explaining everything from how it works and how much it costs, to whether or not it’s even worth buying.
One of the biggest issues homeowners have with solar panels is how they look. As a response, in 2016, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced Tesla Energy’s new product - the Tesla solar roof - on the set of then-popular television series Desperate Housewives of all places. That should have given us some sort of indication that the Tesla roof was probably going to be all for show.
The solar roof was designed to function as photovoltaic solar panels while seamlessly integrating into a roof. This way homeowners could still enjoy the benefits of solar energy, like electric bill savings and using clean energy, without having to sacrifice their home’s aesthetics.
In order to get a uniform look, a home’s entire roof is replaced with Tesla shingles. Not all of these shingles will generate electricity (we get into that a little later), but the whole roof will be covered in Tesla brand shingles.
At the end of October 2019, Tesla launched the Solar Roof V3, the latest iteration of the solar roof tiles. Unlike its predecessors, the new Tesla solar roof product comes in one style and consists of fewer parts.
Elon Musk was confident that the rollout of the new solar tiles would be the best version yet. The company planned to ramp up production at their Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York, and partner with local installers to help deploy more solar roofs than they had in the past.
A little over a year later, Musk wound up eating his words, admitting that the company had made “significant mistakes” with their solar roof project in Tesla’s Q1 2021 call.
Things started to turn sour for the solar roof in March 2021, when Tesla updated its solar roof pricing, making it even more expensive than before. They kept the cost per watt of solar the same, but the cost of the inactive tiles went up and now varied based on the complexity of a homeowner’s roof.
Then, just a month later, Tesla increased solar roof prices yet again. The real kicker is that Tesla didn’t just up their pricing for new solar roof orders: people who already signed contracts with Tesla saw their installation prices increase, as well.
In some cases, the new prices were 30% higher than the prices in their original contract! And the contract pricing issue wasn’t remedied until September 2021, a whole five months later, and only after a class action lawsuit was filed against the company.
The solar roof saw another big change this year when Elon Musk took to Twitter to announce that going forward, all Tesla solar roofs would need to be paired with Powerwalls. So, if you order a solar roof, you have to install a Powerwall, as well.
You can expect to spend anywhere from $35,000 to upwards of $70,000 for the installation of a Tesla solar roof. What goes into this cost is a little bit complicated. Many factors can influence what the total price will be, and honestly the pricing on Tesla’s website is incredibly vague. With that said, let’s get into it.
To cover the costs of a $150 monthly electric bill with a 2,000 square foot roof in California, Tesla recommends a 6.14 kilowatt solar roof with one Powerwall battery. According to their website, this Tesla solar roof system would cost between $48,200 and $63,070.
For the same home to cover a $150 bill in New Jersey, Tesla recommends a 10.26 kW solar roof with one Powerall battery, which will cost roughly between $55,600 and $70,470 to install.
These prices vary widely for a few reasons, one being system size. The more solar shingles needed to offset your electric bill, the more expensive the system will be. What size system you need is directly impacted by how much sunlight your home receives, which is why the home in sunny California can install a smaller system than the home in not-so-sunny New Jersey.
Another major reason why there’s such a wide range in pricing is because Tesla charges different prices depending on the complexity of your roof. The more complex a roof is, the more labor and materials are needed to replace it, thus leading to a higher price.
Tesla solar roof systems are designed entirely with Tesla-exclusive equipment. With every Tesla solar roof install you can expect at least these four things:
Here’s the breakdown of how each of these pieces of equipment contributes to the total price.
Cost: $1.80 per watt
Tesla’s active solar shingles are tempered glass shingles, containing solar cells that generate electricity. It costs about $1.80 per watt to install the active shingles. Each shingle is 15” by 45” and designed to have a similar look to slate shingles.
If you installed a 7 kW Tesla solar roof, the active shingles alone would cost $12,600 before incentives. The bigger the solar system you need, the higher the total price will be.
Cost: $13.30 per square foot - $20.75 per square foot
Tesla’s inactive shingles do not contain solar cells, they simply cover your roof like a traditional shingle and allow the active solar shingles to blend in with the rest of the roof. Because the inactive shingles do not generate electricity, they are priced per square foot, not per watt.
The price you’ll pay for the inactive shingles varies depending on how complex your roof is. Tesla divides roofs into three different complexity types, each with a very vague set of criteria:
Because Tesla essentially sets no baseline for what any of this means, it’s kind of hard to gauge what type your roof will be considered as until after you place your order with Tesla.
For example, OSHA considers a low pitch roof to have a slope of 4:12 or less. Anything above that is considered steep pitch. But is Tesla following OSHA standards? If they are, most roofs have a pitch between 4/12 and 9/12, so very few homes would actually qualify for simple complexity.
So, if the average home has a 1,700 square foot roof, it would cost between $22,610 and $35,275 for inactive shingles and roofing materials alone.
Tesla requires every solar roof to be paired with a Tesla Powerwall solar battery. The Powerwall costs $10,500 to install and can hold 13.5 kWh of electricity. For each additional Powerall, it will cost an additional $6,500 to install.
It’s a bit of a bummer that Tesla requires batteries with their installations, because for many homeowners it’s an unnecessary expense. Especially for those who live in an area with full-retail net metering - the Powerwall will provide almost no additional financial benefits.
Some homeowners have reported that Tesla charged them $2,000 to change the design of their system. For instance, if Tesla’s design puts the Powerwall outside of your house, but you ask them to install them in your garage instead, they might add a couple grand onto what you owe them.
There aren't any super clear guidelines or criteria on what constitutes a design change and when the fee would be implemented - or how seriously it’s enforced. It’s just good to keep in mind.
Tesla’s solar inverter converts the Direct Current (DC) electricity produced by the solar shingles into Alternating Current (AC) electricity home appliances need to run. The inverter is not outlined as a line item in Tesla’s system estimator, and they never released official pricing for it.
This likely just means the cost of the inverter is accounted for in either the cost for solar or for the Powerwall.
Tesla may require you to upgrade your electrical panel before they proceed with the installation. Tesla can do this for you, and have quoted prices for between $2,500 and $5,000. Tesla does not include this in your initial price estimate. You can choose to upgrade your panel with the certified electrician of your choice instead, which will likely be substantially cheaper than Tesla’s.
Yes, the portion of costs associated with the active solar shingles and the battery qualify for the 26% federal solar tax credit.
For example, if you have a $50,000 Tesla solar roof and $20,000 of it represents the cost of the inactive roofing materials, only the remaining $30,000 for the solar shingles and Powerwall would qualify for the federal tax credit. Once the 26% tax credit is considered, the solar and battery costs would drop to $22,200, and the total cost for the entire roof would fall to $42,200.
It’s easier to compare these costs with an example, so let’s dive in.
Let’s say you own a home in California with a simple complexity roof that’s roughly 2,000 square feet, and your average monthly electric bill is $200. Tesla would recommend installing a 8.18 kW solar roof with one Powerwall battery that would cost $51,800 before the federal tax credit, and about $45,248 after the tax credit.
An 8.18 kW conventional solar panel system with one battery would cost about $35,040 before the tax credit, and $25,929 after the tax credit based on the average cost of solar in the U.S. This solar-plus-battery system is cheaper than the Tesla solar roof on its own, but the solar roof isn’t just a solar panel installation - it also includes the cost of getting a new roof.
So, how much is a traditional roof replacement? Well, let’s say you use architectural asphalt shingles that cost around $8.00 per square foot including installation; it could cost about $16,000 to reroof the entire roof. That would bring the total cost of installing conventional solar panels and completing a roof replacement to $41,929.
In this example, the Tesla solar roof is a little over $3,000 more expensive than the conventional panels and roof replacement. It’s not that big of a difference. But, if your roof ends up being more complex, the solar roof system would cost you another $14,870, making the difference even more stark.
Another thing you want to consider when comparing the Tesla solar roof and conventional solar panels are the warranties.
Tesla’s solar roof comes with three different warranties:
Most shingles today offer warranties with structures similar to Tesla’s, however, they tend to be longer with a higher percentage of costs being covered in the prorated period. In other words, you can probably find a better warranty when you buy conventional shingles.
The Tesla solar roof isn’t that much more expensive than a conventional roof replacement and solar panel installation. Depending on the scenario, the solar roof could actually end up being cheaper! If the slight cost difference doesn’t matter to you and you need to replace your roof, then maybe it’s worthwhile to get the solar roof.
But we’re not so sure the Tesla solar roof is the right way to go solar, even if the price is competitive. For one thing, Tesla is notorious for having subpar customer service for their energy division, which is reflected on SolarReviews. People have reported waiting weeks to hear back from their Tesla advisors if there is an issue with their system.
Tesla is also extremely unreliable. Despite being introduced in 2016, Tesla didn’t start installing solar roofs until 2018, and it’s still unknown how many have actually been installed. Then in mid-2020, Tesla started canceling solar roof preorders after homeowners had paid their deposits - claiming the sites weren’t within their service territory.
And don’t forget about those lawsuits we mentioned earlier: Tesla changed the prices of solar roof installations after homeowners already signed contracts. If you can’t even trust that they’ll honor the contract - what can you trust them about?
The bottom line is even if the Tesla solar roof does seem like a competitive option for those looking to switch to solar in theory, in reality it raises some pretty big red flags. Before you dive headfirst into a $30,000+ deal with Tesla, you should consider getting quotes from solar installers in your area for conventional solar systems.
Reputable local solar installers will be able to provide you with a more personalized installation experience, and will be there to support you for the 25-year lifespan of your system.
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