Complete guide to the Tesla Solar Roof: is it better than installing solar panels?
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 six 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.
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 like 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. Tesla Solar Roofs generally include three pieces of equipment: active solar shingles, inactive shingles, and a Tesla solar inverter.
You can expect to spend anywhere from $35,000 to upwards of $70,000 for the installation of a Tesla Solar Roof. With that said, there’s a lot that goes into the cost, making it a bit complicated to figure out what exactly you’re being charged for and why.
And if we’re being honest, the way Tesla displays the pricing line items can be a bit tricky to navigate. That’s why we’ve broken down what factors influence the price and explain what exactly you’re paying for.
Tesla Solar Roof systems are designed entirely with Tesla-exclusive equipment. The total cost of a Solar Roof installation consists of three main components:
Here’s the breakdown of how each one of these contributes to the final price:
Cost: $1.80 per watt
Tesla’s active solar shingles are tempered glass shingles that contain solar cells and generate electricity.
It costs about $1.80 per watt to install the active Solar Roof tiles. If you installed a 7 kilowatt (kW) Tesla Solar Roof, the active shingles alone would cost $12,600 before any incentives are considered. The bigger the solar system you need, the higher the total price will be.
Regular solar panels cost around $3.00 per watt on average, so the solar portion of the Tesla roof is technically cheaper than solar panels.
Each active shingle is 15” by 45”, and designed to have a similar look to slate shingles. According to Electrek, Tesla’s solar shingles are 71.67 watts in size, meaning you’d need about five shingles to produce the same amount of power as one 370-watt solar panel. However, Tesla doesn’t list any official power ratings or performance specs on their website.
Cost: About $20 per square foot of total roof space
The next portion of your Solar Roof cost is kind of a mashup of just “general roofing materials” like underlayment and inactive shingles. When we say “inactive shingles”, we’re talking about all of the shingles on the roof that don’t produce electricity. The inactive shingles are designed to look just like the active solar shingles so you can’t distinguish one from the other when they’re on your roof.
Tesla doesn’t provide the exact pricing for these roofing costs, and it can vary depending on how complex your roof is, how big your roof is, and the number of solar roofing tiles you have. It’s also hard to know what portion of these costs go towards hardware for the active shingles, like underlayment.
Tesla also doesn’t let you select the complexity of your roof on their estimator, so it’s hard to gauge exactly how they’re classifying your roof and what price they’re using for the estimate. Because of this, we give a ballpark figure of around $20 per square foot of total roof space, but it could be more or less.
Based on the average roof size of 1,700 square feet, you can expect the inactive shingles and roofing materials to cost around $32,000. The price you pay will depend on the size of your roof and how complex it is.
Tesla charges quite a bit for their roofing material, as well. Typically, you can replace an asphalt shingle roof for around $7.00 per square foot. There are even metal roofing options that are cheaper than what Tesla’s charging. So, unless you’re choosing to go with ultra-premium roofing material, you can probably replace it for cheaper than what Tesla is offering.
What is roof complexity? Tesla looks at three things to determine how complex your roof is: The number of mountain planes, the pitch, and the number of obstructions like skylights and vents. The more mounting planes and obstructions, the more complex the roof is. If your roof has a steep pitch, it will also be considered more complex.
Cost: About $3.58 per square foot
Tesla also charges for the removal of your existing roofing material. For an average-sized roof, Tesla will charge you about $6,100 for the tear-off. The price may vary slightly.
This is an incredibly high price when it comes to a roof tear-off cost; asphalt shingles cost just about $0.55 per square foot to remove and dispose of. Even slate roofing, one of the most expensive roofing material options, only costs about $1.63 per square foot on average to remove.
However, you might be able to skip this cost if your existing roof is made of 3-tab asphalt shingles that are less than 3/8 inches thick and are in good condition. If this is the case, the solar shingles can be installed right over the shingles already on your roof.
But other types of roofing materials like architectural asphalt shingles, cedar shakes, or concrete tiles need to be completely removed before Tesla can install their solar shingles.
Does the Tesla Solar Roof qualify for the federal solar tax credit? Yes! Costs associated with the active solar shingle portion of the roof qualify for the 30% solar tax credit. So, if your total roof installation is $40,000, but only $10,000 of it went towards the installation of the active shingles, the tax credit would only apply to that $10,000.
The total installation cost of a Tesla Solar Roof is going to be much higher than that of a traditional solar panel installation. However, the Tesla Solar Roof also includes a roof replacement. So, when you factor in the price of both a roof replacement and regular solar panels, the totals come out to be closer than you might expect.
The easiest way to compare these costs is with an example. Let’s say you own a home in California that has a simple, 1,700 square foot roof and uses about 9,300 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in a year.
The Tesla Solar Roof in this example will cost $51,142, before incentives, whereas the conventional solar installation and roof replacement will cost just $29,485.
To cover a 9,300 kWh electricity usage, Tesla recommends installing a 6.14 kW solar system that would cost $51,152 to install, before incentives. Of that cost, $11,052 would be for active solar shingles, $6,100 would be to tear off your existing roof, and $34,000 would replace your roof.
You would only need 5.55 kW of conventional solar panels to cover 9,300 kWh electricity usage, costing about $16,650 before incentives. Now we need to consider the costs for a traditional roof replacement. A roof tear-off would only cost about $935, while a roof replacement with architectural asphalt shingles would cost about $11,900.
When you tally all that up, the conventional solar installation and roof replacement would cost about $29,485. That means for this example you would save a little over $20,000 by going the traditional route as opposed to opting for the Solar Roof. Of course, there are a ton of factors that go into this, like what type of roofing material you’re using, your electricity usage, and the size of your roof.
No, you do not have to install a Tesla Powerwall battery with the Solar Roof. The cost of the Powerwall home battery will be included in the initial estimate you see on Tesla’s website, but you can remove the energy storage option from your order.
If you do choose to install the Tesla Powerwall, it will cost an additional $11,500, but it will be covered by the federal tax credit.
Tesla’s solar shingles are designed with durability in mind and have a Class 3 hail rating, the second highest rating available, as well as the highest fire rating possible.
Plus, the Tesla Solar Roof is covered by a 25-year product warranty, a 25-year module warranty, and a 25-year weatherization warranty. So, just like traditional solar panels, you can expect the Tesla Solar Roof to last at least 25 years.
The 25-year product warranty exceeds solar industry standards, with most solar panels offering between 10 and 12-year product warranties. The 25-year module warranty covers the active solar shingles and gives you an idea of how much power the shingles will provide you as they age. This warranty falls right in line with solar industry standards - it’s not bad, but it’s nothing impressive either.
The weatherization warranty is designed to cover the ‘roofing’ aspect of the Solar Roof. Like most shingle warranties, it’s prorated, meaning how much is covered depends on how long you’ve had the roof. You can probably find shingle warranties out there that provide a little more coverage than Tesla’s, but it’s not horrible.
The Tesla Powerwall is covered by a separate 10-year warranty.
The size of the Tesla Solar Roof you’ll need depends on your energy usage and where you live. The characteristics of your roof will also play a role in how much solar you’ll need.
The following table gives a rough estimate of how much homeowners in different states could pay for a Solar Roof in order to cover the average electric bill in that state:
|State||Average electric bill||Solar Roof size||Tesla Solar Roof installation cost*|
|North Carolina||$120||8.04 kW||$54,572|
|New Jersey||$110||7.53 kW||$56,654|
*Based on a 1,700 square foot roof before incentives and a roof replacement cost of $20 per square foot of total roof space. Includes roof tear-off.
You can eliminate all or most of your monthly electricity bill with a Tesla Solar Roof, just like you can with solar panels. There may be some stipulations though, like what kind of net metering program your utility offers and the size of your roof.
Even though you can potentially get rid of your electricity bill, you also have to think about how much you’re saving compared to how much you paid for the system. Consider the example from earlier - the 6.14 kW Solar Roof in California, which would save you a little over $50,000 over its 25-year lifespan, which would just break even.
The traditional 5.55 kW solar system, on the other hand, would save you $64,000 over 25 years and have a payback period of around 5 years.
The Tesla Solar Roof payback period takes the entire installation into account, including the non-solar portion, because you have no choice but to get the entire roof replacement. But even if you looked at just the solar portion, the active shingles would break even after 7 years. 7 years is a great payback period, but it’s still longer than it would be if you just got regular solar panels.
We’re going to cut to the chase - for most homeowners, the Tesla Solar Roof isn’t a worthwhile investment. Installing traditional solar panels is going to be cheaper, no matter how you slice it. Even if you also need a new roof, Tesla’s roofing material and removal costs are so high that unless you were already planning on getting a premium roof installed, it’s going to be more expensive than it needs to be.
Even in scenarios where the price of a Solar Roof is competitive, we’re not so sure it’s the right way to go solar. For one thing, Tesla is notorious for having subpar customer service when it comes to its energy division. You can see for yourself in Tesla’s customer reviews here 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 not long after, Tesla changed the prices of Solar Roof installations for homeowners who already signed contracts. If you can’t even trust that they’ll honor their contract - what can you trust them about?
The bottom line is even if the Tesla Solar Roof can 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 $50,000+ deal with Tesla, you should consider getting quotes from solar installers in your area for conventional solar systems. You can even consider other solar shingle brands, like the new solar roof product from roofing giant GAF.
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.