Complete guide to the Tesla solar roof

Updated

Tesla solar roof
Tesla’s solar roof allows homeowners to enjoy solar without having to change the aesthetic of their home. Image source: Tesla

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.

Find out how much a solar system would cost for your specific home

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    What is the Tesla solar roof?

    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.

    What’s new with the Tesla solar roof in 2021?

    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. But of course, that’s changed too. As of October 2021, Powerwalls are no longer required for solar roof installations; instead, they’re just recommended.  

    How much does a Tesla solar roof cost?

    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 $52,200 and $64,110, before any incentives are considered.

    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 $59,600 and $71,510 (pre-incentives) 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.

    Breaking down the price of Tesla’s solar roof 

    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: 

    • Active solar shingles
    • Inactive solar shingles
    • Tesla Powerwall
    • Tesla solar inverter

    Here’s the breakdown of how each of these pieces of equipment contributes to the total price.

    1. Active solar shingles 

    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. According to Electrek, Tesla’s solar shingles are 71.67 watts in size. However, Tesla doesn’t list any official power ratings on their website. 

    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. 

    See what solar incentives and rebates you qualify for

    2. Inactive shingles 

    Cost: $15.29 per square foot - $21.30 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 average home has a 1,700 square foot roof, so it would cost between $22,610 and $35,275 for inactive shingles and roofing materials alone.

    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:

    1. Simple complexity roof: A single-level roof with uncrowded mounting planes, few obstructions like chimneys or skylights, or a low pitch. Based on Tesla’s website, we believe a simple complexity roof will cost $15.29 per square foot to replace an existing roof with Tesla roofing materials. 
    2. Intermediate complexity roof: A multi-level roof, more crowded mountain planes than a simple roof but less crowded than a complex roof, more obstructions than a simple roof but less than a complex roof, or a higher pitch than a simple roof, but lower than a complex roof. Just like with the criteria, the price of an intermediate roof will fall somewhere between $15.29 and $21.30 per square foot
    3. Complex roof complexity: A roof with sections built on multiple stories of the house with many obstructions or a steep pitch. A complex roof will cost about $21.30 per square foot of Tesla roofing materials to re-roof.

    The condition and age of your roof may also play a role in how much you pay for the solar roof. If your home is “older” (again, there’s no definition on what that means), you could have to pay the $21.30 per square foot-price, even if your roof is considered “simple”. 

    Tesla essentially sets no baseline for what any of this means, so it’s difficult to gauge which type your roof will be considered 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.  

    3. Tesla solar inverter 

    Cost: N/A

    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. 

    Important note! Electrical panel upgrade warning 

    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.

    4. Tesla Powerwall 

    Cost: $10,500

    Tesla recommends getting a Powerwall with each of their solar roof installations, but it is no longer required. 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.

    Watch out for design change fees! 

    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. 

    Does the Tesla solar roof qualify for the solar tax credit?

    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.

    How much does a Tesla solar roof cost compared to solar panels?

    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 that would cost $45,300 before the federal tax credit, and about $33,600 after the tax credit. 

    An 8.18 kW conventional solar panel system would cost about $24,540 before the tax credit, and $18,160 after the tax credit based on the average cost of solar in the U.S. This solar 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 $34,160. 

    In this example, the Tesla solar roof costs about the same as a traditional roof replacement and solar installation. But, if your roof ends up being more complex, the solar roof system could cost you another $11,910, making the difference in price more stark. 

    You also have to keep in mind that the Tesla solar roof doesn’t produce as much electricity as traditional solar panels because they are installed flush to your roof. This means you need more of those shingles to capture enough sunlight to cover your electric bill. Conventional solar panels, on the other hand, can be installed at a more optimal angle and get more sun. So, you could get away with installing a much smaller conventional solar system to cover your electric bill, which reduces overall system costs.

    Warranty comparison 

    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: 

    1. A 25-year product warranty that ensures the equipment will be free from defects for 25 years, which is better than what many solar panels come with. Most solar manufacturers only provide a 10 or 12-year product warranty. Sometimes they’ll provide the ability to extend the warranty to 25 years if you register the system.
    2. A 25-year module warranty stating that the active solar shingles will operate at 95% of their rated power under test conditions five years after installation and will decline no more than 0.5% for the remaining 20 years. This is a pretty standard warranty for solar panels.
    3. A 25-year weatherization warranty, which states the solar roof will prevent damage caused by wind or rain through the roof for 25 years. Tesla will replace, repair, or compensate the homeowner for the defective parts 10 years after installation. For the remaining 15 years, Tesla provides a prorated warranty, in which compensation for material costs (not labor) and the amount Tesla will pay depends on the year and “how long you’ve enjoyed your solar roof for”.

    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.

    Is the Tesla solar roof worth it?

    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. We’re also not huge fans of how vague they are about literally everything around the solar roof - what’s the actual pricing? What are the complexity requirements? Why doesn’t Tesla supply official operating specifications for the active shingles? 

    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. 

    Calculate how quickly a solar installation would pay for itself after rebates

    Key takeaways

    • The Tesla solar roof integrates solar panels into regular roof shingles so homeowners can generate solar power on their roofs without having to worry about the look of their home.
    • Tesla estimates that a 6.14 kW solar roof will cost a total between $52,200 and $64,110 before incentives, depending on the complexity of the roof.
    • The active Tesla solar roof shingles cost $1.80 per watt, which is cheaper than the national average cost of solar. But the cost for their non-solar roofing materials is much higher than average.
    • Installing the Tesla solar roof only makes sense if you are looking to go solar, need a roof replacement, and want to pay a premium for the aesthetic of the roof. Otherwise, you will be paying extra money for shoddy customer service and a roof replacement you don’t need.
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Catherine Lane

    SolarReviews Blog Author

    Catherine is a researcher and content specialist at SolarReviews. She has strong interests in issues related to climate and sustainability which led her to pursue a degree in environmental science at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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