Complete guide to the Tesla Solar Roof: is it better than installing solar panels?
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.
A typical Tesla Solar Roof can cost anywhere from $35,000 to over $70,000, depending on the size and complexity of your roof, as well as how much solar power you need. The Solar Roof requires a full roof replacement to ensure the solar shingles blend in with your roof.
If that price looks expensive, it’s because it is. Installing a Tesla Solar Roof is more expensive than a convetional roof replacement and solar installation. Because of the Solar Roof’s premium price tag and design, a Tesla roof is best suited for new construction homes or homeowners who really like Tesla.
We go over everything you need to know about how much the Tesla solar roof costs, what incentives it qualifies for, and if it’s right for you.
Homeowners' biggest issue 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 the 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 sacrificing 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 watch SolarReviews founder Andy Sendy give his expert opinion on the Tesla Solar Roof:
You can expect to spend anywhere from $35,000 to upwards of $70,000 to install a Tesla Solar Roof. With that said, a lot 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 the factors that influence the price and explain what 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:
Estimated cost: $1.80 per watt
Tesla’s active solar shingles are tempered glass shingles that contain solar cells and generate electricity.
Installing the active Solar Roof tiles has historically cost about $1.80 per watt. If you installed a 7 kilowatt (kW) Tesla Solar Roof, the active shingles alone would cost $12,600 before applying incentives.
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 is designed to have a similar look to slate shingles. Tesla’s solar shingles are 72 watts in size, meaning you’d need about five shingles to produce the same amount of power as one 370-watt solar panel.
Estimated cost: About $20 per square foot of total roof space
The next portion of your Solar Roof cost is kind of a mashup of “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.
Tesla also doesn’t let you select the complexity of your roof on their estimator, so you can’t 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 $34,000. The price you pay will depend on the size of your roof and how complex it is.
That’s quite a high price for a roof replacement. 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. The roofing material prices might be so high because Tesla’s pushed some of the installation labor and materials that technically go with the active solar shingles onto the inactive materials to allow them to advertise a really low price per watt of solar.
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.
Estimated cost: About $2.00 per square foot
Tesla also charges for the removal of your existing roofing material. For an average-sized roof, Tesla will charge you about $3,500 for the tear-off. The price may vary slightly.
This price is a little high for a roof tear off; asphalt shingles typically cost about $1 per square foot to remove and dispose of.
You might be able to skip the tear-off cost if your existing roof is made of 3-tab asphalt shingles less than 3/8 inches thick and 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 must be completely removed before Tesla can install their solar shingles.
The total installation cost of a Tesla Solar Roof is 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 Florida that has 1,700 square foot roof and uses about 12,100 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in a year.
The Tesla Solar Roof, in this example, will cost $64,200 before incentives, whereas the conventional solar installation and roof replacement will cost $43,900.
To cover that electricity usage, Tesla recommends installing a 9.00 kW solar roof system that would cost $64,200 to install before incentives. Of that cost, $16,200 would be for active solar shingles, $3,500 would be to tear off your existing roof, and $44,500 would replace your roof.
Installing 9.00 kW of regular solar panels would cost about $25,200 before incentives. Tearing off your existing roof, assuming it was asphalt shingles, would cost just about $1,700. Replacing your asphalt shingles would cost around $17,000. That brings the total cost for a traditional roof replacement and solar installation to $43,900 before incentives.
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.
Yes, you 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.
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:
|Average electric bill
|Solar Roof size
|Tesla Solar Roof installation cost*
*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.
The Tesla solar roof comes with its own unique set of pros and cons that are important to consider before you take the plunge and get one installed.
|Roof replacement and solar at once
Integrated system from one company
|Poor customer service
Yes, the Tesla solar roof does qualify for solar incentives like the 30% federal solar tax credit. However, only the portion of the costs associated with installing the active solar shingles will qualify for most incentives. The costs of installing a Tesla Powerwall battery with your solar roof will also qualify for the federal tax credit.
The Tesla roof will also allow you to participate in your utility’s net metering program, which credits you for excess solar energy your shingles may produce during the day. You’ll likely be eligible for other state and uitlity solar incentives and rebates, but check eligibility requirements to make sure solar shingles qualify.
Tesla’s solar shingles should work just fine on your roof, and you can expect the company to design a system that offsets your entire electric bill, so long as your roof is suitable. The Tesla roof has a 25-year warranty, the same as most solar panels.
One of Tesla’s selling points for their Solar Roof is that they are durable and long-lasting. Here are some of the warranties, specifications, and ratings for their solar shingles:
|15” x 45”
|Up to 1.75" diameter hail
|Up to 166 mph winds
|Class A UL 790 (highest fire rating)
It's important to note that conventional solar panels can produce more electricity than a Tesla solar roof because of the way the solar shingles need to be oriented on your roof: they lay flat, instead of at an angle like traditional solar panels. If you installed regular panels instead, you would only need about 5 kW of solar to produce the same amount of electricity as the 6.14 kW solar roof.
Yes, Tesla does recommend routine maintenance for the solar roof.
According to the Tesla Solar Roof Owner’s Manual, the roof should be cleaned to remove any debris or dirt that may accumulate on the tiles so they can continue to produce as much solar electricity as possible.
The manual doesn’t specify how often cleaning should be done, but if it’s anything like regular solar panels, once a year should suffice. More maintenance may be needed if you live in an area that experiences frequent storms or wildfires that produce substantial debris.
Tesla recommends hiring a professional cleaning service for the solar roof. However, if you choose to clean the system yourself, do not use any detergents or solvents, and be sure to rinse with a standard garden hose, with the water flowing down your roof.
The actual physical installation of the Tesla solar roof will take somewhere between five and seven days.
However, it will take additional time to obtain the necessary permits, inspections, assessments, and utility approval. Usually, these things will take between three and four weeks to complete.
Tesla is also known for having pretty substantial wait times for their products. In fact, some people have reported additional wait times of five months for their solar roof, while others haven’t had to wait at all.
It seems to come down to whether or not there are available solar roof installers in your area, and what the demand is like.
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.
The Solar Roof can be a good option if you’re building a new, high-end home. The sleek design will match the aesthetics of modern homes, and those in the luxury market will probably like the idea of having a high-tech roof. Because costs for building new homes will already be high, the additional costs of the Solar Roof likely won’t break the budget.
Setting cost aside, we’re still not so sure the Solar Roof is the right way to go solar. 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. From the numbers we’ve seen floating around, it doesn’t seem like the Solar Roof is a profitable product for Tesla, so we wouldn’t be surprised if they decided to stop selling it together.
Because there aren’t a ton of Solar Roofs out there (from what we know), we also can’t be sure how Tesla handles repairs and servicing of this product. If it’s anything like how Tesla Energy usually deals with customer service, though, it doesn’t seem promising. 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. 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.