When you think about solar power, you likely think of rectangular, clunky solar panels that are easily recognizable. All-black panels can blend into the background a little bit better, but for the most part, solar panels aren’t exactly bursting with character.
This is part of what makes Tesla’s solar shingles and its holistic Solar Roof system so unique and eye-catching. The sleek system turns your entire roof into a renewable power source with none of those big, boxy photovoltaic modules anywhere to be seen. But it comes at a cost.
Let’s break down when Tesla’s solar shingles might make sense for your home and when they probably don’t.
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What is a Tesla Solar Roof?
The idea behind Tesla’s Solar Roof is to create photovoltaic modules that double as a roofing material while also harvesting energy from the sun to power your home. Rather than the big, standard rectangular solar panels we’re used to seeing on countless roofs and elsewhere, Tesla’s Solar Roof is made up of smaller solar shingles and matching blank ones. The solar shingles are shaped somewhat like conventional roofing shingles, but consist of photovoltaic cells.
It makes a lot of sense: Solar panels are built to resist the elements, from hail to wind and water, just like any roofing material. This means that in most cases, a Tesla Solar Roof will actually replace your existing roof. You get a tough skin for the top of your house that produces power and retains a sleek look, unmarred by big, clunky panels mounted on top of it.
Read more: Best Solar Shingles
What size Tesla Solar Roof will you need?
In most cases, a Tesla Solar Roof will completely replace or cover your existing roof. However, not every single piece of the new roof has to be energy-generating; Tesla also uses glass and steel roofing panels. So the amount of actual solar shingles in your Tesla roof will be determined by the amount of energy you want to generate. This will vary from house to house. Some jurisdictions and utilities may not allow you to install solar energy systems exceeding a set number of kilowatts.
Figuring out the potential wattage for a Tesla roof is essentially the same as determining the total wattage you want from any other solar array. Have a look at CNET’s article on how to determine how much solar you need for your situation. It should apply to a Tesla Solar Roof as well.
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In short, you’ll need to have a good idea of your energy usage and how much sun your roof gets. From there, you can size your Solar Roof to meet your energy needs by estimating how much it will produce give your available sunlight.
Tesla solar panels vs. Tesla Solar Roof
The biggest difference between Tesla’s solar panels and the Tesla Solar Roof is the way these systems are installed on your home. Tesla solar panels are mounted on your roof, while the Tesla Solar Roof is integrated into your roof. Solar shingle products are designed to generate solar energy, but also blend in with traditional roofing materials. This offers a discreet way of getting a solar system on your roof.
But you’ll likely have to replace your entire roof to install solar shingles, which drives up the cost quite a bit. If you choose to install the Tesla Solar Roof, you’ll also have to purchase at least one Powerwall battery with your system. This adds another $10,000 or more to your overall cost. Both products have similar capabilities to meet your power needs, you’ll just likely be paying more to install a Tesla Solar Roof than you would with traditional solar panels.
Tesla Solar Roof cost vs. solar panels cost
The basic trade-off with the Tesla Solar Roof is that it looks sleeker than solar panels and doubles as a roofing material, but solar shingles are more expensive and less efficient than conventional photovoltaic modules.
“For most people you’re going to be able to put more generating capacity on your roof with a framed module versus a solar shingle at probably a lower price point per watt,” said Corey Ramsden with Solar United Neighbors.
Tesla no longer operates a press office to answer specific questions about pricing, but we used the company’s solar roof estimator tool to calculate the below estimates based on a Houston home.
The price tag for a Solar Roof with no Powerwalls comes in at almost three times the cost to cover the same roof with regular Tesla solar panels.
Tesla Roof cost estimates
A Solar Roof will vary in cost based on the size, shape and location of the roof it’s replacing. The estimates below were gathered from Tesla’s cost estimator for a specific home in Houston. The estimates include incentives and were retrieved on Feb. 5, 2024.
|System size in kW
|Average price per watt
|Total estimated cost
|No battery storage
Factors that affect pricing
A Tesla Solar Roof can be installed on top of an existing shingle roof that isn’t too old, new construction and a few other limited scenarios. Otherwise, installation is typically going to require ripping off the old roofing material and replacing it with solar shingles, which will be an additional cost.
Tesla considers a number of factors in determining the complexity of a roof, which can also affect pricing. These factors include the number of surfaces to the roof and obstructions like chimneys, skylights, fans and vents.
Generally speaking, a roof is going to need to be in decent enough condition to support the weight of the Tesla Solar Roof. If the Solar Roof is going to be installed on top of existing shingles, they should have a significant amount of life left in them. If either of these conditions aren’t met, it will likely result in an extra cost.
Pitch is another factor Tesla considers in its roof complexity determination. Without getting too much into numbers, simply remember: steep ain’t as cheap.
Each home and its wiring are unique. There may be additional costs to accommodate certain quirks of your home’s electrical system to make sure that a solar roof can get connected safely and up to code.
Number of panels
Obviously this will be determined by the size of your roof, and by how many of the needed panels will be solar versus regular glass or steel.
Additional battery storage
Incentives: Federal and state
A Tesla Solar Roof may be the only way to get a new roof and have the government pay for 30% of it through the federal renewable energy tax credit. A number of other state or local incentives may bring the price down further.
Subcontracted installer costs
Tesla may not perform installs directly in all locations, relying instead on certified third-party installers, whose local pricing may differ from what you find in Tesla’s estimation tool.
Is it worth it to get a Tesla Solar Roof?
The economics come down to how much of a premium you’re willing to pay for sleeker solar modules and whether or not you’re in need of a new roof anyway.
“If you’re replacing an expensive roof like a slate roof or a metal roof, those numbers might work out,” Solar United Neighbors’ Ramsden said.
A Tesla Solar Roof should qualify for a 30% federal tax credit and other incentives, so installing one could be an opportunity to get a new roof and have Uncle Sam pay for nearly a third of it. Definitely double check your situation with your tax professional, however.
For the average person who is simply curious about the cool-looking solar roof or the Tesla brand, it might not make great economic sense to have to tear up your old roof in order to install an expensive solar system when panels would do the job for a third of the cost.
Check out CNET’s detailed review of the Tesla Solar Roof for additional installation scenarios with cost estimates.
Tesla solar roof FAQs
Does the Tesla Solar Roof increase home value?
Solar panels have been shown to increase home value, though the increase varies by year and by place, and Tesla’s Solar Roof should be no different. It’s a little less clear if solar shingles add even more of a premium than conventional panels.