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Is the Tesla Solar Roof right for your home? Cost, Savings, & Availability.

Avatar for Ben Zientara
Published on 11/20/2019 in
Updated 11/21/2019
A home with the Tesla Solarglass Roof

In short: The Tesla Solar Roof (also called “Solarglass”) is designed to replace your regular roof and generate electricity at the same time. It’s made of long, thin tempered glass roof tiles with integrated solar cells, which click into place to create a beautiful, durable surface. Tesla says it will last 25 years and cost less than a traditional roof plus a solar installation.

If you need a new roof, getting the Tesla solar roof is likely more cost-effective, but it’s still a relatively new product. Expect some growing pains, including delays, increased costs, and possible maintenance issues. If you don’t need a new roof, you can wait until you do, but solar panels alone can still save you tens of thousands of dollar over the next 25 years, and incentives like the federal solar tax credit are scheduled to end soon. Getting quotes for solar now is always a smart idea.

Like no other company except perhaps late-2000s Apple, Tesla’s products capture the attention and imagination of people all over the planet. Since Tesla’s solar roof tiles were announced in 2016, it’s impossible to count the number of times we’ve been asked about them. People want to know how they work, when they’ll be available, how much they cost, and more.

Unfortunately, in the past three years, the solar roof hype hasn’t become reality. Early versions were difficult to manufacture and install, and Tesla had problems with electrical connections and durability. It took years for the first paying customers to get their roofs, and now just a short while after those initial installations, Tesla has profoundly changed the components and design of the solar roof.

During the company’s October 2019 earnings call, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced the Tesla Solar Roof v3, also known as the “Solarglass Roof.” It’s the latest version of the solar roof tiles, and this time, Tesla thinks they’ve got it right. The company hopes to install the Solarglass tiles on 1,000 roofs per week by mid-2020 and will partner with roofing companies to get it done.

But Tesla has exuded confidence in its products before, often before they’re truly ready for the market. So these questions remain: how much does Tesla’s new solar roof cost? is the Solarglass roof right for you?

How the Tesla Solarglass Roof works

Tesla created the Solarglass roof to completely replace a normal roof and also make as much electricity as a standard solar panel installation. This combination of solar power and roofing material is known in the industry as building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV for short.

The Tesla solar roof

Tesla’s solution to building-integrated photovoltaics sure looks nice. Source: Tesla

The promise of BIPVs is taking the money-saving ability of solar panels and making them look like a beautiful premium roof. Additionally, BIPVs eliminate roof penetrations that could cause leaks and the need to remove panels when replacing a traditional tile or shingle roof.

Many other companies have attempted to create BIPV products and get them to market, but aside from some very small market share taken by RGS and CertainTeed, BIPV products have not caught on. Enter the Tesla solar roof, which may be the most advanced and most beautiful BIPV product on the market.

But the Tesla roof is still a very new product, and questions remain. Here are some of the questions, with answers:

How is the Tesla solar roof built?

The image below shows how the solar shingles are installed. Each row of shingles is attached to long support bars, then wired together in series to bring the string up to a high enough voltage that can be sent to the inverter.

An image showing how Tesla solar roof tiles are attached to the roof and wired together

Solarglass tiles are wired together and attached in rows. Source: Tesla

Each shingle can be individually tilted where it’s connected to the mounting support bar. The whole thing is kind of like a giant “Guess Who?” board where the rows of tiles flip down over top of one another to create a whole. This makes it easy for workers to wire the shingles together and also replace faulty cells if necessary. It also makes it easy for properly-trained firefighters to tear up and save your house, as they do in this video.

Because of how it’s built, it should be pretty easy for Tesla to maintain, and also pretty durable for years to come. That’s good, because Tesla is offering a 25-year warranty for the Solarglass roof.

Is Tesla’s 25-year warranty realistic?

Normal solar panels are under warranty for 25 years. Normal roof installations come with warranties of varying lengths, but unless you pay extra, like for Owens Corning’s Extended Coverage, you get 10 or 15 years of full coverage to replace defective parts.

Tesla’s 25-year warranty for Solarglass is very realistic for the solar components, and given its current success, Tesla seems like a company that will be around for the long haul. They’re staking their reputation on Solarglass, and they’ve shown a willingness to work with customers and get warranty claims fixed quickly in the past.

How much electricity will the Tesla solar roof make?

This all depends on a few factors: where you live, how much shade your roof gets and the direction it faces, and how many of the Tesla shingles you get actually contain solar cells. Tesla starts with an initial estimate of 10-kW of solar generation on a 2,000 square foot roof.

Depending on where you live in the United States, you probably get about 4 to 6 “peak sun hours” per day, meaning that 10-kW system will make between 14,600 and 21,900 kWh per year. Again, that’s just an estimate, and solar panel output depends on a lot of factors.

If you get a quote for solar, you can use the government’s free PVWatts tool to estimate how much electricity your solar panels make.

Tesla’s estimating tool

Like we said above, Tesla estimates that a 2,000 ft² roof will come with 10-kW of solar generating potential inside the glass tiles. But in practice, the amount of solar energy your roof can generate depends on the direction it faces and its shape.

We actually used Tesla’s estimating tool to do a couple of comparisons on roofs of about 2,000 and 3,000 square feet. The tool came back with a solar system size of 14-kW on the 2,000 ft² roof and 13.3-kW on the 3,000 ft² roof.

Tesla's solar roof estimating tool

Tesla’s estimating tool for a home in Portland, OR

Those sizes were very different, because the larger roof had more of its surface facing north, which is not good for solar panels. In this case, Tesla installs non-solar “dummy” tiles that look exactly the same as the solar-generating tiles.

Solar vs. non-solar roof tiles

Tesla’s non-solar tiles look virtually identical to the solar shingles but don’t generate any electricity. They also don’t cost as much, but because they’re non-solar, sadly aren’t eligible for the federal solar tax credit.

The reason Tesla uses dummy tiles on your roof is because many places don’t get much sun at all. In the United States, which lies north of the equator, north-facing sections of roofs are out. Similarly, some parts of the roof are shaded by others for much of the day. Tesla designs its roofs to take advantage of the sunny faces and maintain a clean look on the shaded faces.

Tesla Solarglass roof availability

According to Tesla as of November 2019, the new Solarglass roof is available in California now. In December, 2019, the solar roof will be available in Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Nevada, and Texas. Sometime in 2020, Tesla says they’ll roll out the solar roof in “additional states.”

Who the Tesla solar roof is (and isn’t) for

Are these Tesla solar shingles right for you? If your existing roof is more than a few years away from replacement, it’s probably a better idea to get a separate solar panel installation. One important reason is to take advantage of current solar incentives like the federal solar tax credit. Your solar panels can be temporarily removed when it’s time to replace your roof’s tiles or shingles and reinstalled after.

But if you’re in the market for a new roof, the Solarglass roof is more cost-effective than getting a new roof and separate solar panels, according to Tesla. As the installations progress and Tesla solidifies its best practices, it’ll also be a good fit for new-construction homes.

It’s probably also a fit for people who love the Tesla brand, and either have (or want) a Tesla car and/or the Powerwall home battery.

Still, it may be too early to rush out and sign up for Solarglass. This is the third generation of the product, and Tesla says it’s ready for the mass market, but they’ve been wrong before. We’re still in solidly early-adopter territory. If that describes you and you trust Tesla to stand by you for 25 years, go for it.

Tesla solar roof cost and savings estimates

Let’s start out by saying that getting firm pricing for a Tesla Solarglass installation is impossible unless you get a quote from Tesla. This is a custom product that requires a site survey before a full quote can be given. Tesla will give you that full quote only after you make a (refundable) $100 deposit.

That said, Tesla’s pricing tool does give you an estimated total price, which can be used as a guideline to see if the solar roof tiles are worth it for you. Tesla’s tool includes the estimated price with and without solar incentives like rebates and tax credits, but doesn’t include long-term incentives like the Massachusetts SMART solar program.

In their examples, Tesla estimates the cost of a Solarglass roof on an average home with 2,000 square feet of roof space will be $42,550 before incentives, or $21.275/ft². Of course, this number varies by the difficulty of working on the roof and the proportion of solar and non-solar tiles used.

We’ve used Tesla’s tool to estimate a few roofs in various states and come up with a range of values from $19.13/ft² on a 3,100-ft² roof with a big north face to $23.61/ft² on a 2,100-ft² roof with a small north face.

Available incentives for the Tesla solar roof

All state and federal solar incentives that apply to ordinary solar panel installations also apply to the Tesla solar roof. The only difference is that incentives based on a percentage of the total cost likely won’t apply to the entire amount you pay for this roof, because not all the tiles contain solar cells and therefore can’t be considered part of the solar installation.

For example, say your Tesla roof has 67% of the tiles with solar cells, and 33% without, and costs $42,500 before incentives. When you claim the Federal solar tax credit of 24% (between January 1st and December 31st, 2020), you’d first multiply $42,500 by 67% to get $28,475 in eligible costs. Then take 24% of $28,475 to get $6,834, which would be your federal solar tax credit.

Incentives like state solar tax credits will probably follow suit, if they follow similar rules to the federal credit.

Can you get a loan for the Solarglass roof?

Because most people don’t just have $43,000 lying around to pay for a new roof and solar system, it’s good that there are many options when it comes to financing the Tesla roof tiles. Tesla offers direct financing for well-qualified buyers (read: people with good credit scores and the ability to pay), but there are other options as well.

Being a part of your home that adds value, it makes sense to consider a home equity loan or second mortgage for the Tesla solar roof. These come with mountains of paperwork and are secured by the home, but have the advantage of lower interest rates.

Solar loans are also available, which can be very good. These unsecured loans often come with fewer barriers to entry, but their somewhat less-stringent requirements result in higher overall interest rates. Solar loans also sometimes require you to make a balloon payment after the first year equal to the tax credit you receive for buying the system.

So… is the Tesla Solar Roof Worth It?

Ah, the big financial question. Or is it? The value of the Tesla solar roof is not just financial, but also the price you put on being the first kid on the block with the latest, greatest toy. There’s no doubt that these tiles are sexy as hell, even compared to other premium roof options like slate, concrete, or clay tiles.

Whether you get a 10-kW solar glass roof or add a solar installation to another kind of roof, you’ll be saving money. In California, we estimate that would generate and average of 20,000 kWh in the first year, worth about $3,800 in savings. As electricity prices rise and your solar (panels or roof) keeps generating, the 25-year energy bill savings would total over $137,000.

The Tesla roof vs. a premium roof

Let’s test the idea that the Solarglass roof is more cost-effective than a new roof and solar panels. When compared a premium roof (slate, concrete, or clay tiles) plus the cost of a solar installation, the Tesla solar roof compares very favorably.

According to HomeGuide, the average cost of a 2,000-ft² roof using premium materials is around $30,000. Based on our own research and industry trends, a typical 10-kW solar installation costs around $29,000 before incentives. Put those prices together, and you’ve got $59,000 total.

As we mentioned above, Tesla says that its average 2,000-ft² solar roof will cost $42,550 before incentives with 10-kW of solar generating tiles. Right off the bat, you can see how it’s more cost-effective than a premium roof plus solar.

That’s a pretty stark difference. If you’re in the market for a new roof, Tesla wins here. Of course, if you’re happy with the roof you have, just get quotes for solar, already! Don’t leave that $137k on the table!

The Tesla roof vs. a composite shingle roof.

With how favorably the Tesla roof matches up against premium roof comparison was, you might think it’s a slam dunk. Not so fast! If you need a new 2,000-ft² composite shingle roof for your home, HomeGuide says you’ll have to shell out something like $7,211. Add a $29,000, 10-kW solar system and the total comes to $36,211.

So the new composite shingle roof and 10-kW solar by themselves are about $6,000 cheaper than Tesla roof. Both will produce the same amount of electricity, both will add value to your home, and both qualify for the federal solar tax credit.

There’s so much to be said about the Solarglass roof. It looks nice, comes with a warranty, and it will certainly have the neighbors talking. But it’s a newer, uproven product, from a company experiencing some growing pains. If you need a new roof and you can afford it, it might be worth taking a chance on. But for people who want the most cost-effective solution that have proven its usefulness and sturdiness over decades in the field, go with a standard solar panel installation over composite shingles.

When you’re ready to go solar, get multiple quotes from trusted installers and compare.

Now, if you’re sick of reading and thinking about the Tesla solar roof, why not watch some Firefighters tear one up with an ax and a chainsaw? It made us feel better after spending hours upon hours doing research for this piece…

Last modified: November 21, 2019

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