Thinking of getting a Tesla Solar Roof? Here's everything you need to know

There's also an app to monitor how your investment begins to pay you back over time.
Christopher McFadden
Tesla Solar Roof.Tesla

First launched in 2016, Elon Musk's Solar Roof system has taken the photovoltaic (PV) world by storm. Tesla's Solar Roof is not the only solar roof tiles on the market but is some of the most attractive and most expensive.

Solar tiles offer a completely different approach to solar PV installations, the final product is, inarguably, far superior in aesthetic terms to traditional solar PV installations, and seeks to add a "cool" factor to generating your own power. 

While Tesla claims its Solar Roof is competitive in terms of providing a two-for-one solution (you do get a new roof after all), ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. 

So, is Tesla's Solar Roof all it's cracked up to be? Let's take an honest look.  

What is Tesla's Solar Roof? 

Tesla's Solar Roof, like other solar roof tiles, is an innovative system of specially engineered roofing tiles or shingles. Unlike conventional solar PV panels that are mounted onto an existing roof, a solar roof acts as a direct replacement for existing roof coverings. 

The system allows potential customers to benefit from generating their own power without unduly affecting the aesthetics of their homes. Win-win. 

tesla solar roof shingles
Source: Tesla

Tesla's Solar Roof consists of two main types of textured glass tile shingles. The first is purely decorative and is termed "inactive." These look exactly the same as the second kind, called "Active", to ensure a uniform look of the finished roof.

The "Active" shingles are effectively small, shingle-sized solar panels that are integrated into the main roof surface in strategic places to maximize their efficiency. In most cases, most of the south or west-facing areas of a roof will consist of "Active" shingles, with the rest of the surface consisting of the visually similar "Inactive" shingles.

"Active" shingles, like conventional solar panels, will also be fitted as close to the best angle of incidence to the Sun's rays throughout the year. In the northern hemisphere, this is as close to a 60 degrees inclination as possible, which, on most domestic homes is around 30-45 degrees, depending on the pitch of your existing roof.

Of course, if you choose to install a Solar Roof, your old roof will need to be stripped and replaced in totality. 

The system can also be used with a Tesla Solar Inverter to convert the direct current generated by the shingles to useable alternating current in your home. While non-Tesla inverters can also be used, the use of Tesla's own proprietary equipment ensures the systems will run with fewer potential snags.

This inverter also enables you to tag on a Tesla Powerwall battery to store excess energy, if desired. 

The system was developed in a collaboration between Tesla and its subsidiary SolarCity and was first announced in 2016. It wasn't until 2018 that Tesla and SolarCity were in a position to begin the manufacture and delivery of their first Solar Roofs, however. 

Since then, Tesla has continued to make improvements to the technology, with its latest variant, Solar Roof V3, boasting the best efficiency and durability to date. The product comes with a generous 25-year weatherization warranty. 

Great, but what are some of the downsides? One is whether Tesla actually serves your geographical area. 

For the most part, Tesla should be able to provide an installation in most of the continental United States. However, in some states, they may use authorized installers to do so. 

The same is true for other parts of the world, with the rollout continuing around the world. If you are interested in finding out if they serve your area, the best thing to do is contact Tesla, or try to get a quote, and they will tell you.  

How much does a Tesla solar roof cost?

According to data from actual Tesla quotes, their Solar Wall system costs approximately $1.80 per generated watt of electricity for their "Active" shingles. The cost of their "Inactive" shingles then varies depending on the complexity of the roof in question. 

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For "simple" roofs, i.e., basic pitched roofs start at around $13.30 per square foot. For more tricky roofs like hipped roofs or multiple-level roofs, these shingles should cost about $15.30 per square foot. For more complex roofs (i.e. cross-gabled, steep or variable pitched, multiple heights, or lots of obstacles), costs could be as high as $18.54 per square foot. 

You will also be charged for the removal and disposal of your old roof at a rate of around $3.55 per square foot. 

Just like any solar energy installation, the actual cost will vary depending on the size of roof coverage, location, and construction of the building. Smaller pitched roofs on a single-story home will be considerably cheaper than a large complex roof on a multi-story building, for example. 

tesla powerwall
Tesla's Powerwall can be connected to either traditional PV systems or their own. Source: Tesla

This is for a variety of reasons, but chief among them are additional costs for access equipment to higher roofs or increased time in labor to design and install the roof on larger and more complex roofs like cross-gabled roofs.

Tesla may also require customers to upgrade their electrical systems in order to actually work with their Solar Roof system. Upgrading elements like electrical panels can cost anywhere in the region of $5,000 and up. 

However, to give you a rough estimate, using Tesla's own calculator, a good-sized family home would cost around $70,000 dollars to install an 8.05 kW system before tax incentives. This quote is based on a home in Nashville, Texas, with a floor area of 2,500 feet2 (232 m2) and using an average monthly energy bill of $115 (this was the U.S. average in 2019, according to the EIA). 

This, according to Tesla's estimates, should be able to produce for this hypothetical home, somewhere in the order of 12,800 kWh/year, or roughly 100% of the building's electrical energy consumption. You also get the added bonus (for additional cost) of energy storage with this system, which is a considerable advantage over some conventional domestic solar panel arrays.

If this estimate is accurate, that should provide a payback period (the time taken to recover your initial investment) of about 50 years, give or take. This will likely be closer to 40 years after tax incentives are factored in to reduce your initial capital outlay.

Another estimate for a 1,700 ft2 (158m2) roof in California with an electrical bill of $150 per month came in at $39,000 before incentives for a 6.13-kilowatt system. It should be noted that this quote was generated in 2022 and for a different state, so costs likely vary for that reason. 

You should also remember that energy costs from the grid are likely to rise over time, so the "true" payback will likely be much shorter, ignoring any maintenance and cleaning costs of course. 

tesla solar roof costs
Source: Tesla

We've chosen this square footage as it is about the average size of a new family home in the United States

To put that into perspective, installing a similarly sized conventional solar panel array would cost around $26,000 before incentives. Using the same statistics as above would give you an equitable payback of between 15 and 22 years, depending on tax incentives. 

However, remember that the estimated lifespan of conventional solar panels is also roughly 25 to 30 years, so you would probably need to replace the array after a few decades. 

It should be noted, however, that such estimates should be taken with a pinch of salt. The final figures will likely vary widely depending on where your home is located if you were to actually order an installation.

This is especially the case for conventional solar panel installations and you are always advised to source several quotes from recommended installers before authorizing any work. 

Any and all costs for such installations should also include any planning and design work required prior to the installation. This will not only ensure the costings are as accurate as possible but also discover if your existing roof is appropriate for such an installation.

The latter is less relevant for Tesla solar roofs, as these tend to be a direct replacement for your existing roof covering. 

You should also note that costs are likely to vary over time as labor, consumable, and material costs will fluctuate, given the current economic climate. There may be other costs, too, such as various local authority planning requirements, where relevant. 

Solar panels vs. Tesla solar roof: which one is better?

Generally speaking, on a per watt average cost, Tesla's Solar Roof is actually pretty reasonable, all things considered. According to some estimates, in the United States, Tesla's come in at around $1.80 per watt. Traditional solar PV panels tend to cost around $3.00 per watt. 

However, any direct comparison between the two is complicated by a few factors. The first is that Tesla's Solar Roof is not just some PV solar panels but actually a new roof and some PV panels in one package. 

tesla solar roof complete
Source: Tesla

Traditional solar PV panels are where your roof can handle it, simply mounted to an existing roof without needing to replace it. So, in order to provide a fair comparison, we'll need to do a like-for-like summing up.

For the second example we gave above, a similar install would require the old roof to be removed and replaced with new roofing. This would cost around $935 for the tear-down and $11,900 for the new roof. If a 6.14 kW solar panel array was then also added at a cost of $3.00 per watt, the total cost for all works should be in the order of $18,420, give or take. 

Based on this kind of comparison, the Tesla Solar Roof is clearly quite a bit more expensive - just under 40% more in fact. 

However, remember a large part of this additional cost is Tesla's relatively higher rates for roof tear-downs and disposal. Additionally, the replacement roof material is much more expensive than something like asphalt shingles. 

While you could obviously get your old roof removed and replaced for much cheaper than Tesla offers, you also wouldn't benefit from the complete Solar Roof package. 

All is well and good, but the initial investment in the installation is only half the story. Both a traditional PV panel array and a Tesla Solar Roof will generate "free" power for years to come, saving you a pretty penny on your electrical bills. 

After all, that was the entire point of doing the work in the first place, right? 

tesla solar roof costs
Source: sl-f/iStock

So, how do they stack up on the payback front? 

Well, a traditional 6.14 kW solar array in California would be expected to produce about 10,204-kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year. With current electrical rates of $0.19 per kWh, this traditional PV system should save around $2,000 per year and roughly $52,000 over the 25-year lifetime of the system (credit to SolarReviews for the figures). According to a report by Consumer Reports, however, a traditional 5.55 kW solar system will save about $64,000 over 25 years, with a payback period of around five years. 

Tesla's system, on the other hand, would generate savings of about $1,800 and a lifetime savings of $50,000. This includes a 30 percent Solar Investment Tax Credit but not state and local tax incentives, which could make the savings much greater. 

This discrepancy is mainly the product of the fact that Tesla's Solar Roof panel's orientation to the Sun is determined and fixed by your existing roof pitch. A mounted PV system can be angled to maximize the amount of energy the system can generate, resulting in better electrical generation. 

So, based on this, you could actually install a smaller traditional solar panel system, generate more power, and save quite a bit of upfront investment! 

Although, again, this depends a lot on the situation. Consumer Reports also estimated that for a three-story, 2,700-square foot house in New York, Tesla's system would save the homeowner almost $14,000 over 30 years; while installing the system on a 2-story, 4,500-square foot house in Texas would end up costing the homeowner £12,700 over the same period. 

However, Tesla's Solar Roof system is admittedly much more aesthetically pleasing than a bolted-on array of solar PV panels. But is that really worth the difference in cost? 

How long does a Tesla solar roof last?

Since Tesla has only been producing and installing its solar roofs since around 2018, there are no real-life statistics for the longevity of the solar tiles. However, Tesla offers a 25-year tile warranty as standard. This is also the standard warranty length for a traditional solar array.

Tesla feels confident in offering such a long warranty as they have engineered their tiles to be, and we quote, "durable, strong and engineered for all-weather protection."

Each tile is 15 inches (38.1 cm) by 45 inches (114.3cm) and has met a suit of industrial standards. They meet the requirements of ASTM D3161 Class F for Wind resistance, ANSI FM 4473 Class 3 for hail, and have also achieved the highest fire-resistance rating of Class A. 

are tesla roofs worth it
Source: Tesla

This not only means they are highly durable, as Tesla claim, but are an excellent alternative to conventional roof materials in any case. 

For reference, the most common types of roofing in the USA are concrete tiles, asphalt shingles, manmade slates, or ceramic tiles. Of these, asphalt shingles are by far the most common, and they typically have a life expectancy of 15 to 25 years. 

How long is the wait for Tesla Solar Roof?

Much like the cost and availability of Tesla's Solar Roof system, wait times will also likely vary widely across the U.S. and the wider world. That being said, most wait times tend to vary between 30 days and six months. 

This lead time should include the time it takes to make your applications and pay a deposit, get your virtual assessment, receive any planning permission needed and scheduling of the actual installation. 

There may also be some additional delays post-install to receive an inspection for approval. 

The first few steps should be relatively quick, with the application phase taking a matter of minutes to hours. You'll need your address (obviously) and details of the size of the property and average electrical bill costs. You also get the option to add Tesla's Powerwall system, but it is not required. 

Once you've committed to the process, you'll pay a deposit and then receive a virtual assessment to ensure your home (and roof) are appropriate for the system. You may also need to submit some electrical bills and other details about your property.

The next step is one of the longer ones. Depending on your local planning permission process, an application will be made, and you will need to await permission to proceed. This can take weeks to months, it really depends on where you live. 

Once the project is given the "green light," the next delay is getting the team on-site to actually do the installation. This will depend on the certified Solar Roof installation company's schedule and availability, but once booked in, the project should take around a week to complete. 

More complex or larger roofs will obviously take longer. 

After that, the next big hurdle is getting the installation signed off. This may require your utility company to visit, inspect the roof, and approve a connection to the grid. Again, timescales will vary and can range from one to five weeks. Waiting for any other permitting, inspections, and interconnection could take a few months. 

tesla solar roof app
You can monitor your Tesla Solar Roof with its own application too. Source: Tesla

With all that out of the way, you can finally download the Tesla app and enjoy watching your hard-earned investment begin to pay you back over time!

And with that, energy-saving enthusiasts, it is your lot for today. 

While Tesla's Solar Roof is certainly an innovative take on the traditional PV solar panel, it is not without its downsides - like its cost and potential inefficiency for some homes. When compared to traditional PV systems, the economics of it don't really justify the higher cost. 

However, there is no doubting that the final look of the system is far superior. Also, getting Tesla's own products installed does open up doors for more seamless integration with their other products, like Tesla's Powerwall and probably future add-ons. 

However, Powerwall can also be connected to most other PV systems as long as they have SMA, SolarEdge, Fronius, Enphase, Delta, and ABB inverters. 

Before taking the plunge, you should also note that there have been some issues with Tesla's post-sales support for Solar Roof customers, and prices have risen quite sharply recently. Some orders have even been canceled in the past.

It has also recently been announced that Tesla has temporarily paused its Solar Roof installations due to supply issues. This is probably only a temporary problem, but it would be advisable to keep an eye on the situation. 

You should also get a few quotes from local solar installers too before making a final decision to go with the Tesla system. 

Ultimately, however, the choice is completely up to you. 

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