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Should you replace your roof before going solar?

Find the best time to install solar panels

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Putting new solar panels on an old roof can lead to headaches later on once your roof needs to be replaced, but how old is too old to go solar?

Keep reading to learn why it’s smart to make sure your roof is in good shape before you install solar panels and how you can tell if your home is ready.

Key insights

  • Solar panels and roof shingles have similar life spans, so it makes sense to install roof-mounted solar panels soon after you get a new roof.
  • If you put new solar panels on an older roof, you may have to take them down and reinstall them when it’s time to replace your roof.
  • Uninstalling and reinstalling a 19-panel array reportedly costs about $5,000 — not a small expense.
  • As a rule of thumb, if your roof is over 10 years old, you may want to wait until you replace it before installing solar panels up there.

Why you might want a new roof before going solar

Simply put, you can’t replace a roof while it has solar panels on it. So, when a home with roof-mounted solar panels needs a new roof, the solar panels have to come down.

Modern solar panels for homes and businesses are often guaranteed to produce energy efficiently for 25 to 30 years.

In theory, that’s not a major issue. If both are ready to be replaced at the same time, it might even be convenient. But if you install new solar panels on an older roof, you’ll need to have them taken down and reinstalled when you replace your roof.

According to Forme Solar, removing and reinstalling a rooftop solar array costs approximately $255 to $275 per panel, not including the cost of lost energy production while your panels are offline. Considering that most residential solar arrays have well over a dozen panels, removing and reinstalling your solar panels might cost you thousands of dollars on top of what you’re already spending on your new roof.

» LEARN: How many solar panels do I need for my house?

The good news is that you can potentially avoid these costs if you replace your roof and install solar panels close together. Because asphalt shingles and solar panels have similar life expectancies, your solar panels should be due for retirement by the time you’re ready to replace your roof again.

An asphalt shingle roof should last 20 to 30 years, depending on the equipment, workmanship and local weather conditions.

You may even be able to catch a deal if you do both at once. In 2021, Sermed, a ConsumerAffairs reviewer from California, reported finding a deal on a combined roof replacement and solar energy project, “What stood out for me about SunLux was they also have a roofing company, which at the time, I needed to redo my roof. So, they gave me the package deal.”

» MORE: How long do solar panels last?

When you should get a new roof before installing solar panels

We’ve established that the best time to install a solar energy system is shortly after you have a new roof, but what if you’re not due for a new roof anytime soon? Where’s the cutoff?

Ty Sauer, a development manager with the RES Group, a large independent renewable energy company, explained to us that “for a newer build home of less than five years, there is minimal concern of replacing the roof” during the lifetime of a solar panel system. He went on to say that homeowners “with a roof age of 10 to 15 years or more” should “strongly consider having an inspector take a look before having panels installed.”

If your roof is older but you don’t want to wait to go solar, consider installing ground-mounted solar panels.

If you want things in a bit more detail, here are some guidelines based on the age of your roof:

  • If your roof is up to 5 years old, your roof should be in great shape. This is usually the best time to go solar.
  • If your roof is 5 to 10 years old, there’s a chance you’ll need a new roof midway through the life of your solar panels if you install them now, and you should get your roof inspected to see how much life it has left before going solar.
  • If your roof is 10 to 20 years old, you will most likely need to replace your roof at some point in the lifetime of your solar panels if you install them now, so expect to spend a few thousand dollars more when that time comes.
  • If your roof is more than 20 years old, you will almost certainly need to replace your roof before your new solar panels if you install them now, and you should strongly consider waiting until you have a new roof to save yourself some money in the near future.

Assessing your roof’s condition

If you’re unsure how old your roof is, you should call a professional to fully assess its condition and recommend the next steps for you to take before going solar. 

Mark Plagge, a retired home builder and roofing specialist, told us that “there is a definite worn look when a roof gets to be 20 years old.” Plagge also mentioned “cracked, missing, or broken shingles” and shingles with “very few granules left” as signs of an aging roof.

Is it worth going solar if you need a new roof?

It’s understandable if the added costs we’ve talked about have you rethinking solar panels, but it’s important to keep things in perspective and do the math to figure out what’s right for you and your finances.

All roofs wear out eventually, so you do have the option of just waiting to go solar until you’re getting a new roof anyway. (This assumes you intend to stay in your home long-term, but that’s also the case if you want to get the most ROI out of your solar panels.) If your roof is already near the end of its life, this may be an even better option. Just make sure you’re financially ready to pay for both when the time comes.

Alternatively, you can go with ground-mounted solar panels and make your roof a non-factor.

» MORE: How much do solar panels cost?

If you absolutely have to install solar panels as soon as possible, you’ll first need to decide whether it’s more cost-effective to replace your roof now or temporarily remove your solar panels later on. (Replacing a $10,000 roof halfway through its life span will theoretically cost you about as much as removing and reinstalling a 19-panel solar array.)

As for whether these hurdles make solar panels not worth the cost, it’s hard to say because so much depends on your particular situation. The energy savings granted by your solar panels should help offset either expense, and the cost of removing and replacing your panels later on may be moot if it’s covered in your solar contract. Plus, solar panels may increase your home value, and they can help protect parts of your roof against the elements. (According to Sauer, solar “panels themselves will act as a ‘shield’ for your roof, increasing the longevity of the roof’s life against weather events and gradual wear and tear.” ) Still, installing solar panels out of sync with your roof’s life span can have a significant impact on your solar ROI, potentially leaving you in the red.

To determine if a solar panel installation will be worth it on your property, research roofing costs for your home and contact a few of the best solar companies in your area to compare offers and ask questions about your system, roof and the correct course of action.

» MORE: Are solar panels worth it?

Find a Solar Energy partner near you.


    How long do roofs last?

    Most roofs last between 20 and 30 years these days, but the life span of an individual roof depends on the materials used, the workmanship of the roofers and the local climate.

    While tile or metal roofs may last decades longer than average, asphalt shingles are the most commonly used roofing material in the United States, and according to Mark Plagge, the roofing specialist we spoke with, “Nowadays, they have some 30-year shingles, but under most circumstances, a roof will last 20 or 25 years.”

    How much does a roof replacement cost?

    According to the American Society of Home Inspectors, a roof replacement in the United States typically costs between $5,000 and $12,000, with an average near $9,000.

    Just bear in mind that your actual roof replacement cost will depend on many different factors, including the size, pitch and layout of your roof as well as whether you need related services, like gutter or chimney repairs.

    How much does it cost to remove solar panels if you need a new roof later?

    The cost of removing solar panels so you can get a new roof varies but generally lies somewhere between $1,500 and $6,000.

    According to Forme Solar, the total cost to remove and reinstall a solar panel is between $255 and $275. That means a smaller 10-panel system would fall between $2,550 and $2,750, while a 19-panel system capable of powering the average house would cost between $4,845 and $5,225.

    Can adding solar panels damage your roof?

    Professionally installed solar panels rarely cause roof damage, but it is technically possible that improperly handled equipment can lead to unfortunate consequences.

    In the rare event that a licensed solar company damages your roof, your contract may include craftsmanship guarantees for the protection of your home and investment, though.

    Can the same company that fixes your roof install your solar panels?

    There are a lot of companies that can replace your roof and install your solar panels, but not all do. If your roofer does not offer solar services, it’s very likely they have a trusted partner or can recommend someone in the area they know will be able to help, though.

    What is a solar roof?

    A solar roof is an example of a building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) system, meaning solar-energy-generating equipment is part of the building materials. Today’s solar roofs are usually made up of many individual “solar shingles,” which resemble traditional roofing materials while actively producing emission-free electricity.

    » MORE: Solar shingles vs. solar panels

    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. Forme Solar, “Solar Panel Removal and Reinstallation Guide.” Accessed July 24, 2023.
    2. Roof Doctors, “How Long Will Your Asphalt Shingle Roof Last?” Accessed July 24, 2023.
    3. American Society of Home Inspectors, “How Much Does Roof Replacement Cost? (2023 Guide).” Accessed July 24, 2023.
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