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Solar shingles vs. solar panels

Panels are more efficient, but shingles multitask

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Written by David Stillwell
Edited by Cassidy McCants

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    solar panels on roof

    Solar panels are rectangular sheets of photovoltaic (PV) cells that sit above the roof or on a ground-mounted rack. These are a popular option for both homeowners and businesses that choose to go solar. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are more than 3 million solar arrays installed throughout the country.

    Solar shingles are another installation option for those who want to switch to solar energy. Rather than sitting above your roof on a rack, these PV shingles become the top layer of your roof (to replace regular shingles). Solar shingles both protect your home from the elements and convert sunlight to energy.

    As of publishing, Tesla, one of the major retailers of solar shingles, has installed more than 400,000 solar roofs (made up of PV shingles), which suggests solar shingles are becoming a popular option for homeowners going solar. But which option — solar panels or shingles — is right for you?


    Key insights

    • Both solar shingles and panels have a life span of about 20 to 25 years.
    • Solar panels are typically more efficient than solar shingles.
    • Solar shingles are generally more expensive than solar panels.

    What are solar shingles?

    A solar shingle is essentially a small solar panel that acts as a roof shingle. Solar shingles replace the existing roofing material on your home or business. Most have at least a 20-year life span and perform two jobs: They gather sunlight to make solar power, and they protect your roof (like an asphalt shingle).

    While you can cover your entire roof with solar shingles — and you may need to — you can also pair traditional roofing materials with solar shingles.

    Solar roof shingles vs. panels

    Solar panels and solar shingles work similarly; the biggest difference is in how they’re installed. Solar panels sit on top of your roof with a frame system, while solar shingles actually replace your roofing tiles or shingles — they essentially become your roof.

    Size

    Solar shingles are smaller than PV panels. Because shingles cover less area, a rooftop installation may require more shingles than panels.

    Performance

    Solar panels are more efficient than solar shingles, but a roof can hold more solar shingles than panels. You can make up the difference in efficiency by adding more solar shingles.

    Lifetime

    Both solar panels and solar shingles are designed to last at least 20 years. However, if your roof requires repairs, you have to remove any solar panels and pay to have them reinstalled. With solar shingles, you may have to replace defective shingles, but they should remain under warranty for around 20 years.

    Placement

    Generally, solar shingles are placed where they’ll receive the most sun year-round. The same is true for solar panels, but they can tilt to track the sun — solar shingles are set in a fixed position.

    Cost

    Solar shingles are more expensive than solar panels, but solar shingles may be a better investment if your roof may need to be replaced soon. You can compare the cost of having a new roof installed against the overall cost of installing solar shingles to see if shingles make financial sense.

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      Solar shingle pros and cons

      PV shingles are enhanced roofing shingles that mimic the function of a solar panel, and they’re available in several different sizes and styles. They’re typically best for those who need a total roof replacement before going solar.

      Pros

      Solar shingles are easy to install, and they’re designed to withstand severe weather, including snow, hail and intense winds. Most come with a 20-year warranty.

      They’re also flexible in terms of look. You can mix them with regular roofing shingles or use “dummy” solar shingles that match (a dummy shingle looks like a solar shingle but doesn’t have solar capabilities). You can also pair them with regular shingles.

      If your roof needs replacing, solar shingles can be less expensive overall. With solar panels, you have to repair the roof before installing, which means paying for the roof repair, the panels and the installation.

      Cons

      Like solar panels, solar shingles can’t store energy. To have energy available at night, you need to install a solar battery system. Solar shingles are also smaller than solar panels and less efficient, so you need more of them to provide adequate energy — and they’re immobile, meaning they can’t track the sun.

      [Solar shingles] merge better with building design and offer a more sleek and attractive aesthetic than solar panels, and the upkeep tends to be easier.”
      — Jesse Silkoff

      According to Jesse Silkoff, CEO of MyRoofingPal, a company that connects roofing contractors with customers, “Solar shingles can be an excellent investment, especially if you’re building a new roof or replacing an old one. They merge better with building design and offer a more sleek and attractive aesthetic than solar panels, and the upkeep tends to be easier.”

      FAQ

      Can you install your own solar shingles?

      You can install your own solar shingles if you have experience installing roofing shingles — the process is the same. The only difference is that you’ll need to drill holes to run the wiring that channels power from the shingle to the solar components.

      Solar shingles have an adhesive strip that attaches them to the roof (you still nail them in place like a traditional asphalt shingle). The design and application make mixing them with regular shingles easy.

      Will solar shingles increase the value of my home?

      According to Zillow, rooftop solar power has increased the value of homes by an average of about 4%. Shingles also provide a streamlined look and a long life span, which may appeal to buyers.

      How long do solar shingles last?

      Solar shingle warranties range from 20 to 25 years, depending on the brand. This range is comparable to that of solar panels and most traditional roofs.

      Are solar shingles more expensive than solar panels?

      Solar shingles are typically more expensive than panels. The final cost will depend mainly on the size of your roof (and how much power you want to generate). To make the investment in solar shingles worth it, consider having them installed when your home needs a new roof.

      When you install solar panels, you pay for the solar panels plus the frame — and the installation of both. The actual cost depends on the size of your roof or the amount of power the array needs to generate. The average cost is around $12,000 after federal tax incentives.

      Bottom line

      If your roof is in good shape and has more than five years of life left, solar shingles may not be the best investment (they require replacing your existing roof shingles). If you need a new roof and your home receives plenty of sunshine, however, installing a solar roof using solar shingles may be a good option.

      Solar shingles can provide enough solar electricity to power your home, and they’re also more aesthetically pleasing than rooftop solar arrays. Solar shingles, like solar panels, tend to last about 20 to 25 years. A rooftop installation does require fewer panels than shingles due to the difference in size between the two, so it’s important to factor in both cost and efficiency per unit when making your decision.

      ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page.
      1. Zillow, “Homes With Solar Panels Sell for 4.1% More.” Accessed May 20, 2022
      2. Department of Energy, “Solar.” Accessed May 29, 2022.
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