When it comes to making your home self-sustainable, the first concept that goes through most people’s minds are solar panels. However, there’s another way to make your home produce solar energy – the concept of solar roof tiles, also known as solar shingles.

So, what exactly are solar roof tiles?

Solar roof tiles (or solar shingles) are solar panels specifically designed to look and function like conventional roofing materials, like shingles or asphalt. Solar shingles are a type of building-integrated photovoltaic, meaning they are designed to blend in seamlessly with your roof’s architectural design.

The average size of a tile is about 12 inches wide by 86 inches long, and it takes about 350 solar tiles for a standard installation. Due to the fact that their weight is only about 13 pounds per square foot, they won’t put too much strain on roof construction. Still, other than these standard characteristics, there’s so much more you need to know about solar roof tiles before you decide on whether you should invest in them or opt for a standard solar system instead. The best way to learn about them is to compare them to the more traditional option of solar panels.

The process of installation

The first thing worth bearing in mind is the fact that the process of installation greatly varies between solar roof tiles and conventional solar panels.

There is a misconception that solar roof tiles are installed on the roof, similar to solar panels, when, in fact, these shingles are the roof. In fact, most of the time, a passer-by can’t tell Tesla solar shingles from regular shingles (without closer inspection). Therefore, their installation is, for the most part, similar to the installation of traditional shingles.

As for the installation itself, first of all, solar panels don’t necessarily have to be installed on a roof, which makes them a more versatile solution. Nonetheless, there are some rules for the installation of solar panels that are worth mentioning:

For instance, the ideal pitch angle of panels is between 15 and 40 degrees, and the roof (or place of installation) should ideally be south-facing. The standard configuration of a panel is either 60 or 72 cells made of silicon, which, when exposed to light, generates electric current due to its amazing conductor capacities.

Solar shingles, on the other hand, must be installed on the roof, and you have only so much roof space. Nevertheless, the surface-to-power ratio of these shingles might still make them into a viable option.


In general, solar panels don’t require much maintenance. In fact, even with no maintenance, they should last anywhere between 25 and 30 years!

The only necessary maintenance for solar panels is cleaning, which is a routine that can be done with a garden hose. Sure, snowfall and leaves are also a thing to look out for, however, this still doesn’t require any kind of skill or specialized equipment.

Related: Do Solar Panels Work in Winter?

However, when it comes to the maintenance of solar roof tiles, advantages and disadvantages aren’t as easy to list.

On the one hand, the fact that solar tiles are more discreet means that there is a higher probability of hardware failure. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that nowadays, shingles are much more reliable and require less maintenance than in the past, due to various hardware improvements made by Tesla’s Solar City subsidiary.

In addition, solar roof tiles are just as resistant to hail or other similar weather phenomena as traditional roof shingles, which means that they are unlikely to break from everyday weather events like storms.

Overall, both solar panels and solar roof tiles should last you a very long time, even with minimal maintenance work done.

Cost-effectiveness and Return on Investment

When it comes to the issue of cost-effectiveness, it mostly depends on the system options and specifications. For instance, the cost-effectiveness of solar panels depends on how potent the option is (how much power it generates), as well as the additional equipment (like the battery) that you opt for.

The more ambitious you decide to go, the sooner you’ll make your money back, so a potent 5kW solar system may take as little as 2.5 to 4.5 years to fully pay itself off. This is due to the fact that the return is calculated by the savings on the energy produced. The more energy that gets produced, the quicker the return will be.

On the other hand, when it comes to shingles, it all comes down to the solar efficiency, which often gets determined by the type of the product and the manufacturer. For instance, while Bristile tiles have a 16 percent solar efficiency, their counterpart Tractile’s Eclipse solar PV tiles boast as much as 20 percent. Needless to say, both of these manufacturers are above the industry standard. The average cost of their installation usually goes between $8,000 and $18,000.

Also, in order to ensure that this return remains positive, it’s important to take a look at the solar performance warranty, as well as a product warranty. Failing to do so can set one substantially behind.

The majority of industry top-dogs offer a 25-year warranty at 80 percent power output, whereas some manufacturers promise 10-12 years of warranty for 90 percent of power output. Long term reliability makes it much easier to calculate your return-on-investment (ROI) as well as to determine your break-even point.


It is important to bear in mind that while solar roof tiles are an interesting concept that might be huge in the future, now it might not be the time to invest in them. After all, they are still relatively new innovations, and could have many problems in the short-term future.

In theory, the sooner you invest in solar energy, the better: The longer you use solar energy, the more money you save!

However, with the state of technology right now, it could take years or even decades for an investment in solar roof tiles to pay off, depending on the efficiency and size of your solar array. As a result, it may be a better idea to wait a few years for technology to improve.

Overall, there’s no doubt that solar roof tiles (and solar/renewable energy in general) is the way of the future. Massive improvements have been made in solar roof tiles within the past few years, and the innovations will only continue in the future as we hunt for better ways to produce renewable energy.

About the Author: Will Sandford

Will Sandford is a Sydney based wood architect, blogger and contributor on interior design and ecology blogs. Besides that, he is also interested in home improvement combined with green technology. In his spare time, Will enjoys surfing, cycling and rock climbing. He is also a regular contributor to SmoothDecorator. Connect with him on Twitter.

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