Are Solar Panels or Solar Shingles the Better Fit for Your House?

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated September 14, 2021
Solar panels on a roof
Westend61 via Getty Images

Solar panels are more affordable and portable, while solar shingles are more attractive and may have a longer lifespan

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Many homeowners are looking for ways to go green and save on energy bills, but knowing exactly how to create a more sustainable home can be a daunting task. If you’re considering solar energy for your home, there’s one big choice you need to make: solar shingles or solar panels. Here are some factors to consider when deciding which is better for your home.

How Solar Panels Work

Solar panels are the most common solar energy option for homes. You’ve probably seen houses with the large, blue panels shining in the sunlight as they absorb energy, inspiring you to look into getting panels of your own. As such, solar panels are typically installed on your roof, but they can also be installed on the ground, against a wall, or at a nearby site to absorb the most direct sunlight possible. 

This form of renewable energy uses building-integrated photovoltaic systems, an inverter, a mount for supporting the panels, and silicon solar cells to capture the most energy. The state-of-the-art circuit inside the panels transmits energy captured by the silicon cells to your home’s electrical wires, providing you with electricity free of charge (once your unit’s been paid off, that is).

Pros of Solar Panels

Solar panels are a popular source of renewable energy that homeowners can use to power their homes, and there are tons of benefits to making the switch.

They’re Portable

Here’s something you might not know: You can take solar panels with you when you move. This is perhaps one of the biggest pros of solar panel ownership—other than the long-term savings that come from choosing a sustainable source of energy!

Higher Home Value

But if you do decide to move and leave your solar panels behind, research conducted by Zillow shows that you can expect to see an estimated 4.1% increase in the market value of your home. For the average homeowner, this equates to approximately $9,200.

Maximum Energy Potential

Solar panels are strategically placed to offer your home the most solar energy possible. And because the panels aren’t permanent, you can harness sunlight from any angle and avoid shaded areas that would otherwise cause you to miss out on solar energy.

You Receive a Tax Credit

Through 2022, the federal investment tax credit (ITC) allows for a 26% deduction for solar panel installation costs.

Cons of Solar Panels

Now that we’ve dished out the pros, let’s take a look at the cons of investing in solar panels.

They’re Expensive

The cost of solar panel systems has dropped significantly over the last decade and continues to decline. But the panels still come with a heft price tag—you’ll need to pay somewhere between $17,100 and $31,900 to install a new system. The national average cost is $24,400, and you should anticipate paying approximately $2.50 to $3.50 per watt for systems in the 3kW to 10kW range.

Long Installation Period

Installing solar panels isn’t always a quick process. Depending on your home’s size and the number of panels needed to power your household, you may be surprised by how long it takes to get everything installed. So be prepared for one to three days of installation (aka, one to three days of people hammering on your roof).

How Solar Shingles Work

Solar shingle roof
kevinjeon00 / E+ via Getty Images

Also known as solar roofs, solar tiles, or solar roof tiles, solar shingles are tile-shaped panels permanently installed on your home’s roof. The panels are much smaller than conventional solar panels, but they operate in a similar way, with building-integrated photovoltaic systems, an inverter, and a circuit that allows the solar energy to be absorbed and flow through the wires into your home.

Pros of Choosing Solar Shingles

Choosing solar shingles for your home is a big investment that comes with many benefits.

They’re Stylish

Solar shingles most closely resemble a modern roof, as they are built in a way that inconspicuously blends into your roof’s original design. This gives you the perk of having solar energy without the industrial feel that comes with solar panels. 

Though solar shingles come in just blue and black (the same as solar panels), Tesla—the leading maker of solar shingles—hopes to have more color options in the future. Tesla acquired a new patent at the beginning of 2021 for experimenting with improving the color variations of its shingles.

They Increase Your Home Value

Your home’s selling price will increase by around $15,000 if you have solar shingles installed.

Longer Lifespan

Compared to the lifespan of most roofs and solar panels, which last for 20 to 25 years, solar shingles boast a 30-year lifespan.

Tax Credit Savings

Just like with installing solar panels, you receive a 26% tax credit for owning solar shingles through 2022.

Roof Protection

Like traditional shingles, going solar means that your solar roof receives protection from the elements. There are a few types of solar shingles on the market, but CIGS solar shingles, in particular, mimic an existing roof extremely well and operate just the same.

Cons of Choosing Solar Shingles

There are many pros to choosing solar shingles, but this doesn’t mean that you should overlook the cons of this newer technology.

They’re Expensive

Tesla’s solar shingles cost around $21.50 per square foot, not including installation costs. Because the average homeowner’s roof size in the US is approximately 1,700 square feet, this means that you’ll be dishing out a good $36,500 on average, or between $21,000 and $40,000 depending on the size of your home. 

Keep in mind that you can also get by only installing shingles on part of your roof to supplement energy and offset costs.

They’re Permanent

If you’re hoping to move in the near future, opting for solar shingles is a costly option that won’t pay off. For one, you can’t bring the solar shingles with you when you move. So, if you install solar shingles right before a big move, that $15,000 home increase mentioned above won’t come close to the original cost of the installation.

Harder to Find Contractors

Solar roof shingles are a newer technology compared to traditional solar panels and therefore are less likely to have a line of professional installation contractors to install them on your home. This means you might have to search longer and harder to find a solar roof installer near you.

Less Productive

Because solar shingles are designed like a traditional roof, they match all of the natural dips and angles on the surface. If any portion of your roof is shielded from the sun, whether because of the natural shade that occurs throughout the day or from tree coverage, those shingle slabs won’t receive full sunlight, making them less efficient. 

However, while you can’t adjust shingles like you can with panels, your solar shingle installer can position the shingles in a location that gets the most sunlight, if you’re hoping to avoid a total roof installation.

You Have to Remove the Old Roof

Unlike solar panels, which are placed on top of your roof, there’s no way of getting around the fact that you must remove your old roof to install solar shingles. If your roof does not need replacement, this is an extra expense on a perfectly good roof. However, if you’re already planning a roof renovation, this may not be a setback.

Solar Panels vs. Solar Shingles

To help you get a better picture, here’s how solar panels and solar shingles measure up to each other.

Price​

Solar panels cost between $17,150 and $31,910, while solar shingles cost between $21,000 and $40,000. By square footage, solar panels fall between $4 to $10, and solar shingles cost between $14 to $19. The total cost of your project depends on how many panels you need to meet your home’s energy needs.

Best price: Solar panels

Appearance

Though both solar shingles and solar panels have that infamous black or blue look, solar panels are bulkier and stand out more. Solar shingles, on the other hand, are sleek, modern, and less noticeable. 

Best appearance: Solar shingles

Versatility

Solar panels can be installed on all types of surfaces and are not limited to roofs. Their functionality and adaptability go beyond the housing industry. In fact, solar panels have been used for traffic lights, on top of cars, and even in space.

Most versatile: Solar panels

Ease of Installation

Installing solar panels takes longer and is a more technical process. There must be an added layer of shingles installed beneath the panel first.

Easiest to install: Solar shingles

Maintenance and Repairs

Expect to pay an average of $711 to repair solar panels. Most solar companies near you will have manufacturer, performance, and workmanship warranties, though each company’s warranties are subject to individual limitations. Generally speaking, solar panels have a 25-year performance warranty, a 10- to 12-year manufacturer warranty, and a five-year workmanship warranty.

Meanwhile, a Tesla solar roof has a 25-year performance warranty, manufacturer warranty, and comprehensive warranty for free labor on repairs or low-performing tiles.

Best warranties: It depends on the company

Length of Life​

Solar panels have a lifespan of around 20 to 25 years, while solar shingles have a 30-year lifespan. Note that there is no evidence of the actual lifespan of Tesla’s solar shingles, as they’re still relatively new.

Longest lifespan: Solar shingles

Efficiency Rates

Solar panels have been in use for much longer than solar shingles and are much more common. But, while solar panel technology is older, the efficiency rate is very high. In terms of solar cell conversion rate (efficiency), the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy states that new solar panels are around 18% to 23% efficient. Solar shingles are less efficient in comparison. 

Most efficient: Solar panels

Resale Value​

Both solar energy systems increase your home’s value by as much as $15,000

Best resale value: Tie

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