Solar Shingles Are the Energy-Saving Upgrade Your Home Needs

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated December 17, 2021
A house with solar shingles on its roof
kevinjeon00/E+ via GettyI mages

Unlike solar panels, solar shingles integrate right into your roof

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Solar shingles are similar to solar panels, but instead of resting on your roof, they become part of it. They behave like regular roof shingles by protecting your home from the weather while converting the sun's energy into electricity to power your house, reducing energy costs and your home's carbon footprint.

What Are Solar Shingles?

Solar shingles more closely mimic the look of regular roof shingles than standard solar panels. Aside from appearance, they also function the same way as regular roofing shingles and have the same level of durability and flexibility, with a lifespan of up to 30 years at peak performance. After this time, they'll still act as shingles and still generate energy—they just won't produce as much energy.

Why Should You Choose Solar Shingles?

Each shingle generates up to 63 watts of power. In theory, if you install enough of these shingles, you can generate enough solar power to entirely replace your conventional electricity supply. 

But you don't have to install a whole roof full—even a 20% reduction in conventional energy usage is beneficial for the planet (and your wallet!). However, if your roof is in need of significant repair anyway, it might be worth hiring a local roofing specialist to install at least some solar shingles to maximize your savings. 

"Solar shingles provide the water-shedding characteristics of a traditional roof while harnessing the sun’s energy and converting it to free electricity,” says Jesse Garrett, general contractor and principal owner of Liberty Roofworks in Charlotte, NC. “This is where I see the greatest opportunity for ROI in the future."

It's also important to note that your roof doesn't need to be in full sunlight for the shingles to be effective. They make use of diffuse, scattered light, so they work even on overcast and rainy days.

But if you do live in an area that gets a lot of sunlight, or you have a roof full of shingles but don't use that much energy, you can really clean up. When your solar shingles generate excess energy, it's passed to the local electric grid and you get paid for it. While all counties have different methods of compensating homeowners who produce excess solar energy, it's usually in the form of a check or a deduction on their next bill.

Types of Solar Shingles

When picking out solar shingles for your roof, you have two major choices.

Silicon Solar Shingles

Silicon solar shingles resemble standard solar panels, as they're framed and rigid. However, they're thin, sized like a shingle, and integrate with existing roofing materials. These are more costly to produce, purchase, and install. They’re also less efficient than CIGS shingles.

CIGS Solar Shingles

CIGS solar shingles are lightweight and flexible. They blend better with your existing roof and, from a distance, a whole installation looks exactly like regular shingles. CIGS shingles are comparatively inexpensive, more energy-efficient, and have a longer lifespan.

How Much Do Solar Shingles Cost?

The average cost to install solar shingles is $60,000 to $75,000. Expect to pay between $20 and $25 per square foot. You can reduce the cost by not having a full roof replacement, but that will reduce the amount of energy your roof produces. 

Remember: The more shingles you install, the lower your energy bill and carbon footprint. When factoring in cost, you should also consider the resale value—the Department of Energy states that buyers are willing to pay a premium of up to $15,000 for a home using solar energy.

Note that you may be eligible for rebates and incentives to install solar shingles, and there are many solar financing options available.

Solar Shingles vs. Solar Panels

One of the most frequently asked questions about solar panels and shingles is how they differ. The main difference between the two is the aesthetic. Solar shingles integrate better into the roof whereas panels are large, thick, and rigid. 

The shingles are also dual-purpose—they function as solar panels and roof shingles. So if you already need to redo your roof, shingles are more cost-effective than solar panels. In fact, if you're replacing your roof anyway, solar shingles are up to 15% more cost-effective than solar panels per watt of solar energy. Solar panels cost $0.70 to $1.50 per watt.

But solar shingles aren’t a slam-dunk across the board—they do have some drawbacks when compared with solar panels. To be optimally effective, shingles require a specific roof slope that varies by location. The ideal angle is equal to the latitude of the property they're being installed on, but pitch angles between 30 and 45 degrees are acceptable. More traditional solar panels are tiltable, so local solar installers can angle them precisely to capture the maximum amount of UV. 

Installing solar shingles also costs more and takes longer than panel installation. The large, rigid panels sit on top of the roof and cover a larger surface area, reducing labor time and costs.

Solar Shingle Installation

Solar shingles are layed on a roof
iaremenko - stock.adobe.com

Solar shingles need professional solar installation. However skilled you are, you cannot safely install solar shingles yourself. 

Additionally, your contractor has to apply for a permit to connect your roof setup to the local energy grid. Because each shingle requires individual installation and wiring, these installations are time-consuming and labor-intensive.

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