Tesla’s Solar Roof Tiles: A Practical Guide

Today, Tesla began taking orders for its solar roof tiles. And it’s not just earth-loving hippies who should be excited. Tesla has designed its roof tiles to be better than shingles, even before you hook up what amounts to a small solar array to your house. But is it right for you? Short answer: Most likely, yeah.

Here’s a practical guide to Tesla’s shingles, and why they’re worth it:

What Are They Made Of?

The first question on people’s mind is, “aren’t these glass?” They are, but don’t think of it as window glass. Think more along the lines of the glass in your iPhone, but thicker and stronger. This stuff is fairly hard to destroy, and can easily deal with the wear and tear of a typical roof. The next question is “Won’t this be ugly?” and the answer is, they’ve thought of that; these look like shingles, from the street, and you don’t see the solar cells until you’re right on top of the panel.

What’s My Spend?

The main question is money. A Tesla roof is more expensive than your average roof, which is currently a $9,000 proposition, on average. Just how much the roof will cost will depend on your house and the extras, but the calculator Tesla’s designed for preorders seems to peg it at roughly $30,000 to $50,000, depending on location and square footage. That said, Tesla is claiming homeowners will save up to $100,000 across the life of the roof, offsetting power bills enough that the roof will pay for itself.

From a more objective perspective, solar installers are estimating that most people who install the roof will find it pays itself off in about a decade on older houses and between six and eight years on new ones, assuming an estimate of $2,250 a year in energy savings. Keep in mind, most roofs are designed to last about fifteen to twenty years. Just as important: The march of technology means that when Tesla’s roof has its number come up, an even better one will be waiting that will probably save you more money, and this will also include a battery to store power when you’re not using it.

What About Tax Credit?

Tesla also factors in the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit, which will pay off up to 30% of the cost of the system if you qualify, but also begins to “sunset” in 2019. That, in of itself, will drive down the overall cost, and some states also offer rebates, tax forgiveness, or other useful financial incentives. So, installing the roof might be a bit cheaper, depending on where you live, but you’ll have to act quickly.

Let’s Talk Toughness

Undiscussed thus far: Durability. The fact of the matter is, Tesla is offering a better roof. Anybody who has dealt with roof shingles, particularly asphalt shingles, has learned, over time, to hate them. They’re not ecologically sound, they break with shocking ease, and they erode over time, dumping dirt in your gutters. Tesla’s shingles are a fifth the weight and much, much tougher. In other words, they’ll likely last a lot longer, as a roof, than your typical asphalt shingle. That both means you’ll save money on roofing over the life of the house, and also keep the power benefits much longer. And don’t forget, a newer roof raises the resale value of a house, so that’s another factor worth considering if you don’t see yourself in your house past a decade.

There are, of course, a lot of questions surrounding these tiles. We don’t know how they’ll perform in the very, very long haul, or what’ll happen when inevitably some shingles need to be replaced. But if buying a house is a long-term investment, it appears right now Tesla’s roof is a good investment.