Solar Panels vs. Solar Roofs: What You Need to Know

Solar energy is a renewable source that is excellent for the environment. Switching to solar energy prevents the impacts of climate change. You have multiple options for your home, such as solar panels or solar roofs. While they both capture energy from the sun, they work slightly differently. Here is everything you need to know about each option, to make the best choice for you.

By Rose Morrison, managing editor of Renovated

What Are Solar Panels?

Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity you use to power your appliances. They are made up of photons that knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity.

These are typically installed on the roof, but you can also place them on the ground overtop parking lots. Before placing these panels, know whether or not your roof needs any repairs to prevent any surprise maintenance costs.

Here are a few more things to consider:

  • What is the shape of your roof?
  • What direction does it slope?
  • How much weight can it handle?
  • Where will runoff water go?
  • How will you connect to the grid?

What Are Solar Roofs?

These are made of thin photovoltaic (PV) sheets that overlay or replace your roof shingles. They work like solar panels by absorbing sunlight and converting it to electricity. Tesla is a popular brand for solar shingles, but there are other companies to consider too, such as Luma.

man installing solar roof

Solar Panels vs. Solar Roofs: The Differences Between the Two

While both work by capturing the energy from the sun, they have a few differences to note. Each one has pros and cons in terms of its cost and installation process. Here are a few things to consider before making your purchase.

1. The Pricing

Installing solar panels is more cost-effective than solar roofs. If you’re replacing your roof, you can add solar shingles to your construction budget. The average cost for solar panels is about ​​$11,144 to $14,696 after applying tax credits.

On the other hand, a solar roof can cost between $52,200 and $64,110 before tax incentives.

2. Their Visual Appearance

Adding any feature to your roof can impact your home’s curb appeal. Solar tiles are designed to look like traditional shingles and can blend well. This can increase your home’s resale value. However, PV panels are installed on top of the current material, so they stand out more. They are also bulkier and are currently limited to black or blue colors.

3. The Complexity of Installation

Solar roofs can take longer to install than solar panels and involve a more complex process. And it’s easier to find a contractor for solar panels. Plus, you can detach and reinstall them if you decide to move.

With solar roofs, you need to cover the entire surface area, and there are fewer specialized contractors. However, they can save you time if you’re replacing your roof anyway and intend to invest in solar down the line. If your current roof is older or missing shingles, a replacement is often necessary.

4. Their Energy Efficiency

PV panels are more efficient than solar roofs because you can turn them in any direction to capture the most sunlight. In addition, they aren’t affected by the underlying roofing material. So, you can reduce your electrical consumption and save between $10,000 and $30,000 over your lifetime.

While you’re still lowering your electricity usage, solar roofs are less effective. One reason is that their efficiency depends on the placement and orientation of the roof. Since they’re installed into the structure itself, you can’t rotate them to a new position. In addition, solar shingles may not be suitable for all roof types.

5. Long-Term Durability

Solar panels come with a longer warranty and have been on the market for longer than solar roof shingles. However, solar shingles are built into the roof, so they can potentially withstand harsher weather conditions. Plus, unlike solar panels, they have fire-resistant properties.

How long each product lasts depends on the manufacturer and installation. Since solar roofs are a relatively new product, their longevity hasn’t been fully tested.

6. The Return on Investment

Solar panels have a better return on investment due to lower installation costs and higher efficiency. However, both types of solar system can lower your monthly bills and offer tax incentives. You can claim the federal residential solar energy credit on federal income taxes. To qualify, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Your system was installed between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2023
  • It’s located at your primary or secondary residence
  • You own the solar PV system
  • The panels are new or you’re using them for the first time

7. The Materials Used in Manufacturing

Solar roofs are usually made from copper indium gallium selenide, which is what makes them thinner. It is a semiconductor material ideal for higher conversion rates. Some are made from monocrystalline silicon, which is used to fabricate computer chips. They are more expensive but have a higher efficiency rating.

Solar panels mostly use silicon material as well, although the frame enclosing the sections is made of glass.

Solar Panels vs. Solar Roofs

How to Decide Which Is Best for You?

Now that you understand the similarities and differences, it all comes down to preference. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you’re installing a new roof, solar shingles are the better option. They are ideal for remodeling projects or when building a new home. Some households find them more visually pleasing than solar panels that stand upright.

If you want to add solar energy to your existing home, PV panels can be a more affordable and efficient option. Also, it may take time to find a specialized contractor to install solar shingles.

Another thing to consider is whether you’re planning on selling your home soon. The bulky style of solar panels may be less attractive to potential buyers. Yet, you can more easily take them with you if you choose to.

Switch to Renewable Energy Today

Solar panels and roofs are similar in their main function. Yet, they differ in price, installation process, and overall efficiency. Choosing which one you want can feel overwhelming. So, start by examining your roof and its structural integrity to determine whether you need a replacement.

You also want to think about your budget and design preferences. Then, find contractors who specialize in energy to help you make an informed choice. Whichever way you decide to go, switching to renewable energy helps the planet and saves you money.

Rose Morrison

About the Author

Rose is the managing editor of Renovated and has been writing in the construction industry for over five years. She’s most passionate about sustainable building and incorporating similar resourceful methods into our world. For more from Rose, you can follow her on Twitter.