Tesla Solar Roof vs Solar Panels: Differences and Cost Guide

By Sarah Horvath

Although the Tesla Solar Roof and standard solar panels might seem to be the same (they both use the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity for your home or business), the materials, methodology, construction, and costs can vary greatly between the two. If you’re thinking about adding solar panels to your home to improve its value or lower your energy bills, you might not be sure what advantages come with Tesla’s signature solar roof. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the Tesla Solar Roof and how it might fit with your current home’s infrastructure.

What is the Tesla Solar Roof?

According to Tesla, the Tesla Solar Roof System is “a fully integrated solar and energy storage system” for your home. This means that the system is not a structure or machinery that is simply tacked onto your home or placed in the backyard. It is part of your home, and it has energy inverters so that your home is always supplied with the right amount of energy. It can also store energy it absorbs from the sun in what’s called a Powerwall that you can bundle with the Solar Roof System.

The Powerwall ensures that you always have power, like a backup generator and battery combined. Even if it’s cloudy or storming, nighttime, or there’s a power outage, the Powerwall makes sure your home has uninterrupted power supplied to your home.

This system is an entirely new roof. Not only does Tesla install the components of its solar roof system — these are actual tiles and shingles, so your entire roof is effectively being replaced. If you don’t need a roof replacement any time soon, it’s advisable that you wait to replace your existing roof with the Tesla system until you do need a new roof.

Image credit: Tesla

Tesla Solar Roof and Solar Panels Differences

Like we’ve mentioned before, both the Tesla Solar Roof and traditional solar panels use solar energy to power your home; however, the execution is different, they’re different in appearance and materials, design, cost, and efficiency. The incentives of going solar look different when comparing these two methodologies of solar power as well.

Design & Technology

Tesla came up with its solar roof tiles in 2005, whereas the technology for photovoltaic panels and cells has existed since 1881, although those designs were extremely inefficient. The modern design for solar cells was patented in 1941.

Solar Tiles vs Solar Panels

Tesla’s solar tiles are exactly what they sound like — these are solar shingles and roofing material, together. The solar cells on the shingles/tiles are steel roofing tiles and glass solar tiles. The glass components are the ones which contain the solar cells, the smallest piece of a photovoltaic (getting energy from the sun) device. The steel roofing components provide strength and lend long, all-weather durability to the entire roofing system. Unlike solar panels, this system is a photovoltaic roof rather than external machinery installed on top of your existing roof.

Solar panels are rectangular sheets made up of photovoltaic cells, and these provide direct current electricity to your home or business. Like the Tesla Solar Roof, energy collected by solar panels also travels through an inverter and into a battery. This is an essential part of both of these systems — it’s necessary to prevent power surges and to provide consistent rather than fluctuating energy levels to your solar-powered building. Solar panels are made of glass with aluminum or steel frames, and they are entirely separate from your roof or other structures. You can mount them on top of your roof or in your yard.

Power Output & Efficiency

The power output of Tesla Solar roof shingles has been measured at 71.67 watts. This is an average of three times less power produced than that of traditional solar panels (anywhere from 170 to 350 watts). This is a glaringly huge difference in power output; however, the surface area that the Tesla Solar Roof System covers might be enough to make up for the much lower power output than solar panels, since you may not be able to have as much surface area in solar panels on your property as you would on your entire roof.

When it comes to efficiency, what does that mean? Essentially, energy efficiency is measured by how much energy something uses to complete a certain task — the more energy efficient something is, the less energy it uses to complete that task. The average energy efficiency of a conventional solar panel system is 19-25%, while that of the Tesla Solar Roof System comes in at 17-20% energy efficiency. This is not too huge of a difference until you consider the Tesla Solar Roof cost, which we will discuss below.

Aesthetics

There is no question that the Tesla Solar Roof is one of the most gorgeous solar energy systems available today. The design integrates a traditional roof with solar panel installation to create a design like no other. It is neither one and both of them at the same time, all while fitting with your home’s design and theme. You have the opportunity to install a new roof for your home that is both stylish and functional. Whereas solar paneling is obvious no matter where you put it, Tesla wins in the aesthetics department by a long shot.

Repairs & Durability

Most solar panels are rated for thirty years because they’re made of durable materials, and they also don’t go anywhere. There aren’t any moving pieces that are part of solar panel installation. Tesla Solar Roof Systems have a 25-year warranty alone; we don’t know yet how long they will last because they haven’t been around that long yet. The warranty just means that they are guaranteed to last that long and if they get damaged, Tesla technicians will come out to fix your roof tiles. It’s yet to be determined how long the roof tiles will last, but they should last at least as long as traditional solar panels.

Tesla Solar Roof tiles have gone through a thorough battery of testing. Solar panels are also durable, and because the panels are made up of different pieces, if one cracks or breaks, the whole thing isn’t necessarily rendered out of commission. The solar glass can be easily replaced so that the whole thing is functional once again. Steel and aluminum are easy metals to work with, so repairs on the frame are straightforward as well. One thing to keep in mind when considering the Tesla Solar Roof System over installing traditional solar panels is that the number of qualified solar panel repair specialists is much higher than that of Tesla Solar Roof System repair specialists. We will go into this further in the Availability section.

Home Requirements

Tesla says on its website that it takes into consideration the number of planes a roof has, the pitch of the roof, and any obstructions (skylights, chimneys, etc.) on the roof to determine how to install your Solar Roof System. There do not appear to be any standard exceptions; if Tesla determines a solar roof cannot be installed on your home, it is rare and a case-by-case occurrence. We’ve mentioned above that if you have just replaced your roof or you are not in need of a new roof soon, then the Tesla system may not be the right choice for you. However, if you’re looking to get a roof replacement as well as a clean energy upgrade, then this could be the option for you.

When considering all solar options for your home, you do need to be aware of any rules and regulations your HOA may have on the subject before any of the actual installation begins. This goes for the Tesla tiles, which can take a week or two to install, or solar panels on your roof. Regarding the installation of solar panels, you should be mindful of the age and condition of your roof. If the installation professionals deem your roof too weak for installation, you’ll need to repair or entirely replace your roof before moving further.

Especially when considering installing traditional solar panels, pay special attention to the presence of shade trees on your property. These could affect the amount of solar energy your panels can absorb and you may need to trim some branches back. If you’re moving into a new home, observe the way the sun hits the home at different points of the day. If the home spends most of the day in the shade, you may need to consider other homes or other options for renewable energy sources.

Cost & Pricing

If you’re like most homeowners, you’re probably thinking about investing in a solar panel system to make your home more efficient. While solar panels can produce 250 to 400 watts of energy for your home each hour, they are costly to install. This is true whether you’re looking at Tesla Solar Roof tiles or more traditional solar companies.

Cost per Square Foot

The Tesla Solar Roof tiles cost $21.50 per square foot. Typical solar panels cost between $4 and $10 per square foot, so upfront, whether they’re on the lower end of the price range or the higher end, traditional solar panels are more affordable.

Cost per Square Meter

Per square meter, the Tesla Solar Roof System costs, at the lower estimate, about $175. It can go up to as high as $300 per square meter. Solar panels cost between $40 and $110 per square meter.

Warranty

Tesla is very upfront about its Solar Roof tiles having a 25-year warranty. Included in this warranty are three separate facets: product, weatherization, and module. The product warranty guarantees your Tesla Solar Roof is free from defects for 25 years. Should something happen to the tiles, regarding either the electric system or the steel construction, repairs are included in this warranty. The weatherization warranty states that the roof shall withstand all manner of weather conditions and seasonal changes for 25 years. Finally, the product warranty states that the peak operation levels for the system will remain at 95% productivity or higher for the first five years after installation. After five years, Tesla states that under the product warranty, the power output capacity will decrease by no more than half a percent each year for the next twenty years.

Because solar companies acquire their parts for solar panels from different manufacturers and suppliers and then assemble them themselves, the warranties can vary because each component may have a different warranty. However, each part is guaranteed for at least a decade, and some go up to 25 years. You’ll have to reach out about the warranty directly to the solar company you’re interested in connecting with.

Incentives

For solar energy systems installed between 2020 and 2022, Congress has passed a federal tax credit of 26%. This means that you can claim 26% of the cost of your solar energy system on your income tax so that it is reduced for that year by 26%. For systems installed in 2023, the tax credit amount is 22% of the cost of the system installation. These incentives end in 2024 unless Congress votes to renew the tax credit on solar energy system installation.

Net metering is another type of incentive solar energy users can expect to see. This is when power companies credit solar energy system owners (so you must own the system — you do not receive this incentive if you’re leasing the solar energy system) for energy that they contribute to the power grid. For example, if your household uses less energy than it generated for the month, then the difference is credited to you by the power company you’re connected to. This saves you money on your electric bill and allows you to contribute to energy storage that you can access the next month.

Availability

As Tesla finds its rhythm in manufacturing and installing its Solar Roof Systems, the systems have become more widely available across the U.S. and they’ve even branched out into Canada, which wasn’t the case just a few years ago. However, due to the complexity of the materials used and their assembly, Tesla has had to pause production in the past, leaving some customers without roofs for a considerable amount of time. The Solar Roof System is becoming more and more available as a solar energy choice, but the materials are intrinsically rarer than traditional solar panels.

As for conventional solar panels that we’re all familiar with, they’re available everywhere. Solar companies exist all over the United States, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can simply order the panels and install them yourself (although any potential warranty you could have doesn’t apply if you choose that option). They’re available all over the place.

Advantages of Tesla Solar Roof Over Solar Panels

  • More surface area: Ordinarily, the surface area of a roof encompasses more surface area than solar panels installed on a roof, either on one side or both sides. Tesla installs both active and inactive solar tiles on your entire roof, taking advantage of your roof size so you have more surface area by square foot of photovoltaic cells than you would typically have if you installed traditional solar panels.
  • Beauty: Unlike solar panels, Tesla Solar Roof tiles resemble asphalt shingles. You can have a sleek, high-tech roof that is still stylish and guaranteed for 25 years. If the solar panel look isn’t for you, you have the option of the Tesla Solar Roof System.
  • Solar inverter: The Tesla Solar Roof’s power is maximized and controlled through the Tesla solar inverter. This is the heartbeat of your system, essentially, and it’s always working to make sure your energy levels stay stable, even through dips and increases in energy flow or power outages. The Tesla inverter even updates its software over WiFi connection.
  • Personal situation: If you are looking to replace your home’s roof, you have a smaller roof, and you’re looking to save on your monthly electric bill as well as reduce your carbon footprint over time, then that combination of circumstances makes the Tesla Solar Roof System an excellent choice. However, those with large or complex roofs (with many obstructions) or those who don’t need a whole new roof should likely opt for solar panels.

Disadvantages of Tesla Solar Roof Over Solar Panels

  • Expensive: Ordinary solar panels produce three times the amount of energy per cell as Tesla Solar Roof tiles do, yet the Tesla tiles are three times more expensive. You’d be paying for aesthetics, potential longevity, and the name of Tesla. This is not a cost-effective option compared to solar panels.
  • Durability: Tesla Solar Roof tiles are extremely durable, but so are solar panels. Tesla just wins the durability test when comparing its Solar Roof tiles to traditional roofing materials like clay tiles, asphalt shingles, and paneling.
  • Energy efficiency: The energy efficiency is about the same, with solar panels coming out ahead in most cases cell per cell. Remember, energy efficiency is measured when comparing the amount of energy it takes to do a certain task. The less energy used to complete the task, the more energy efficient something is.
  • Lengthy installation: The time it takes for the installation process of the Tesla Solar Roof can be a huge inconvenience, especially if you work or study from home. It can take a week or two, depending on the complexity and size of your roof. Solar panels only take one to three days.
  • Personnel challenges: Statistically, there are simply fewer Tesla Solar Roof experts than there are solar panel experts. If you encounter issues with your system, it’s much easier to get a repair expert to come fix your solar panels than it is to fix your Tesla Solar Roof.

What is the Difference Between a Solar Roof and Solar Panels?

Still not sure if a solar roof is right for you? Here are a few of the major ways that Tesla’s new product sets itself apart from competitors.

  • Integration: Solar panels sit on top of your roof, either on one plane or several. Many solar panel users install them on the plane of the roof that receives the most prolonged sunlight throughout the day. Tesla Solar Roofs are, well, a roof. They are an integrated system which has photovoltaic cells within steel roof shingles.
  • Total cost: Tesla Solar Roof Systems can cost two to three (or maybe more) times more than a solar panel system. However, in both cases, you can save on your energy bill over time because of net metering which occurs when you use solar energy as your primary energy source.
  • Location: The Tesla Solar Roof is just that — a roof. The roofing and energy system are intrinsically connected. Some people would rather not have solar panels on their roof — solar panels can be installed anywhere on your property. This is especially effective if you have acres of land you can place them on.
  • Powerwall: Tesla’s Powerwall is much more effective at storing and dispensing energy than systems available for traditional solar panels. This is an option you have when installing your Tesla system that includes this advanced solar battery that always ensures you have energy, rain or shine, power outage or no.

Tesla Solar Roof FAQs

Do you have to install a Tesla Powerwall with the Solar Roof?

No, this is optional. It is available with all Tesla Solar products, including the Solar Roof. However, installation costs plus the cost of the Powerwall itself is around $13,000, so if you have the money to spend, it can be a great investment. If not, no worries — it’s not obligatory.

Is a Tesla Solar Roof cheaper than a normal roof?

According to Forbes, the average cost in the US that people spend to replace their roofs is $8,000. Installation costs for the Tesla Solar Roof range from $35,000 all the way up to $70,000 or more, so they’re definitely not cheaper than a normal roof.

Is Tesla solar better than regular solar?

The Tesla Solar Roof covers more surface area than traditional solar panels. One reason for this is because your entire roof is fitted with photovoltaic tiles and hardware so that the largest surface area possible is able to absorb sunlight and provide your home with solar energy. Traditional solar panels are limited in their shape and placement, and you may not be able to have as much surface area covered by solar panels as you would if your whole roof were covered with the Tesla Solar Roof. Most homeowners think that Tesla Solar Roof tiles are much more aesthetically pleasing than regular solar panels. However, there is the question of energy efficiency. Solar panels are still 20-30% more efficient than Tesla’s solar tiles.

As for whether Tesla solar panels or regular solar panels are better is simply a matter of personal preference. After purchasing the failing solar company SolarCity from his cousins in 2016, Elon Musk changed the name to Tesla Solar, and its panels are comparable to any other solar company’s panels, although they are more durable and cheaper in some areas than competitors’ options.

How long does the Tesla Solar Roof last?

It’s currently unclear how long it’s possible for the Tesla Solar Roof to last because the first ones were implemented only 17 years ago. The warranty is guaranteed for 25 years, but its durability and quality craftsmanship should ensure that the Tesla Solar Roof lasts for many decades to come, much longer than a normal roof, which lasts from 10 to 15 years.

House Method’s Solar Companies Rating Methodology

At House Method, transparency and trust are our most important values for the reader. That’s why we took the time to create an objective rating system and score each solar energy company/service according to our methodology.

Our research team dug deep into the fine print of contracts, combed through more than one hundred customer reviews, and thoroughly investigated all of each solar energy company’s services, costs, and products. We’ve done the homework for you by researching nearly all of the solar energy companies on the market so you can have the information you need to make the best choice for your home.

We developed a formula to objectively determine the best solar energy companies and give each a score out of 100 based on the following criteria:

Plan Options (30): Do they provide a variety of plan options? We looked at the number of plans each solar energy company offered and the flexibility of adjusting the plan.

Services offered (20): How many services are offered in each plan? We looked at whether the company manufactures its own solar panels, whether it contracts out installation, and what additional products each company offers.

Trust (10): What do customers say after their solar panels are installed? Does this company offer a guarantee? We considered how satisfied customers are post-service if the company does what it says it will, BBB accreditation, and service guarantees.

Prices (10): How reasonable are the costs of the plan or service in comparison to the industry average? We compared the costs of each company to competitors that offer the same solar energy services.

Unique perks (10): Does the company offer discounts or special services such as financial incentives, rebates, or a useful mobile app? We looked for extras each company offers that set them apart from the competition.

Customer Service (10): How is the customer experience when contacting the company? We considered the speed of response, weekend/holiday availability, and ease of communication through phone calls, email, and online chat functions.

Nationwide availability (10): How many states does the company offer its services? Companies that operate nationally and in all zip codes are favored over those with limited availability.

More on Solar from House Method

Solar

Top 7 Best Solar Companies in Georgia

Solar isn’t as expensive as most Georgians think. Check out this guide to learn about the best solar companies in Georgia and how you can start saving money.

Blue photovoltaic solar panels mounted on building roof for producing clean ecological electricity at sunset. Production of renewable energy concept.
Solar

Top 7 Best Solar Companies in Maryland

Looking for the best solar companies in Maryland for your solar project? Click here to see our top recommendations and how they compare to one another.

Solar panels on the roof of a building
Solar

Top 7 Best Solar Companies in Hawaii

Looking for the best solar companies in Hawaii? Click here to see our top picks, read our reviews of each, and see our guidelines for choosing an installer.

Solar

Top 7 Best Solar Companies in New Mexico

If you're a resident of the Land of Enchantment considering solar power, you don’t want to miss this in-depth look at the best solar companies in New Mexico.

Solar system on house rooftop
Solar

Top 7 Best Solar Companies in Colorado

Are you thinking about switching to solar? Check out this article to learn about the best solar companies in Colorado and find the one that works for you.

Solar system on house rooftop
Solar

Top 7 Best Solar Companies in Massachusetts

Are you a Bay Stater thinking about going solar? Check out this guide covering the best solar companies in Massachusetts to learn everything you need to know.

Solar

Top 7 Best Solar Companies in Michigan

Michigan is one of the fastest growing states in terms of solar adoption. Check out this review of the best solar companies in Michigan to learn more.

Solar

Top 7 Best Solar Companies in California

Did you know that California is the #1 state for solar? If you’re considering going solar, check out this guide to the best solar companies in California.

Solar

Sunrun vs. SunPower: Which Solar Company is Better? (2022)

Do you want to buy solar panels? Click here to learn about two of the biggest solar companies in the country. We’ll tell you what each has to offer and which one is better.