Solar panels line the roof of a home

Solar power is the most abundant energy source available on our planet, making it the fastest-growing energy industry. The option to use solar-reflective shingles or panels is a popular home project that continues to gain traction as the need for alternative energy sources evolves. 

‘Going green’ is a term that’s become commonplace, especially among homeowners looking to reduce their carbon footprint and energy costs. Currently, two popular forms of technology offer homeowners the ability to become less reliant on traditional energy sources—solar panels and solar shingles.

If you’re considering an energy-efficient upgrade for your home, you may be wondering about the benefits and drawbacks of solar shingles and solar panels.

While both of these mechanisms take advantage of the sun’s energy, they have some benefits and drawbacks that homeowners should consider before deciding on implementation.  

This article will explain the main differences between the two and help you make an informed decision based on their use, longevity, efficiency, and cost. 

Solar Shingles vs. Solar Panels

Solar panels are more energy-efficient than solar shingles. They are less expensive to install, but many homeowners opt for the shingles because they are more cost-effective, aesthetically pleasing, and easier to move.

Here are some interesting pros and cons of both to consider when deciding which option is best for you:

Solar Shingles

Pros

  • Reduce the cost of energy bills
  • Reduce air conditioning needs
  • Qualify homeowners for money-saving rebates from utilities or government programs
  • Improve indoor comfort for non-air-conditioned spaces 
  • Decrease roof temperature and extend the roof service life

Cons

  • Can incur a winter heating penalty by absorbing less sunlight, thus reducing heat conduction in the building 
  • Costly installation prices
  • Not ideal for all climates or environments 

Solar Panels

Pros

Cons

  • Not functional for every home
  • Don’t “work” after the sun goes down
  • Not as aesthetically pleasing 

The option you select will depend on which one is more suitable for your lifestyle, budget, and geographical location. Some people value looks, cost, and efficiency most, but others may not mind as long as it’s the greenest option.

How Solar Reflective Shingles Work

Homeowners use solar-reflective shingles to reduce associated energy costs, particularly in warm climates and summer months.

They reduce the amount of sunlight and heat traditionally absorbed by a structure’s roof, making the building cooler. This feature is a highly effective means of lowering strains on HVAC systems and reducing air-conditioning usage in warmer conditions. 

Solar shingles are installed on the roof of a home
Courtesy of Eco Watch

Solar reflective shingles function by reflecting infrared radiation, a spectrum of light that generates heat, thus reducing the absorption of the sun’s rays. 

Heat absorbed from the sun’s rays can be particularly damaging for traditional roofs and roofing products. Infrared radiation and UV rays can lead to heat degradation, meaning roofing products have to be eventually maintained or replaced.

Homeowners living in warmer climates and frequently using air conditioning systems could benefit from installing solar reflective shingles. They will likely see a reduced energy bill, and their home will be cooler with less HVAC strain. 

Solar reflective shingles are gaining popularity, especially in areas with long periods of sunlight. However, that’s also their main limitation.

Solar reflective shingles are only suitable in areas with high temperatures and generally warm climates. They are intended to reduce your air conditioning use and keep your home cooler. Installing solar reflective shingles in a cold area would only make your house even cooler, increasing your heating bills.

How Solar Panels Work

All solar energy begins at the source—the sun. Solar panels use similar technology to solar shingles to manipulate the sun’s rays and convert them into energy. They are designed to convert sunlight into electricity. 

The sun rays that enter our atmosphere are made up of particles called photons, which is what all visible light is made of. Solar panels take advantage of the constant stream of photons hitting the earth and convert them into electricity using the photovoltaic effect.

Inside solar panels, several cells with materials create positive and negative charges. When a photon hits the solar panel, it knocks an electron out of an atom of these materials, which starts an electric circuit and converts it into electricity.

Closeup of the sun's photons radiating through a solar panel

The electricity created by solar panels is direct current, which isn’t suitable for home use. If you install solar panels on your roof, you’ll also have to set up an inverter, which will convert that direct current into easy to use alternating current.

Solar panels are used for commercial and residential purposes, from providing electricity to a remote cabin to energizing corporate offices. Interestingly, Google is one of the leading companies that utilize renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, to power its offices.

Solar energy is effective for various applications, even beyond just powering commercial and residential buildings. They are also used to heat industrial processes. 

The US Department of Energy intends to develop a carbon-free energy sector by 2050. It can reach this goal by utilizing solar energy in the industrial fields of water desalination, food processing, and chemical production.

Not only are solar panels effective alternatives for creating electricity in your home or office, but they are also being used to reduce carbon footprints are a large scale and provide solar energy for heating, ventilation, and more.

Lifespan

The lifecycle of solar panels and solar shingles is perhaps the first factor you should consider. Roofs are made to last a long time, so how do these products fare in comparison?

How Long Do Solar Reflective Shingles Last?

Solar shingles last from 25-30 years. After that, homeowners must replace them. This timeframe is similar to traditional shingles, lasting 20-28 years.

Since solar reflective shingles last the same amount of time as traditional shingles, it leaves many homeowners wondering if they’re worth the increased cost.

How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

Solar panels last between 25-30 years. However, solar panels require regular maintenance and can be damaged. Solar panels also lose efficiency as they age.

If you’re considering installing solar panels on your roof, you might be wondering how often you’ll need to replace them and how much of an extra cost that will be.

On average, solar panels tend to last the same time as solar shingles and traditional roofing shingles. However, some solar panel systems have been known to last nearly 50 years.

Like solar shingles, the life of solar panels is highly dependent on weather and climate conditions. Also, it’s important to note that most solar panel systems tend to deteriorate and decrease in efficiency gradually over time.

So, while your system may not completely stop functioning, it can slowly lose its effectiveness as part of its natural aging process.

It should also be noted that solar panels need maintenance. This is because they accumulate dirt and dust, making them less effective.

You don’t necessarily need to hire a professional—usually, a soft cloth will do. However, it takes some work and must be done carefully. A harsh material could cause damage, and solar panels are costly to repair.

A worker uses a squeegee to clean solar panels
Using a squeegee to clean solar panels is another viable option.

Cost

One of the most significant factors for many homeowners considering installing solar reflective shingles or panels is cost. Of course, cost is a huge factor for any important purchase, but even more so for green energy investments. 

Here’s the crux of the issue. As you’ll see, solar panels are cheaper to install, but they won’t be replacing your roof—you’ll be putting them on top of it. Meanwhile, if you were already going to replace your roof, installing solar shingles may not make that much of a difference.

How Much Do Reflective Solar Shingles Cost?

Reflective solar shingles cost $60,000-$75,000 for an entire roof. This figure depends on the installation, contractor’s pricing, and the type of roof you have.

The cost could be higher if you have a significant slope, pitch, or large roof. Take bids from local contractors to find the best option if you are set on solar shingles. 

Now let’s compare the cost of solar reflective shingles to the price of a traditional shingle roof.

Generally, standard shingles are sold by the bundle and the square. One square equals 100 square feet (9.29 square meters) and typically varies in cost from $100 to $1,800, based on the shingle type, installation, contractor costs, and brand. 

On average, most homeowners who get a traditional roof installed pay anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000. But, again, this varies based on home size, labor fees, and the price of your materials. 

When considering the longevity and cost of a solar roof compared to a traditional roof, you may wonder if the high price is justified. However, it’s also important to remember that you are eligible for rebates when choosing renewable energy sources such as solar shingles. 

A solar tax credit was initially passed in 2005 and has been renewed repeatedly. When it was first introduced, solar energy credits for roof replacements equaled 30% of the installation cost. However, as of 2022, the deduction has decreased to 10%.

Still, a 10% tax credit is a plus, especially if you’re committed to going green in 2022. 

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

Solar panels cost around $250 per panel. Covering a roof with solar panels costs $15,000 to $50,000, depending on the size of your home and the tax breaks you can get.

Solar panel prices have been steadily decreasing during the last few years, but they’re still considerably more expensive than other roofing options. Generally, you can purchase panels for about $1 per watt, which usually equals about $250 per panel. 

Much like solar and traditional shingles, the cost of installing solar panels varies by the level of efficiency, capacity, and location. Additional factors for the price include the contractor fees and tax credits. 

You can expect to pay about $15,000 for an average-sized home, after-tax breaks, and rebates in the US. However, it also depends on how large a system you’re planning to install. Some larger solar-paneled powered systems can cost upwards of $50,000.

It’s essential to shop around and get bids from professional contractors to see exactly how much it will cost you in your unique situation.

Installation

Home renovation is always a bit of a hassle, so it’s understandable if you want to go the easiest route. Solar panels have several functional advantages over solar shingles, but as you’ll see, installation can get complicated.

How Are Solar Panels Installed?

To install solar panels, a solar installer engineer will visit your property to have you sign a contract and inspect your home. They will prep your roof and then install the electrical wiring to connect your home to the panels. Finally, a control circuit will be connected. 

The actual installation of solar panels only takes a few days. However, the lead-up to installation can take some time as local building permits and restrictions are navigated, and the paperwork is filled out. 

A worker installing solar panels on the roof of a home

If your contractors or installers are fully booked, you may also have some wait time. In that case, you’ll be added to a queue and might have to wait several weeks or months before your panels are installed. 

How Are Solar Shingles Installed?

Installing solar shingles is a similar process to installing traditional roofing shingles. However, solar shingles are much broader than conventional shingles and need to be installed in one large continuous strip. 

While there are many DIY tutorials for installing solar shingles yourself, it’s essential to at least get advice from professionals or have the work completed by them, especially if you’re not sure what you’re doing.

To learn more about solar shingle installation, check out this video on YouTube.

Conclusion

It is impossible to say which type of green energy source is best because it depends on your unique circumstances, preferences, and geographic location. 

If you value affordability and are willing to forgo high efficiency and longevity, you may want to consider solar panels. Solar panels tend to be slightly more affordable than shingles and are more versatile in varying climates.

Solar shingles could be better for those of you who want something more aesthetically pleasing and live in hot climates. 

However, both options only last for about the same time as a traditional roof.

Sources

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