installing solar panels on roof cost

Getting the right solar panel installation cost breakdown and Installing Solar Panels On Roof Cost can be hard if you’re unaware of what features to look for especially that there are so many of them to find around. For this reason, we’ve put up a guide highlighting the top solar panel cost for home in the category.

Is your roof good for solar?

This may be shocking to some, but not all roofs are suitable for solar. For instance, if you live in a gated community, its housing development society may have its own rules and regulations, including limitations contributing to the aesthetics of the roof. Also, if an integrated solar roof is a possibility for your residence, there may still be limitations on the number of panels you are allowed to install on your roof. Similar constraints may apply if you rent/lease (and not own) your residence.

In the absence of these limitations, here are other key factors that will determine the type of solar roof technology best suited for your roof.

Your monthly electricity bill

Despite all the benefits provided by a solar roof installation (including higher energy efficiency and lower energy bills), there is no denying the financial setback posed by the initial installation cost. (However, these can be addressed by various finance options with no upfront cost to you.) Based on present industry dynamics, experts claim that this cost is offset over a period of 2–5 years. Furthermore, it may take (at least) a similar amount of time for you to completely offset the cost of the solar roof (panels, tiles or photovoltaic shingles).

For this to be economically viable for your residence based on your energy requirements, you should have a monthly energy bill upwards of $70–$75 in order to get financial savings from a solar roof installation.

Type of roof

The type and material of your roof can directly impact the type of roofing and solar technology you use. For instance, solar panels are best suited to strong roofing materials (such as cement, asphalt) with an even surface in order to efficiently generate solar energy. Or else, you may want to consider Tesla roof shingles or solar roof tiles.

Geographical and topographical placement of your roof

The geography of your location and its local climate will determine the amount of sunlight you receive around the year. In turn, this will directly impact the number of solar roof panels you require in order to comfortably meet your monthly energy requirements.

The design and elevation of your roof, combined with its surrounding topography, will impact the amount of shade you receive during the day. For instance, the right side of your roof may be close to an empty street with tall trees, thus receiving more shade than other portions of the roof. Accordingly, certified solar energy contractors can determine the best design for your solar power roof. They can also increase the amount of sunlight received by altering the angle at which each solar panel is installed on your roof.

Possibility of short-term roof replacement

Based on the age and condition of your roof, if you foresee a roof replacement in the short term (like 5–10 years), it may be more financially viable to take this up along with your solar roof installation. For instance, high-quality solar roof tiles can have a lifespan of up to 40 years. Hence if you hold off on re-roofing after solar roof installation, there is a possibility for the panels to be damaged when the actual re-roofing happens in the future.

Another possibility is to use solar roof PV technology—like Tesla solar roof shingles—as your primary roofing material. This will further reduce the total cost (re-roofing + solar roof installation).

solar panel installation cost breakdown

The capacity of a solar roof is determined by:

Your total budget

This is often the primary determining factor to impact the amount of solar energy you can generate through your solar roof system. How much are you willing to spend upfront, either through cash or through finance options, on a solar roof system (installation + solar roof cost included)?

Here, keep in mind that there are 2 types of tax rebates offered by the government, to lower this burden.

a) The ITC (income tax credit) offered by the federal government

At present, this is at 26% of your total installation cost (available until 2022), for new buildings/installations, and can be availed as a deduction in your income tax over a 2-year period.

b) Individual state-sponsored tax rebates, based on their REC goals

Again, this is not a cash credit and varies across US states. Here, REC goals are state-specific, and determine the amount of energy to be generated/imported/exported by the state for the yearly period. Based on the situation every year, your state may choose to offer renewable energy incentives to residents, in the form of additional tax credits or rebates on your electricity bill (based on the total solar energy you generate).

House Owner Calculating His Budget for Solar-Powered Roof Investment

Finally, there is also the possibility of “selling” extra (unused) solar energy generated by your roof to your electric company on a monthly basis, provided you are connected to the grid and have net metering enabled. In this case, the electric company may again choose to “pay” for this energy, either through cash or through a specified wattage or electric energy you can use when there is no solar energy available. This too can be used to offset your initial set up cost, over a period of time.

The monthly savings you expect from your solar roof

The monthly savings you expect and your total solar roofing capacity have a direct relation with each other. Depending on which item you choose to keep constant, the other item can be accordingly altered.

In fact, certified solar roof contractors can even provide a yearly projection of the savings you can expect, along with expected cost, spanning the entire duration of the solar roof material’s lifetime. Make sure to ask for this along with the initial quote, as this can be a key determining factor in your choice of roofing technology/contractor.

The total area (in square footage) available to install a solar PV system

If you are installing a solar roof on top of an existing building/roof, then a portion of your roof may be sufficient to generate the monthly savings you expect. This is particularly useful for solar roof panels, or even solar roof tiles/Tesla solar shingles (when used as secondary roofing material). In this case, a proficient contractor can help determine the premium area in your roof (based on the amount of sunlight/shade received during the day), in order to generate maximum savings for minimum cost.

On the other hand, if you are installing a solar roof as part of new construction or a re-roofing project, then you have the option of using solar tiles/best solar shingles as the primary roofing material. In this case, the entire roof will be able to generate solar energy. (There may be variation among the solar energy generated by individual tiles/shingles, based on their placement on the roof.) The total cost of re-roofing + solar roof installation can be offset with this choice.

Solar roof options: 3 major solar roof technologies

At present, there are 3 solar PV technologies available for a solar roof system.

  1. Solar roof panels
  2. Solar roof tiles
  3. Solar roof shingles
Installl Solar Panels on Existing Roof Using Mounting/Racking Systems
Install solar panels on existing roof using mounting/Racking systems.

Solar roof panels remain the most popular, simply because of their higher efficiency in generating solar energy from sunlight. They come in dark-blue/black color choices, intentionally designed to absorb the maximum amount of sunlight. They can be installed on an existing roof (or even on the ground, like a terrace), using mounting and racking systems.

While newer technologies attempt to mount/rack them as close to the roof as possible, they are considered less aesthetically appealing than other options. On top of this, they can also be installed on a part of your roof that receives the maximum sunlight during the day, in order to reduce costs without impacting efficiency.

Pros of solar roof panels:

  • Technology evolved over time and hence stable.
  • Durable technology guaranteed to last up to 40 years.
  • Cost based on wattage/number of panels installed.
  • Part roof install possible, to gain maximum savings and minimum cost.
  • Portable—can be uninstalled and taken to your new residence when you sell your current residence.

Cons of solar roof panels:

  • Less visually appealing as they are typically not mounted/stacked flush on the roof. Can also disturb visual uniformity of the roof.
  • Requires an existing roof made from strong roofing material. Hence additional cost for new construction.
Illustration of Roof With Solar Tiles
Illustration of roof with solar tiles.

Solar roof tiles are individual solar tiles, that can either be used as primary roofing material, or installed over an existing roof. In this sense, they are more versatile, as they also double up as a roof.

Pros of solar roof tiles:

  • Versatility—Can either be installed as a part roof on an existing roof, or as entire roof.
  • The second option can also be used to keep visual uniformity of the roof and reduce costs in a fresh construction/reroofing project.
  • Cost based on area covered.

Cons of solar tiles:

  • Newer technology, hence quality or lifespan yet to be tested.
UAV Drone Inspecting the Installation of Solar Roof Shingles
UAV drone inspecting the installation of solar roof shingles.

Solar roof shingles are similar to solar roof tiles, in terms of their installation as part or full roof. However, they are sleeker in design, as they are an evolved technology. In fact, Tesla roof shingles—also known as Tesla solar roof—was introduced by Elon Musk’s company in 2018, and may soon turn out to be the most popular among the three. Although it has limited installations as of date, is touted to be a pathbreaker in roofing and solar projects for the future.SEE ALSO: Solar Shingles: Make Your Roof Solar-Powered (5 Brands)

Pros of solar roof shingles:

  • Versatility—Can either be installed as a part roof on an existing roof, or as entire roof.
  • Aesthetics—Maximum visual appeal and uniformity of the roof.
  • Touted to be cost and energy effective based on lifetime guaranteed.

Cons of solar shingles:

  • Newer technology, hence quality or lifespan yet to be tested.

Installing Solar Panels On Roof Cost

The cost for a solar roof depends on the total wattage required for your monthly energy needs and is hence reflected as dollar per watt ($/watt). Based on your budget, you may choose to generate your entire energy through solar power, or use it to offset a portion of your monthly utility bill. Either way, the three technologies (panels/shingles/tiles) are fairly competitive in terms of dollar per watt pricing. Here is an example for solar roof installation in the U.S..

A small solar roof system can generate 4 kilowatts of power, and costs about $15,000/-. This is typically enough to power a small house (less than 900 square feet in size). A larger system, generating double that wattage can cost $29,000/- and able to power a 2,000 square feet home. The average household system will fall somewhere in between the two (needing 6 kilowatts of solar power generation).

When you break down the total solar roof cost, it will come down as follows:

  1. 15–20% for operation and maintenance, including ordinary repairs from time to time.
  2. 35–40% for installation and permits. This is a large chunk of change to go to your solar contractor, so choose wisely!
  3. 45–50% for the actual equipment. A certified contractor can help you garner top-quality equipment bound by solid guarantees to support its lifespan.

The cost of the equipment will differ based on the type and size of the equipment. Here are some notes.

  • Solar panels cost between $2.67 to $3.43 per watt.
  • Solar tiles and solar shingles cost between %5 to $7 per watt. As they are on the higher side, they are most recommended as a combined roof + solar power option.

In comparison, a premium Tesla solar roof for the average 6-kilowatt household can cost up to $44,000/-. This may seem superlatively expensive on its own. But if you consider the cost of roofing (up to $60,000/-) + solar, it suddenly appears temptingly economical!

Financing for solar roof: Do you have to pay cash upfront?

The sunny (pun intended) news is that there are several financing options to consider, so you do not have to shell out cash upfront. This includes:

  1. Extend your home mortgage to finance the cost.
  2. Take a solar loan—much like a home improvement loan and hence with a higher rate of interest—to cover the cost. This is generally feasible if the monthly savings you garner from the solar roof system is more than the loan interest incurred per month.
  3. Pay for the system outright, using your savings or a personal loan from a well-wisher (low or no rate of interest) or from a bank (higher rate of interest). If you own your solar roof system, only then are you eligible for government-sponsored incentives. Hence this system is feasible in the long term, provided you are equipped to take a short term dent in your savings.
  4. Solar lease, where the installation is owned by a third-party company (TPA). Here, you offer a small deposit (it may even be 0% for some TPAs), and then pay a monthly amount to lease the system for its lifespan. Again, this makes financial sense provided the savings you garner in utility bills is higher than the amount you pay the TPA.

How to install a solar roof: 6 main steps

You may be surprised, but the first step in installing a solar roof begins not with a contractor, but with YOU! Yes, you will first need to understand the energy requirements of your house, before you even make the first call. Here are the steps to get your solar roofing project completed, quickly, and easily.

Step 1: Use a solar calculator, to determine your energy requirements.

A solar calculator can be easily downloaded online, and a good one will link you to at least a couple of local, accredited contractors to take on the job. Here, Google is indeed your best bet, since it will scout for solar calculators sponsored by certified contractors within your geographical location.

The solar calculator will help you understand your monthly energy requirements—including the typical number of electrical equipment connected in your house (such as microwave, fridge, lighting equipment, etc.)—and thus calculate the total wattage you will require to power your house on a daily basis. A smart solar calculator may even list out the total number of solar panels you will need on your roof, in order to meet your daily wattage requirements. A magnificent solar calculator will lead you to at least one certified contractor within driving distance of your house.

Here, consider using the rule of 3 to scout out the very best. Work with 2–3 solar calculators (as may consider different options), to find at least 3 competitive contractors within your community. 

Step 2: First call with solar contractor/installer

Once you have a better understanding of your energy requirements, prepare to call the solar contractor. He or she will want to know more about the following, before they schedule the first visit to your house.

  1. your budget
  2. your daily monthly energy requirements
  3. your roof type/location

In turn, make sure you find out more about the following, so you have some ideas of your total expenses/output.

  1. The incentives offered by the government(s) based on your projected initial cost. This includes the 26% tax credit by the federal government, and any state-sponsored incentives.
  2. If they are certified (but of course), and the type of certification awarded to the contractor. You can further research these to ascertain their credibility.
  3. How long they have been in the business, and the type of solar roofing technologies they specialize in. Here, the more roofing technologies they are familiar with, the bigger their expertise. On the other hand, they may also choose to go the niche route, and stick with the popular solar roof tiles. Also, an increasing number of contractors are signing up with Tesla to offer exclusive deals on Tesla solar power roof and Tesla solar roof tile options.
  4. Total time taken for installation. This includes not just the time taken to install the solar roofing material, but also to connect your solar roof system to the energy grid. Depending on how solar-friendly your state is, this can take from 1 to 3 months.
  5. Possibility and cost of inverters and solar batteries. If you choose to have net metering—which allows you to stay connected to the grid and make money off any extra (unused) solar energy you generate, you will need an adequate solar battery. Your contractor can help you better understand if the additional cost is worth it in the long term.
  6. Affiliations, including state-certified engineers for initial inspection, and building engineers for final inspection. In the end, the signature of your contractor should ensure that your solar roof installation goes without hassles, and you are able to easily avail the incentives offered by the government.
  7. A yearly savings projection along with the quote, so you can determine the total savings offered by the solar roof over its lifetime.
  8. Finance options available—this is perhaps the determining factor as solar roof installation costs can be significant (upwards of $15,000/-). Certified contractors/solar roof companies often tie up with banks and financing companies to offer the best options to their clients. 
  9. Confirm all maintenance, guarantees/warranties provided by the contractor over the lifespan of the solar roof.
  10. Confirm what processes you will be responsible for (like initial building inspection), and what processes they will be responsible for (like final building inspection), so there is no confusion mid-way through the project.

This step is usually covered over the phone/ email.

Step 3: First Inspection by Contractor

At this point, you might have already zeroed in on a contractor. Accordingly, he or she makes the first visit to ascertain the state of your roof, your electrical panel and wiring, and thus determine the best roofing option for you. At this point, you may also require an additional visit from a building inspector to sign off that your existing building is up to quote, and solar roof installation can begin. In some cases, the solar contractor/installer may have his or her own engineer to address this.

What you can expect from this:

  • Sign off from engineer that your building is up to code and solar roof installation can begin.
  • This is also where you are made aware of any alterations required prior to the solar roofing project—like reroofing or upgrade of electrical panel/wiring—so you can address the same on time.

Step 4: Solar roof design and permit process initiation

This is where the certified solar contractor comes up with the final solar panel design. This includes:

  • The type of solar roof installed (solar tiles/panels/shingles)
  • Total wattage that can be generated from the roof
  • Approximate location on the roof
  • Any additional equipment like batteries, inverters, etc.
  • Total cost, including rebates. Also outline of financial options and any approvals required thereof.
  • Process for obtaining building permit to kick-start solar roof project. (In some cases, this is in lieu of the building inspection covered in step 3).

Step 5: Ordering and installation

The permit process can take anywhere from a couple of days, to a couple of months. During this time, your contractor can also choose to order any material, depending on how confident he is of obtaining the permit. Once these are complete, the roof is ready for final installation. This can take 1–3 days, and includes roof preparation, re-wiring, and upgrade or electrical (as required), installation, and final connection to the power panel.

Solar Engineers Installing Solar Panels on Existing Roof

Step 6: Interconnection to the Grid

The installation may indeed be over, but you still need a city-certified engineer to connect your solar roof to the grid. Unless you are living completely off the grid, your solar panels can be useful only when they are connected to the grid. For this, the engineer will complete a final safety and code inspection, before flipping the switch that connects you, finally, to the local power grid.

Again, the time for this process is variable (1 week to 3 months) based on your state.

Hurray, as you are finally done with the successful installation of your brand new, cost-saving solar roof! You may want to partner with your contractor for up to a year, so they make monthly/bi-monthly to check the efficiency of your solar roof. This will ensure that you are indeed getting the monthly savings you expect and deserve, as they take care of any tweaks to ensure the same. Congratulations!

Leave a Comment