Solar shingles...a must-have?

Solar shingles…the neighbors are jealous.

(Image credit: Ben West at flickr under a creative commons license)

Once you’ve seen the roof shingle that can power your refrigerator all day, it’s quite a let-down to wrench yourself from your Star Wars reverie to realize that you’re stuck with plain old unpowered red.  Or tan.  Chewbacca definitely does not approve.

They’re sleek, sexy, and absolutely shame the Joneses in roof-coolness factor. But, a half decade after their introduction, the question that’s still going begging is: do they work half as well as they look?

Chewie is going green

Chewie is going green

(Image credit: Kenny Louie at flickr under a creative commons license)

You might have ended up here because most of the information out there has Dow Chemical’s fingerprints all over it.  They, along with CertainTeed, are the two major players in the still-nascent solar shingle niche.

Ultimately, it will be up to you to decide if the style factor is worth the additional risk over solar panels.  Hang out for a few minutes on Dow’s savings calculator and you’ll be scratching your head, “My God, they practically pay for themselves three times over!”  Here’s why they’re still risky, no matter what the smooth talkers tell you:

1. Unproven lifetime

They’re advertised as equally durable to their traditional counterparts, but their reliability in paying for themselves is dependent on their durability over the next 25 years, and they’ve only proven themselves capable of a solid 5.

2. Lower efficiency per dollar spent

For the price that it takes power your entire home with traditional panels to , you’ll experience (at best) a 60 to 70 percent reduction in your energy bill with shingles.

3. Higher installation cost

Yes, they’re no longer the 60-hour nightmare they used to be, but there are far fewer installers that know how to do solar shingles properly.  You’ll likely pay more to find someone to do this fidgety, relatively uncommon task.

4. Stricter roof requirements

These things generate heat, and if your roof isn’t designed to withstand higher levels, you’re in trouble.  Some solar shingles require extensive drilling all the way through the roof, which can affect installation cost depending on your design.

Still on the fence?  See advantages and disadvantages of solar energy.

For an advertisement for solar shingles masquerading as legitimate journalism, head to Scientific American (come on, guys, we know you can do better than that).