Black tiled roof of terra cotta colored two story home with solar panels.

Your Quick Guide To Installing Solar Panels On A Tile Roof

Dec 21, 2022

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Tile roofs are common in sunny climates, and so are solar panels. Putting solar panels on a home with a terra cotta roof can be tricky, but many reputable installers can handle it. Let’s examine the advantages of tile roofs and how solar companies overcome the challenges of installing photovoltaic (PV) systems.

Why Homes Have Clay Tile Roofs

Tile roofs, sometimes called Spanish tile roofs, can handle a lot of punishment – from hard downpours to scorching summer temperatures. They can also last for decades and often be recycled since many are made from concrete, slate, clay and other natural materials.

Some homeowners also like the appearance of roof tiles. They’re available in a variety of shapes and colors as well.

The Challenges Of Tile Roofs

Roof tiles are heavier and more expensive than other options, like asphalt shingles. According to Fixr.com, tile for a 1,500-square-foot roof can range from $11,300 to $25,325. The site lists asphalt shingles for a roof of the same size at $3,125 to $3,350. 

Working on the roof requires extra care to avoid breaking individual tiles. While they hold up well against the elements, stepping on a tile carelessly can break it. This makes the solar panel installation process more difficult for technicians.

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Options For Installing Solar Panels On Terra Cotta Roof Tiles

You’ll find a few options for installing a solar racking system – the physical mounting brackets for PV modules – on a terra cotta roof. Next up, we’ll uncover some of the most common solutions. The one that’s best may depend on your budget and priorities.

Tile Cutting To Install A Solar Array

Some tiles are strong enough to handle cutting, which lets installers put mounting points through the tile. This allows you to keep complete tile coverage on your roof, unlike picture framing or comp-out installation – which you’ll read about shortly.

Tile cutting is more difficult than comp-out framing because it involves more steps, especially to ensure the roof remains waterproof. Some homeowners may consider the tidy appearance of cut roof tiles worth the extra expense when adding a PV system to their home.

Tile Hooks Allow Solar Racking To Mount Around Roof Tiles

More interested in going around the tiles than cutting through and possibly breaking them? Tile hooks offer that option by sidestepping the tiles and going into the roof under the tiles.

However, the hook still needs to attach to the roof under the tiles, which requires extra care for waterproofing.

Hooks are available in different shapes to accommodate many tile and roof types.

Picture Framing Or Comp-Out Removes Tiles To Install PV Panels

The comp-out (or picture-framing) method replaces the tiles in the areas with solar panels – usually doing so with asphalt shingles. “Comp-out” refers to the composition (or composite) shingles often used in this type of solar installation, while “picture framing” refers to the way the existing tiles give the appearance of a frame around the solar modules.

This method is relatively straightforward and gives you a new roof under the solar panel system. From a distance, it might be hard to notice the cutouts between the tile roof and the solar panels. The composition shingles can also reduce the impact of added weight from the solar panels.

Solar companies may prefer this method because it makes the installation work less difficult. It may also be easier to verify that the roof remains waterproof. Some homeowners may not like the appearance, however.

Tile Replacement Mounts: A Modern Option For Tile Roofs And Solar Panels

One of the tidiest options for solar panels on a tile roof is using a replacement tile made of a material like aluminum. If you can find replacement tiles that match the shape of your clay or concrete tiles, they’ll replace the existing tiles. Your installer will be able to connect them to the roof while also protecting the waterproof layer below the tiles. 

Companies such as IronRidge and Quick Mount PV manufacture replacement tile mounts. While they have many models for the various tile shapes, they may not have offerings to match every type of clay tile.

Are There Roof Tile-Shaped Solar Panels?

Homeowners with tile roofs would likely favor solar cells shaped like their roof tile. Fortunately, there are now thin-film solar cells that can flex and adhere to terra cotta, concrete, slate or clay roof tiles. These cells are less expensive than regular monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar modules, but they convert only 9% to 13% of solar energy to electricity. Conventional crystalline modules offer solar panel efficiency of 15% to 23%.

Also, questions linger about the lifespan of thin-film cells. Manufacturers offer warranties ranging from 3 to 20 years on thin-film panels for tile roofs.

Solar shingles from companies such as Tesla offer another option. These shingles replace conventional asphalt shingles with a photovoltaic shingle. While many homeowners like the appearance of solar shingles, these shingles are more expensive and less efficient than typical solar modules.

The Bottom Line: You Can Have A Tile Roof With Solar Panels

While a tile roof can complicate the solar panel installation process, it’s far from a deal breaker. Many homeowners in areas where tile roofs are common can still add systems to create solar power, save money on electric bills and reduce their carbon footprint. Just be sure to choose an installer with knowledge of solar mount installation methods.

Is your roof ready for solar panels? Talk to a Solar Advisor today to see how solar can fit into your life.

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