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My roof will likely need new shingles within the next few years. Should I consider getting solar panels installed now, or should I wait until after the roof is taken care of?

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It looks to me like you have three choices:

  • Re-roof your property now, then buy solar panels and have them fitted.
  • Buy and install your solar panels now, then in a few years remove all of the solar panels, re-roof your property and re-fit the panels.
  • Wait until your property needs re-roofing, re-roof it and then buy and install solar panels.

As such, you need to consider the cost and environmental impact of these options.

Re-roofing now means that you are not getting the full lifetime from your roof shingles. They will have cost more than they should have cost, in both environmental terms and in their monetary cost amortised over their lifetime.

Removing and later refitting those panels will obviously have a monetary cost, but may also have an environmental cost. Panels and their fittings are far more likely to be damaged or broken and require replacement when being fitted or removed than when sat on the roof.

By putting off buying solar panels until after your roof is replaced you waste none of the lifetime of your roof and avoid the risk and waste of money on having panels removed and replaced. You could also benefit from the possibility of lower cost/higher energy efficiency solar panels in the future, but you would also be losing the environmental benefits of having that system installed for those few years.

Calculating the specifics of your situation is beyond the scope of a Stack Exchange question, but hopefully this should give you some hints as to how you can make an informed decision yourself.

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  • 3
    This covers it pretty well, but I would add: determine whether the roof is the best place for your panels. If for whatever reason you might end up with a pole or ground mount then there would be no dependency on the condition of the roof. – half-integer fan Nov 15 '13 at 19:43
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Other possibilities:

If your local building code allows, go to metal roofing. Locally it costs about half again more than shingles, but it lasts three times as long. Often metal roofing can be put on over shingles if they haven't started to curl badly. We can get metal roofing in about 20 colors.

So: Put metal clading on the part of the roof where the PV will go. The rest of the roof can wait until later.

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  • You can also get metal roofing with insulation, which may help with cost (you're getting two products in one). In Australia we can get EPS and PIR foam with steel each side in thickness up to ridiculous (300mm OTS, more by special order) – Móż Mar 21 '16 at 22:29
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It depends on your goals for installing the solar panels. If your goal is mainly environmental (e.g., reduce your carbon footprint), it would be better to install the solar panels sooner to start the environmental benefits sooner. However, I would not recommend installing solar panels over a roof that will require new shingles soon, because you would then have to deal with the added hassle and cost of removing them temporarily to allow for the new shingles to be replaced. In this case it makes sense so install the new shingles now and then install the solar panels.

If you goal is mainly financial savings, you need to identify the financial consequences of each option available to you and identify the option with the highest financial benefit (e.g., highest net present value),

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Why not just install solar shingles?

First commercially available in 2005, solar shingles were much more costly than traditional “bolt-on” photovoltaic panels, and thus were used mainly by those wanting to go solar but maintain a traditional roofline. But more recently solar shingles have become price-competitive with bolt-on panels, and are getting much more popular accordingly.

Contacts: Dow Powerhouse, www.dowpowerhouse.com; CertainTeed Solar, www.certainteed.com/products/roofing/solar; DSIRE, www.dsireusa.org.

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