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This barely visible solar panel alternative is skyrocketing in popularity

"They've really become popular because they are flush with the roof."

"They've really become popular because they are flush with the roof."

Photo Credit: iStock

Solar shingles can bring together great aesthetics and practical function — all on your rooftop. 

They are sun-catching tiles that look a lot like typical roof coverings, providing solar energy without the obvious bulky panel systems attached to the top of homes, according to descriptions from Men's Journal and Forbes

It's a great time to consider diversifying household energy plans, as the cost of the tech is dropping, and there are tax breaks available to help you reduce up to 8,500 pounds of planet-warming air pollution a year. 

Forbes reports that solar shingles can also lower your energy bill by an astounding 40% to 70%, depending on how many you add to your abode. 

The concept has been around for a while. Tesla made headlines in 2016 when it unveiled its Solar Roof. But lawsuits and lackluster sales reports have provided mixed news since, per CNBC. Now numerous companies are making energy-producing shingles. GAF Energy is manufacturing nailable versions in Texas, for example.

Men's Journal has a list of 22 questions to ask your contractor if you go with solar. One is the age of your roof. 

"It most likely wouldn't make sense to install the panels on a roof that needs to be replaced soon," Andrew Prchal, president of Connecticut's Gunner Roofing, told the publication.

Shingles might be the best choice if the roof needs to be replaced anyway. 

Forbes notes that shingles are typically about a foot wide and 86 inches long. They weigh about 13 pounds per square foot and are under an inch thick. You will need about 350 of them, on average.

The shingles' efficiency — the amount of sunlight turned to electricity — is on par with panel-industry averages of 10% to 20%, depending on the quality of the tech. Shingles match panel longevity, as well. Both will last for decades, per Forbes. 

The biggest sticking point for many folks is likely cost. Forbes lists systems sized for a typical home at around $12,700. Solar shingles could cost between $15,000 and $20,000, with Tesla's product tens of thousands of dollars more (though it touts taking care of everything from design to finish, with an app to monitor the operation afterward). Significant tax breaks can also help defray some of the expense. Once up and running, you can reap pure savings on your energy bill.  

The report also notes that shingles are relatively new, compared to traditional panels. So finding an installer could be harder. 

EnergySage can help you put together a solar plan, from financing to battery storage. Another option, called community solar, provides a way to tap renewable energy benefits from nearby solar farms without installing equipment at home. Some simple research online can get you started. 

Adding solar energy to your house —  by almost any means  — will reduce the amount of pollution in our air, which is noticed in neighborhoods in multiple ways. 

NASA has linked pollution to a greater risk of severe weather, impacting insurance costs and coverages, for one example. 

If you plan to install sun-catchers at your house, solar shingles provide great performance with a barely noticeable setup. For now, they cost more, and you might have to do some digging to find a contractor to install them. 

"They've really become popular because they are flush with the roof, which will prevent critters and debris from gathering underneath the panels," Prchal told Men's Journal. 

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