Go green, save green with a solar metal roof
Jerry Walsh Skelly says it's not unusual for people to stop and compliment him on the metal roof of his Louisville, Ky., home when he's out doing yardwork. What they don't guess at first glance, though, is that the black panels are capturing solar energy.
"It's not obvious to the naked eye," says Walsh Skelly, who opted for a standing seam metal roofing system with thin-film solar panels to re-roof his Colonial home. "Nobody knows there's solar up there."
Unlike traditional photovoltaic panels that jut out from a roof's exterior, thin laminate strips adhere to the metal roof, allowing them to blend in with the surface.
Walsh Skelly is among the growing number of homeowners who consider the environment when they choose metal roofing systems, which are partially made from recycled materials, and can increase a home's energy efficiency and therefore lower utility bills. When combined with solar technology, the cost savings can be dramatic.
In 2008, Walsh Skelly's annual electric bill was $2,133. He installed the solar laminate roofing in the fall of 2009, and in 2010 his bill dropped to $878. That year he was also able to sell $800 worth of extra electricity he generated, bringing his total electric bill to $78 for the year.
Walsh Skelly paid about $30,000 — $10,000 for the metal roof and $20,000 for the solar — and netted $7,000 in tax rebates for the system, which was installed by highly rated Cornett Roofing of Franklin, Ind. "Our company's mission revolves around permanent Earth-friendly products," says company president Richard "Chan" Cornett, who adds that solar laminate was a natural fit with the recycled steel roofing his company produces. "It was synergy!"
Interest in solar laminate roofing has increased since the company began offering it three years ago, and Cornett says he's now installing it about every 10 days, though other contractors have had a more difficult time piquing clients' interest. He says the cost of a solar metal roof can be recouped in as few as six years through lower utility bills and net metering, which involves selling extra electricity to companies that, in turn, sell it to utilities.
Despite the potential for long-term savings with solar metal roofing systems, some consumers balk at the added costs. "We've done a hundred bids with it, with zero response," says Jason Coe, owner of the highly rated Gresham Roofing in Gresham, Ore., near Portland.
He estimates the average price for an asphalt shingle roof is about $2.50 per square foot, while a metal roof costs about $5 per square foot. Adding solar to that would add an average of $12.50 per square foot, Coe says. His company began marketing the solar laminate roofing systems over a year ago. "Because of the economy, it's really tough to sell," Coe says. However, customers who purchase metal panel roofs can later install solar technology.
Solar and metal benefits
The thin-film solar laminate may have an advantage over solar panel systems, depending on architecture, position and local climate. "The solar laminate is said to do better in different weather conditions," says Corey Saft, associate architecture professor at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Saft built one of the first houses certified by the Passive House Institute, which has stringent energy efficiency requirements. The home features a white standing seam metal roof with alternating panels of solar laminate.
Saft says the laminate can absorb energy in cloudy or shady conditions at various angles, unlike more traditional photovoltaic solar panels. He says you should spend about the same amount of money to get equal energy from the thin-film solar roofing as from regular solar panels; however, the laminate might require more surface area to generate comparable energy.
Member Katy Prats considered solar laminate panels when she replaced the roof on her Victorian home in St. Petersburg, Fla., but instead selected a metal roof with scalloped shingles and installed photovoltaic panels on her garage. Prats liked the look of metal roofing but also that it can be engineered to withstand hurricane-force winds and is environmentally friendly.
An estimated 20 billion pounds of asphalt shingles wind up in landfills each year so choosing a metal roof, which can come with a warranty of up to 50 years and can be recycled, can help reduce consumer waste. "A metal roof is going to be more expensive in the short term, but in the long term it's going to be less so," says Prats, who paid $50,000 in May 2010 to re-roof her 4,200-square-foot home.
More consumers are choosing metal roofs, with or without solar components, for their environmental and financial benefits. Homeowners can save up to 40 percent on summer energy bills with metal because of its reflectivity, says Bill Hippard, president of Metal Roofing Alliance and vice president of PreCoat Metals. Depending on where you live, a metal roof might also net you a discount on your homeowners' insurance due to its storm-resistant properties.
Enthusiasts say a metal roof can add to a home's aesthetic value. Ken Gieseke, a spokesman with McElroy Metal in Shreveport, La., says it's come a long way since his company began manufacturing metal roofing in 1963. "A lot of people imagine rusted, wrinkled tin on an old shack," he says.
Today, there's a variety of metal roofing styles to choose from, including those resembling cedar shake, slate or ceramic tiles. "A metal roof will dress up the curb appeal of a home," Gieseke says. Indeed, real estate experts say metal roofing can add thousands of resale dollars to your home's value.
If you're weighing a metal or solar metal roof, consider getting an energy audit and solicit multiple bids from roofing contractors, who can provide a cost-benefit analysis of various systems. Find which will fit your budget, net the most savings and achieve the look you desire.
If you install a solar metal roof, you may be eligible for a $500 federal tax credit. Check for local tax incentives as well.
"People just have to do their research," Prats says. "A metal roof can be expected to last forever, if you take care of it. We'll never go back to asphalt shingles, that's for sure."