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As homeowners place a higher value on going green, renewable energy sources are becoming more popular. One of the easiest resources for most homeowners to take advantage of is solar power, thanks to the many solar panel companies that install these systems on private homes. Of course, most homeowners have questions they need answered before they’re ready to go solar. Aside from cost and maintenance questions, many want to know whether roof-mounted solar panels will ruin their home’s look.
It’s true that some solar panels require heavy-duty racking to support their weight. It’s also true that all systems are at least somewhat visible from the curb. But this doesn’t mean all solar panels are equally noticeable. To help you create the style you want, we’ve reviewed the most popular solar panel types and ranked them according to their respective visual appeal.
Ranking Visually Appealing Solar Panels
The best solar panels for you depend on your energy needs, budget, and desired look. Many homeowners want sleek, modern designs that are less visible from ground level, so that’s how we’ve ranked the below list of panels.
#3: Polycrystalline Panels
Polycrystalline panels are probably what you picture when thinking of residential solar panels. They’re the least expensive and most popular option among homeowners. Unfortunately, they also have lower efficiency and higher visibility than other types. These solar panels are blue, and the blue shades aren’t exactly the same from cell to cell because they’re made from multiple melted silicon fragments. This makes them more visible on neutral-colored roofs.
#2: Thin-Film Panels
Thin-film solar panels are newer and still relatively rare in residential solar energy systems, but they’re gaining popularity thanks to their light weight and lower installation costs. Thin-film solar panels are manufactured as sheeting, so they’re customizable to your roof’s shape and size. There are several kinds of thin-film depending on the chemicals used in manufacturing, but all are very low-profile once installed. They’re usually a uniform black or blue in appearance. These panels work best on smaller residential projects, such as boats, garages, or sheds.
#1: Monocrystalline Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels are the most efficient and most visually appealing option for residential systems. They often have efficiency rates of 20% or higher, meaning you need less panels (and thus less roof space) to power your home. Monocrystalline panels are manufactured in the same way as polycrystalline panels, but the silicon is purer and cut from a single source. This improves efficiency and gives the panels a more uniform, usually solid black appearance. Monocrystalline panels are highly durable, with warranties of up to 25 years.
Appealing Alternative: Solar Roofing
The solar panel types mentioned above are mounted on traditional roofs, but some kinds of solar technology can be built directly into your roofing materials. Solar shingles replace your regular shingles and roof tiles rather than being installed on top of them. They’re much lighter than solar panels, and they’re more durable than standard asphalt shingles. Solar shingles may be a good option if you’re looking to replace your roof and go solar at the same time. Unfortunately, they’re not yet widely available and few solar companies carry them.
The Cons of Visually Appealing Solar Panels
Prioritizing aesthetics may mean sacrificing some functionality. Here are the three common solar panel system types and their downsides.
Polycrystalline panels typically jut out several inches from the roof on a mounting system. This helps prevent roof damage and increase cooling, but it also increases panel visibility. Though the panels can be mounted on a dark-colored backing, dark colors absorb heat and can make your home less energy-efficient. Thus, the backing is usually light-colored or reflective, making the panels stand out even more.
Because polycrystalline panels are about 13% to 16% less efficient than monocrystalline, you’ll likely need more of them to produce sufficient electricity. Overall, polycrystalline solar panels are the most noticeable and least visually appealing option.
Thin-film solar panels are less efficient and durable than other options. They’re flimsier and degrade more quickly, and their warranties will most likely be shorter. Though they’re typically inexpensive to install, they can vary widely in price depending on their chemical makeup. Thin-film panel’s efficiency may be as low as 6% to 8%, which means you’ll need a lot more roof coverage to power your garage or shed.
Monocrystalline panels’ manufacturing process creates a substantial amount of silicon waste, so they cost more than polycrystalline panels. They require mounting and backing (like polycrystalline panels), but are less noticeable because of their sleek, black appearance. Overall, homeowners tend to find monocrystalline panels the most visually appealing.
Because solar shingles and roof tiles are built right into the roof, they take longer to cool down than rack-mounted panels, making them less efficient. They’re also very expensive and hard to find since they’re only available from a few manufacturers. Some installers have waitlists for homeowners who want solar roofing. Solar shingles and roof tiles typically work better with new construction or full roof replacement, whereas panels can be installed on nearly any existing roof.
What to Consider When Choosing a Solar Panel Style
You can choose from a number of solar panel styles to match your taste and home’s exterior. Note that different companies may not offer every option, so do your research before choosing an installer.
Your solar panels’ backing will show through between the individual cells. Backing is typically available in white, silver, or black. While white and silver are more visible and give your solar panel a grid-like appearance, they allow for greater energy efficiency. A black backing— particularly when paired with a black frame and monocrystalline cells—creates a uniform black appearance, but you’ll lose efficiency.
Polycrystalline panels have a variegated blue or sometimes green tint, while monocrystalline panels are usually solid black. Thin-film solar materials can either be black or blue depending on the type. A few companies have begun creating polycrystalline panels in other colors like terracotta, tile red, and even pink diamonds, but these are difficult to find.
The frame, or metal border, around each panel is typically offered in silver or black. Black is less noticeable, particularly when paired with monocrystalline panels, but usually more expensive. It also absorbs more heat, making your home warmer in summer and preventing the cells from cooling down to work as efficiently as possible.
Your solar panels should be on your roof’s south-facing side for maximum production. If your home faces north, the panels will be on the side facing away from the street. If not, you’ll have to decide whether to mount the panels in a visible area or accept a serious energy production loss. East- or west-facing panels will produce about 30% less energy, and north-facing panels require special mounting materials that make them even more visible.
If you haven’t found any solar panels that align with your desired aesthetic, you can opt for ground-mounted panels. These sit on poles driven into the ground and aren’t limited by your roof’s size, shape, or orientation. This presumes you have space on your property for such an installation, but if you do, you could make your solar panel system even less visible by installing it away from the house.
Solar panels don’t need to be an eyesore on your home. While polycrystalline panels are still popular, you can achieve a sleeker, more modern style with thin-film or monocrystalline panels. We recommend getting quotes from at least three reputable solar installation companies before hiring one. If you have concerns about the panels’ appearance, make sure to mention it while getting your quotes. A good solar panel company will work with you to create an installation that meets your energy needs without sacrificing curb appeal.
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