Roof Installation

The installation process of the Solar Roof sparks nearly as much discussion as the roof itself. And, well, I'd say our actual installation went pretty quickly:

8 Days
Total Roof Installation Days
3 Days
Electrical/Powerwall Installation
1 Day
Garage Roof Installation

Let’s take it from the top

We are, as far as you could say, an “original” Tesla Solar Roof customer. Some of it is a bit of a journey, but I think this sets the right context for how we came to be customer number two of Solarglass v3.

Solar Roof v1

We placed a deposit for the Solar Roof just one week after the announcement. Tesla formally started communications with us for Solar Roof v1 in January 2018, and we signed a v1 contract in February 2018. (We even had a v1 install date—April 1st, 2018.)

Our delays

However, we had to cancel our installation due to complications with an ongoing foundation repair in our house. It went far longer than expected, over cost, and damaged the stucco siding on our house.

It was bittersweet canceling the Solar Roof installation, but Tesla was quite understanding and was willing to keep our contract and ultimately held our place in line.

During this whole process, Tesla offered, and we signed a contract for Solar Roof v2. It represented a significant price raise over our initial v1 roof agreement, but we accepted. No viable v2 install date ever materialized—mostly due to our ongoing construction.

Solarglass v3

In mid-2019, with the rest of our construction work finally complete, I gave notice to Tesla that we were ready to get our roof installed as soon as possible—and they were immediately responsive! That same week, communications started again in earnest, and the pre-installation process went quite quickly from there.

There was some scattered pre-construction work organized by Tesla in both 2018 and 2019. This work included a special crew to remove asbestos-lined ductwork in our attic (which went perfectly), as well as a main electric panel upgrade.

The main panel upgrade, however, was miserable. The blame lies solely on a lousy subcontractor (organized by Tesla, in what I have no other reason than to presume was a “cheapest bidder” scenario) that did subpar work. The subcontractor installed indoor electrical components outdoors in a manner that did not meet code, gave Tesla and me different stories after I escalated concerns, and blamed the discrepancy on me behind my back. Sadly, because of the underhanded actions of the subcontractor, it took a bit of back-and-forth to really clarify with Tesla and make light of the issue. In the end, Tesla made good on it and completely redid the electrical work themselves.

Two days before the public announcement of Solarglass v3, I got a call from Tesla, offering a v3 contract and expedited installation based on our place in line. During the call, they disclosed all the product and warranty changes (including the new tile size and hardware strategies), and also gave us a steep price drop from our v2 contract—pretty much back to the original v1 price. I emailed back the same day accepting an upgraded v3 “Max Solar” install (which was quite a bit larger yet still cheaper than v2).

With no further blockers and a v3 contract on record, install conversations really kicked off. We got our install date with two days notice—which was a surprise because it was pulled far forward from the December date we were starting to settle on while awaiting permits.

Our Solarglass v3 Install Timeline

  • October 23rd Solarglass v3 contract signed.
  • October 25th Solarglass v3 announced.
  • November 11th Call from Tesla that the installation permit has come through, and install dates can be pulled forward from December if we can start on the 13th. We accept.
  • November 13th A subcontractor arrives and removes the roof from our house and garage. This process completed in just 2 hours. The crew installs plywood over the existing wood plank sheathing on both roofs. By the afternoon, they are starting to install Firestone underlayment on the roof.
  • November 14th Installation of two layers of underlayment completed.
  • November 15th Tesla delivers all of the roof materials. (The solar tiles had extremely recent airline cargo tags on the pallets).
    Multiple Tesla roofing crews on-site all-day (this is positioned as training, which I've approved). Most notably, one crew completes the installation of the garage's Solar Roof in one day(!!).
  • November 16th-17th No work is done on the weekend. (This is part of their normal schedule, but I would have requested that they didn't anyway.)
  • November 19th Rain overnight sets back the installation pace.
  • November 22nd Roof installation completed.
  • December 2nd Electrical work begins (Main panels, sub panels, Powerwalls)
  • December 4th Electrical work completed
    Full system test begins
  • December 7th Full system test completed
  • December 11th City & county inspection passed
  • December 13th Final payment submitted
  • January 2020 Permission to Operate from PG&E

Roof Layers

Here's the Solar Roof, as installed on our roof, layer by layer:

  • Spaced wood decking boards: This is the base layer that our old roof was stripped down to, on both our house and garage. There were no issues with our existing decking, so no need to strip further or repair/replace this layer.
  • Plywood decking: This is the first new roof layer Tesla installed.
  • Underlayment: Two layers of Firestone Clad Gard underlayment.
  • Solar tiles: Tesla then installed and wired up the solar tiles, and installed non-solar tiles on the rest of the roof.
  • Metal trim: Once all the tiles were on, metal trim was installed on all the edges. Some trim bits share the texture as the roof, for better detail and aesthetic blending.
A shot of the house during roof installation, the roof stripped down to the decking boards.
Here's the roof stripped down to the decking boards after the tear off of the old roof. The new plywood is stored on the roof awaiting installation.
The roof from another angle, with the plywood decking installed.
The roof from another angle, with the plywood decking installed.
 underlayment sizing and installation was underway on the garage and house roof.
Both our house roof and garage roof as underlayment sizing and installation was underway. The blue tape rectangle on the garage is the inverter. (I made the choice to install it outdoors.)
A wide shot of the Solar Roof installation in progress.
The Tesla Solar Roof on the garage, just before the final trim goes up.
Here's the garage Solar Roof just before the final trim goes up. It was a huge surprise to see such quick progress on the garage—just one day to install.
>Solar Roof installation underway, featuring the roof about 50% full of Tesla Solarglass tiles.
Solar Roof installation is solidly underway here. Note the aluminum stand that hold the tiles up there before installation. A ladder with a powered lift is used to lift the tiles onto the roof.
Another imge of the same section of the roof, featuring the roof about 75% full of Tesla Solarglass tiles.
Another angle of the same bit of roof on the same day. Along the left side of the roof, you can clearly see different pre-sized pieces of non-solar tile where it meets the corner of the roof.

Installation Experience

Being customer number two for the v3 Solar Roof, I was somewhat expecting more trouble as they learn the real “production livability” of their product during installation. Houses are houses, not cars—each one is different and unpredictable could undoubtedly throw a wrench into things.

Tesla crews

I have nothing but outstanding things to say about my interactions with Tesla employees, no matter the department—sales, project management, and construction crews. Everyone with Tesla that I directly worked with was incredibly knowledgeable and attentive. In particular, the project management and local installation crews always gave me the time of day and quickly addressed any feedback or questions I had.

Timeframe

The installation was completed well within the promised timeframe and was even pulled forward from initial expectations. The electrical work primarily happened at a later time because the Powerwall permit hadn’t yet come through, but also because no electrical crew was immediately available. I understand this was anomalous and didn’t add any time to the install—the work completed while we had an inspection date on the calendar.

Communication

Yeah, some of Tesla’s classic communication issues persisted, which I don’t think will be too surprising. I did find that my attentiveness sped things along if I felt the project dragging—a quick call usually kept things going in the right direction.

Subcontractor quality

My only significant complaint concerning the installation is the overall quality and reliability of their selected subcontractors.

We had a lousy electrical subcontractor who did subpar work on the main panel replacement and installed an incorrect component. (See above. While it took more time then I wanted, Tesla did a great job of responding to and owning the issue without trouble when escalated.)

Also, the subcontractor contracted to install our gutters no-showed once, and arrived an hour late on their second scheduled date. We had a lot of rain for over the week and a half while awaiting gutter installation.

Install quality

It’s stellar. It exactly meets my expectations–the trim and detail work was done nicely. There are no obvious flaws with the roof. None of the contractors I’ve had out to continue work on our house have pointed out any issue—and it proves to be quite the conversation starter.

Overall, it went smoothly.

Over the past year and a half of work on the house, the process of installing the Solar Roof was the smoothest of any of the work we’ve done. Tesla succeeded in delivering a product that meets my initial expectations, within timeline and price expectations. I think Tesla did their best to make the entire process as smooth and painless as possible.

Yes, clear communication and subcontractor quality was a headache but contextually feels like a non-issue—I didn’t have to worry about anything after my escalations. Tesla did a stellar job of taking ownership of every issue that came up. While it’s certainly the worst part in the context of the install, I’ll take these issues of trivial inconvenience any day of the week—considering that in recent history (unrelated to the roof) I’ve had to deal with damage amounting to significant sums of money and months of uncontrollable delays. None of that happened here.

What I wish Tesla would do differently for future installations

Short of subcontractor selection, there weren’t too many issues in our install. That said, Tesla’s communication efficacy exacerbated some problems.

None of this feedback is new for anyone reading about Tesla: the only thing they need to fix about the whole process is that more communication should exist in a centralized space, with better transparency about dates and expectations. There were lots of phone calls, text messages, and emails in all directions, and I wound up having duplicate conversations with multiple people.

Some specific examples:

  • During early project communication, the front-line Tesla people you talk with handle sales but no technical details of your project. So, every time you call and ask for information or a change, it’s a 2-3 day wait as it’s sent up their internal communication chain for actioning.
  • I would have liked a kickoff email with reasonable estimates of dates, points of contacts, a list of work to be done, etc.—even if things were a bit hot because we’re one of the first installs of this roof.
  • I honestly could have probably caught the issue with the main panel subcontractor if there had been more clear expectations about exactly what work needed to be done and what was going to be installed—like sending me a PDF of the plans prior to their arrival.
  • Similarly, if there were better clarity and awareness around dates and procedures, the gutter installation could have been put on the schedule more quickly—while the installation was wrapping up, for instance—instead of leaving us in the rain for weeks without gutters.
  • There’s also a limited amount of transparency in Tesla’s internal paper-pushing processes, particularly when it comes to submitting paperwork for permission to operate to our utility. Tesla’s policy is to not submit for permission to operate until you submit the final payment, but they took a disappointingly long time—well over a week—to submit the paperwork after my final payment. I can’t imagine that the interconnection paperwork would have presented any surprises on the last days of our installation process, and should have been submitted on the same day (or next).

I’ve given all this feedback to Tesla, of course. It’s important to note that they set expectations for me appropriately as an initial customer of the v3 product, and most of this feedback section feels like mere turbulence. The ownership and installation experience of Solar Roof already changed since my installation—there’s now an “installation timeline” on my tesla account, that wasn't present during our install. So, they’re going to get this right as more and more roofs are installed. If you’re a Solarglass customer, I expect this process to be a fair bit smoother when it’s your turn.

Do the larger tiles really help construction?

Yeah, this is the point of v3.

It rebalances labor, aesthetics, and solar efficiency. By delivering physically larger tiles, less labor is required for installation in the same size of roof—fewer connections, fewer mount points, and fewer things overall that can go wrong. (v2 solar cells were already "larger"—one tile looked like it was three tiles, but v2 installations required a lot of effort.)

Because Tesla has your precise roof geometry in advance, they arrive with the tiles and trim pre-processed and machined off-site, allowing for more rapid installation.

Will they get installs done in a day?

This is extreme speculation on my part.

I think they can. But, it’s a “well, technically” moment. Let me explain.

If I extrapolate based on my own install experience, I think the “in a day” timeframe that’s thrown around means getting the roof on, but not necessarily completing the entire project. Lots of our installation went quickly enough—like my garage, which did get done in a day—that I think for a moderately-sized uncomplicated roof, it’s a realistic expectation. Probably not for every install, though.