GAF Energy Review: The Best Option for a Solar Roof - CNET

2023-02-15 10:26:50 By : Ms. Anny Ren

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Promising a quicker, less invasive installation, GAF Energy's Timberline Solar shingles go on like a regular roof. T Slot Aluminum Framing

GAF Energy Review: The Best Option for a Solar Roof - CNET

Since GAF Energy debuted its solar shingles at the start of 2021, roofers have installed them across 16 states. The company's expansion could mark a major change in how homeowners access solar energy on their roofs. 

There are 5 million new roofs put on homes each year, and 1.5 million of them use GAF shingles, says Rey Holmes, GAF Energy's vice president of services and product. Converting even some of those roofs to GAF Energy's solar shingles would mark a significant increase in residential rooftop solar in the US. But what would it mean for you, the homeowner? We'll try to answer that question as best we can below.

Though we aren't able to go through the purchasing process and engage in hands-on testing in our review process, carrying out a review of GAF Energy -- which is based on data from the internet and an interview with a GAF Energy representative -- is less straightforward than it is with other solar companies . We found that GAF Energy's product and business model are unique among the companies we've reviewed so far, making head-to-head comparisons a bit trickier.  Even so, we'll do our best to situate the company within the industry and determine how it stacks up against its competitors. When the comparisons fall short, or we can't say something for sure, I'll note it in the review.

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Instead of dealing in solar panels, which get mounted to roofs on metal racks, GAF Energy sells solar shingles, called Timberline Solar, that nail into roofs like any old asphalt shingle. The shingles sit flat against the roof, with electrical components housed in conduit on the front of each one. It makes for a less obtrusive look than solar panels, but not as seamless as the sleek-but-pricey Tesla Solar Roof .

Because solar shingles and solar panels are different technologies, it's not as useful to compare the energy-generating specs of Timberline Solar and the offerings from other solar companies. But GAF Energy is able to meet the energy needs of homeowners with Timberline Solar installed on their roofs. 

All solar panels produce less energy over time. Timberline Solar's warranty says it won't decrease in production more than 2% in year one or more than 0.55% per year after that. After 25 years, Timberline Solar should still produce at 84.8% its original level. That rate of decline is in line with many solar panels in use today, but lags behind some top-of-the-line offerings.

GAF Energy also guarantees no leaks from manufacturer defects for 25 years, and extends a 15-year warranty against winds up to 130 mph.

Timberline Solar comes with two enhanced solar warranties buyers can add on. With a Solar Plus warranty addendum, you receive a one-year guarantee of the electrical workmanship and 10 years of coverage for third-party electronics. With the Solar Max warranty addendum, you receive a 10-year guarantee on the electrical workmanship and 25 years of coverage for third-party electronics.

With Solar Max coverage, you also receive a 25-year solar power generation guarantee. This guarantees that your Timberline Solar system will generate a specific number of kilowatt hours by certain points throughout the 25 years. The value of this guarantee depends on how many kilowatt hours are promised. Such decisions are made from project to project, and I don't have a clear idea of how aggressive those goals are.

If a production benchmark is missed, GAF Energy, which will be monitoring the system, will correct any issues with the system and then "make that customer whole," Holmes told CNET.

Holmes also said that while GAF isn't focusing on backup batteries just now, the systems are compatible with all major battery brands, and customers will be able to add one.

Timberline Solar shingles sit flat on the roof because they're part of the roof.

GAF Energy partners with Delta for its inverter needs, yet has the flexibility to use other brands. Delta inverters have efficiency rates as high as 98%, which matches other leading inverters. Timberline Solar is installed with string inverters, which typically wring a little less energy out of solar panels. However, because string inverters are installed at ground level, not on the roof, they're more accessible for maintenance.

GAF Energy, like most other solar companies, offers an app for monitoring your solar production that is web-based (not mobile-based).

The short answer is probably yes. Once again, comparing prices between Timberline Solar and conventional solar panels is difficult. While conventional solar panels go on top of your roof, Timberline Solar is part of your roof. That means you buy a new roof and Timberline Solar at the same time.

Though prices vary by market and by project, getting a new roof and solar from GAF Energy costs about the same as a new roof and traditional rooftop solar panels, the company said. So getting Timberline Solar only makes financial sense if you're ready to replace your roof. If you're at that point, there are some potential advantages to Timberline Solar.

Timberline Solar shingles lay as flat as a conventional roof shingle, though they have a more horizontal look that lacks the tabbing of the shingles around them. Still, the effect is far less jarring than rack mount solar.

I haven't seen reliable hard data on the number of roofs that leak after getting conventional solar panels, but leaks can occur. Timberline Solar installs with nails instead of large bolts and doubles as a roof. Avoiding leaks is one key selling point, and the roofs are guaranteed to not leak for 25 years.

You're also getting the convenience of killing two major projects with one stone. Instead of purchasing a new roof and then purchasing solar, it's all the same crew. Again, this makes price comparison a bit trickier -- it's always smart to get multiple quotes for solar installations -- but the installation process is much simpler.

You can also walk on Timberline Solar shingles, which is another advantage over conventional solar panels, as it provides flexibility in installation location and makes them easier to service should problems arise. 

In terms of aesthetics, while I personally don't put much stock into the idea that solar panels are ugly, Timberline Solar is certainly more subtle on a roof than traditional panels. 

GAF Energy makes Timberline Solar, but it's installed by GAF-certified Master Elite roofers. That means while some customers come to GAF Energy directly through its website, most customers engage exclusively with their contractor.

Timberline Solar is available in 16 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

If you're in the market for a roof and specifically looking for Timberline Solar, you can fill out an online form on GAF Energy's website, which will connect you with a local installer, or add you to a waitlist to be notified when Timberline Solar becomes available in your area. From ordering to installation, GAF-certified roofers handle the project, though they work with local electricians to handle the side of the project that involves inverter installation and necessary wiring, for example.

Timberline Solar is visible on a roof, but the shingles are more subtle than solar panels.

As far as solar roofs go, a Timberline Solar roof from GAF Energy is likely your best choice. The other major solar roof player, Tesla Solar Roof , looks sleeker but comes at a fairly steep premium (though cost varies based on your roof's complexity and size). Timberline Solar from GAF Energy should match up well with conventional solar on price, too.

Though it's difficult to find hard data on roof leaks caused by solar panels, it does make sense that solar components integrated into the roof (and attached like all asphalt shingles) are less likely to leak in the long term than bolts drilled through the roof. CNET's Brian Cooley saw Timberline Solar go on a roof and had solar panels installed on his own and came to the same conclusion .

Timberline Solar's performance over time is comparable to many conventional solar panels on the market today, though higher-performance solar panels have higher guaranteed performance later in their lives. There isn't yet a Timberline Solar product that matches that. It's possible that a Timberline Solar system could squeeze more energy from your roof because the solar shingles can be placed in areas of the roof larger solar panels won't fit. That might open up more optimal roof space for a solar array.

GAF Energy Review: The Best Option for a Solar Roof - CNET

Solar Product Ultimately, what we think is the best solar roof company may not be the best fit for you. It's always important to gather multiple quotes before spending thousands of dollars on a major upgrade -- albeit one that can save you money in the long run.