William Armstrong’s Cragside home was pioneering in its use of renewable energy.

Part of the age we live in seems to be rediscovering that old ways of doing things were actually better. For example, the recent realization that the makeup of towns to encourage vibrancy through density and the support of multi-income levels versus single-strata communities is better – a millennia-old concept only deviated from with the advent of the car and suburban tract developments. Part of the human condition seems to be learning from (some) mistakes.

In the 1860s, William Armstrong was “green” before it was dreamt of. In addition to planting 7 million (yes, million) trees at his Cragside estate, he was big into renewable energy at the dawn of the electrical era. He said coal “was used wastefully and extravagantly in all its applications” and that Britain would run out of coal in 200 years. He was also keen to harness solar power saying that a single acre located in sunny climates would generate the power equivalent to 4,000 horses toiling for nine hours a day.

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Tesla Solar Roof

All photos courtesy of Tesla

If you’ve assumed Tesla Solar roofs would be priced sky high, prepare to be amazed.

The company opened up ordering last week and they priced, on average, at $21.85 per square foot. That’s less than the cost of a regular roof, taking into consideration the energy savings over a 30-year period.

These roofs aren’t 100 percent solar tiles — they’re a mix of non-active tiles and active solar tiles, depending on the energy needs of a house. Non-active tiles cost $11 per square foot; active solar tiles cost $42 per square foot. So for a house needing 35 percent solar panels, the cost works out to $21.85 per square foot. There are lots of variables in determining the percentage of active tiles, of course, like the location of the home and shape and height of the roof.

To put this in perspective, Consumer Reports estimated that a solar roof needs to be $24.50 per square foot to be competitive with other kinds of roofing materials.

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