This comprehensive guide to roofing materials is all the research you’ll need to evaluate the top choices for residential re-roofing and new construction projects in 2021.
What to Expect: In this guide, we’ll cover the following most common roofing options: asphalt shingles, cedar wood shingles and shakes, metal shingles and standing seam metal roofs, concrete, clay, and fiber-cement tiles, natural and faux slate, and BiPV solar tile options.
For each residential roofing material, we cover the following topics:
- An overview including how the roofing is made
- Pros and cons including maintenance, repair, durability, options, home styles they work with and more
- Cost for materials and installation
- Choosing your roofing material: The “bottom line” summaries of each type
- How to save money on a new roof
Types and Styles of Roofing Materials
The most common roofing options presented below cover more than 95 percent of all residential roofs in the United States, so unless you’ve got something unusual in mind like BiPV solar tiles – oh, wait, we’ve included those – or a vegetative green roof, the options you’re considering are likely discussed below.
1. Asphalt/Fiberglass Composition Shingles
2. Wood Shingles and Shakes
3. Metal Roofing
4. Concrete and Clay Roof Tiles
5. Natural and Synthetic Composite Slate Tiles
6. BiPV Solar Shingles and Tiles
7. Low-sloped and Flat Roof Options
More than 75 percent of all single-family homes in the US are roofed with asphalt shingles, though that number is slowly shrinking thanks to the more energy-efficient and durable metal roofing.
Asphalt (composition) shingles dominate the market because they are affordable, offer a variety of attractive options, and do a good job protecting homes from the nature’s elements.
There are two main types of asphalt shingles:
- Fiberglass shingles start with a fiberglass mesh mat that is covered in asphalt and topped with granules that provide color and reflect some of the sunlight. Shingles made with fiberglass are lightweight and resist tearing.
- Organic asphalt shingles begin with paper, often recycled, that is saturated in asphalt and covered with granules. The shingles are heavier and harder to work with than fiberglass, but they generally offer better stability in high winds. Although you can still see them on many roofs, organic shingles have been mostly phased out or discontinued over the course of last decade. Why? Manufactures have stopped making organic shingles due to their tendency to dry out, become less-waterproof and more prone to excess moisture absorption.
Pros and Cons of Asphalt Shingles
The reasons to choose asphalt shingles are:
- Fiberglass shingles offer good fire protection
- Look good on most any style home
- Shingles are often the most affordable roofing option, especially in good/better ranges
- The best asphalt shingles are a 30-year roof solution installed on homes located in moderate climates
- The cheapest 3-tab shingles are an affordable way to dress up a home before putting on the market
- Broad selection of colors and styles including affordable three-tab and architectural shingles that mimic shakes and slate
- DIY asphalt shingle installation is possible for those with good skills, experience, and equipment
- No support beyond standard roof sheathing is required for shingles
- 3-tab shingles are rated for 60-70 MPH wind uplift, while standard architectural shingles are rated for 110 MPH winds; high-wind shingles are rated for 130 MPH
- High-impact shingles such as the ones manufactured by GAF should be used for heavily wooded locations and areas where large hail is possible
- Some shingle repairs are easy and cost-effective
A few words of caution about asphalt shingles:
- The lifetime cost of shingles is higher than metal, tile, or slate, because composition shingles must be replaced more frequently
- Cheaper or low-cost asphalt shingles last as little as 10-15 years in hot, sunny climates
- Rapid temperature changes can cause asphalt shingles to crack
- A poorly vented attic will trap heat and significantly shorten asphalt shingle lifespan by cupping or cracking them
- While the asphalt shingle industry boasts that its products can be recycled for paving, few recycling facilities take asphalt shingles, and they are among the least eco-friendly roofing options
- After a second layer of shingles needs replacing, all layers must be torn off the roof, creating extra expense and a lot of potential landfill waste
- Mold or algae can be a problem on shingles in shady areas, unless treated with anti-algae/anti-stain treatments
- Organic/felt shingles are heavy; getting them to the roof in bundles can be a challenge
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Wood delivers a natural dose of beauty to any roof. Cedar, redwood, cypress and pressure-treated pine shingles and shakes are available.
How are wood shingles and shakes different?
- Wood shingles are machine-cut and feature cleaner edges and a smooth surface to produce a more uniform appearance.
- Wood shakes are hand-cut from blocks of wood, so have a more rustic appearance. They’re thicker too, so slightly more expensive than wood shingles.
Pros and Cons
The advantages of wood shingles and shakes are:
- Wood has natural beauty that ranges from rustic shakes to handsome, neat shingles
- Cedar and redwood contain oils that make them naturally resistant to moisture and insects
- Treated wood shingles have a Class A fire rating
- They can last 5 to 10 years longer than asphalt, which makes them competitively priced with asphalt over their lifespan
- Wood has an insulation value twice that of asphalt shingles (but your home’s insulation levels are far more important than the R-value of the roofing)
- Many shakes and shingles are made from salvaged trees – those that have fallen over from age or toppled by storm
- Wood is recyclable into wood chips, mulch, or compost
- They enhance a range of architectural styles including Tudor, Victorian, Cape Cod, bungalow and cabin/cottage
Keep these potential disadvantages in mind:
- Non-treated materials have a Class C fire rating, but wood can cedar shingles and shakes are also available as a more-costly treated option
- Wood roofing is prohibited in some areas prone to wildfire, so be sure to check with your building department first
- Untreated wood shakes and shingles are high maintenance – they need to be cleaned consistently to prevent the growth of algae or moss, and debris needs to be cleared to allow the wood to breathe
- While DIY installation is possible if you have good experience, faults in the installation can lead to quick deterioration of the roof which often includes serious leaks
- Staining of the shingles and shakes might occur as natural factors cause tannins to be released from the wood
- While wood is quite durable, but repairs will be expensive if they are required
Your great-grandfather’s home or barn might well have been roofed in metal, and some of those 100-year-old roofs are still going strong.
Metal has enjoyed a recent resurgence led by demand for durability, eco-friendly roofing and the introduction of new styles.
Metal roofing is still manufactured in rolls, but most is rigid sheet roofing with vertical-seam panels and modular press-formed panels that can be painted or coated with granules.
The manufacturing processes allow for a variety of appearance options including the traditional metal roof style and roofing made to look like shingles, shakes and tiles. The most common metals used are aluminum, lightweight steel and zinc. Copper metal roofs are a beautiful but costly specialty!
Pros and Cons
What’s good about a metal roof?
- New styles can mimic shingles, shakes, slate, and tile, and dozens of colors are available
- Metal is a 50 to 100-year roofing material with warranties of 30-50 years
- Metal reflects solar radiant heat, so can keep your home cooler and control energy costs in hot weather when compared with asphalt
- Many metal roofing profiles have a Class A fire rating
- Some styles of metal such as corrugated and ribbed panels that are common to barn roofs can be installed quickly and on a budget
- Metal sheds rain and snow better than most other roof materials, which helps prevent ice dams during extreme cold
- Recycled materials are used in most metal roofs, and the roofing panels are 100% recyclable at the end of their service life
- Today’s metal roofing products are surprisingly lightweight yet offer outstanding resistance to impact
- Metal roofs look great on wood-sided homes, cabins, cottages, and those with simple, rustic design
- Many residential metal roofs such as metal shingles, standing seam, and stone-coated steel tiles are designed to meet the most-stringent building codes and wind uplift standards such as those of Miami Dade county in Florida
Before you choose metal, know its potential disadvantages:
- The cost of metal roofing is higher (copper is in the league of its own as the most expensive option) than asphalt shingles and wood roofing, but that is usually offset by its durability and longevity
- Without an attic space or a proper substrate such as solid sheathing (boards or plywood), metal roofs installed over open framing and directly over living space can be noisier than other materials when the rain hits it
- The material can dent when hit with a heavy object, and replacing metal panels is costlier than replacing asphalt, wood, or tiles, although many metal roofing styles are rated to withstand large hail
- While protecting the home from windblown sparks and cinders, in some situations metal roofing can make it more difficult for firefighters from breaking through the roof to pour water on an interior fire
This ancient roofing option has been thoroughly modernized with newer and stronger materials that look fantastic. Today’s products are made in three versions:
- Traditional clay tiles are reinforced for strength and durability
- Concrete tiles are formed with a lightweight blend that makes them very tough but easy to work with
- Fiber cement tiles are composed of wood and clay blended into the concrete for lightweight strength
The finished tiles are glazed or coated with waterproof coating.
Pros and Cons
Why do homeowners choose tiles?
- All types, clay, concrete, and fiber cement, offer 50+ years of durability
- Tiles resist fire and insects
- The rich aesthetics of tile increase curb appeal
- While not as varied as asphalt shingles, tiles are produced in a good range of colors, styles and textures
- Light-colored tile reflects sunlight, so reduces heat penetration and cooling requirements
- The tiles are recyclable
- Tiles look fantastic on Spanish/Mission, European, Mediterranean and some contemporary homes
These are some of the potential drawbacks of tile roofs:
- Tile is heavier than most roofing material and some types require extra framing support at a higher cost
- The cost of tile is higher than asphalt, metal, and wood
- Tiles may break if walked on, so repairing chimneys and other roofing issues is trickier when the roof is covered with tiles
Some European structures have natural slate tile roofs that are centuries old; composite or vinyl slate tile is expected to last 40-60 years.
Both genuine and synthetic slate are produced in lengths from 8” to about 24” with widths from about 4” to 16”. The size options allow you to choose the best look for your home’s architecture.
- Natural slate tiles are the most durable roof you can put on a building, but the material is heavy and often requires additional and costly support. Innovations in synthetic slate roofing systems, like GAF TruSlate, are cutting the cost of genuine slate.
- Synthetic composite slate and shake tiles are attractive for their lower cost and lighter weight.
Pros and Cons of Slate Roofing
The advantages of slate are:
- The luxurious good looks of genuine slate are unsurpassed
- Genuine slate is a “lifetime” roof for any building and enhances curb appeal and resale value
- Slate requires little maintenance
- Synthetic slate is lightweight yet strong
- This is a green roofing material due to its durability, the fairly low impact of manufacturing and that it can be reused and recycled
Consider the disadvantages, too:
- Genuine slate is the heaviest roofing material at up to 1,500lbs per 100 square feet, so extra framing support (and extra cost) is necessary
- If a slate roof isn’t properly installed, moisture issues will start quickly
- Slate roofs should only be installed by contractors that specialize in slate, so you must do your due diligence before hiring an installer
- Slate might break if walked on, so roof and chimney repairs are more difficult to make
Tesla solar tile roofs always seem to be “ramping up” but are never actually made available to consumers. Elon Musk claimed that Tesla would be making 1,000 solar tile roofs a week by the end of 2019. However, we are now in the second half of 2021, but that claim of producing 1,000 solar glass tiles a week hasn’t materialized yet. Go figure!
More homeowners would choose solar if the large PV panels weren’t so obtrusive and, frankly, ugly. Tesla is attempting to change the game with its solar tiles that look like standard tiles. They’re made of glass with four styles supposedly available, but there is now strong suspicion that this product is nothing more than vaporware due to the fact that only a handful of these systems have been installed in the wild.
That said, there are two types of previously reveled solar roof tiles:
- BiPV solar tiles are made from glass over a photovoltaic (PV) substrate. They are wired to the Tesla Powerwall that integrates the roof with your home’s electrical system. Depending on the climate where you live, and whether you own a ranch or multistory home, Tesla will recommend coverage with solar tiles of 35 to 70 percent.
- Non-solar tiles are glass with no PV substrate. They cost less, look the same as the functional solar tiles, and are used on the remainder of the roof not covered in solar tiles.
Pros and Cons
What is the attraction of a Tesla solar roof?
- The solar tile system can produce 100 percent of the home’s required electricity, reducing electric costs to zero
- Currently, tax credits for 26 percent of installed costs are available nationally
- It’s expected that utilities will begin offering rebates for installation of Tesla solar roofing
- Tesla tiles are guaranteed to generate power for 30 years, and they carry a lifetime warranty against breakage and defect
- The tile options are quite stylish
What are the disadvantages?
- At $22-$38 per square foot, Tesla solar roof tiles are quite expensive
- Few installers are up to speed on installing a Tesla system, so there is a risk of having to wait a long time to have your roof installed by an experienced roofer or having it installed improperly by an inexperienced contractor
A small percentage of homes have flat or low-sloped roofs. Both flat and low-slope roof options including EPDM Rubber, PVC, and TPO, are covered here: https://www.roofingcalc.com/flat-roof-materials/
Breakdown of Costs by the Material Type and Installation Expenses
Here’s the raw data on the cost of each type of roof for the material and installation. In most, there is a range of costs because both materials and installers are available in good/better/best options. You get what you pay for!
All costs below are listed on a per sq.ft. basis:
|Material Cost||Installation Cost||Total Cost|
|Asphalt Shingles||$1.00 – $3.50||$2.50 – $4.00||$3.50 – $7.50|
|Wood Shingles & Shakes||$3.00 – $5.50||$3.50 – $9.00||$6.50 – $14.50|
|Metal||$3.50 – $6.00||$4.00 – $10.50||$7.50 – $16.50|
|Tiles (Clay & Concrete)||$4.00 – $12.00||$6.00 – $12.00||$10.00 – $24.00|
|Slate (stone and composite)||$4.00 – $15.00||$5.00 – $10.00||$9.00 – $25.00|
|Tesla Solar tiles (based on % of solar tiles used)||$25 – $45|
Choosing the Right Roofing Material for Your Home
Here are brief summaries to help you narrow your options or choose a roof that will suit your home and your purposes.
- Asphalt shingles: Cheap shingles are a good short-term choice if you plan to sell your home in less than 10 years; better shingles offer a good combination of cost and durability that is a good value over 20-25 years.
- Wood shingles and shakes: If you want a rustic yet handsome look, these are tough to beat. Think twice if your roof doesn’t get much sun, and choose an experienced contractor because quality installation is crucial for durability.
- Metal roofing: If you want stylish, eco-friendly roofing that stands up to snow and ice better than the other materials, metal is a great option. It’s ideal if you plan to live in your current home “forever” or want a roof with excellent resale value.
- Clay, concrete or composite tiles: If a tile roof fits your home’s architectural style, strongly consider this material if it fits your budget. Clay is costlier but lasts longer than concrete roof tile. Fiber cement composite tiles are a good middle-ground.
- Slate roofing: Upscale brick and stone homes just need a slate roof to make them truly special. If cost isn’t an issue and you want the most distinctive aesthetic of any roof, choose slate.
- Tesla solar tiles: These roofs are still largely untested outside the “lab,” but show tremendous promise in theory. However, in practice, only a handful of these roofs have been installed since the unveiling, leading us to believe that Tesla solar tiles will likely go down in history as hyped-up vaporware. If building green with focus on BiPV solar tiles is a high priority for you and you love, then we recommend checking out the following guide to BiPV solar shingle roofs: https://www.roofingcalc.com/bipv-solar-shingles-cost/
How to Save Money AND Get a Great Roof
If saving money were the goal, then hiring the cheapest labor would be the path to accomplishing it. However, that will likely turn out to be a mistake discovered when the roof falls apart or fails to protect your home from the elements.
The better route is to request estimates from several licensed and insured roofing contractors that specialize in the type of roof you want. Let them know that they are competing with other companies for the project. Then, get some references, drive by homes they roofed from 5-15 years ago to see how the roofs they’ve installed are holding up.
Pro Tip: Inquire about the experience of the crew that will be installing your roof.
This is the most complete overview of these materials and their costs that you’ll find anywhere. If you have comments, questions, or costs to submit, we invite you to join the conversation by leaving a reply. If the information was helpful, please share it on social media since every homeowner will need a new roof sooner or later!
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