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.
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 stone and faux slate/synthetic shingles, and the latest BiPV solar tile options.
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For each 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 material 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 covered with asphalt shingles, though that number is slowly shrinking thanks to the more energy-efficient and durable materials like metal.
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.
- Old-school organic asphalt shingles (almost non-existent today) would normally have paper, an organic material, 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
The advantages of asphalt shingles are:
- Fiberglass shingles offer good fire protection
- Look good on most any style home
- Shingles are often the most affordable roof covering 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:
- The lifetime cost of shingles is higher than metal, tile, or slate, because composition shingles must be replaced more frequently
- Cheaper or low-end asphalt shingles like 3-tab or strip shingles may only last some 10-15 years in hot, sunny climates like Arizona and Texas
- Rapid temperature changes can cause asphalt shingles to crack prematurely
- A poorly vented attic will trap heat and significantly shorten asphalt shingles’ 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
- Cedar shingles and shakes can last 5 to 10 years longer than asphalt when properly maintained, which makes them competitively priced with asphalt over their lifespan
- Wood has an insulation value twice that of asphalt shingles. However, your home’s insulation levels including walls and attic are far more important than the R-value of the roof covering
- Many shakes and shingles are made from salvaged trees – those that have fallen over from age or were 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