Category Archives: roofing materials

Best Roofing Materials for Homes 2017, Plus Costs

This comprehensive guide to types of roof materials is all the research you need to evaluate asphalt shingles, wood shingles and shakes, metal roofing, tiles in three materials, natural and faux slate and the new Tesla solar tiles.

For each residential roof type 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 of Roofing Materials

These most common options cover more than 95 percent of residential roofs in the United States, so unless you’ve got something unusual in mind like solar tiles – oh, wait, we’ve included those – or a vegetative green roof, the options you’re considering are likely discussed here.

Asphalt shingles

More than 70 percent of US homes are roofed with asphalt shingles, though that number is slowly shrinking due to the incredible alternatives gaining popularity and the rising demand for eco-friendly materials. Shingles dominate the market because they are affordable, offer a variety of attractive options and do a good job protecting homes from the elements.

There are two 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.

Pros and Cons of Asphalt Shingles

The reasons to choose asphalt shingles are:

  • Shingles are often the most affordable roofing, 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
  • Fiberglass shingles offer good fire protection
  • Look good on most any style home

A few words of caution about asphalt shingles:

  • The lifetime cost of shingles is higher than metal or slate because they must be replaced more frequently
  • Cheap asphalt shingles last as little as 10-12 years in hot, sunny climates
  • Walking on a shingled roof that is hot can result in damage
  • 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 area unless treated with anti-algae/anti-stain treatments
  • Organic/felt shingles are heavy; getting them to the roof in bundles can be a challenge
Install Roof Shingles

$7,500
Average price
Install Metal Roof

$14,500
Average price
Install Flat Roof

$8,225
Average price

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Wood shingles and shakes

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 of Wood Shingles and Shakes

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 disadvantages in mind when deciding on wood shingles and shakes:

  • 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

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Flat Roof Materials & Costs: PVC vs. TPO, vs. EPDM Rubber, BUR, Modified Bitumen, Spray-on Coating, Plus Pros & Cons

When it comes to covering up a flat roof, your options are both limited and expansive. What that means in a nutshell is that your traditional roofing materials such as asphalt shingles, concrete tiles, and corrugated metal are out of the window. That being said, flat roof systems such as PVC, TPO, EPDM rubber, and others, each offer their pros and cons.

EPDM Rubber installed on a flat roof by GemTile

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So why can’t you put traditional roofing materials on a flat roof? Well, technically you can, but they are almost guaranteed to leak! 😉

Systems like asphalt shingles and concrete or clay tiles are installed by overlapping one row on top of another. They work cohesively with the pitch of the roof to shed rainwater and snow as it falls from the sky. Since flat roofs have little to no pitch, the water would work itself underneath the shingles or tiles, eventually rotting the substrate and causing leaks on your interior.

Covering a flat roof is a whole different animal than shingling a pitched one. On a flat roof, generally speaking, you want to avoid any types of seams, if at all possible.

The biggest threat is of course going to be water, which WILL find any access though any hole or inadequately-sealed seams in the roofing membrane.

Your main goal when covering a flat roof is to create a barrier that will be impenetrable to water.

How do you make an item (besides a roof) impenetrable to water? You can either apply something physical such as a tarp, or coat it with a material to create a barrier like you would via deck stain or lacquer. Roofs follow this same premise –- either physically cover it with something like a PVC membrane or apply a coating such as tar or spray on silicon.

Why Do Flat Roofs Exist?

Before we get into comparisons of different flat roofing materials, it’s important to know why they exist in the first place since they’re seemingly such a hassle and an almost-immanent leak threat. There are two main reasons behind why a contractor would call for a flat roof: 1) aesthetics and 2) convenience.

For example, when you’re adding on to a home (building an addition) with something like a three-seasons room, a flat roof simply looks nicer. Homes with unblended roof pitches can be an awkward eyesore.

In commercial buildings, flat roofs, outright, offer a more convenient place to install outdoor HVAC units rather than putting them in high-traffic ground areas.

Of course, any roof’s main job is to create a barrier of protection between the building below and the atmosphere above. Therein lies the conundrum associated with flat roofing. For all the aesthetics and convenience, the design doesn’t do a lot to avoid snow and water buildup.

To be fair, flat roofs aren’t completely ‘bubble-level’ flat. They work in much the same way as a gutter system, angled slightly or pitched a couple of degrees, so that water can flow into a downspout. Even so, flat roofing materials need to be able to absorb the brunt of the weather and to withstand ponding water or snow and ice until it melts.

Pros and Cons of Common Flat Roof Membranes

Whether you have a commercial or residential building, some type of roof covering is 100% mandatory. There are generally 5 to 6 different routes to take regarding the materials needed for roofing a flat surface:

1. PVC
2. EPDM
3. TPO
4. Modified Bitumen
5. BUR
6. Spray on Coating

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Roofing Shingles Vs. Cedar Shakes – Costs and Pros & Cons

Before we head up onto the roof to discuss shingles and shakes we need to begin our story inside the house, with artificial lighting. In fact, our story begins all the way back in London, England in 1812 with the organization of the Gas Light and Coke Company. The founders had discovered a new way to produce light – by burning coal in an oxygen-poor atmosphere and creating “manufactured gas”. Thus was born the gas lighting industry.

Install Roof Shingles

$7,500
Average price
Install Metal Roof

$14,500
Average price
Install Flat Roof

$8,225
Average price

See costs in your area Start Here - Enter Your Zip Code

One of the waste products of this manufactured gas was the tar left behind from the burnt coal. The coal tar was useless and an expensive pain to haul away from the plant. Enter Samuel Warren, who spent much of his young adult years in self-study, attempting to rescue his family’s faltering foundry. In 1846, Warren began experimenting with coal tar and discovered it made an excellent adhesive. He perfected the process for manufacturing a waterproof roofing material by applying coal tar to paper.

Warren opened a plant in Cincinnati to produce “tar paper” and the business was immediately profitable – not the least because gas companies paid him to take the coal tar off their hands. As the composition roofing business spread, the gas companies would eventually charge for their residue and naturally occurring asphalt was substituted. By the end of the 19th century, the tar paper was coated with granulated stone and sold in large rolls as roof covering for mostly industrial buildings, garages and barns.

Asphalt Shingles Roof

In 1903 Henry M. Reynolds, a contractor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, got the idea to carve those big sheets into individual shingles – which he did by hand with a knife. In 1911 the National Board of Fire Underwriters went on a kick to get rid of the most popular residential roof covering of the day – wood shingles. Asphalt shingles quickly gained favor and by 1930 the composite shingles had displaced wood as the most commonly specified material for residential roofing in America (an American invention, asphalt shingling is still rare on roofs outside North America). Wood and asphalt are still the kingpins in shingle selection today.

Let’s examine the pros and cons of both asphalt shingles and wood/cedar shingles & shakes. But first, an explanation of composition.

The Difference Between Wood Shingles & Shakes

Cedar shakes around a skylight Source: Kuhl’s Contracting

When used in roof covering, wood can be either shakes or shingles. Wood shakes have been used for centuries. They are split from logs and often left as split to retain the textured, rough-hewn effect. A wood shake is instantly recognizable by its thick butt end. With the advent of commercial sawmills a wood shake was often sawn after splitting to achieve a uniform back side.

These sawmills also produced a completely uniform product with an even taper and identical thickness by sawing shakes on both sides. This manufactured product is known as a wood shingle.

California redwood, western red cedar, cypress, spruce and pine are all used to manufacture wood shakes and shingles. Cedar is the most popular wood for shakes, southern yellow pine is also popular. Wood shakes and shingles can be pressure treated with fire retardants and chemical preservatives.

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