Roofing Materials Guide for Savvy Homeowners – Best Roof Types & their Pros & Cons in 2017

A roof is a part of your home’s a building envelope designed to provide protection from rain, snow, hail and other nature’s elements. Roofs around the world vary in type, steepness, and the kind of materials used to withstand and shed any rainwater or snow away from the house or building structure.


Need a Roofer? Get 4 Free Quotes From Local Pros:

Start Here Enter Your Zip Code:

There are two ways in which a roof can be constructed; one piece impermeable shell such as PVC or TPO membrane, glass or metal dome, or it can be constructed from many different water shedding and water-resistant pieces such as composition shingles, ceramic tiles, cedar shakes, metal panels, natural slate, thatch, and quite recently from rubber composite and synthetic or plastic shingles.

Roofs of the world


Install Roof Shingles

Average price
Install Metal Roof

Average price
Install Flat Roof

Average price

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

In places with little rainfall, roofs tend to have a minimum roof pitch and are predominantly flat. In contrast, places with a lot of rainfall and snowfall, roofs tend to have a steeper pitch, which helps divert the rain water and shed the snow away from the roof.

Throughout the world, roofs are built from both, natural and man-made materials. Natural building materials such as wood and vegetation are used to build up roofs. In Asia, many roofs are constructed from bamboo. In Africa, roofs can be a covered with banana leaves and other types of vegetation. In the Middle East, many roofs are built from solid concrete slabs and are predominantly flat.

In America, the most common type of roofing material is asphalt shingles, an oil-based product. Cedar shingles and shakes, slate, metal shingles and sheet metal panels, concrete and clay tiles are among other less common roofing options used in the U.S. for pitched/sloped roofs.

Composition Shingles

Complex Asphalt Shingles Roof with Cedar Shakes Siding

Asphalt (composition) shingle is a petroleum-based product made from fiberglass mat saturated in asphalt to attain water resistant properties. Then, the top coating of asphalt is applied and sand granules are added. Asphalt shingles roofing is not a waterproof product and relies on pitch (roof slope) to divert water away from the roof. Typically, a minimal pitch of 4 inches for every 12 inches of run is required for an asphalt shingle roof. An average-expected lifespan of an asphalt shingle roof is 12 to 17 years.

An Asphalt roof will likely perform better in more temperate climates. In hotter climates, direct sunlight and the resulting thermal shock arising from the rapidly changing temperatures may cause shingle to crack, thus greatly shortening the lifespan of an asphalt shingle roof.

Similarly, places that receive a lot of snowfall, may not necessarily be ideal for asphalt shingle roofs because, they are not nearly as good as metal in shedding snow build-up, which may lead to costly ice dam issues. Cost-wise, composition shingle roofs are the least expensive to install, but their relatively short lifespan and effective lack of proper recycling methods account for some fairly frequent re-roofing applications, expensive tear offs, and as some would argue, environmental degradation, as a result of the disposal of the old shingles into our landfills.


Cedar/Wood Shingles & Shakes

Cedar Shakes Roof By Linda McDougald Design

In the past, cedar shake roofs used to be made from a longer lasting wood, and would thus, last some 25-30 years on the roof. Nowadays, you have to do your due diligence during the materials selection process to make sure you are getting a quality product. Pick a wrong supplier of cedar shakes or shingles and you will end-up with materials that no longer last as long as they used to, and aside from their aesthetic appeal, offer little cost-to-benefit return compared to other materials.

Since wood shingles/shakes are often required for roof restorations on many historic homes such as Victorian style homes, you will definitely want to make sure you get the best possible wood roofing product, coupled with a high quality installation to ensure longevity of your cedar roof. Keep in mind that cedar shakes are installed differently from cedar shingles, and quality installation will go a long way in ensuring a long-lasting roof.

Ceramic Clay Tiles


Made from ceramic or clay, these styles of roof covering are inherently heavy, weighing 6 pounds per square foot. This requires a specially reinforced roofing structure. Ceramic tiles can provide Spanish tile look and can last anywhere from 50 to 100 years depending on the quality of materials and installation.

Natural Slate

a beautiful slate roof on a house with towers

Estimated Roof Costs (1620 s.f.)
Asphalt Shingles
Metal Roofing
Flat Roof
See Roof Costs in Your Area

Natural slate is a pristine and long lasting roofing material that conveys durability and style. Slate roofs have been used throughout the world for hundreds of years. Slate tiles vary in thickness and can last anywhere from 50 to 120 years. Slate tile is notoriously heavy weighing nearly 8 pounds per square foot. A slate roof requires a special roof frame reinforcement. Slate roofs are very expensive, but they are made from a natural stone, and can last for a lifetime of the building.

Sheet Metal

Roofs made from rolled galvanized and galvalume steel and aluminum sheets. Sheet metal roofs are lightweight, environmentally-friendly and are built to last for a very long time – on average metal roofs can last two to three times longer than asphalt. Modern steel roofs are coated with aluminum and zinc alloy and provide effective and reliable protection. Steel shingle roofs, and standing seam made from steel and aluminum can easily last 50 years and longer. Metal shingles and sheet metal panels costs generally fall in between the cost of asphalt shingles and slate roofs. The high-end products featuring zinc and copper can last for as long as 100 years and do not require coating. Stainless steel, and titanium roofs are also available to building owners who are not limited by the budget.


Specially coated metal roofs reflect solar radiant heat keeping the building cooler and providing energy savings. Some of the metal roofing systems are cool-roof rated, which means that their energy efficient and have a high degree of solar reflectance and thermal emissivity. Cool roofs reduce the use of cooling energy in warm seasons, which reduces air conditioning load and helps mitigate the effects of heat islands in the big cities. Metal roofs are considered green because they are ecologically and environmentally safe, and can be fully recycled at the end of their useful life.

PV Solar Systems

PV Solar Panels on Metal Roof

Photovoltaic solar technology has given birth to innovative solar shingles, along with a wide-spread growth of lower priced roof-mounted photovoltaic solar panels and thin-film PV laminates that can be installed onto the rooftops of residential and commercial buildings. Along with flat roofs, standing seam metal roofs are ideal platforms for PV solar systems thanks to the raised seams that can be used as mounting anchors for a solar panel bracketing system. – These combined systems can generate electricity from solar energy, and can thus actually pay for themselves when installed on a roof that receives a sufficient amount of solar exposure.

Green Roofs

a green roof on a house

Green roofs help mitigate the effects of urban heat islands associated with roofs that capture solar radiant heat and emit it back to the surrounding environment creating heat island of fact. Traditional green roofs generally contain vegetation on the rooftop that provides excellent insulation properties, thus helping keep a building cool. Fresh air and beauty are other benefits of green roofs. Green roof can can be constructed in two ways; built up turf and added vegetation with carefully designed irrigation, water collection and drainage systems. A less expensive way to build a green roof is to use green roof containers that can be arranged on a rooftop of a building.

From thatch to green roof gardens and more!

In Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, thatched roofs made from waterproof vegetation, provide protection for thousands of homes. Even today, some well to do people in England, choose to install thatched roofs to attain the traditional look and style. Thatched roofs have been used for thousands of years because thatch or plant vegetation was a readily available and abundant building material.

Thatched roofs are considered sustainable because they are made from from the naturally growing leaves. In modern day, thatched roofs have lost their prominence due to the high expense of labor required to install a thatched roof. Another problem with thatched roofs is that they are predisposed to catching fire, especially in areas with drier climates.


In oriental cultures, bamboo is used for the construction of the roofs. Bamboo is a fast growing and abundant building material that combines flexibility and strength. Bamboo roofs are characterized by the cave in effect in the middle of the roof due to be bending of bamboo beams used in the construction of a bamboo roof.


Concrete roofs are common in Middle East countries such as Egypt, Iraq, and others. Concrete roofs are predominantly flat, and often contain parapet walls to provide protection for the people may choose to spend their time on the rooftop. This is common in hot Middle Eastern countries where people may sometimes sleep on the rooftop to find the relief from the heat at night. Concrete roofs are generally several inches thick, and are constructed from one piece concrete slab. Concrete roofs are extremely heavy and require strong outside walls and beams to hold the concrete slab. Some companies install concrete roofs in the United States in hurricane prone areas. Concrete roofs provide excellent hurricane protection and are best when the building is made from a one piece shell integrating foundation walls and the roof, and reinforced with steel beams acting as a skeleton for the cured concrete.

Roof Construction

In the U.S. Most roofs are built over attic spaces that act as insulation and noise barrier. Roofing underlayment serves as an additional level of insulation and water barrier protection. A proper roof ventilation of the attic space must be incorporated into the design and construction of a roof. — This will help improve your home comfort, energy efficiency, as well as help prevent any rotting of the roof deck. Further, a properly insulated and adequately ventilated attic space will keep your building cooler in the summer, last longer, and help prevent ice dams.


Roofing beams are constructed from timber, or steel frame. The type and weight of the future roof needs to be considered in the construction of the roofing frame including roof beams — trusses that will carry the weight of the roof.

Need a Roofer? Get 4 Free Quotes From Local Pros:

Start Here Enter Your Zip Code:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *