Residential Roofing Materials

Most of us don’t think much about our roof – until it starts to leak. Then we realize how critical that surface of our house’s exterior a roof really is. A roof not only keeps the house dry, it contributes greatly to the look of the house, so when building a new house, adding on, or re-roofing, it pays to consider the options. Cost, ease of installation and appearance are all factors when choosing a roofing material.

Roofs are made out of a variety of materials and each type has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, you might want to consider a sturdier roofing material if you live in an area that is prone to getting hurricanes or extreme winter storms.

It pays to gather key information prior to investing in roofing materials and a roofing contractor.

Roofing Building codes: If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowner’s association, be sure to check with them on approved roofing materials . In addition, some communities restrict the number of shingle layers they allow on a home before requiring a complete tear-off for a new roof. In many cases, codes now mandate the use of fireproof construction materials.

Roof slope: Have a roofing professional evaluate the pitch of your roof to get a sense for which roofing materials would work best. A steep pitch will reduce your choices of roofing materials .

Climate. If you live in a damp, humid region, algae can accumulate on the surface of your roof. Look for shingles treated with copper or zinc particles to increase algae resistance.

Roofing material choices range from:

Wood Shakes or Shingles Roofs 
Asphalt Composition Shingle Roofs 
Tile Roofs
Slate Roofs
Metal Roofs

One trend to note is that there is an increasing move towards engineered roofing materials. This change is being driven by a few different factors. One is simply the high cost of wood. The second is that in many cases, codes now mandate the use of fireproof construction materials. And third, people understandably want to build with materials that not only look good but also are very long-lived.

Cedar Wood Shakes or Shingles

Cedar shakes combine a traditional look with reliable, modern performance. Cedar shakes are a great choice for historic homes or homes in new developments with high appearance standards. Also, cedar shakes are an environmentally friendly option for consumers. The life expectancy of cedar shakes is up to 30 years, if quality materials are used. If the contractor uses commodity materials (low quality) or if the workmanship is poor, the life expectancy can drop to only 10 to 15 years. Another concern potentially associated with cedar shakes is that many communities will require you to install pressure-treated fire retardant shakes, which increases the cost of the materials.

Asphalt Composition Shingles

Composition shingles are used on the majority of homes in the United States and is the most economical roofing solution. These shingles are made of a base (organic or fiberglass) that is saturated with asphalt and coated with minerals on one side to resist weathering. The fiberglass shingles are more flexible and stronger than organic shingles. Shingles come in a wide variety of colors. Composition roofs can be overlaid with a new roof if the initial roof is a single layer and in good condition. The life expectancy of composition shingles depends on the rating (e.g., quality) and ranges from 20 to 30 years. Most manufacturers will cover a composition roof under warranty, but only if it has been installed by a certified roofer as the most common problems and maintenance issues occur when the installation did not include adequate ventilation and/or flashing.

Dimensional Asphalt Shingles

Dimensional shingles are very similar to composition shingles, but are thicker, and can be used to create a more custom appearance. Depending on the rating, dimensional shingles also have a much better lifespan, with an expectancy of up to 40 years. The issues and concerns with a dimensional roof are the same as those associated with composition shingles, moss buildup, quality, and adequate venting/flashing.

Tile Roofs

Tile is probably the most expensive, heaviest and longest lasting roofing material. Tile lasts a long time – usually a minimum duration of 40 to 50 years. Tile won’t rot or burn, and it can’t be harmed by insects. It requires little maintenance, and comes in a variety of colors, types, styles and brands.  The biggest drawback to tile is its weight. Depending on the material used to make it, tile can be very heavy – so heavy that extra roof support can be required. Tiles are fragile, so walking on them can break them. That makes it more difficult to accomplish maintenance like painting or cleaning rain gutters or fireplaces. Initial installation can be complicated.

Clay Roofing Tile is a good choice for homes with a southwestern, Italian, or Spanish Mission design, or even for homes with a modern, clean look. Clay tile is most often thought of in the traditional “S” or “Spanish” tile look but clay can now be made in several other patterns as well.

Concrete Roofing Tile has essentially all of the upsides of clay tile but with the added advantage of being available in an even greater number of styles including traditional clay, slate, and even wood shake! It is ideal for communities with appearance codes because it has such a wide range of appearance options.

Metal Roofs

Metal roofs are very lightweight, weighing about one quarter as much as tile roofs and nearly half as much as asphalt shingles. Metal roofing is generally more expensive than asphalt roofing, but cheaper than tile or slate roofing. It has a long life and can even lower heating and cooling costs because it reflects heat from the sun. If properly installed a metal roof will usually last as long as the house with manufacturer warranties often lasting 50 years.

Metal roofs vary in color, style, and texture more than any other roofing material. They can be made to look like wood shakes, standard shingles, or even tile but without the extra weight. Many styles come in sheets which are quickly and easily installed while metal shingles will require additional time and expense because of individual placement and nailing. Recycled metal roofing can also be purchased, as an environmentally safe option for your home. Read more about metal roofing here.

Slate Roofs

Slate roofs are beautiful, last for generations, shed ice and snow, and are very expensive. Because of its cost and weight, which requires a beefier roof structure to support, slate is not often used these days. There are slate lookalike roofing materials fabricated from recycled rubber and plastic. At only about one-third the weight and cost of slate, these shingles can be installed using standard tools and techniques. From the street, the discerning eye might be able to tell the difference between engineered and the real McCoy, but most of us would be very house-proud with one of these roofs on our homes. Plus, these shingles are guaranteed to last for as long as 50 years.