Your choice of roof material is one of the most important decisions you’ll make about your home. Not only is it a major expense, but it also has the significant job of protecting your family and your belongings. So, whether building a new house, re-roofing, or adding on, it’s imperative to get this choice right, and we can help. To make things easier, here’s a list of the most common roof materials, including their pros, cons, and relative cost.
Composition Shingles (low cost)
Composition shingles are used on homes all over the country and are one of the most popular roofing materials because of their affordability, durability, and ease of installation. The most common types of composite shingles used today are made from asphalt and fiberglass and have an average lifespan of 15 to 30 years; however, prices and lifespans vary depending on the grade of shingle.
They come in a wide range of colors and brands, so they can coordinate with the look of any home, and their flexible nature makes them simple to install on virtually any shape or pitch of roof. Additionally, they are low-maintenance, easy to repair, and typically offer Class A fire protection.
On the downside, composite shingles can blow off during high winds and can be damaged from ice. Also, they do not offer as much insulation as some other materials and are the least eco-friendly of all shingles (especially those made with asphalt).
Recycled Synthetic Composite Shingles (medium to high cost)
To provide homeowners with a more attractive and eco-friendly option than traditional asphalt shingles, many companies are selling synthetic varities made with a combination of recycled materials, such as plastic, rubber, fiberglass and wood. Many resemble slate, clay, or cedar shakes and can last as long as 50 years with little upkeep. Synthetic shingles are tolerant of foot traffic, are relatively easy to install, and lightweight.
Because these types of shingles are relatively new on the market, some people question their longevity (or at least how they’ll look after 20+ years). Also, depending on the style and installation, some can cost nearly as much as premium materials like slate and clay.
Wood Shingles and Shakes (medium to high cost)
Wood shingles and shakes are generally made of cedar, redwood, or southern pine and are primarily valued for the natural look and character they add to a home. Cedar is the most expensive of the available wood materials, but it is often preferred for its rot and decay resistance. Wood shingles offer some energy benefits as they insulate the attic, and the small openings under the rows allow air to circulate. The only major difference between shingles and shakes is their appearance; shingles are cut by machine and have a more uniform look whereas shakes are handmade and have a rougher appearance.
One of the disadvantages of wood shingles is many have no fire rating or only a class C, so it’s important to check with your local building codes before choosing this roofing material. That said, there are a few companies providing wood shingles that meet national fire safety standards as they are pressure treated with a fire retardant.
Another negative aspect of a wood roof is it requires a high level of maintenance to keep mold, rot, and insects at bay. When properly maintained quality wood shingles can last 30 to 50 years; however, this can be much shorter if the roof is neglected. Wood shingles are more difficult to install than composite shingles, so it’s vital to hire an experienced contractor who can deliver quality results.
Metal Roofing (medium cost)
Metal roofs are making a comeback as more affordable metal choices like galvanized steel, aluminum, and tin are available.
Metal roofing is able to withstand extreme weather, which makes them well suited to hurricane zones and areas with heavy snow (snow slides off instead of piling up and denting or collapsing the roof). Also, they are fire retardant, need little to no maintenance, and are extremely energy efficient as the metal reflects the sun’s rays and reduces the amount of heat absorbed into the attic. Modern metal roofs come in all styles and colors and some even resemble other materials, such as wood shakes, clay, and shingles.
Similar to wood, metal roofs are more complex to install than composite shingles and require a skilled contractor, but the price of a metal roof is its main drawback. Generally, they cost at least two or three times more than basic composite shingles, and the price can go up even more if you choose copper or specially coated steel. However, with lifespans of 50 to 100 years, they can easily outlast other roof materials and end up saving you money over time.
Slate Roofing (high cost)
Slate is a beautiful choice of roofing material that can be laid out in an assortment of patterns to give a home a natural, unique look. Like metal, it is exceptionally durable and can easily last 50 to 100 years as it is nearly impervious to fire, rot, insects, and demands very little maintenance. Although the colors of slate are limited to what’s found in nature, it comes in a range of greens, grays, and browns.
The major cons of slate are its high price (more than nearly any other material) and its weight (often extra roofing support is necessary). Also, it can break when walked on (makes maintenance a challenge) and it is less suitable for hot climates as the dark color absorbs heat.
Clay and Concrete Tiles (high cost)
Clay and concrete are also durable roof materials that have great fire protection and are resistant to rot and insects. Clay tiles are usually lighter in color (ideal for hot weather) and are commonly seen on southwestern, Spanish, and Italian style homes. Alternatively, concrete tiles come in all shapes, colors, and sizes and are often designed to mimic other materials.
Clay and concrete tiles have many of the same advantages of slate, including low maintenance, a distinctive look, and a 50+ year lifespan. However, also like slate, they are delicate and can break when walked on, are heavy (need extra support), and are very expensive.
When choosing your roof material don’t make the item’s warranty your only deciding factor (although it is a big one). It’s also important to consider how long you plan to stay in your home as that could influence the amount you should reasonably invest. Also, take into account how the material will perform in your environment (e.g. can it withstand the weather and provide energy efficiency). Finally, don’t forget about aesthetics. A roof is a major expense, and you don’t want to spend the next twenty or more years wishing you picked something different.