You know your roof’s important, being your home’s first and last line of defense. It keeps pests out, keeps climate control in, and prevents heinous water damage that can destroy your house.
It directly impacts your resale value, your curb appeal, and your insurance too.
So, choosing the right material for your roof is a big decision, and when people mention shingles, you may feel compelled to balk, being used to old styles of shingle, or being unaware of variety. Today, we’d like to drop a knowledge bomb on you about the variety of shingles out there, with their strengths and weaknesses.
3-Tab Roof Shingles
These are what most people think of when they hear shingles brought up. These are your standard, every-use shingles that adorn most commercial non-flat roofs, and a solid 80% of homes in North America, and almost as many built after 1930 in the rest of the developed world.
3-Tab shingles have been around for a long time, and while the concept and purpose hasn’t changed, they’ve actually advanced a lot in material sciences and installation. They’re the most affordable type of shingle, made of crushed stone, asphalt, a fiber layer (usually fiberglass these days), and some adhesive on the underneath.
While the standard mental image of these are nondescript rectangular tiles of a black, gray or sometimes earth-toned hue, these days, there are a number of vivid colors and even some unique shapes they can take (though the shape variety is more common with architectural shingles, which we’ll get to in a moment).
3-Tab shingles are generally more affordable than just about any other type of shingle, though there’s a definite gradient in quality and price. They’re designed to be easily replaced, so their slightly pliable feeling and tendency to come apart or fall off when they’re too old, is actually intentional.
They’re simple, any roofer worth their salt can install them, and they’re intended to be pretty straightforward to replace without remediating your whole roof in most cases. They’re also suited for just about any climate, though we would recommend architectural shingles for places with cinematically-extreme snow in the winter, or places with frequent insane hail or wind storms.
These are basically 3-tab shingles’ fancier big brother. Architectural shingles vary extremely widely, with a host of different styles, shapes, colors and so on. If you’ve ever noticed unique asphalt shingles with a fish scale appearance, or houndstooth appearance, those were almost definitely architectural shingles.
These are made of the same materials as 3-tab shingles, though with a much thicker asphalt layer, usually double or triple the fiber layer, and a far more powerful adhesive. They’re very heavy, they’re quite costly, and they do require special skill to install, compared to 3-tab.
The advantages are worth it if you can afford these, though. They stand up to way more severe weather conditions, they last far longer, they can be quite a bit more stunning, and they do tend to come with a hefty warranty as well.
If you like asphalt-style shingles, but want something more interesting, and a heck of a lot tougher, then you would probably want to consider architectural shingles. Do expect installation to come at a higher premium due to them being harder to install, and heavier.
A lot of people are surprised to find out that these are even considered shingles, because they tend to be so distinct. The traditional, rounded ridge style clay tile is evocative of tropical, desert and Mediterranean vistas, and brings a flair of the exotic and a festiveness that’s seen them become popular (paired especially with stucco), all over the country.
However, the classic terra cotta “rounded ridge” style is not the only form these can take, nor is that classic color the only one available. There are shake-style, textured flat tiles, beveled tiles, all available in a plethora of colors, though cool colors and slightly warm earth tones are the most common and most popular.
Tile shingles can last a long time, upward of a century in some cases. They’re too heavy for any but the strongest winds to blow away, and they can stand up against serious winter conditions better than most other manufactured materials on the market.
They became popular in dry, hot climates because of their energy efficiency, as well as their durability. The thing with these is, they are far from cheap, and really hard to walk on if you need to get on your roof (you shouldn’t be on your roof, but we know people will do it anyhow). They’re very heavy, which makes them hard work to install, and does require a specific skill to work with. Any skilled roofer should be able to work with them, but it’ll come at a price.
Avoid these if you live in an area where hail storms are exceptionally common, because it’s the one case where these can be demolished in short order. They do also like to cultivate algae, and some lesser product lines can fade after enough sun.
Wood Roof Shingles
Wood is a beloved material everywhere in the world where trees grow, and is the oldest type of shingle known to have ever existed. Other roofing approaches (adobe, thatch etc.) existed prior, but wood shingles were quite the innovation.
Wood shingles aren’t as fragile as you’d think – modern treating methods make them pretty durable and long-lived. They can take on this organic, timeless, weathered look that’s quite nice, but is a specific taste – more specific than most others on this list.
Wood does like to splinter in hail, and it doesn’t like really strong wind storms. If they need to be replaced, wood shingles are a good bit more expensive, and their installation is also costly, as the one time they’re exceptionally fragile is during installation. Wood is heavy, too.
Shake shingles can be made of wood or various types of easily-flecked stone (slate for example), though for the purposes of this, let’s keep it to shake. Wood shake is usually made from cedar, and looks less symmetrical than regular wood shingles due to the splitting methods used to cut them. This also provides a more etched texture to the flat surface as well.
Shake has a very organic and old world look to it, very attractive and evocative of the northeast, of old England, and stately homes surrounded by unspoiled woodlands. It’s also not cheap, and has most of the same weaknesses (and installation woes) as regular wood shingles.
Shake is a distinct and specific taste, though oddly, there are styles of nature-centric modernism that make heavy use of shake roofs and even siding, so if you’re not going for traditional nor old fashioned, don’t rule shake out quite yet.
Slate Roof Shingles
Slate is the most common type of stone used for stone roofs. This is because slate is durable, but it’s “easy” to cut into thin strips or slabs, and is easily shaped by a skilled stone worker. Slate is very energy efficient, and if hail and wind don’t bombard it, it can last for well over a hundred years.
Slate often has a scale appearance, having a rounded shape where they overlap, but a more “traditional” rectangular style, with a more vivid earth tone, also exists.
Modern slate shingles are usually not made using old world techniques, thus allowing for a lot more variety and color. It’s honestly pretty amazing.
This is one of the costlier materials, being kind of fragile until installed, being very heavy, requiring serious skill, and being just an expensive type of shingle in and of themselves. That said, in rainy areas, they can’t be beat, as they’re about the most water-resistant type of natural material you can get.
Like tile though, these can be obliterated by fallen branches or hail.
Solar Roof Shingles
Well, this is a cute idea, but let’s not beat around the bush – where we stand now with solar cell technology, solar is only really worth the trouble in places like the southwest where it’s always sunny during the day – or at least for 98% of the year.
Solar cells are not efficient, being about 28% now, and an upward limit theorized to be around 70-80% sometime in the far-flung future. If you live in a place with varied weather, solar is only good for supplementing your power, not for replacing power lines.
Shingles themselves being solar is interesting, and it looks kind of neat from an aesthetic concept, but it’s expensive, and when you think about it, the nature of shingles as things that get broken and have to be replaced, becomes a nightmare.
These aren’t easy to install due to the electrical concerns, and only specific roofing contractors can actually install these for you effectively. When one breaks, imagine the expense of getting a properly skilled contractor, and new shingles.
Someday this idea may work, when solar is at peak efficiency, and the shingles aren’t destroyed by anything short of an RPG striking them. For now, if you live in the desert, this might be worth a try if you can afford them, but otherwise, it’s just a neat concept that may one day be more fruitful and worth the hassle.
Don’t let this stop you though – if you don’t mind the expense and still being dependent on some amount of traditional power, prove the worries wrong.
Not all metal roofing can be considered shingles, as what most picture (corrugated panels) aren’t shingles at all. But metal shingles are becoming more and more commonplace. For now you see them mostly in commercial/public structures, but homes are starting to adopt them more often as well.
Metal shingles aren’t the lightest thing in the world, but they’re not as heavy as some other shingle types, and they can last “forever” as it were. They don’t fade, they don’t warp, and the way they’re installed makes them very hard for wind storms to menace.
They can be dented or scratched by branches or hail though, so they’re not indestructible. For now, they’re a bit costly to buy, and to install, but the price is consistently going down.
Metal can take on various textures and colors, being forged and molded, so there’s a huge variety to be enjoyed, and it does look quite striking indeed. Metal is definitely worth a look, no matter where you live, and it’s actually not too hard to find a good deal on installing a metal roof, as many roofers are trying to popularize it further.
Cement tends to take on a similar form to clay/tile shingles, but it’s tougher, and could be longer-lived. It’s hard to describe the aesthetic of them, it’s reminiscent of the ancient stonework roofs found in southeast Asian and South American ruins, though without the misshapen crumbling.
Cement is painfully heavy, which drives the price up, and it loves to cultivate algae, moss and lichen. It’s an interesting idea, but probably not for everyone.
None of these exotic or right for you? You have more choices, and we’re here to help. Fill out our contact form today to learn more!