Selecting a roofing material can feel like ordering at a restaurant with a five-page menu: While options are great, they can also be overwhelming. Asphalt, wood, metal, slate, clay or concrete tile, plastic polymer . . . What makes one material better than the other? Why do asphalt shingles comprise over 80% of the residential roofing market? Luckily, there are specific criteria to consider and knowledgeable roofing contractors to assist in the decision-making process.
Local climate, budget, wind and fire risk, aesthetics, and eco-friendliness are all important considerations when choosing a roofing material:
Sun, rain, wind, snow, ice, and humidity can all challenge a roofing structure. These challenges necessitate not only a proper choice of material, but also a competent roofing contractor. In summer, poor airflow can heat an attic up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, while moist winter air can condense on the underside of sheathing. Both conditions, along with other causes of moisture, can rot a roof’s structure.
Additionally, refrozen snow can damage roof drainage, leading to destructive water buildup under shingles (everybodyneedsaroof.com). Metal, slate, and tile are typically more durable under varying weather conditions. Regardless of material, a good roofing contractor can plan against roofing deterioration by considering proper ventilation and insulation. A good contractor will ensure well-constructed sheathing, roof structure, flashing, and drainage (definitions of roofing components here).
Today’s Homeowner provides a helpful table comparing the costs of different shingle types. 3-tab asphalt is clearly cheapest in the short-term, yet its lifespan is significantly lower than other options. This means that if you intend to move homes within the next five years, the total cost of ownership for asphalt shingles is likely the lowest. However, a more durable option might prove more cost-effective over the long run, especially in more extreme climates.
Wind & Fire Risk
If you live in an area commonly affected by wildfires, it’s a good idea to check the fire ratings of various materials. Class A ratings indicate a strong resistance to fire, while Class C indicates weak resistance. For hurricane risk, ASTM International publishes wind ratings for shingles. STM D3161 Class F or ASTM D7158 Class H designations indicate the most wind-resistant shingles (flash.org). Clay and concrete shingles typically offer the best fire resistance, while slate, wood, metal, and plastic polymer shingles all offer good wind resistance.
This is the most subjective category, though tile, slate, and metal shingles are often considered attractive options. The dark-grey naturalness of slate, the green patina of aged copper, and the traditional Italian or Spanish look of clay tile are appealing in different ways.
Along with their short life span, requiring more frequent replacement than other materials, asphalt shingles are petroleum-based and often end up in landfills. If you’re ecologically conscious, it’s a good idea to ask your contractor if specific materials are recyclable. In terms of recyclability and the energy necessary to produce them, metal, slate, and wood are some of the best options. In this category, it’s also important to consider the local climate. For example, metal absorbs a third less heat than asphalt, meaning large potential energy savings in warmer climates.
As it can fully or partially replace fossil fuel reliant energy sources, solar energy also factors into ecologically-minded roofing decisions. The weight of solar panels atop a roof requires stronger roofing structures and potentially more lightweight roofing material. Corrugated metal and asphalt shingle roofs typically allow for easier solar panel installation, whereas slate or tile roofs are often more challenging. Additionally, some jurisdictions prohibit solar panel installations on more fire-prone wood shake roofs.
While it’s important to familiarize yourself with different types of roofing materials and considerations, a roofing contractor can drastically simplify the process. Besides local experience, recommendations, and quality work, they can level-set expectations with detailed, date-specific proposals. This prevents misunderstandings about deliverables. A contractor should also offer warranties on their work and have information about the warranties of various roofing material manufacturers.
With the right information and guidance, you can sleep soundly with a well-constructed, climate-appropriate, affordable, attractive, and ecologically-responsible roof over your head.
Jordan has worked as a mortgage lender and real estate agent. He is a self-described “housing professional” with over 20 years of experience in the industry. After retiring at the early age of 50, he shifted his focus to sharing his personal wisdom with others.