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Construction roofer nailing wood board with hammerWhen you think about it, your roof might be the most important part of your house. Without a roof, your house is just a bunch of walls. The roof keeps everything underneath it in (cold and warm air) and everything above it from getting inside (rain and errant satellites).

If that’s the case, and your roof is so important, why do we normally not give it a second thought? The reason is simple: because most of the time, your roof works. When it doesn’t, though, it might be time to consider your options.

Roofing material is as much an aesthetic choice as landscaping or lighting. And with the endless choices in color and material, you can add as much (or as little) character to your home as you please, all while keeping the elements at bay.

In this post, we’ll explore some basic roofing materials and the advantages and disadvantages of each. And who knows? When it comes time to re-roof your home, you’ll have some extra information under your tool belt.


The reigning champ of roofing material in the U.S. is asphalt. When we think roofing materials, shingles are king. They’re readily available, relatively affordable and when it comes to effectiveness, they work.

Asphalt shingles come in a variety of colors and shapes. The most typical is the three-tab variety, which means that each sheet has two cutouts to give the appearance of three individual shingles. For a more textured look, dimensional shingles are designed to look like individual cedar or slate shakes (another word for individually split shingles). Dimensional shingles come in a variety of cuts, colors and costs to give you the exact look you want.

Asphalt shingles have either a fiberglass or organic base, over which asphalt is applied. Over that, the shingles have grit adhered to their surface for color and texture.

Shingles, depending on which ones you choose, always come with a warranty. Most fiberglass and organic shingles come with a 20- to 25-year coverage, while architectural options come with a 30-year warranty. It’s said that architectural shingles are about 30% more expensive than the traditional three-tab, but it might be worth it if you consider the additional warranty coverage and a thicker, more durable design.

Make sure, before you commit to a new roof that there isn’t a recall on the existing material used on your roof. We learned about a recall on our shingles when a roofer came over to give us an estimate after some storm damage. It wasn’t a big deal (grit adhesive recall) but it saved us some big money when it came time for replacement.

Shingles and Shakes

Next time you need a roof, do yourself a favor and look up some images of a cedar-shingled roof. Even if it’s not possible due to home owner association rules, cedar shingles are jaw-dropping.

The same is true for shakes. Shakes are a thicker product that are split pieces of wood, as opposed to shingles, which are cut. Because they are split, they offer a textured appearance that brings out the highlights and lowlights in the wood. Just as architectural shingles’ cut designs create depth with facets, shakes’ split texture takes roof coverings from boring to bold.

Unfortunately though, it comes at a price. Cedar shingles and shakes cost a pretty penny. The good news is that you can replace both shingles and shakes one at a time as needed, and they last up to 30 years.

For areas where fire codes are strictest, wooden roofing might not be an option. In those cases, synthetic wooden shingles and shakes are available and are aesthetically identical.


If you’re after a look that’s not your run-of-the-mill wood or asphalt, slate is your best bet. When it comes to durability, slate weighs in highest on the list, lasting anywhere from 80-400 years. It could possibly outlast your house. That longevity comes with a cost, both structurally and financially.

The materials alone come with a hefty price, but the other consideration is the cost of the structural support you’ll need with slate roofing. Slate is heavy, heavier than other materials – it is a kind of stone, after all! Putting thousands of pounds of stone on your roof requires that your home is able to support that kind of weight.

But fear not! Engineered options made from a combination of rubber and plastic make the look of slate a possibility without the need for a beefier support base.


Originally used for barns and outbuildings, corrugated roofing has become a mainstay for the homestead. Durable and affordable, corrugated roofing is a great option that lasts long and looks nice.

Another type of metal roofing is copper, which can typically be seen over bay windows, gables and cupolas. While not always made of copper any more, there’s no mistaking the high-end look that copper lends in both new and old construction. You can even get the roofing material powder coated so the copper can keep its sheen without oxidizing into green.


The most common ceramic tile is called a barrel tile; it’s made by cutting tubes of clay or composite material in half. Ceramic roofing is most common in the Mediterranean, but here in the U.S., it’s most commonly seen in Florida and parts of California, where the Mediterranean influences on architecture is strongest.

Waterproofing is achieved by laying a membrane base layer down; then over top of the membrane, mortar is used to adhere the tiles to the roof. Like slate, mortar and the tiles on top can add a considerable amount of weight to the structure of a home. As a result, a home has to be able to support a ceramic roof.

Today’s ceramic roofs come in a variety of colors, shapes and materials, making it a versatile option for folks with an eye for roofing style.

Raise the Roof

Now that you’ve got the lowdown on what goes up on top of your house, talk to a roofing company representative about the options available in your area. Code and regulations might dictate which options you have available. But no matter which material you choose, there are plenty of ways to add your own personal sense of style to the one part of your house that can’t be topped.

Which materials have you considered for your roof? Which did you end up using? What’s your experience been with the material you have? Share it all in the comments below.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Great article, up here in Canada shingles are also the most widely used roofing material. I like metal roofs personally due to the fact that they are fairly easy to maintain and they last long. Only downside is the expensive up front cost.

  2. Appreciating the time and energy you put into your blog and detailed information you offer. It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed material. Great read! I’ve saved your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  3. That’s crazy that slate roofs can last up to 400 years. That’s probably longer than the house would even be around. I can see how it would be a big investment. I think slate would be good on big houses that would probably be standing for a long time. Thanks for all of the info!

  4. The information about roofing materials was very helpful..We refinanced our home with Quicken Loans® an am now ready to put a facelift on our home an some updates..

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