Roofing Materials

Jim Mallery | Improvement Center Columnist | December 14, 2011

What part of your home could be more important than your roof? It is the first line of defense against the elements; if it fails, it doesn't much matter what other protections your house has. Here is a look at common roofing materials.

Asphalt composition shingles

Asphalt composition shingles are the most common roofing material. According to the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturing Association, they account for 80 to 85 percent of residential roofs.

With newer-style, "architectural shingles" - shingles with extra plies added that provide depth to their profile--composition roofs are no longer the drab, flat surfaces of the past. With their three-dimensional shape and varying patterns, they are designed to look more like a wood-shake roof.

Unfortunately, there are no universal manufacturing standards to help measure the quality of asphalt shakes, so it is hard to nail down pricing. However, when you shop for shingles, see if they meet the ASTM-D3462 standard, which is a test that measures strength. If they do, the code will be stamped on the packaging. Many shingles sold in discount stores will not meet this standard.

In certain cases, new asphalt shingles can be laid over an old composition roof, saving the cost of removing the old one. This is a one-time option--roofs usually are not strong enough to hold a third layer.

Asphalt shingles are a relatively cheap roofing option, with the higher-end shingles being about three-quarters the price of good wood shakes. While you will find a huge variation in price, the cost of roofing an 1,800 square-foot foundation should be less than $10,000. Asphalt shingles usually are warrantied for 20, 25 or 30 years.

Wood shakes and shingles

Wood shakes have been around as long as man has been cutting and splitting wood. The most common wood shake is cedar, though you also will find shakes made of redwood. Shakes made of yellow pine are found on the East Coast. Pine shakes must be treated with preservative, and because pine shakes are heavier, your roof structure may need to be reinforced before installation.

Good wood shakes will be straight-grained and beveled to about three-quarters of an inch thick. Try to steer clear of wood shakes with knot holes. The shakes should be split from the inner, lighter-colored heartwood of the tree.

A shake roof that is kept clean and has a preservative applied every few years will give you 25 to 30 years of service--maybe more under favorable conditions. Leaves and needles hold water against the wood and will shorten the roof's life if they are not removed regularly.

Shingles are cut using a saw not split with an axe. They are considerably thinner than shakes. As a result, shingles are not nearly as durable as shake, nor do they have the same aesthetic appeal.

While the cost can vary widely, a shake roof on an 1,800 square foot foundation will probably cost $12,000 to $15,000.

Other roofing materials

From gorgeous to unique to Fort Knox-like security, other popular roofing materials include clay, concrete, fiber-cement, slate tiles and metal. In all cases, they are considerably more expensive than composite and shake roofing. Some are also heavier and require roof reinforcement. They also are likely to have at least twice the longevity of the common materials.

Without a roof over your head, you don't actually have a house. Hold your roof in high regard by choosing the right materials to complement your architecture and fit your budget. If you're interested in replacing your roof, you can fill out the form on this page to get estimates from local contractors.