No doubt anyone designing their own home or considering a roof replacement job (check out the previous post “How to Know When it’s Time to Replace Your Roof”) has come upon the question of what material to use on their new roof. In modern times, there are many options to choose between and it can be confusing if you don’t have all the facts. This article is designed to give homeowners the information they need to make the right decision on roofing material based on cost, aesthetics, and durability. Each different roofing material has pros and cons that makes each better suited for particular climates and building styles.

The first concern on the minds of many homeowners or builders is cost. As such an important sheltering component of any home, the roof is an area where it is important to be careful not to spring for something cheap that won’t last, but also to avoid pushing the edges of your budget. The most economical roofing material is probably the basic asphalt shingle. Asphalt shingles provide good protection from rain and sun, but are unfortunately highly susceptible to wind damage. Another advantage they offer is that a partial replacement of sections of damaged or missing shingles is relatively easy and cheap. Asphalt shingles are a common choice and have a very standard aesthetic appeal. For a little more money, but still in the relatively low cost-range, you can opt for thicker, stronger architectural shingles. In sum, asphalt shingles are:

  • Low Cost
  • Fire Resistant
  • Relatively Aesthetically Appealing
  • Available in Multiple Colors
  • Fairly Durable (14-30) Years

Still, shingles are not without their weaknesses:

  • Vulnerable to Mold
  • Prone to Wind Damage
  • Require Ventilation
  • Can Rack up Repair Cost Over Time
  • Less Resilient than Other Options

Asphalt shingles are well suited for areas with less extreme climates and gentle or moderate winds.

Wood shakes are another relatively inexpensive roofing option, although they are more pricy than shingles. Many people opt for wood shakes because of their earthy, natural appearance. Wood shakes add an extra layer of insulation and allow the house to ventilate better than shingles, which can save money on heating and cooling bills. Unfortunately, wood shakes are very susceptible to insect damage, water damage and rot. Thus, they often require more maintenance than other types of materials. With proper maintenance, however, shakes can last about the same amount of time as asphalt shingles. Another problem with wood shakes is that they often lack the fire protection of many synthetic roofing materials. However, modern shakes are generally pressure treated in such a way that they are saturated with fire retardant making them relatively more resistant to fire. Wood shakes are best suited for areas that don’t get lots of snow and ice, but also are not prone to fires.

The second worry of most homeowners is longevity. While shingles and wood shakes are decently durable, there are other options that can last a lifetime or longer. Unfortunately these are often more expensive. One such option is clay tile. Clay tile is long lasting and immune to insects, fire, and rot. Tiles are available in a variety of colors, but have a very distinctive Spanish or Italian style that does not match every home. The other drawbacks of clay tile are weight and relatively high cost. The roof of the house may require extra support if clay tile is going to be used. The tiles can also be quite fragile, and may be damaged by walking on them so any maintenance should be performed by a professional. Overall, clay tile is a great option for almost any climate if you can afford it and it matches the aesthetic style of your home. Slate is another option that shares all of the same pros and cons with clay tile. It is long lasting and has a very distinctive, powerful appearance.

To avoid the weight and fragility issues of clay tiles and slate, some homeowners choose to use metal. Metal roofs are available in a wide variety of colors and styles and can even be designed to mimic the appearance of another roofing material. Aside from their relatively high cost, metal roofs are long-lasting, extremely low-maintenance, fire retardant, safe from insects, and very energy efficient. Metal reflects heat and helps keep attic space cooler. For the environmentally friendly builder, metal has the added benefit of being largely recyclable. Metal roofs are well-suited for almost any climate and can be made to match almost any style.

There are other roofing materials out there, but these five are some of the most commonly used today. Each material has its strengths and weaknesses, and each is suited to a different set of wants and needs. Hopefully this has helped you make an informed decision about your home based on longevity, budget, and appearance.