Top 9 Roofing Materials

Repairing or updating your existing roof allows you to change the overall look and style of your home. But aesthetics is not the only reason to upgrade your roof. Since your home is one of the biggest investments you will make, you’ll want to make sure your home maintains its waterproof integrity — and your home’s roof is an integral part of that system.

The roof plays a vital role in protecting your home from extreme weather conditions. That’s why it should be one of your priorities to keep it intact and well-maintained all year long.

Choosing what roofing material you should use depends on several factors: the location of your home; the climate your home faces; whether the building is residential or commercial; your overall budget; and the look and style you are aiming to convey.

Since a wide variety of roofing materials exists today, it can be hard to choose the best material based on your needs. To help, here are the advantages and drawbacks of nine of the most common roofing materials used on residential homes in North America.

#1. Asphalt composite shingles

As the name suggests, asphalt shingles use asphalt, also known as bitumen, which is a sticky, highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum. As a waterproof material, asphalt is exceptional at helping your roof repel and shed water, and because of their relatively low price-point and ease of installation, asphalt composite shingles are one of the most popular roofing material options.

Most asphalt shingle roof tiles come with a 25-year warranty. Still, homeowners should expect to replace their shingles every 12 to 30 years, depending on the quality of the shingles and the overall conditions the roof experiences.

Most homeowners can expect to pay between $1.50 to $3.50 per square foot for the installation of an asphalt shingle roof. For those inclined to do the work themselves, this type of roof can be an easy (but labor-intensive) weekend job.

#2. Metal sheet roofing

The significant benefit of a metal roof is its longevity. This roofing type is made from either steel or aluminium panels and can last between 30 to 70 years, sometimes longer, depending on the conditions.

In areas where there is heavy snowfall or higher risk for wildfires, metal roofing is becoming a sought-after choice, since this is a roofing material that is structurally very strong and fully fireproof. It’s also a great roofing option for homes located in regions prone to higher winds.

For those who live in particularly rainy areas of the continent, keep in mind that metal roofs, if not appropriately insulated, can be quite noisy during heavy rainstorms.

While an accomplished do-it-yourselfer can certainly take on the job of installing a metal roof – all you need is a cordless drill or impact driver and a locking sheet metal tool that is available at roofing suppliers or online – the job does require special skills, so most homeowners end up hiring a professional roofing company that specializes in this type of roof. Expect to pay between $5 to $12 per square foot for the installation of a metal roof, depending on type and style of metal.

#3. Metal shingles

If you like the durability and lifespan of metal but don’t like the look of standing seam metal roofs, consider steel or aluminum roof shingles (or shake-like shingles). These shingles can mimic the look of slate, clay, or even asphalt shingles but with the durability and longevity of metal. Like their panel counterparts, metal shingle roofs are exceptional in high-wind, heavy snow and wildfire-prone areas and are known to withstand 200 km/h (120 mph) winds, prolonged hail and continual freeze-thaw cycles.

Costs for installation are higher, ranging between $7 and $10 per square foot when installed by professionals. Metal shingle roofs typically last between 30 and 50 years.

#4. Slate shingles

There are many natural advantages to slate: it will not burn; it’s waterproof and resists mold and fungus and, as a roofing material, slate can last more than 100 years.

As a roofing material that is particularly effective in wet climates, it’s often used on homes that want exceptional waterproofing. But it’s also an expensive roofing option, with costs ranging between $25 to $75 per square foot when installed by a professional. While the price can seem steep, homeowners who select slate like the fact that these roofs last between 75 and 200 years.

Keep in mind that slate roofing tiles are not suitable if you need to crawl around on the roof or live in an area prone to hail, since these tiles can easily be broken by stepping or banging on them.

#5. Synthetic rubber slate tiles

If you love the look of slate, but not the cost (or the possibility of broken tiles) then consider installing a synthetic rubber slate roof. From the ground, it can be virtually impossible to distinguish these synthetic tiles from their natural slate counterparts. Better still, synthetic tiles are lightweight, making it accessible for homes that were not built to hold the heavier loads created by slate shingle roofs.

While synthetic tiles won’t last as long as their natural stone counterparts, they will typically last up to 50 years before they need to be replaced. Plus, the costs aren’t quite as steep, with most professional installers charging between $6 and $12 per square foot.

#6. Clay and concrete tiles

If you live in tornado alley, in a region prone to hurricanes or want a roof that can withstand 200 km/h (125 mph) winds, then consider clay or concrete tiles.

While there are many similarities between these two materials, longevity and cost can differ quite dramatically. Clay tile roofs typically last for 100 or more years and cost $10 to $30 per square foot to install. Concrete roof tiles last for about 50 years and cost between $9 to $12 per square foot to install.

Clay tiles are better for hot climates or where salt water is nearby, while concrete tiles are better for windy conditions. Keep in mind that concrete tiles are very heavy, adding 600 to 900 pounds per square foot (compared to 250 pounds per square foot for asphalt shingle roofs).

#7. Wood shingles or shake

For homeowners who love organic beauty and a rustic look, this roofing material is an excellent choice.

Wood shingles, which are machine-sawn, and wood shakes, which are hand-split, are both made from decay-resistant wood species such as red cedar, cypress or redwood. These tiles can be applied to both roofs and walls but should be applied in a manner that allows for underside ventilation, in order to avoid cupping, rotating or warping of the wood.

Since fire and rot can be a big concern for wood shingles and shake, homeowners living in wet regions or areas prone to wildfires should consider alternative roofing types. For those who still want to consider wood as their roofing material, but live in fire-prone areas, look for Class A fire-rated wood roofing products (which include shingles treated with fire-resistant coatings).

Expect to pay $4.50 to $9 per square foot for professional installation of wood shingles and between $6.50 to $11 per square foot for wood shake.

Homeowners in relatively dry regions can expect a wood roof to last about 60 years, while those living in damper areas drop that life expectancy to about 20 years.

#8. Built-up roofing (BUR)

For flat-roofs, the go-to option is built-up roofing, known as BUR. These roofs are constructed using several layers of roofing felt that is coated with asphalt. The felt layers are applied by first heating up asphalt cement that is rolled hot onto the roofing area. The felt layers are then applied by overlapping each layer to create a two to four-layer thick membrane. The last step is to add finely crushed stone into the hot tar over top of the last layer to create a very durable and impenetrable roof.

While relatively cheaper to install — about $2.50 to $5 per square foot — these roofs may become sticky in summer, and they are harder to shovel snow off of than other roofing materials. Homeowners can expect flat BUR roofs to last 20 to 30 years if installed properly; if not, these roofs can start to leak within a few years.

#9. Green roofs

While still an unusual choice for residential roofing systems, green roofs are gaining in popularity. Considered a ‘living roof system,’ green roofs help to add oxygen while providing thermal insulation to your home and helping to absorb rainwater.

To install a green roof, you will first need to install a layer of waterproof membrane and verify that your roof will have adequate drainage. You will also need to consider whether or not your home’s structural supports are adequate for the installation of a green roof. Also, make sure the green roof plan includes waterproofing, thermal insulation, a proper vapor barrier, adequate drainage, along with water filtration, soil, compost and plants.

For ‘intensive’ green roofs, expect large size and number of plants; for ‘extensive’ green roofs, expect a thin covering of green space, often intended only for moss or small-growth plants.

While styles and costs for green roofs vary quite significantly, most green roofs have a lifespan of about 40 years, although regular maintenance is required to keep these roofing systems lasting a long time.

Final Thoughts

Keeping your roof well maintained offers you the best protection against the elements and surprise costs. Not only will a well-kept roof provide comfort for everyone in the house, but it can also boost your home’s look and ultimately impact your property’s overall curb appeal.

The best type of roof for your home depends on your climate, budget and style of the house, but with the information above, it’s now easier to make the best decision for you and your home.

For accurate pricing guidelines, please speak with your local professionals.