The best types of roofing materials: lifespan, cost, and more

Image source: SonShine Roofing

Chris Gennone

By Chris Gennone

December 18, 2020, updated August 13, 2021

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Choosing the right roofing material for your home is a crucial decision. Replacing your roof not only increases the value of your home and its lifespan, but can also reduce energy costs and improve its curb appeal. Whether you’re repairing, replacing, selling, or staying, nearly 40% of realtors suggest replacing the roof before the sale and 65% of homeowners want to be home more often after a roof replacement. So, which roofing material is right for your home? Let us help you decide.

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Types of roofing materials

Cost-effective Longest lifespan Energy efficiency Lowest maintenance Curb appeal
Asphalt Slate/clay Metal Clay/metal Slate/clay

Get an estimate for your preferred roof material.

Asphalt shingles

Asphalt shingles on a residential roof

Image source: Findlay Roofing

Due to their affordability and easy installation, asphalt shingles are the most popular and most common roofing material available in the US. According to Remodeling Magazine, installing asphalt shingles on a new roof can increase your home’s value by an average of $16,000. But with issues like energy efficiency, longevity, and durability, the results can vary depending on the manufacturer, installer, climate, and your budget.

Cost

On average, you can expect to pay between $3.50-$6.50 per square foot and between $2,500-$10,000 after installation for a typical 1,700 square foot roof. However, more high-end premium and architectural shingles like Owens Corning’s Woodcrest brand and CertainTeed’s Landmark roof shingles cost more than other popular roofing shingles like GAF’s Timberline brand.

Pros of asphalt shingles

Cost-effective - While asphalt shingles can become an expensive roofing choice depending on the brand and weather conditions of your climate zone, they remain a more cost-effective roofing option than slate tiles or a metal roof. Asphalt shingles can also be made to mimic the appearance of more expensive materials like cedar shakes, wood shingles, or natural slate, which will give you a more sophisticated look at half the price.

Fire-resistant - Out on the west coast where wildfires are a major issue, it’s important to install roofing products that are resistant to fire and high winds. Thanks to its fiberglass mat and ceramic granules, asphalt roofing shingles typically carry a Class A fire rating, which determines how quickly a material burns. Class A is the highest rating a roof can receive.

Easy to install - One of the major advantages of asphalt shingles is how easy it is to install them. Because they’re so lightweight, require basic tools, and can even be installed over existing shingles, most roofers can complete the job within a couple of days.

Cons of asphalt shingles

Shorter lifespan - Though some shingle brands last longer than others, asphalt shingles typically last between 15 and 30 years, but won't last as long as more expensive materials like clay tiles or metal shingles, which can last a lifetime or more.

Prone to damages - Again, durability varies depending on the type of shingles you buy. While asphalt shingles are typically resistant to algae and mildew, they are prone to cracking in colder temperatures or blowing off in climates like Florida, where hurricanes are prevalent.

Not environmentally friendly - According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the US produces between 7-10 million tons of waste in asphalt shingles every year. Although, some shingles can be recycled and used for asphalt pavement.

Clay and concrete tiles

Clay tiles on a residential roof

Image source: Bayfront Roofing

Clay tiles are some of the longest-lasting roofing materials, which can range from 50 to hundreds of years. But due to its low maintenance, resistance to fire, impact, rot, and wind, clay tiles can also help increase curb appeal and your home's value.

Concrete tiles are a cheaper alternative to terracotta clay tile roofing but are also heavier and more prone to moisture, which can lead to potential repairs. We recommend checking with a structural engineer to see if your roof can handle the weight as well as installing a felt underlayment first, which will help prevent any leakage.

Cost

Clay tiles - On average, you can expect to pay about $1,000 a square or between $10-$20 per square foot, but prices can vary depending on the installation, which is more labor-intensive than other roofing materials. Costs can exceed $40,000 after installation.

Concrete tiles - You can expect to pay between $700-$850 a square for concrete tiles.

Pros of clay and concrete tiles

Durable - Both clay and concrete tiles are extremely durable, able to withstand most severe weather conditions. Not only do both typically have a Class A fire rating, but they're also able to withstand hurricane-force winds, which explains they rarely require any maintenance.

Long-lasting - Thanks to their extreme durability, both clay and concrete tiles can last significantly longer than most other materials. Clay tiles typically last up to 50 years but can last as long as hundreds of years before replacement, while concrete tiles typically last between 30-50 years.

Eco-friendly and energy-efficient - Because clay and concrete tiles are made from natural materials, they can easily be recycled and reduce the amount of waste. Both types of roof tile have a natural thermal resistance, which reduces the amount of heat transfer and energy costs. This is typically why you'll see these kinds of tiles in warmer climates like Florida and California.

Many styles - Clay and concrete tiles come in a variety of different shapes, colors, and patterns ranging from French interlocking tiles to Mediterranean or Spanish Mission style.

Cons of clay and concrete tiles

Difficult to install - Because clay and concrete tiles are heavy and require experienced roofing contractors, it can be difficult to find a skilled installer so none of the roof materials become damaged.

Expensive - The biggest disadvantage of clay and concrete roofing tiles is how expensive they are, which can cost more than ten times the amount of asphalt shingles.

Metal roofing

Metal roofing being installed on a residential roof

Image source: Legacy Service

Metal roofing is also very expensive but can last an incredible amount of time, up to 50 years with little to no maintenance. Prices for installing a metal roof can range from $4-$12 per square foot, but the cost depends on the material you choose. The most common metals used for roofing are aluminum, copper, standing seam, galvanized steel, and zinc.

While the demand for aluminum has been increasing due to its lower price point and easy installation, it is one of the softer metals and is prone to denting and damage. Metals like copper and zinc are significantly more durable and long-lasting, but they are also more expensive, costing up to $15 per square foot. Galvanized steel is cheaper than most other metals but is used more often for commercial buildings and can be more difficult to install. If you're interested in installing solar panels for your home, standing seam metal roofs are the easiest type of roofing material to install due to their screws which can be used as fasteners for the panels.

Cost

Aluminum - $3-7 per square foot

Copper - $8-$15 per square foot

Zinc - $4-$8 per square foot

Steel - Galvanized steel costs between $2-$4 per square foot and galvalume steel costs between $3-$5 per square foot

Standing seam - $8-$15 per square foot

Pros of metal roofing

Long-lasting - One of the biggest advantages of metal roofing is its long lifespan, which can be up to 50 years or more.

Environmentally friendly - Because most metals like aluminum and copper are fully recyclable, they are environmentally friendly and can help reduce the number of carbon footprints. Metal roofs also reflect a great deal of sunlight, which makes them a good option for homeowners in warmer climates.

Durable - While aluminum and copper are softer metals and can become damaged on severe impact, they are built to last. Metal roofing is fire resistant and has been tested to withstand high winds. Some metals like steel, which is one of the hardest metals, can withstand hail and snow. Thanks to standing seam's concealed fasteners, its panels overlap each other, creating a tight seal that prevents any kind of leakage.

Cons of metal roofing

Expensive - The biggest disadvantage to installing a metal roof is its high price point. While metal roofs can last a significantly larger amount of time than asphalt shingles, they also cost at least double the amount. However, with little to no maintenance and a long lifespan, metal roofs do end up paying for themselves.

Prone to dents - Although metal roofs are very durable and can withstand some of the harshest climates, some softer metals like aluminum and copper can dent on impact.

Slate roofing

Slate roofing on a residential roof

Image source: National Slate Association

If you're looking for the most durable roofing material, then look no further than slate. Not only can slate roofs last up to 100 years, but it's also fireproof and water-resistant, requiring little to no maintenance, and can help increase curb appeal and your home's value. The biggest downside to installing slate is its hefty price tag, which could exceed $800 per square. Synthetic slate tiles are significantly cheaper than natural slate, but because they're made from rubber, they aren't environmentally friendly. But with a variety of different slate types and styles to choose from, slate roofs are an incredibly durable, long-lasting, and eco and environmentally friendly option.

Cost

Depending on whether or not you choose hard slate or soft slate, hard slate being more durable and more expensive, you can expect to pay between $500-$900 a square.

Pros of slate roofing

Durable - Slate is one of the most durable roofing materials available, able to withstand strong winds, fire, and excess water. Slates usually tend to last longer with steeper roofs, when water runoff is less likely to leak under the slates, which is why you're more likely to see slate roofs in colder, wetter climates.

Long-lasting - Slate is also one of the longest-lasting roofing materials, lasting upwards of 100 years or more, and typically comes with a warranty that lasts 50 years.

Eco and environmentally friendly - Because slate is made from natural elements, it is completely recyclable. Slate's embodied carbon value reaches only 16% of other roofing materials, which is the amount of energy needed to deal with any created waste, and has the lowest carbon footprint.

Cons of slate roofing

Expensive - The biggest disadvantage to installing a slate roof is how expensive it can be. Because slate is difficult to install and requires a professional contractor, installations can cost up to $40,000 or more after labor.

Heavy - Because slate can weigh four times more than asphalt shingles, some may require extra reinforcement and an inspection from a structural engineer.

Wood roofing

Wood shingles on a residential roof

Image source: Fania Roofing Company

Sometimes nothing beats the old-world appearance of wood shakes and wood shingles. In addition to aesthetics alone, a wood roof provides insulation and resistance to wind and fire, with shingles and shakes which are now typically treated with a fire retardant. Wood shingles and shakes are usually made from cedar because of their abundance and weather resistance, but some can be made from redwood or cypress. While wood roofs are durable and can typically last up to 50 years, wooden shingles are thinner than shakes, which makes them less durable and an average lifespan of 30 years.

Cost

Wood shingles usually cost between $5-$10 per square foot and shakes typically cost between $6-$11 per square foot or around $17,000 for a 1,700 square foot house. Costs can also vary depending on the pitch of your roof, which gets more expensive with the steeper your roof is.

Pros of wood roofing

Long-lasting - Wood roofs can last typically anywhere from 30-50 years depending on your climate, the quality of the shakes and shingles, and the installation itself. More often than not, material defects can be traced back to poor installation.

Energy-efficient - Because wood is a natural insulator, your roof will help regulate temperatures inside the home, saving energy costs.

Cons of wood roofing

Prone to insects and wood rot - Depending on the type of wood you choose for your roof, it can attract a variety of insects, including wasps and termites, so it’s important to regularly inspect your wood roof. Wood shakes are also susceptible to growing moss or mildew, which can eventually rot the wood. We wouldn’t recommend wood roofs for homeowners in more humid and wet climates.

High maintenance - In order to preserve the integrity of your roof, wood roofs also require a significant amount of maintenance. We recommend you trim branches, clean any debris, and scrub areas where mold, mildew, or moss is likely to grow with warm water and a mixture of bleach and detergent.

With so many options and variables, choosing the right roofing material for your home can be stressful. Each material, whether it’s asphalt, metal, slate, clay, or wood, has its own benefits and disadvantages, but this guide should help you make that decision.

Get in touch with a local contractor today.

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