Lifespan, cost & more: The best roofing material for your home

An unfinished roof awaits installation by a roofer
Zeeshan Hyder

By Zeeshan Hyder

December 18, 2020

Share:

Whether you’re looking to revamp your old roof or designing your newly-constructed home, choosing the right roofing material is an important decision.

The roofing material you opt for will determine how good your roof is at providing your home (and your family within it) shelter from the elements: keeping it dry when it rains, warm when it’s cold, and cool when it’s hot.

But there are many other implications, not least of which are how much your new roof will end up costing you, and how long it’s likely to last.

Given the high stakes involved, you want to make sure that you choose the best roof material for your needs. Of course, this is easier said than done: there are plenty of different roofing materials out there, each with its own pros and cons.

Luckily for you, we’re here to help. In this blog, we’ll tell you the best roofing material for every criterion that matters.

On this page:

How to choose the best roofing material for you

What are you looking for from your roof? Knowing what you need from your roof will help you choose the perfect roofing material for your home.

Here are the roofing material attributes that most homeowners prioritize:

  • Lifespan: Roofs with longer lifespans mean that you can go decades without needing to replace your roof. Long-lasting roofs also make it easier to sell your house down the line.
  • Cost: The material should fit within your budget, and offers good value for money.
  • Weather protection: This is a roof's primary function, after all. The right roof material will protect you from whatever conditions you're likely to face, be it rain, shine, wind, or hail.
  • Energy efficiency: An energy-efficient roof will reduce your need for air conditioning, saving you money on your electricity bills.
  • Solar-friendliness: Solar panels offer clean energy and protection against rising energy costs.
  • Curb appeal: It's important that your roof makes your home look great and enhances its resale value.

Which of these characteristics matters most to you? We identify the best roofing materials for each of them below.

The longest-lasting roofing materials

Slate roofs are usually the top choice for those seeking durability when installing a new roof. Hard slate can be expected to last between 75 and 200 years, while soft slate has a shorter lifespan of between 50 and 125 years.

Cement and clay tiles are the other roofing materials you can expect to last long. These types of roofs can last 100 years or longer.

Whichever roof material you choose, be sure to follow these two rules: get the maximum possible warranty and repair or replace any missing tiles, broken tiles, or faulty flashing as soon as you notice them. Waiting too long for repairs increases the chances of water penetration and mildew formation, which will in turn necessitate the premature replacement of your roof.

A roofing contractor installs slate roof tiles on a home

Natural slate has an amazing lifespan; with proper maintenance, it can last as long as 200 years.

Most affordable roofing material

Asphalt shingles (aka composite shingles) are the cheapest roofing materials, with a material cost as low as $0.8 per square foot ($80 per square) for the most basic varieties.

The fact that asphalt shingles are so cost-effective has made them the most popular roofing material; over 70% of residential roofs in the United States are built with them. To learn more, check out our in-depth article on asphalt shingles; it covers the different types, such as architectural style shingles, as well as major brands like GAF and Certainteed).

Concrete tiles and the more standard varieties of metal roofs are also relatively affordable roofing choices. The material costs of concrete roof tiles start at about $3.25 per square foot ($325 per square), while metal roof varieties like corrugated steel are available for as low as $1.80 per square foot ($180 per square).

It’s always best to communicate with your roofing installer and decide which roofing materials best work with your budget before falling in love with a particular type of roof.

A view of an asphalt shingle roof in a leafy suburban setting

With pricing as low as $0.8 per square foot, asphalt shingles are the cheapest roofing material available. Image source: Duluth News Tribune

Best roofing materials for hot and cold climates

From scorching Arizona to snowy Minnesota, our vast country has many different terrains and climates. You definitely want to consider your local weather conditions when selecting a roofing material.

Best for hot climates

Clay tiles (aka Spanish tiles) are one of the best materials for hot and humid climates. The curved shape of the tiles encourages airflow underneath, keeping the interior of the house cooler. And as clay tiles are made by literally being baked in an oven (a kiln, to be precise), clay tiles can easily withstand even extreme desert temperatures.

Concrete tile roofing has many of the same attributes. Like clay tiles they are dense, and thus take a long time to heat up. And they can also be designed into a wave pattern, which allows for air to circulate and reduces the amount of heat that enters the home.

Metal roofs are another excellent option for hot climates. This is because they can be painted in light colors and/or special reflective coating that reflects a large amount of the sunlight that hits the roof.

Metal shingles, clay tiles, and concrete tiles are fire-resistant and boast a Class A fire rating, which is good news if you live somewhere prone to wildfires. They are also perfect for homes looking to be more energy-efficient, as you won't need to blast the AC to keep your home cool.

House with clay tiles surrounded by palm trees

Clay tiles, which are also known as Spanish tiles or terracotta tiles, are a favorite option for those living in warmer climates. Image source: Kevin Fitzgerald

Best for snow

Both slate and concrete tiles are the best materials for places that are cold and see large amounts of snowfall and high winds. These materials are slick, resistant to moisture, easily handle the added weight of snow on top, and also offer great insulation from the cold.

Metal roofs are also worth considering in places with lots of snowfall. Snow and ice have a hard time sticking to metal, and quickly slide off. Metal is also extremely durable and can withstand huge amounts of pressure, so the weight of any snow that does manage to accumulate won’t pose an issue. The downside to metal roofs, however, is that they require additional insulation within the underlayment to help keep your house warm.

Home with slate roofing covered in and surrounded by snow

Slate and concrete are great at withstanding the moisture and weight of snow while keeping your house warm.

Best roofing material for energy efficiency

The best roof materials for hot climates — clay tiles, cement tiles, and metal — are also the best for energy-efficiency. They prevent heat from entering the house and thus reduce the need for air conditioning. This can mean substantial savings in energy bills, as air conditioning accounts for one-sixth of US residential consumption, so these savings can be significant.

You can also ensure that your roof is as energy-efficient as possible by looking for Energy Star’s ‘cool roof’ certification. This certifies that a roofing material has been adapted to increase solar reflectance and reduce the absorption of heat, which Energy Star claims will reduce peak cooling costs by 10-15 percent.

It’s worth noting, however, that cool roofs aren’t right for every home. For homeowners in cold climates or those who have roofs with thick insulation and radiant barriers, cool roofs have negligible impact. If you live in a cold climate, learn about your roof insulation options here.

Best roofing material for solar panels

Standing seam metal roofs are considered the easiest roof type to install solar panels on. This is because metal roofing sheets are secured by roof screws, and these can usually double as fasteners for solar panel mounting brackets. That means limited or no drilling will be required to install the solar panels.

That said, any roof material can have solar panels installed on it. And while non-metal roofs may require a bit more work, pretty much every residential solar panel installation can be completed within a single day.

The only roof unsuitable for solar panels is one that is in bad condition and due for replacement. If that’s the case with yours, we recommend you get a new roof before installing solar panels. Choose a roofing material that will outlast the solar panels, which have a minimum life of 25 years.

It would be remiss if we didn’t mention Tesla’s Solar Roof here, especially given the hype it’s been generating. The idea to combine roof tiles and solar panels is great in theory, but a proper rollout of the product still seems far away. Just 100 consumers have received the product so far, while others have seen their orders canceled. I’d advise homeowners to either consider a conventional roof combined with solar panels or wait for a wider rollout of the solar roof so that its performance and durability can be properly assessed.

Close-up of solar panel mounted on a metal roof

Solar panels can be put on any roof material, but metal roofs make for the easiest installations.

Best roof material for curb appeal

Slate has long been considered the gold standard when it comes to roofing materials. Not only does natural stone give homes a great high-end aesthetic, but the use of this sturdy material also speaks to a classic style and quality construction.

If you live in the southwest or prefer Mediterranean style homes, then clay tiles are what you want for a classic look and premium feel.

And if you’re in a remote or country setting, the classic rustic look of wood shingles or wood shake made from either cedar or redwood is hard to beat.

If you like the look of these materials but are worried about their shortcomings — slate and clay tiles are expensive and heavy, while wood roofing can present fire safety concerns — you could consider ‘faux’ metal and synthetic-composite roofing products. They are designed to mimic the look of natural materials while costing much less. However, their quality, weather resistance, and lifespan can vary widely based on the brand and the raw materials used to make them, so be sure to do your research before making a decision.

Slate tile roof juxtaposed with clay tile roof

Slate and clay roof tiles are top choices for homeowners who want a classy look.

Summary table: The best roofing materials

To recap, here are all the different roofing material criteria we covered in this article, and the best type of roof material(s) for each:

Lifespan

  • Slate
  • Clay tiles

Cost

  • Asphalt shingles
  • Concrete tiles
  • Metal (standard varieties)

Hot and humid climates

  • Clay tiles
  • Concrete tiles
  • Metal roofs

Cold climates

  • Slate and concrete tiles (tied)
  • Metal roofs

Solar panels

  • Metal roof (standing seam)

Curb appeal

  • Slate roof
  • Clay tile

If you want to learn more about the different roofing materials mentioned, check out our blog Roofing Materials: Buyer's Guide to Choosing a Roof Type.

Learn about roofing

What is a roof pitch and how do you measure it?

January 15, 2021

You can measure your roof pitch using our calculator or with a level, a measuring tape, and a ladder. Follow this step by step guide today!

IKO shingles: pros, cons, and are they worth buying

January 12, 2021

Interested in IKO shingles for your roof? Learn more about the pros, cons, and if they're worth buying from our comprehensive guide.

Slate roof: buyer’s guide to choosing the right type

January 6, 2021

Are you considering a slate roof for your home? Our buyer's guide will help determine what type of slate roof is right for you. Learn more today!