Synthetic slate vs. natural slate: which is better?

Image source: Roofing Magazine

Chris Gennone

By Chris Gennone

January 21, 2022

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Natural slate is one of the oldest, most durable, and longest-lasting roofing materials available. Due to natural slate's steep price tag, synthetic slate tiles can be a more attractive roofing product for homeowners on a tighter budget.

But which one is a better value and which is right for you? Let's find out.

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What are synthetic slate tiles?

Synthetic slate shingles on a residential roof

Image source: DaVinci Roofscape

It depends on the type of roofing company and how their product is being manufactured, but synthetic slate is typically made up of virgin plastics or a combination of recycled rubber and plastics, polymers, cellulose fibers, or mineral dust that are all designed to look like natural slate tiles. Not only are these materials more lightweight and durable, but they're also significantly less expensive than real slate and closer in price to more expensive asphalt shingle brands like CertainTeed. Thanks to impact and UV inhibitors, synthetic slate is resistant to fire, impact, and damage from the sun, therefore lengthening its lifespan.

Cost of synthetic slate roofing

Synthetic slate tiles, often known as composite roofing tiles, typically cost between $10-$20 per square foot depending on the brand. For a standard 1,700 square foot home, you could expect to pay around $17,000 – and that's before roof installation.

Calculate the price of your new synthetic slate roof.

Synthetic slate vs. natural slate

Price

Synthetic slate - Synthetic slate products cost an average of $10 per square foot or $17,000 for a standard 1,700 sq ft home before installation.

Natural slate - It's no secret that natural slate is one of the most expensive roofing options available. The cost of natural slate depends on several factors such as the types of slate used, the size of the roof, and the installation process. Installing real slate tiles is a more difficult job and requires experienced professional roofing contractors, which makes it more expensive. Materials may cost between $10-$40, but the installation could jack the total price up to $40,000 or more.

Our verdict: Synthetic slate

Installation

Synthetic slate - Because synthetic slates are easy to transfer and significantly lighter than authentic slate tiles, they're easier to install with standard roofing nails.

Natural slate - Natural slate tiles are incredibly heavy, weighing up to 3 or 4 times more than synthetic ones, requiring a high-quality professional installation. You may even need to check with a structural engineer before installation to make sure your roof is strong enough for natural slate.

Our verdict: Synthetic slate

Durability

Synthetic slate - Some composite slate brands like DaVinci Roofscapes feature shingles with a Class A fire-resistance rating and a Class 4 impact resistance rating. But because they're made of rubber and plastic materials, some shingles are prone to curling and cracking and likely won't last as long as a natural slate roof.

Natural slate - Many synthetic slate tile manufacturers usually feature a 50-year warranty, but natural slate manufacturers can feature warranties lasting up to 75 years depending on the type of slate and where it was quarried. Though natural slate can be fragile and crack if they're poorly installed, they can still withstand some of the harshest weather conditions.

Our verdict: Natural slate

Value

Synthetic slate - Although synthetic slate may not last as long or have the same appearance as real slate, it's worth the price. As long as everything is installed properly, you should have a durable and cost-effective roofing material that'll last for decades.

Natural slate - While natural slate is incredibly expensive, it'll also last a lifetime. The cost of the materials may be close to synthetic materials, but the installation is the most important and most expensive factor. If cost isn't an issue, opting for natural slate is an investment that could last a lifetime and increase the value of your home.

Our verdict: Synthetic slate

Pros and cons of synthetic slate

Synthetic slate shingles on a home

Image source: DaVinci Roofscapes

Pros of synthetic slate

Lightweight - One of the best qualities of a synthetic roof system is how light the shingles are, making them easier to transfer and install.

Long-lasting - While they may not last as long as a natural slate roof, synthetic slate usually comes with a 50-year warranty, which is significantly longer than the average asphalt shingle warranty of 25 years.

Cost-effective - Materials for synthetic slates may be close to the price of natural slates, but they're much cheaper to install and won't require the same type of experience and precision that comes with installing real slates.

Eco-friendly - Most synthetic materials that are made from recycled plastics are considered "green" building materials, lowering the amount of energy consumption, pollution, and wasted materials piling up at landfills. Synthetic slate brands like EcoStar manufacture a thicker and wider slate with more exposure, which uses less raw materials and more recycled materials.

Cons of synthetic slate

Prone to curling and cracking - While synthetic slate has a Class A fire rating and is also resistant to impact and high winds, some are prone to curling, bending, and cracking due to its rubber materials.

Not the same - The obvious downside is that synthetic roof shingles are not the real thing. They're designed with similar patterns and colors as natural slate, but don't feature the highest level of authenticity and aesthetics.

If you want the appearance of natural slate but can’t afford the expensive installation cost or the additional weight on your roof, synthetic slate roofing tiles are a solid investment. It may not be the real thing and last a lifetime like a real slate roof, but synthetic slate shingles are still durable and much easier to install. Like any type of new roof or roof replacement, make sure you hire a skilled and trusted professional roofer for the installation.

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