What Are the Best Roofing Materials for Cold Climates?

Deane Biermeier
Written by Deane Biermeier
Reviewed by Ami Feller
Updated August 15, 2022
Closeup of black metal roof of house with snow
Photo: Zsolt Biczó / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Slate and metal hold up best against harsh winters but cost more.

  • Asphalt shingles are a budget-friendly roofing option for cold climates.

  • Clay and concrete are better roofing materials for mild winters.

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For homeowners who live in cold climates, winter offers ample opportunity for cozying up indoors. But it can also bring piles of snow and blistering wind. Naturally, you want to trust your roof to stand up firm against those nasty weather conditions. If you’re planning to hire a local roofer to install a new roof, you may wonder which type is best in the cold—metal, slate, shingles, or something else.

Different roofing materials come with unique pros and cons when it comes to snow, wind, ice, and other types of inclement weather. Here are the most common roofing types and how they brave harsh winters.

Metal Roofing

Climate Resistance

Metal roofing materials stand up exceptionally well in harsh winter climates. Snow and ice should slide right off a residential metal roof, preventing the formation of ice dams. They also do a great job at resisting damage due to windstorms, thanks to the increased durability of most metals. And it's worth mentioning that they can last up to 60 years. 

Cost

The price varies by region, but the national average cost to install a metal roof runs between $5,300 and $14,700. Galvanized steel roofs cost around $3,000, and 3-tab asphalt shingles cost about $2,500

Common Problems

Be sure to install a snow guard if you opt for a metal roof to prevent ice from pooling on walkways beneath it. Rust is also a common problem with metal roofs, depending on the materials used during construction. Also, metal roofs require additional insulation for colder-than-average climates. Otherwise, your home's heating system will work harder, and you'll find an unpleasant surprise when you open your utility bill. Silver lining—the reverse is true in the summer, when metal roofs keep your home cool.

Slate Roofing

Climate

Slate is an excellent roofing material for winters. Slate roofs offer superior insulation, are strong enough to withstand blizzard-like conditions, and offer decent durability. Slate tiles excel on sloped roofs, making them a popular option in states like Colorado and Minnesota that get plenty of snow. 

Cost

If you hire a nearby pro to install a slate roof, be aware that slate is more costly, at around $10 to $30 per square foot, or $1,000 to $3,000 per square. This comes out to about $25,000 for a 1,600-square-foot home. Additionally, slate is extremely heavy, so you may need extra structural support.

Common Problems

Many homes simply can’t handle the extra weight of a slate roof without extensive retrofitting, which drives the material’s already high price upward. Also, slate will last an impressive 50 to 100 years, however, individual pieces of the stone are fragile and prone to breaking under foot if you ever need to address a problem on your roof. Broken slate roofing tiles are expensive to repair. 

Synthetic Slate Shingles

Climate

Synthetic slate shingles are an up-and-coming roofing option that offers all of the advantages of traditional slate tiles with some added bonuses. Just like real slate, synthetic slate handles extreme temperatures in either direction and is strong enough to withstand windstorms and blizzards. Synthetic slate is more durable than actual slate and offers similar aesthetics. This material is energy efficient. 

Cost

Synthetic slate and related synthetic roofing materials are more budget-friendly when compared to traditional slate roofing. Synthetic slate materials cost about $7 to $12 per square foot or $700 to $1,200 per square. 

Common Problems

Synthetic slate roofing in its current form is a relatively new building material; therefore, some mystery remains about its long-term performance. However, manufacturers express confidence by providing up to 50-year warranties on the product. Although some types imitate natural stone quite well, synthetic slate isn’t real, and some styles on the market have an artificial appearance. Take time while shopping around to balance appearance qualities against price. Keep in mind that this unique material is not always readily available in most locations.

Asphalt Shingles

Contemporary home with brown shingle roof covered in snow
Photo: Richard McGuirk / Adobe Stock

Climate

Asphalt is light and comes in a near-universal 3-tab design, which has a lower-end wind rating of 60 mph. A dimensional asphalt shingle costs a bit more, but has a wind rating of between 110 and 130 mph. One bonus—these types of shingles tend to be more aesthetically appealing.

“Shingles are not waterproof and are prone to ice dams. Ice dams trap moisture and force water to run uphill, which it was not meant to do,” says Ami Feller, Expert Review Board Member and owner of Roofer Chicks in New Braunfels, TX. “When using shingles in cold climates, it is code to install ice and water shield along the eaves and in the valleys, where ice dams are most prone to form. This lowers the risk of water penetrating the structure.”

Cost

Asphalt shingles are a more budget-friendly option compared to slate, costing $5,000 to $8,000 for a 2,000 square-foot roof

Common Problems

One downside to asphalt shingles is that they wear out over time and often require frequent repairs. Additionally, asphalt may not do well with heavy winds from a blizzard, as the shingles could blow off the roof (though many shingles come with warranties).

Clay Tiles

Climate

Clay is an excellent insulator and can stand up to snow and ice. However, the material is relatively fragile and may not do well with extreme wind or an intense hailstorm. Still, clay is an attractive choice for those going for a classic Spanish or Mediterranean architectural style. 

Cost

Clay is relatively inexpensive to source, so installation costs are minimal compared to metal and synthetic roofing materials. Count on paying around $13,000 for an entire clay tile roof.

Common Problems

Clay is another roofing material that is heavy enough that some homes may require retrofitting to handle the additional weight of the material. Installation can be tricky, especially on roofs with numerous angles and valleys to protect. Although clay roofs are durable, if repair becomes necessary, walking on them without extra care can damage individual tiles. 

Concrete Roofing

Climate Resistance

Concrete roofing tiles are not the best choice for areas that experience rapid freeze-thaw cycles and extreme winters, especially in higher elevations. However, you can ask a local pro about specialized concrete roofing products that are purpose-built for cold climate use. 

Cost

High-end concrete roofing that is specially made to withstand cold weather costs between $20,000 and $40,000 for an entire roof. 

Common Problems

Concrete tiles are heavy, and they have a high water absorption rate of around 13%. Ice and snow absorb into these heavy tiles and put added pressure onto the structure of your roof. The end result? Cracked roofing tiles and structural damage.

FAQs

Which roof is the best for cold climates?

Determining the best roof for your cold-climate house boils down to a few competing factors—performance and price. Arguably, slate roofs perform better over the long term than any other material. However, metal roof performance comes in a close second place and costs far less than slate. If cost savings is more important to you than long-term durability, then asphalt shingles is a good option because it offers solid performance at a fraction of the price of other materials. 

What angle does a roof need to be for snow to slide off?

The most common slope range for roofs on houses in snowy areas is between 4/12 and 6/12, or 50%. A roof with a slope of less than 10%, or roughly a 2/12 pitch, won’t be effective at shedding snow. However, too steep roofs can allow large amounts of snow to build up and fall all at once, creating a hazard for those on the ground. 

How much snow can a roof handle?

How much snow a roof can handle depends on the snow’s weight and the roof's strength. Wet snow is far heavier than dry snow. In areas that receive annual snowfall in abundance, house designs usually allow for between 35 and 50 pounds per square foot, equating to up to four feet of fluffy-snow accumulation.

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