What Are the Best Materials for Your Home's Roof?

D.P. Taylor
Written by D.P. Taylor
Updated June 28, 2021
asphalt shingles home roofing
Photo: Douglas Sacha / Moment / Getty Images

Asphalt is the most popular type of roof material, but homeowners might also choose metal, wood, slate, or plastic

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When it comes to types of roof materials, the sky's the limit. Although asphalt is by far the most popular material used in roofing, you have a host of materials to choose from—and the list is expanding all the time. This guide breaks down some of the best roofing materials and their pros and cons.

5 Types of Roof Materials

Your roof is basically the "hat" of your house, so it’s important to choose a complementary material that matches your home. And the great thing about roof materials is they come in many different shapes and styles. Roofing materials have other key differences as well, such as durability and price. 

Here are the top five types of roofing materials available for most homes.

1. Asphalt

Cost per square foot: $1 to $1.20

Lifespan: 15-25 years

Asphalt shingles absolutely dominate the roof materials market, making up 80% of all home roofing and re-roofing projects in the United States. One report predicts that the asphalt shingles market will pass $9.5 billion by 2025.

Asphalt is a composite material made from mineral aggregates and a substance known as bitumen, which is a residue from petroleum distillation. It’s popular because it’s an incredibly sturdy roofing material in all weather conditions.

A subtype of asphalt shingles is composition shingles, which are made of organic materials or fiberglass and come in a number of additional subtypes, which have different shapes, styles, and durability.

For example, you can choose from three-tab shingles, dimensional shingles, and luxury shingles for your home:

  • Three-tab shingles: These are the basic asphalt shingles you’re probably most familiar with.

  • Dimensional shingles: This version has two layers, which creates a three-dimensional appearance.

  • Luxury shingles: These shingles come in unique shapes and have the most durability. They're more expensive but still cheaper than some of the other options on this list.

The bottom line is that asphalt shingles are the most popular roofing option on the market due to the value you get for your money. But they have downsides you must consider as well.

Here are the pros and cons of asphalt shingles:

  • Pros: Asphalt makes for highly durable, low-cost shingles. It’s a versatile material perfect for roofing.

  • Cons: Asphalt shingles have a relatively short life, and will need to be replaced every 20 years or so, or sooner if you live in an area that gets a lot of hail.

2. Metal

Cost per square foot: $7 to $14

Lifespan: 40-70 years

Metal roofing is one of the fastest-growing roofing material options on the market. U.S. demand for metal roofing is expected to increase by 2.7% annually, reaching nearly 33 million squares by 2023.

Its high durability, resistance to fire, lightweight attributes, and ability to handle the harshest weather has long made it one of the more popular roofing options—particularly in areas prone to bad weather.

But it's become a lot more attractive as well over the years. Metal roofing looks sleek and elegant, and may even mimic more traditional asphalt or wooden shingles.

Here are the pros and cons of metal roofing: 

  • Pros: Metal roofing can last for decades longer than asphalt shingles, can handle harsh weather, and has a sleek appearance that is growing in popularity.

  • Cons: More expensive to install and needs maintenance to prevent corrosion.

3. Wood

Cost per square foot: $6.30

Lifespan: 30 years

Modern technology has made wood a lot more durable for roofing purposes than in years past. Wood is more aesthetically attractive than other types of shingles, and they're more environmentally friendly because they come from sustainable sources and are biodegradable.

However, wood shingles are expensive, and it's a fickle material to work with when you're installing them. It's not recommended if you live in an area that sometimes gets particularly strong storms. It's also highly flammable and prone to insect damage.

Here are the pros and cons of wood shingles:

  • Pros: Wood is environmentally friendly and attractive on a house.

  • Cons: Wood shingles are expensive and not as durable against the elements.

4. Slate/Tile

Cost per square foot: $10-30

Lifespan: 125-200 years

Slate is popular in Mediterranean regions and for good reason. This roofing material is a beautiful option that can upgrade your home. Slate is good for warm climates as it will protect you from the heat. Even better? This is one of the top roofing materials that can last for a long time. Since slate is made from stone, it’s not as easily damaged by external elements, although these shingles can still crack.

But even if you love slate shingles, you won’t necessarily be able to re-roof your home with them. Because they're so heavy (slate roofing weighs about 7 pounds per square foot, compared to 2 pounds for asphalt shingles) your home must be sturdy enough to support it. You’ll need to consult with a roofer and perhaps even an architect to determine if it’s even an option for you.

If you want an alternative to slate, you can install tile roofing, which comes in the form of concrete, clay, or terracotta and has a similar look and feel. Both slate and tile are expensive options and can be hard to fix if cracks develop. 

Here are the pros and cons of slate or tile shingles:

  • Pros: This roofing material is perfect for a beautiful Mediterranean look.

  • Cons: More expensive than other roofing materials; heavy; hard to fix 

5. Plastic

Cost per square foot: $2 to $10

Lifespan: 25-30 years

Plastics are used in a lot of applications, but you may have not thought of them as a roofing option. However, it's easy to imagine why this material is good for protecting your home: it’s inexpensive, lightweight, fire-resistant, and can handle lots of abuse from the elements.

Also known as PVC roofing, this material has grown in popularity in recent years as an alternative to more traditional roofing materials.

However, PVC often shrinks over time, which results in leaks, and older roofs can easily shatter. Temperature has a significant effect on plastics, which makes this option less ideal in areas with large temperature swings.

PVC becomes brittle below freezing, and while it can endure higher temperatures better, extreme temps in both directions affect this material negatively—and plastics aren't easy to repair.

Here are the pros and cons of plastic PVC roofing:

  • Pros: Plastic is inexpensive, lightweight, and durable against the elements.

  • Cons: Plastic PVC roofing tends to have a shorter lifespan and the material is more difficult to repair.

How Can I Make My Roof Replacement More Environmentally Friendly?

Eco-friendly roofing options are becoming increasingly popular for prospective homeowners. If you want to buy an environmentally friendly home, you should look into alternatives to asphalt shingles.

Here are a few environmentally friendly roofing materials:

Install a Cool Roof

These roofs combine white glue and gravel to reflect sunlight, which reduces the strain on air conditioning and electricity systems. A cool roof involves putting a reflective surface over the roofing.

Replace Asphalt Shingles With Metal, Clay, Wood, or Slate

Another possibility is to replace the roofing tiles you currently have with an eco-friendly roofing material. Most commercial asphalt comes from petroleum crude oil, so pretty much any material that isn't asphalt is more environmentally friendly. These alternatives have other good properties as well: for example, metal roofing is recyclable, and wood is a renewable resource.

Or, you can use synthetic shingles. These materials, which are made from polyurethane, are highly resistant to fire, last a long time, and may insulate your home better—meaning less of a strain on your HVAC system.

Install Solar Roofing Panels

Another option is to turn solar panels into an energy-efficient roofing material by making the roof itself out of solar panels. While this is an expensive option (a solar roofing solution offered by Tesla ranges from $20.25 to $25.50 per square foot), it may pay back in the long run in terms of energy costs. If you don’t want to go that far, you can opt to simply install a few solar panels on your roof.

How to Know You’re Getting a Solid Warranty on Your New Roof

How do you know if you’re getting a good roofing warranty? Generally, you should get two types of warranties: one covering the roofing material itself and one covering the installation of the roofing. If the warranty doesn't include both, it could be a red flag.

Roofing Material Warranty

This warranty protects you if the material itself fails or needs to be replaced early due to degradation. This will depend on the type of roofing material you choose. Your warranty should cover the general lifespan of the material you choose.

Most of the time, you'll be offered a limited lifetime warranty, which should protect your roof for the life of your home. However, read the fine print: The warranty may only apply in very narrow circumstances or not cover things like labor, leaving you on the hook for potentially thousands of dollars if something goes wrong.

Roofing Work Warranty

The other half of the warranty covers the work. If the material was fine but the installation resulted in problems, you'll be covered under this. This warranty should cover labor and installation of the materials, and it should be guaranteed for the lifetime of the material.

Once again, however, you need to pay attention to the details of the warranty. You can void the warranty by making adjustments or repairs to the roof yourself after it was installed. And damage from extreme weather generally isn't covered.

Think Long-Term About Your Roof

Roofs last decades and are expensive to replace or repair, so it's important to make the right decision at the outset about your roofing materials. How durable does your roof need to be? How important is it that it be environmentally friendly? Are you willing to spend more money upfront to save money later?

Once you make a decision on what roofing material you want, hire a local roofer in your area to repair or replace your roof. 

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