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Which Roofing Material Is Best For Your Home?

Rachel Burris9-Minute Read
June 01, 2020

Completing renovations around your house is a great way to breathe new life into it. However, sometimes you can get so caught up in the fun of transforming your interiors that you forget how important it is to also complete projects that maintain the quality and appearance of your home’s exterior. As home repair projects go, replacing your roof may not be the most exciting undertaking, but it shouldn’t be put off. Neglected roofs can lead to serious water damage that’s far more difficult and costly to fix.

If it’s time to replace your roof, you may be unsure of where to begin. After all, choosing the right roofing material can be challenging for those who aren’t well-versed in the options. So, before you get ready to work on the roof of your home, learn about the factors you should consider and the various options at your disposal.

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Roofing Factors To Consider

Although there are certainly pros and cons to each type of roofing material, there are several factors that go into determining which option is best for your home. Make sure to consider each of them before trying to choose a material for your specific house.

 

Your Roof’s Pitch

Depending on the style of your house, your roof’s pitch may make certain roofing materials more appropriate than others. The pitch of a roof is expressed as a ratio and is calculated in the same way that the slope of a line is in high school geometry. The ratio displays the vertical height of the roof in relation to its length. So, if the pitch of a roof is said to be 4:12, that means the roof rises by 4 feet for every 12 feet of horizontal distance.

Generally, each roofing material is recommended for a specific pitch range. Roofs that are low and relatively flat tend to have a ratio of 1:12 – 3:12. If the pitch of your roof falls into this range, you must be more careful about the type of roofing material you choose.

“Most lower pitch roofs require a ‘sheet’-type product, such as EPDM (rubber for short),” says Jim Jakubus, construction manager for Pogoda Companies. “This means one continuous sheet product with little or no joints to minimize any water migration to the underside of the roof membrane.”

On the other hand, if you have a higher, steeper roof, you have far more flexibility and can think more about the aesthetics and costs of various materials. “Unless your roof is flat or nearly flat, you can use just about any material,” says Cristina Miguelez, remodeling specialist for Fixr. “Just keep in mind that a steep pitch often means higher installation costs.” Therefore, cost should probably play a larger role in your decision than the pitch of your roof.

 

Climate 

You must make sure that the roofing material you choose can handle the weather conditions that are common in your area. Climate is an especially important consideration if you live in a part of the country that experiences extreme heat, as your roofing material must be able to expand and contract without cracking or warping.

“Undeniably, in areas such as the Southwest, the only roofing selection is clay, concrete tile or slate due to its resistance to higher temperatures,” says Jakubus. “In most areas of the U.S. with four seasons, the roof selections are predominantly asphalt shingles.”

In colder climates, metal roofs are often recommended because they are good at withstanding large amounts of snow. However, Jakubus warns, “Metal roofs expand and contract, and an ‘oil canning’ effect can occur if not properly installed.” This effect can lead the metal to buckle and prevent it from lying flat against the roof. Instead, Jakubus also recommends slate and cedar roofing for homes that experience colder weather.

 

Cost

For most, cost is a primary consideration. When determining if a roofing material fits into your home improvement budget, you must factor in the price of the material itself as well as the cost of installation and maintenance.

According to Miguelez, installation costs depend on a number of factors, from material and square footage to the specifics of your home and its environment: “It can cost anywhere from $3,000 – $30,000 to install a roof. Asphalt shingles are the cheapest, while slate and copper are the most expensive. It also depends on how large your roof is, what the pitch is and what kind of climate you have.”

Jakubus provides a breakdown of the costs of the most common roofing materials:

 

  • Asphalt shingles: $2/sf
  • Concrete tile: $2.50/sf
  • Cedar shingles: $4.50/sf
  • Metal: $6/sf
  • Clay tile: $6/sf
  • Slate: $12/sf

 

He explains, “When you factor in the two lowest material costs between concrete tile and asphalt shingles, then add the installation costs for each, the asphalt shingle cost is substantially lower when compared to the much higher cost to handle and install the concrete tile, which also includes the extra roof framing to accept the weight of this material.”

 

Weight 

Weight is a critical determinant when selecting a roofing material. You must ensure that the frame of your house is capable of bearing the weight of the material without causing structural damage. However, it’s best to consult a professional when determining if certain materials are a viable option for your house.

“You need the services of a structural engineer,” says Miguelez. “They can assess your rafters or trusses and determine how much weight they can hold, both in terms of roofing material and added stresses such as snow.”

Jakubus warns specifically against trying to install clay, concrete or slate tile without the assessment of a structural engineer since these materials tend to be heavier than others.

 

Durability

Replacing your roof is no easy task, so you want to ensure that the roofing material you choose has a long enough lifespan that it won’t require too much maintenance over time.

Jakubus provides a breakdown of the expected lifespans of the most common roofing materials:

 

  • Asphalt shingles: 15 – 30 years
  • Concrete tile: 30 – 50 years
  • Cedar shingles: 15 – 30 years
  • Metal: 40 – 60 years
  • Clay tile: 50 – 70 years
  • Slate: 50 – 70 years

 

When considering the durability of each material, you should think about the longevity of each material in relation to its cost. Although the shingle materials may not last as long as others, asphalt and cedar shingles are still cheaper than metal, clay and slate. While that may lead you to believe that concrete tiles are the preferable choice, keep in mind that the frame of your house may not be able to withstand their weight.

 

Style 

The roof of your house must be functional, but how it impacts that aesthetic of your home is also important. Therefore, when you look at roofing materials, you should consider how each option complements the architectural style and color of your house.

“The type of roofing materials you use can also impact the appearance and functionality of your home,” says Kershan Bulsara, owner and manager of Roofmaster. “For instance, wood provides a natural cottage-like look, perfect for a country home. Shingles come in a variety of styles and colors and can easily be used to complement the design or contrast the original color. Metal roofs, however, offer a more modern industrial type of look that adds strength and superior protection. By switching to the new material, you can create an entirely different aesthetic.”

However, if the cost and durability of your roofing material are greater concerns than appearance, you can focus on color as opposed to architectural style and still achieve an aesthetically pleasing look. “For color, you can match your accents or find an analogous color to your siding,” says Miguelez. “For example, a tan siding with green shutters can look good with a green roof or with a darker brown roof.”

Layers Of A Roof

Since the purpose of a roof is to protect your home from external elements, it’s valuable to understand the different structural layers that make up a roof. Before we go into the most common types of roofing material, let’s take a look at what lies beneath your chosen material.

Decking

The decking is a flat surface that’s laid on top of the roof’s rafters and basic frame. It provides protection for the home and acts as a base upon which the underlayment and roofing material is added.

Water Barrier/Shield 

The water barrier or shield is a waterproof covering made of polymer-modified bitumen that adheres to the roof decking. It helps to ensure that the most vulnerable areas of the roof are not exposed to ice or water damage.

Underlayment 

A roof’s underlayment is a protective layer, often made of felt. It’s applied across the roof’s decking to further prevent water from seeping in and tends to have a top layer made of asphalt that helps keep shingles flat and in place.

Types Of Roofing Materials

Now that you have an understanding of the anatomy of a roof and the considerations involved in choosing the correct roofing material, let’s take a look at the most common materials used in modern home design.

 

Asphalt Shingles

gray asphalt roof

Asphalt shingles are among the most popular of all roofing materials because they are affordable, easy to maintain and can be installed without professional assistance. They are as attractive as they are functional. Because they come in a range of colors and styles, asphalt shingles can be used to complement a broad range of home styles.

 

Metal Roofing

gray metal roof on a house

Metal roofing is more expensive to purchase and install. However, if installed correctly, it can last for half a century without needing major repairs. Its minimalist aesthetic makes metal roofing an ideal choice for modern and contemporary style houses.

 

Clay Tiles

orange clay tiles on a beige house

Like metal, clay tile roofs are both more expensive and more durable. The fact that this roofing material is made from terracotta clay means that it’s eco-friendly, energy-efficient and fire-resistant. With their distinctive red, earthy hue, clay tiles tend to be best suited for Southwest, pueblo-style houses. That being said, clay tiles are heavy and shouldn’t be installed without checking with a structural engineer, as they must be reinforced with roof framing.

 

Concrete Tiles

grey concrete tiles on a roof

Concrete tiles may be cheap to purchase, but their installation comes with higher fees because their weight also requires additional roof framing. However, like clay, concrete tiles are long-lasting and energy-efficient since they reflect instead of absorb sunlight. They’re suitable for a range of architectural styles, as they can be designed to imitate more traditional roofing materials.

 

Slate Roofing

gray slate roofing

Slate roofing is a gorgeous investment. It’s typical among historical homes and can last nearly a century. Slate is weather-proof, fire-resistant and maintenance-free and possesses an unparalleled beauty. Homes with slate roofing have higher resale value, but the material and its installation carry a hefty price tag.

 

Wood Shingles Or Shakes

grey and tan mixed wood shingles on a roof

Wood shingles or shakes may be inexpensive to purchase and install but, much like asphalt, they don’t last nearly as long as other roofing materials. Cedar roofs are an attractive option that can commonly be found in Cape Cod-style houses. However, as these roofs age, they can turn a dark gray color, which leads some homeowners to avoid them.

 

Synthetic Roofing

orange synthetic roof

Synthetic roofing is made out of recycled plastic or rubber and meant to imitate the look of other roofing materials, like slate, concrete and clay. Since the synthetic material is lighter than the real materials, their installation is easier and more affordable. However, this roofing material is in its infancy, and, as a result, it’s unclear how durable it actually is.

 

Green Roofing

roof with grass growing on top

Green roofs are also known as living roofs because all or part of them is covered by vegetation. This eco-friendly option can minimize stormwater runoff and protect wildlife by creating a safe habitat for a variety of species. The installation is expensive because it requires a reinforced roof with a rubber subbase to support the weight and an irrigation system.

How To Choose The Best Roofing Material

After determining your priorities, you can start to narrow down the roofing options based on the factors discussed in the first section. But keep in mind that not all factors are created equal.

“The first thing you should look at is your region. What kind of weather do you get? Is hail common? Do you have a lot of snow? Wind? Do your neighbors’ roofs have a lot of algae? Many types of roofing material can be treated against some or all of these issues, so it’s important to identify what it is you need in a roof first,” says Miguelez.

While you can begin to analyze your needs independently, you should ultimately seek the opinion of a professional contractor, structural engineer or roofing company in your area. If you’re building a new house, your architect can also help you decide what type of roofing material is best for your circumstances.

The Bottom Line

Installing a new roof may not be the most appealing home project, but it’s certainly one of the most important. Before you go about choosing the appropriate roofing material for your home, be sure to consider your needs. Remember, your decision must factor in more than just the cost and durability of the roofing material. The pitch of your roof, the climate of your environment, the amount of weight your house can bear, and the style of your home are also critical considerations. However, this decision should not be made without professional guidance. So, make sure to reach out to an expert in your area.

If you want more ideas for how to repair and renovate your home, check out the other Homeowner Tips on the Rocket HomesSM Blog.

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Rachel Burris

Rachel Burris is a writer covering topics of interest to present and future homeowners, as well as industry insiders. Prior to joining Quicken Loans, she worked as an English teacher for the New York City Department of Education and a licensed real estate agent for Brown Harris Stevens. She holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Bucknell University, a postbaccalaureate certificate in psychology from Columbia University and a master's degree in English education from Teachers College, Columbia University.