So it’s time to throw out the old roof, and put on a fresh new layer. The choices may seem daunting with so many styles, ratings, and prices. Thankfully we’ve built a helpful guide for helping you select the roofing materials for your roof type.

Pitched, or sloped, roofs range from moderate slopes to 45-degree, even 60-degree angles, as commonly seen on gambrel roofs.

Flat or nearly flat roofs should be covered with built-up roofs such as tar and gravel, EPDM, Bitumen, or metal. Flat roofs are common in areas with little rainfall or snow and on industrial buildings with wide roof spans.

In this section is an overview of the most common types of roofing materials. Finding quality material is critical in the longevity of your roof. Using quality material will add monetary and aesthetic to the value of your home.

Material Pro Con Slop Cost
Roll roofing Fast and easy to install; lightweight Looks cheap, rarely lasts more than 10 years 2-in-12 Inexpensive
Built-up roofing Excellent waterproofing Leaks hard to find; lasts 10-20 years Flat to 3-in-12 Moderate
Asphalt shingles Installed quickly and easily; diverse colors and styles Subject to curling and splitting; lasts 20 to 40 years; brittle when cold 3-in-12 and up Moderate
Wood shingles, shakes Nailing patterns can be alternated to provide distinctive lines Often requires fire retardant coating; lasts 20 to 50 years 3-in-12 and up Expensive
Metal roofing Installed quickly; colored panels; fire resistant; varying thickness Transfers heat readily; thinner metal readily dented by hail, falling objects 3-in-12 and up Moderate to expensive
Masonry tiles Distinctive styles and colors; installed quickly; fire resistant Heavy roof; requires sufficient load-bearing capacity in roof structure 4-in-12 and up Expensive
Slate Distinctive; fire resistant Heavy roof; slow to install; difficult to repair


4-in-12 and up Expensive


Flat Roof Materials

Tar & Gravel: Also known as the built-up roof, it is used primarily on flat roofs up to a 3-in-12 pitch. Even flat roofs are sloped somewhat to prevent water from ponding. Tar and gravel roofs are constructed from alternating layers of heavy roofing felt and hot asphalt or tar and finished with a protective mineral coat, such as gravel or mica. The roofs are rated by how many layers are installed, usually from three to five.

Modified Bitumen: This type of roofing combines many of the features in the standard tar and gravel roof with the addition of layers of polyester or fiberglass impregnated with bitumen, a derivative of tar or asphalt. The roofing is

Modified bitumen

Installing modified bitumen cap sheet

put down in multiple plies, or layers, and gains significant strength and resistance to weathering by adding the polyester membranes. Other bitumen modifier agents that enhance asphalt’s qualities include atactic polypropylene (APP) and styrene butadiene styrene (SBS).

EPDM Rubber: Originally for commercial use, it is gaining popularity as a long-lasting roofing material for flat and low-slope residential roofs. The initials stand for ethylene propylene diene monomer, which is used to create the single-ply rubberized roof. It is UV resistant and does not require a mineral coating when completed, thus making it lighter than tar and gravel. It comes in two thicknesses, 45 millimeters and 60 millimeters. A common underlayment for this roof is rigid insulation on the roof deck.

Roll: Commonly used for sheds or inexpensive roofs, it is low-cost roofing material with a short life. It is generically known as 90-pound felt because one roll, which covers 100 square feet, weighs 90 pounds. Although it is mineral-surfaced and made from the same material as asphalt shingles, it has a life expectancy of 10 years or less because it is only one layer deep. Shingles last longer because the manner in which they are overlapped makes them three layers deep.

Felt: Technically, roofing felt is roll roofing, but it is never used by itself as a roofing material. Although water resistant, it is thin and tears easily. Made of asphalt-impregnated felt, it is used as an underlayment between the roof deck and the roofing material. It is sold as 15-pound or 30-pound felt, a figure that represents the weight of one square (100 square feet) of the material. It is sold in rolls 36 inches wide that cover either two or four squares. When using roofing felt, it is important to roll it out flat and smooth. Any wrinkles and bumps may show through after asphalt shingles are installed.

Synthetic felt

GAF Tiger Paw synthetic felt installed before shingles 

There has been a lot of technology in the past 5-10 years to upgrade and phase out the traditional asphalt impregnated felt. Synthetic grade felt has become more common and cost efficient. It tends to be much more durable and stand up to the elements much longer. Most synthetics are considered a great upgrade in comparison to the standard felts.




Metal: Metal roofs have become a popular alternative to traditional roofing materials. This is due to the fact that metal is lightweight and durable, and can be manufactured to give virtually any look imaginable. Some metal tile is 1/10 the weight of clay tiles, making them much more safe in severe weather and earthquakes. Metal roofs come in either shingles or panels, both with a life expectancy of over 30 years. Most metal roof manufacturers also provide a lifetime warranty. Metal roofing comes at a higher cost than most roofing material except for slate, but require no maintenance and have a great fire rating.

These roofs have been around for years, particularly the old corrugated tin common on farm buildings around the country. More recently, the standing seam metal roofs in a variety of colors can be seen on even high-end houses. Metal roof panels also can be used on nearly flat roofs, with at least a 2-in-12 pitch. One drawback is that metal roofs conduct heat so effectively, which can radiate into the areas below unless well insulated.

Pitched Roof Materials

Composition Shingles: Generically called asphalt shingles, these cover 70% of all roofs in this country. Composition shingles are divided into two types, organic or fiberglass. Organic composition roofs are manufactured with a cellulose fiber base made from recycled paper and wood fibers. This base is then saturated with asphalt and given a mineral coating on one side to resist weathering. Fiberglass shingles are made in a similar fashion but the central core is fiberglass, which is more flexible and stronger than the cellulose materials.

Composition shingles are manufactured in a wide variety of colors and are rated by their projected life expectancy, typically 20, 25, and 30 years. Most roofing manufacturer’s warranty their roofs for these periods, but only if their certified roofers install them. Otherwise, the manufacturers disallow any guarantees.

Dimensional Shingles: These are made from the same material as organic or fiberglass compositions shingles but are much thicker. The additional layers may be sculpted to provide attractive shadow lines that give the roof a customized appearance. The extra thickness also increases their life expectancy, up to 40 years. As with composition

GAF TTimberline HD

GAF TImberline HD Dimensional shingle

shingles, the manufacturer’s warranty generally applies only if one of their certified roofers installs the material.

Asphalt Shingles: These are the most common type of roofing material found in United States, especially on steep-sloped roofs. These are usually reinforced by organic or fiberglass material. Organic reinforcement provides a shorter life and is less fire resistant than their fiberglass counterparts. Fiberglass roofing shingles are the most popul

ar and are the most budget-friendly. Asphalt roofing shingles may be coated with special laminate to provide a more aesthetically pleasing texture. They also can come equipped with zinc plating to discourage algae build up. Expect features such as these to increase the pricing of your roof, but these are still going to be the most affordable roofing option. Asphalt roofing shingles have come in grades with an expected life of 20-50 years depending on the price. The actual life span is a few years lower in warmer climates, but these types of shingles come with 20+ year warranties generally. These also require little-to-no maintenance compared to other material choices. Asphalt shingles are great if you are looking for a fairly standard roof, for a great price, that will last you well over a decade, if not more.

Wood Shingles & Shakes: Wood provides a warm and elegant look, even a rich aroma, to the top of your home. Aesthetic reasons are mainly why people choose to go with a wooden roof on their home. These types of shingles are generally made from cedar or redwood and occasionally southern pine. The natural roofing look is popular on the west coast including California and the Northwest, even parts of the Midwest. The difference between roofing shakes and roofing shingles is that shingles are machine-sawed; whereas shake are handmade to look rougher. The life expectancy of wood shake and shingles is shorter than most other roofing products, lasting between 8-25 years, with proper maintenance. A compressed version can be purchased that has a 30+ year life span, but expect to pay for that.

Furthermore, this roofing option is pricier than most options on the market, yet it still remains popular, as homeowners cannot resist the look. Shingles are commonly sawn from Western red cedar, chosen for its natural resistance to decay. Shingles are sold as No. 1, 2, or 3. Use only No. 1 for roofing because it is cut from knot-free heartwood. No. 2, from less resistant sapwood, is acceptable for siding. Shingles come in 16-, 18-, and 24-inch lengths and are sold in bundles, with four bundles to a square (100 square feet).

Like shingles, shakes are mostly cut from cedar logs. Shakes are either resawn or hand-split. A resawn shake has one side sawn to give it a more precise taper while leaving the exposed side with the typical irregular shake appearance. Hand-split shakes are more irregular but still tapered. Shakes are graded by weight: heavy or medium. They are sold in 18- or 24-inch lengths, with five bundles of 24-inch shakes covering 100 square feet with a 10-inch exposure. Most communities now require that roofing shakes or shingles be pressure-treated with a fire retardant prior to installation. Check your local codes if considering such a roof.

Tile: This type is fast-becoming one of the most popular materials used in roofing. It is available in concrete or clay and in a multitude of colors and shapes, giving homeowners the ability to find something that exactly matches their home. Shapes of mission and rounded tile is widely popular in the southwest and Florida. Tile is starting to gain popularity in Colorado for its durability against the unpredictable elements such as hail and wind.  Flat tile can be used to create a French or British look.

Tile shapes include the half-barrel, S-shape, interlocking, and flat. Although tiles have a life span of 50 to 100 years, they are heavy and can only be applied to roofs constructed to support such weight. Tiles are usually fitted on spaced 2-by-6 boards and nailed to solid plywood roof sheathing. For steep slopes, code may require that the tiles be nailed in place through predrilled holes or supported with metal brackets.

The main drawback to tile is its weight. If you are adding tile to your home be sure to consult with your roofing contractor to make sure the existing roof structure can support the weight of tile. Expect to pay similar prices to wood roofing with this material, but unlike wood, this product will last well over 50 years, requires very little maintenance, and poses no fire hazard.

Aluminum Shingles: Aluminum shingles are available in styles that range from imitation cedar shakes to those with baked enamel colors such as red, green, black, and white. Aluminum shingles have an interlocking nailing flange on the sides so nails do not penetrate the shingle itself. They are light, weighing less than 50 pounds per square, compared to more than 300 pounds per square for average composition shingles.

Copper Shingles: These shingles are manufactured in a manner similar to the aluminum shingles, including the same type of interlocking nailing fins. Copper is heavier; approximately 100 pounds to the square.

Slate: Slate is considered to be the classiest type of roof cover. It comes in various grades and colors. Slate roofing is the perfect topping to an elegant home providing amazing textures and style. It is very high-quality and very low maintenance, with a life expectancy of hundreds of years. Expect to pay high prices for this high-quality roofing product. In addition, an expert roofing contractor should be used in slate installation, as it requires much skill. Furthermore, an expert roofer can work wonders with slate, giving your roof an even better look. As with tile roofing, weight may be an issue, so it is important to make sure the structure of your roof can handle this material.

It is both beautiful and expensive. The best U.S. slate is made in Vermont and comes in a variety of colors. With proper maintenance, Vermont slate roofs last 100 years or more. Another key source of slate is Pennsylvania, but that slate is not as hard or as long lasting. Because of its weight, slate can be applied only to roofs built for that purpose. The material will crack easily if stepped on.

Synthetic Slate: Some synthetic slate is made from fiber cement and is not recommended by the manufacturers for application in freeze-thaw climates. The fibers in fiber cement roofing products are comprised of wood or cellulose and in some cases there have been allegations that the fibers can absorb water, which may lead to roof failure. Another synthetic slate is made from ceramic tile that is lighter than real slate and not as fragile yet is highly fire resistant.

Fire Rating: It is important to keep in mind that various municipalities have different requirements in regard to fire rating. This may limit your choices in roofing material please consult with an experienced contractor that is familiar with roofing before you decide to purchase materials. They will know the local codes and be able to guide you with your decision accordingly.


  1. I had never considered just how much variety there was in roofing. I had never considered that metal tiles were more safe than clay tiles during earthquakes and harsh weather. I was also unaware that these metal roof panels could be on houses as well! I had always seen them in public places like parks and what not. Once again, thanks for the insightful article!

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