Many people don’t realize how many options there are available for roofing. The American standard is, of course, asphalt shingles, but there is a plethora of other options that may better suit your needs.
Today’s post will discuss nine different types of roofing materials, some pros and cons, pricing, and what you should look out for when making your choice.
9 Types of Roofing Materials
From the most common to least common, below you can find a list of roofing materials, what climates they’re best suited for, some pros and cons, and the estimated cost of each project.
Asphalt shingles are the most popular roofing material in North America. That said, there are also architectural, composite, and fiberglass shingles among other types.
Asphalt shingles come in a wide variety of textures and colors and are suitable for different budgets. They come in pre-formed sheets of 3-tabbed asphalt to resemble individual shingles, sheets of double-layered architectural shingles to give more sturdiness and dimension, or premium luxury shingles that appear most like old, authentic shaker shingles.
This material is excellent for most climates, though it may not be best suited for areas that get too rainy or humid. If too much moisture accumulates, the asphalt has a tendency to grow mold and algae. Asphalt shingles are lightweight, so they may be susceptible to wind damage and should be inspected after intense storms.
When they are well-cared for, these shingles typically last between 15 – 30 years. In some cases, architectural and luxury shingles will last up to 50 years. Make sure to get on the roof at least once a year to check the gutters and wash the shingles free of any coatings.
In 2023, asphalt shingle roofs typically cost between $4.20 – $13 per square foot, not including labor and other materials. Expect a 2,000-square-foot installation to cost between $8,500 and $24,500.
For more details you might want to read our shingles vs. rolled roofing and shingles vs. roof tiles comparisons.
Cedar roofing comes in the form of individual cedar shingles or shakes. These are smooth in appearance, wedge-shaped, and installed evenly across the roof for a clean look. Cedar shakes are thicker than shingles.
The pieces are even in thickness all the way across and their edges are broken off, rather than smoothly sawn like shingles. They give a rougher, more rustic appearance to the finished product.
Wood roofing is excellent for almost all climates, except for areas that are excessively sunny or dry. Being made from softwood, the pieces have a tendency to split and crack when they dry too quickly. It may seem counterintuitive, but cedar wood is a great material for wet, rainy regions. The wood absorbs the water, but dries evenly and doesn’t allow the moisture to permeate the rooftop.
Cedar roofing has a surprising life expectancy of up to 50 years. These roofs are incredibly durable and resistant to water damage, insects, and rot. Cedar shingles can withstand winds up to 173 mph and 90 lbs per square foot, and cedar shakes up to 245 mph and 180 lbs per square foot. They require light maintenance, only repairing and replacing cracked shingles when necessary.
Overall, cedar roofing can cost between $8 – $14.30 per square foot, including installation costs.
Metal roofing is a hugely versatile subject. These roofs can be made from aluminum, steel, copper, zinc, and other metal alloys. They are shaped into shingles, tiles, and corrugated sheets, but most often are pre-measured panels. These elongated panels are installed down the length, rather than the width, of the roof, with seams hidden in ridges in between each panel.
Panels are easily installed by laying them on top of moisture barriers and driving them into the plywood with rubber gasket screws.
All climates are suitable for metal roofing. It’s incredibly energy efficient, reflecting away the sun’s rays to keep cooling costs down in summer. The metal is naturally fire-resistant and can resist high winds up to 140 mph. Metal roofing is also eco-friendly, as it can be easily treated and recycled when it comes time to replace it.
The life expectancy of metal roofing is a reliable 50 years, maybe even more with proper care. Minimal maintenance is needed. Rain washes away dust and debris easily, and no mold or algae grows on top of the metal material. Copper and brass roofing patina over time and the gradual changing of color is a pleasure to watch.
The cost of metal roofing is relatively high. Seamed metal panel roofing costs between $10 – $17.65 per foot, making installation between $17,000 – $30,000 total. Price is highly reliant on the kind of material used, with copper and zinc being the most expensive metals available.
If metal roof seems like a good option for you, you might also want to learn about how it compares to a tile roof.
Roof tiles are made from clay or concrete, and formed into appealing shapes like traditional half moons (barrels), flat tiles, scallops, grooved French roof tiles, and wavy Spanish roof tiles.
These tiles are affixed atop thin strips of wood, metal, or plastic called battens. Battens elevate the tiles away from the roof, creating drainage and a thermal barrier. They’re available in a huge variety of vibrant colors and finishes to suit any design aesthetic.
Clay and concrete tiles are excellent for every climate, especially areas that see a lot of sun and wind. The tiles can withstand extreme storms with winds up to 150 mph. For areas that see too much sun, there are fade-resistant tiles available to keep your colors bright for years.
Tiles last for an incredible amount of time, between 50 – 100 years. They require only a small amount of maintenance, which includes regular inspections after intense storms and the occasional replacement or repair of cracked tiles. They add a considerable amount of weight to your roof, so homes that weren’t originally designed for this type of roofing material may need to be retrofitted with reinforcements before installation.
The average cost of a tile roof installation in 2023 is between $16,000 – $50,000 for a 2,000-square-foot roof. The tiles themselves cost between $8 – $13 per square foot.
Made of layers of moisture resistant and moisture retentive layers underneath soil or soilless growing medium and vegetation, living roofs have become more and more popular over the last few years. They’re incredibly versatile, with the opportunity to plant any groundcover or flora native to the region. Living roofs can sometimes take up to a full week to install; a much longer period of time than all other materials on this list.
Because living roofs can be made from any native vegetation, they are ideal for almost any climate. In terms of durability, living roofs are best for areas that don’t see extreme wind and storms, though they can benefit from warm, sunny, humid, and rainy weather. While it typically takes decades to offset the cost, natural rooftops can save thousands of dollars in energy costs.
Living rooftops last around 40 – 50 years. Naturally, some of the plants will die off, but if the species are chosen carefully, they should be able to regenerate. The sustainability can’t be beat, and they are a beautiful topic of conversation for your home. Care needs to be taken when installing living roofs, as the added weight of soil and moisture to keep the plants alive can be taxing on your rooftop.
The upfront cost of living roof installation is between $13 – $50 per square foot. After installation, maintenance needs to continue so the plants can thrive, which ranges between $0.75 and $1.50 per square foot annually.
Slate is a uniquely beautiful blue-gray metamorphic stone that is cut into thin, shingle-like plates. Its signature texture, both smooth and flaky, is attributed to how its thin layers break and flake off cleanly across lines called the natural cleavage.
Slate roofing uses 100% natural slate stone, hybrid slate, or fully synthetic material. The hybrid and synthetic slate options are great when budget and weight are deciding factors.
Excellent for all climates, slate is very durable and energy efficient. It effectively repels heat from the sun, while retaining heat in the home. It holds up well to hail damage, with the hail stones most often knocking the tiles completely off the rooftop rather than just damaging and cracking them.
Being a natural material, slate has an impressive life expectancy of up to 200 years. It is incredibly heavy, adding 8 – 10 lbs per square foot to the weight of your roof. Homes should be built with supporting infrastructure or reinforcement, which will be time-consuming and costly.
Once installed, little maintenance needs to be done, with simple inspections after intense weather and replacement of damaged pieces.
At the time this article was written, slate costs a pretty penny at $10 – $30 per square foot for natural slate, $9 – $16 for hybrid, and $4 – $12 for synthetic.
Typically used on commercial flat rooftops, built-up roofing (also known as BUR) is made of several layers of tar paper, asphalt, and gravel. This roofing can be installed in as little as a day by trained professionals.
Built-up roofing can be used in every climate. It’s very durable, fire-resistant, and can be made more energy efficient by pairing it with special coatings to reflect away the rays of the sun. It’s not as beautiful as some other options, but it can be a great choice for people with balconies or windows that overlook flat rooftops and want a bit of visual relief.
These types of roofs last between 20 – 30 years with regular maintenance. The added weight of the gravel may require roof reinforcement, and they do have a tendency to crack and blister over time.
Installation costs fall between $2.75 to $6 per square foot, making built-up roofing an incredibly affordable option.
Another type of construction material meant for flat rooftops (which aren’t actually flat, this is just a term for roofing with a pitch of 10-12 degrees or less), rolled roofing is made from rolls of single-ply asphalt membranes.
Rolled roofing is also known as MSR or mineral-surfaced roofing. This type of roofing is anchored with fasteners, ballasted using stone, or adhered with glue.
This roofing can be used in any climate. It is lightweight, durable, fire-resistant, chemical-resistant, eco friendly and works for a variety of roof shapes. This is why it’s such a popular option for commercial rooftops. It’s a popular choice for functional outdoor structures that need rooftop protection but not decoration.
With a lifespan of up to 40 years, it requires regular cleaning and needs regular inspection. While it can stand on its own, roll roofing is often used as the underlayment for other types of roofing materials.
The membrane roofing installation is another inexpensive option, at a cost of about $30 – $100 per 100 square feet, which translates to between $0.30 to $1 per square foot.
If you think this is an option for you, you might also want to read about how it compares with modified bitumen – another solid option.
Solar material is becoming more popular to use as a roofing material. Solar shingles are installed very similarly to regular asphalt shingles, and solar roof tiles (about 12 x 86 inches) are available for those that aren’t willing to take the plunge yet. The options for solar roofing are limited, though they are reputable.
Solar roofing is best for homes that see a lot of sun. They’re surprisingly durable but are easily thwarted by regularly overcast and rainy weather. Solar panels are generally superior in terms of energy production, and they have the added benefit of being adjustable. Depending on the number of shingles or panels on your home, power bills can be lowered by 40% or as much as 70% of your regular invoice.
Expect solar panels and shingles to shine reliably for upwards of 20 years. They can be expensive to repair, but need little maintenance aside from periodic inspection, panel realignment (if applicable), and cleaning.
Installation of solar shingles is estimated around $20 – $30 per square foot or about $36,000 to $54,000 for a 1,800-square-foot roof. If installing panels, they will cost moderately less.
How to Choose the Best Roofing Material for You
What factors should you take into account when you’re choosing your roofing material? We’ll touch base on the different things to consider, like climate, maintenance, and cost.
If you plan on choosing a roofing material that isn’t suited to your home’s climate, you’re potentially throwing away thousands of your hard-earned dollars. The best way to ensure a rooftop will stay in good condition is to choose materials that can withstand all the types of weather your rooftop goes through annually.
For warm, sunny climates, choose tiles or solar roofing over cedar. For moderate climates with occasional hot and cold extremes, asphalt shingles are a good choice. Your rooftop sees weather more than any other part of your home, so plan accordingly.
Existing Rooftop Framing
If you’re planning on resurfacing your rooftop, keep in mind the weight of the materials your home was designed for. Some materials on this list, like tiles, living roofs, and slate, are incredibly heavy, and your rooftop will need to be reinforced to support the extra weight.
In some cases, the framing of your home won’t be able to support the extra weight even with reinforcement, causing expensive damage down the line. Knowing what weight your rooftop is rated for, or at least having a licensed contractor inspect the structure before installation, can save you a huge headache.
How much time you plan to spend on your roof should be a factor in making your decision. If you don’t plan on climbing up every 6 – 12 months, but have no problem paying someone else to do so, know that this factors into the annual maintenance budget.
For virtually no maintenance, slate and tile roofs are superior. For moderate maintenance, asphalt shingles or cedar are solid options. Maintenance isn’t only limited to the rooftop material–remember that gutters, flashing, and trim also need to be inspected.
For some people, life expectancy is hugely important, and for others, not so much. If you’re living in your forever home, you may be more inclined to choose a rooftop material based on its projected lifespan. If this is just a starter home or you’re planning on moving in the next 10 years, a less expensive material with a lower lifespan might work for the time being.
Plan out how long you are going to stay in this house, and then consider whether a new rooftop will give you long-term peace of mind or the edge you need to sell.
Style of Home
Different architectural styles are best suited for different types of roofing. While slate or shingles would look lovely on a victorian home, clay tiles may look a little odd. Oceanside villas look phenomenal with clay tiles, but cedar shingles don’t suit the style. American Colonial-style houses look amazing with just about any rooftop material.
Rooftops are an investment, which means they are definitely expensive. Budgeting is a healthy and necessary part of the process, especially when negotiating tens of thousands of dollars of material and labor. The most inexpensive rooftop material that’s suitable for all rooftop designs is rolled roofing, but it is certainly not the most beautiful choice. Next in line are asphalt shingles, followed by tiles, then cedar, living rooftops, slate, and finally solar panels.
For those that are already budget-conscious, familiarize yourself with materials and installation methods that will help bring the costs down. If you want the look of slate without the high price, synthetic or hybrid slate will help bring down the overall cost. Asphalt shingles and cedar are the easiest and fastest to install yourself, so DIYers may be enticed by the possibility of reducing installation costs.
If budget is less of a concern than aesthetics, know that certain types of roofing come with higher installation costs and higher maintenance bills later on. You may love the look of slate, but the extra cost of bolstering your ceiling joists may still end up being a bad surprise. For all home improvement projects, budget is a must, and should never be skipped.
You now have nine different types of roofing in your pocket to help start your research. If one choice doesn’t meet your needs, you are sure to find one that can give you the perfect balance of design and functionality. For more information, you might also want to learn about the best lightweight roofing materials.
In either case, make sure to know your climate, set your budget, and have fun when looking over your choices!