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The Homeowner's Guide to Roof Shingles

Written by Joe Roberts

Published on November 30, 2023

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The Homeowner's Guide to Roof Shingles

There are various types of shingles you can cover your roof with, ranging from asphalt to metal. Read our guide to learn which type is right for your home.

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Shingles are by far one of the most common roofing materials in the United States. This is because shingles offer a cost-effective way to increase your home’s curb appeal, weather defense, fire resistance, impact resistance, and energy efficiency.

There are many different types of roof shingles, though, and they each have their own advantages and drawbacks. Some offer better fire or moisture resistance, some last longer than others, and some just look better. This variety can make it hard to pick the perfect shingles for your home.

Keep reading, and we’ll walk you through the various shingle types to help you select the best materials for your new roof. We’ll also teach you how to care for your shingles and what to expect when you get new shingles installed.

Hire a reputable roofing company today

Roofing shingles explained

When compared to other types of roofing like clay tiles, rubber membranes, and slate tiles, roofing shingles are pretty affordable. On average, it costs between $6,971 and $12,975 to install shingles on a 1,700-square-foot roof. However, exact pricing can depend on which type of shingle you get for your roof. 

There are four main types of roofing shingles that get installed on residential homes:

  • Asphalt shingles

  • Wood shingles

  • Composite or synthetic shingles

  • Metal shingles

Each of these shingle types comes at a different average price, with asphalt shingles generally being the most affordable. That doesn’t mean asphalt shingles are the best option for your home, though. Each of the other options can offer unique benefits—like durability, style, or longevity—that basic asphalt shingles can’t match.

Asphalt shingles

Asphalt shingles on a residential roofMost people think of three-tab shingles or architectural shingles made of asphalt when they hear the word “shingles.” Image source: CertainTeed

Pros
  • + Very affordable to install
  • + Easy to install and replace
  • + Wide variety of shingle colors
  • + Good insulation
Cons
  • - Basic appearance
  • - 15-40-year lifespan, depending on construction

On average, asphalt shingles are the most affordable type of shingle, which is part of the reason they’re so popular. An asphalt shingle is crafted with at least three layers of material:

  • A mat of fiberglass to give the shingle its structure

  • A layer of asphalt sealant to protect a roof’s underlayment and decking from moisture

  • A layer of ceramic granules for durability and longevity

This design is what gives asphalt shingles their considerable impact-, water-, pest-, and fire-resistance. It also allows asphalt shingles to insulate a home fairly well, making it more energy-efficient. However, some specialized, high-end asphalt shingles may feature additional layers of polymers or metals to help them last longer, withstand storms, or prevent mold buildup.

3-tab asphalt shingles are the most basic and affordable type of shingle. A 3-tab shingle features three hanging tabs that are all connected at the top by a long, flat strip. This construction makes 3-tab shingles easy to install quickly, but they typically aren’t as durable or stylish as more deluxe options. In most cases, a roofing system made with 3-tab shingles will only last 20 years at most.

Architectural shingles—otherwise known as laminate or dimensional shingles—are designed to last much longer (up to 40 years) and look much better than 3-tab shingles. They’re crafted into more complex, dimensional designs to give a roof a textured look, and they’re also available in a wider variety of colors than 3-tab models.

Unfortunately, architectural shingles also cost a bit more. 

Wood shingles

Wood shingles on a residential homeWood shingles differ from wood shakes in a few important ways, but they still bring all the beauty of natural wood. Image source: In-Ex Designs

Pros
  • + High wind and impact-resistance
  • + Good insulation
  • + Natural wood look
  • + Eco-friendly material
Cons
  • - Vulnerable to insects, moisture, and fire
  • - Fairly expensive to install
  • - Lifespan depends on which wood the shingles are made from

Because they’re crafted from natural wood, wood shingles feature the authentic beauty and color variations of woodgrain, so they can give a home a much more rustic charm than just about any other type of shingle. Wood shingles are also great for insulation and wind resistance, and because they’re all-natural, they’re an environmentally friendly building material.

However, they do come with a few significant drawbacks:

  • They’re the least fire-resistant roofing materials, so they aren’t recommended for areas that are prone to wildfires. Some wood shingles come with treatments that make them more fire-resistant, though. 

  • They’re very susceptible to rot and mildew. You have to clean wood shingles frequently to prevent these maladies, making wood a high-maintenance roofing material.

  • They’re far more vulnerable to birds and burrowing insects than other types of shingles.

Because of all these vulnerabilities, the average wood shingle roof only lasts around 20 years, though high-end roofs made with cedar shakes can sometimes last up to 40. Additionally, wood shingles cost a fair amount more on average than most other shingles. 

Here’s the bottom line. If style is your number one priority, you have plenty of room in your budget, and your region doesn’t have a yearly wildfire season, then wood shingles might be exactly what you’re looking for. Just plan on doing a lot of maintenance and repairs to keep the roof in good condition. 

Composite and synthetic shingles

Composite shingles on a residential roofSynthetic shingles are often made from materials like rubber, and they can be crafted to make your roof look like a high-end wood or slate roof. Image source: Hedrick Construction

Pros
  • + Fairly affordable to install
  • + 20-50-year lifespans
  • + Huge variety of styles and colors
  • + Long warranties
Cons
  • - Higher heat absorption than other shingles
  • - Not always available

Composite, or synthetic, shingles can be crafted from a huge variety of materials like plastic, rubber, fiberglass, or laminate. These shingles can be crafted to mimic fancier roofing materials like slate tiles or cedar shakes, giving your roof a stately appearance for a fraction of the price. Synthetic shingles are typically more expensive than 3-tab asphalt shingles, though.

Depending on what they’re made from, synthetic shingles can sometimes last up to 50 years, and they’re also highly fire-, moisture-, and pest-resistant, so they’re a great option for many different climates.

The downside of their durability is that these shingles don’t naturally break down like other materials will, so they aren’t as good for the environment as other shingles.

Metal shingles

Metal shingles on a residential roofMetal shingles—like the stone-coated metal shingles in this picture—are designed to last much longer than asphalt shingles. Image source: DECRA Metal Roofing

Pros
  • + 50+ year lifespans
  • + Highly energy efficient
  • + Eco-friendly construction
  • + Lightweight construction
Cons
  • - Fairly expensive to install
  • - Easily dented
  • - Sometimes vulnerable to rust

A huge variety of metals can be crafted into roofing shingles, and the price and longevity of your shingles will depend on what metal they’re crafted from. Affordable options like aluminum, steel, and tin will usually last 40 to 70 years, while more expensive zinc and copper models can easily last over 100 years if properly maintained. 

Almost all metal roofing will cost more than asphalt shingles, though some metal shingles can be more affordable than wood shingles depending on local market conditions.

Metal is also a good insulator, so getting metal roofing can make your home more energy efficient. Additionally, since metal is a natural material, it will eventually break down, meaning it’s more eco-friendly than synthetic roofing. Metal is also highly fire- and insect-resistant, and some metal shingles also feature coatings of other materials like stone for enhanced durability.

The main downside of metal is that some options, like steel, will eventually rust if installed in humid climates. Alternatives like aluminum and copper don’t have this issue, though. 

How to choose the best shingles for your home

Every roof is different, and the best shingles for your home will depend on the pitch, age, and strength of your roof. Additionally, the climate you live in should greatly factor into this decision. All of these particulars mean you’ll need to get your roof inspected by a professional contractor to determine exactly which shingles will work best on your roof.

However, you can assess the various factors ahead of time to get a good idea of which shingles may work for your home.

The pitch of your roof

Generally, your roof must have a pitch of 2/12 at minimum to accommodate shingles, though some shingle brands might require steeper pitches. If your roof’s pitch is more gradual than this, you’ll probably need to get a rubber or standing seam metal roof

The strength and age of your roof

Most roofs are strong enough to withstand the weight of shingles, but if your roof is a century old or so, it’s probably weaker than it once was. If you have an especially old home, you should definitely get the roof inspected before undertaking any kind of roofing project. Otherwise, your roof could collapse under the weight of new materials. 

The climate of your region

If you live in a particularly wet region with humid air, frequent rainfall, and snowy winters, you should probably get either asphalt shingles or synthetic shingles. These materials won’t rot or rust when exposed to moisture, though they can sometimes grow moss and require cleaning.

If you live in a region with frequent wildfires, you should opt for asphalt, synthetic, or metal shingles with class-A fire ratings

You should only get wooden shingles if you live in an arid region that rarely sees wildfires. 

Best shingle brands for your home

If you’re ready to shop around for new roofing shingles, we recommend you start by browsing products from these industry-leading brands. 

CertainTeed

CertainTeed has been in business since 1665, and the company manufactures a huge selection of building materials, including shingles, siding, underlayment, and solar panels. CertainTeed shingles come in an impressive range of stylish designs and colors, and the company carries shingle lines crafted specifically for algae resistance, fire resistance, and energy efficiency.

Many CertainTeed shingles also come with limited lifetime warranties, so you won’t find better shingles for roof protection than from CertainTeed. 

GAF

Like Certainteed, GAF produces a broad assortment of building materials, not just shingles. These products include attic vents, leak barriers, rubber roofing systems, and solar roofing.

One of the company’s crown jewels, though, is its Timberline HDZ product line. These asphalt shingles come with all the bells and whistles: class-A fire ratings, algae protection, high wind resistance, and comprehensive warranties. They’re also available in a healthy variety of color options. 

IKO

IKO makes roofing shingles to fit any budget. Their products range from simple and affordable 3-tab shingles to stately and distinctive designer lines that imitate the look of slate tiles. IKO’s shingles also come with high durability ratings, weather resistance, and class A fire resistance. 

Owens Corning

Owens Corning manufactures residential and commercial products ranging from insulation and lumber to wind turbine blades. Of course, the company also produces a broad assortment of roofing shingles as well. 

The company’s various shingle lines provide all the color variety you could ever need to find roofing to match your siding, and many also come with a copper lining to fight algae growth, class-A fire ratings, and limited lifetime warranties. 

How to take care of your roofing shingles

Even low-end asphalt shingle roofs can easily last over a decade when they’re properly taken care of. To ensure your shingles stay in excellent condition for as long as possible, prioritize these routine roof maintenance tasks:

  • Regularly inspect your attic and top-floor walls for leaks or stains during rainstorms. The best roofing system can start to leak unexpectedly, and catching leaks early is essential for keeping water damage minimal.

  • Get your roof cleaned annually to prevent moss and debris from creating heavy buildup on your roof.

  • Keep your gutters clean to ensure water runs off of your roof quickly. Otherwise, standing water could seep between your shingles and rot your roof’s decking and underlayment. 

  • Get your roof professionally inspected every year or two so you always have an accurate idea of the condition your shingles are in. And if the inspector finds any missing or damaged shingles, you should get them replaced immediately. 

To learn more about caring for your shingles, read our guide to roofing maintenance and our list of roofing repairs most homeowners can handle themselves. 

How shingles get installed

Whether you’re installing an asphalt shingle roof or some other roofing system, you should always leave it to professional roofers. No roofing project should be a DIY undertaking. That said, it can be helpful to know how shingles are installed so you know what to expect from your contractors. Here’s a high-level breakdown of the shingle installation process:

  • First, the roofers remove the old roofing material and underlayment. If you’re installing a new roof on bare decking, they’ll obviously skip this step. 

  • Next, your roofers will roll out and nail down your roof’s underlayment. They’ll cover your entire roof deck with this material to increase your roofing system’s longevity and weather defense. If your roof requires flashing, they’ll also install these materials at this stage. 

  • Once all of the underlayment and flashing are in place, your roofers will then start installing your shingles. Shingles are meant to overlap vertically, so your roofers will typically start at your roof’s bottom edge and work their way upward, placing shingles and nailing them down with lots of overlap between them.

  • After all the shingles are in place, your roofers will install ridge caps along your roof’s various peaks to complete your roof’s defensive layer.

Depending on the size of your roof, the type of shingles you get, and whether or not you’re replacing an old roofing system, this process can take anywhere from one to eight days. Be sure to discuss scheduling with your roofing contractors ahead of time so you know exactly how long installing your roof will take. 

Putting shingles on your roof

The variety of roofing shingles on the market, plus the plethora of different priorities to consider, can make it hard to pick the best shingles for your home. But now that you know all there is to know about these popular roofing materials, you’re ready to get quotes from roofing contractors.

Find a local roofing contractor who can install your new shingles

Frequently asked questions

Yes. While asphalt shingles are one of the most popular roofing materials in the United States, they are far from the only roofing material you can choose for your roof. To start, there are various other types of shingles, including composite shingles, wood shingles, and metal shingles. Additionally, there’s a wide variety of non-shingle roofing materials like clay and slate roof tiles, cedar shakes, rubber membranes, and standing seam metal panels.

Installing solar panels can damage your shingles if the panels are installed poorly. To avoid damage caused by sloppy installation, only hire one of the best-rated solar installation companies in the country. That way, you’ll know your roof is in good hands.

High-end metal shingles can sometimes last up to 100 years if they’re installed correctly, well-maintained, and only used in a recommended climate. Under these ideal conditions, metal shingles are the type that lasts the longest by far. 3-tab asphalt shingles, on the other hand, typically last the shortest amount of time—usually only 20 years at max. Architectural roofing shingles made from asphalt can last a while longer, though, and sometimes maintain their structure for up to 40 years.

Asphalt shingles are the most popular type of shingle for residential roofs, but they aren’t always the best option for every home. Depending on your climate, your budget, and your style priorities, rubber, composite, wood, or metal shingles could all be better options.

On average, shingles cost between $4.10 and $7.63 per square foot. This means that to shingle a 1,700-square-foot roof, you should expect to pay $6,971 and $12,975. Depending on the size of your roof and the type of shingles you get, though, you could pay significantly more than this average.  Unfortunately, the only way to know exactly how much your roofing project will cost is to get a quote from an installer.

Though shingles are relatively inexpensive compared to other roofing materials, covering an entire roof with even cheap shingles can cost thousands of dollars. Luckily, there are many different ways to finance your new roofing system. These financing options include warranty claims, insurance claims, and various types of loans.

Written by

Joe Roberts Content Specialist

Joe is a home improvement expert and content specialist for Fixr.com. He’s been writing home services content for over eight years, leveraging his research and composition skills to produce consumer-minded articles that demystify everything from moving to remodeling. His work has been sourced by various news sources and business journals, including Nasdaq.com and USA Today. When he isn’t writing about home improvement or climate issues, Joe can be found in bookstores and record shops.