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Common Roofing Material Types

The most common roofing materials used will vary from place to place but in North America I would say that they are the following:

Composite Shingles

These are the most common of all, and I would guess that more than three quarters of all homes in North America have them installed today. They basically have a core of cellulose fibers or fiberglass coated by asphalt on each side and then topped with a layer of colored stone aggregate on the face for protection and looks. They come in many different styles and colors as well as qualities which are mostly dependent on their weight. They can range from a life expectancy of 15 yrs to 35 yrs depending on the quality purchased and this is usually clearly marked on the packaging. These shingles are sold in bundles, these bundles vary in the area they will cover from type to type but will be referenced usually to as how many bundles per square (1 square equals 100 square feet) that they will cover.

Installation is fairly straight forward as they are cut and nailed in place over your existing roof sheathing. The roof sheathing does require to be covered with a protective layer of roofing felt or other approved roofing barrier before the shingles go on and special attention should be payed on installing a water and ice barrier on all overhang eave areas as well as installing proper flashing around penetrations, valleys and all edges of the roof system. Always remove old roofing products before installing new shingles.

Composite shingles are a good choice in most climates but extreme heat can tend to speed up the deterioration and shorten their life span.

Clay Tiles

These are very popular in the warmer climates but can be installed on a home in any climate. As their name states they are a clay based product that are produced and fired in an oven to bake them and give them strength. They can come in a few colors and profiles and are very heavy because of the clay used to make them. They can be expected to last upwards of 75-100 years after installation. The upfront cost is high for clay tiles and they should be installed by an experienced installer. Also, because of the weight, roofs need to be well constructed to carry the extra load.

As stated above, installation should be done by a pro as this is not a DIY job. Clay tiles are a “water-shedding system” which means some water is expected to get under the tiles so the roof deck below must be protected. This is best done by installing a waterproof membrane on top of the roof sheathing first, then the tiles can be installed. The tiles should be fastened down using corrosion resistant nails to prevent premature failure and loose or rattling tiles in wind storms. Even though these have a very long life expectancy the higher material and labour costs usually are a deal breaker.

Wood Shingles (Wood Shakes)

These were the only shingle years and years ago and still have a good piece of the roofing market today. Most are cut from western red cedar and come in grades of 1, 2 and 3. Grade 1 are the only grade that should be used on your home as a shingle, they are considered the best grade because they are cut from the heart wood of the tree so the rings are tight and knot free. They should be installed naturally with no coating and allowed to age naturally. The life expectancy is usually 20-25 yrs.

Installation of these is best left to professionals as well. As with most all roofing products cedar shingles require an underlayment on the roof deck before the actual shingles go on. In the case of cedar shingles, roofing felt is typically used to cover the entire roof. When nailing on the shingles only galvanized, stainless steel or copper nails should be used. Shingles are installed so that each shingle in each row is spaced apart about 1/8” and spaces in overlapping rows do not line up to each other.

Aluminum Shingles

These shingles are probably the most expensive product and should be installed by an experienced installer. The cost is high for sure but these shingles should last the life time of the home. These shingles come in a vast choice of colors and styles to match any need and when installed correctly are very secure.

Again these shingles require a roofing felt be used to cover the entire roof deck. These shingles all interlock together and are nailed as well using standard roofing nails. This system also requires its own special trim pieces for drip edge, valleys and hips.

Metal Roofing

These roofs are commonly made from either aluminum or corrugated steel panels, can come in a huge variety of colors and can be custom ordered in almost any length under about 24 feet. Most steel roofs can last up to 50 years and are very robust. This will cost slightly more than asphalt and about the same as cedar but will outlast the cedar and asphalt both.

From a environmental ("green") perspective most steel roof products are made from partly recycled metals and is 100% recyclable itself. They also help in your energy usage in your home because they block or reflect some of the heat away from your attic saving your air conditioner some work and your pocket book some dough.

Most people with some basic knowledge of construction can install this product. They can be installed over a standard sheeted roof or one that is only strapped. Do not install over top of an old asphalt roof, remove the old asphalt shingles first. The sheets can be easily cut on site and easily lifted into place. Windy conditions during installation should be avoided for safety. Sheets are attached to the roof surface using special threaded screws that have a rubber washer. The screws can be color matched to the roofing panel as well. The panel edges overlap as they go down to make a pretty much 100% water tight seal. For added protection you can add mastic between the sheets at the over laps . Walking on the product can be dangerous so use extreme caution.

So metal roofs have a lot of positives but I would be negligent if I did not mention their couple of negatives. They are a noisier roof in rain and hail storms and need special snow dams put in place to avoid avalanches that can rip your eavestroughs right off.

Not all of these roofing products are for the DIYer but even if you are considering having your roof changed it is good to know the options out there for you to consider. And never put a new roof product over top of your old one. Remove the old roofing ,inspect the structure below it and replace any rotted wood before installing the new product.

As always, if you have any questions about your roofing situation or other home improvement project, feel free to ask questions in our home improvement forum.