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10 Types of Roofing Materials & What is Best for Your Roof

December 5th, 2019 BY First American Roofing

Trying to find the best types of roofing materials for your home?

A question we get asked a lot at First American is what different types of roofing are available? People come to us needing a new roof and are surprised to learn there are at least ten different types of roofing materials common in the U.S. alone.

The type of roofing we choose depends on many factors because not any roof can work on any home. Some roofs work best in hot climates down south, like clay or concrete tile, while others like green roofs fight air and noise pollution in big cities. So let’s get into the different types and how they can benefit both residential or commercial properties.

Asphalt Composite Shingles

The number one roofing material used in the United States is asphalt composite shingles. They’re incredibly economical and are an excellent investment for your home. They are more affordable than other materials and last upwards of 20 years, depending on weather and maintenance.

In addition, they come in a multitude of styles and colors. Depending on the color of your home’s exterior and your landscaping, asphalt shingles will be able to give you the right color palette you need. Choose from light and dark browns, light and dark greys, black, green, reddish-brown, even blue-gray for a beautiful backdrop to a green forest line. They also come in 3 primary varieties; 3-tab shingles, dimensional shingles, and luxury shingles.

3-tab shingles are the most basic design. 

They are a single layer that overlaps like a regular shingle. They are cost-effective and can give a dynamic look with their granular appearance, giving each shingle slight variations in tone. With proper installation and maintenance, 3-tab shingles are designed to last 20+ years. You will most commonly find them now on older homes built with 3-tab shingles when they were even more popular or on newly built economy housing.

asphalt shingles

A level up from 3-tab shingles is dimensional asphalt shingles. 

These are stronger, more durable, and can last up to 30 years or longer. While 3-tab shingles are a single layer, dimensional shingles have 2 or 3 layers making them extra strong. They also give great curb appeal to your home. Their dimensional look gives great texture and patterns to the roof, and they come in an array of colors to match your home. Though they will cost more upfront than the more cost-effective 3-tab shingles, the payoff is massive. When you consider you can get the same aesthetic and dimensional look like real wood shanks with dimensional asphalt, it’s a steal.

Luxury asphalt shingles imitate the look of natural slate and cedar.

Luxury asphalt shingles are an amazing alternative that costs less to install and maintain. The multi-dimensional look of slate and cedar shingles is achieved with the asphalt shingles creating texture, shadows, and depth that easily replicate the look of a more expensive roof, especially on older homes that want to maintain that natural aesthetic.

Some of the major manufacturers and brands of asphalt shingles include GAF, CertainTeed, and Owens Corning. So if you’re going to go with asphalt composite shingles, we would recommend going with any of those.

Wooden Shakes or Shingles

Natural wood shakes or shingles are a great, high-end option for roofing material. With proper maintenance, they remain durable, aging gracefully for up to 50 years. Generally made from pine, cypress, cedar, or redwood, wood shakes and shingles can be treated to be fire-resistant, prevent decay and rot, and deter insects.

There is a difference between shakes and shingles, and each has a unique look, despite being made of the same materials. Shakes are split right from the log and reshaped for manufacturing. That rough edge is often kept to maintain that texture and unique rustic look. They have a distinct shape with one thicker end that tapers down like a wedge. They give a lot more dimension to your roof with this dynamic shape, especially when layered together. On the other hand, shingles are sawn on both sides to make an even thickness and are laid overlapping each other when installed.

Wood shakes are much more expensive than other roofing materials due to the high labor costs associated with them. Not only is manufacturing laborious, with cutting, staining, and protective sealants that get done, but the shingles are laid one by one, strategically, and take a long time and a lot of expertise. However, you get what you pay for with this investment, and the end result is as stunning as it is going to be long-lasting.

wooden shingles

Slate Shingles

Slate shingles are one of, if not the longest-lasting, roofing material you can get. With very little maintenance, slate shingles can last 100 years or more. That’s probably why they’ve earned the name of the forever roof. Slate is water-resistant, fire-resistant, aesthetically pleasing, and incredibly environmentally friendly. Between 3 and 4 roofs are replaced and tossed in a landfill in the amount of time that one slate roof would last.

There are some downfalls of a slate roof, however. Hail is its worst enemy due to the shingles breaking easily with force, so don’t install them in areas prone to hail. Second, they are quite expensive for consumers. But if you are truly looking at this in terms of an investment in your life-long home, the payoff is huge due to the roof lasting even long after you own the home.

slate roofing

Synthetic Slate Shingles

Synthetic slate shingles are a great option if you want to get the look and style of real slate roofing material on your home but don’t want to spend thousands and thousands of dollars. They provide all the benefits of traditional slate roofs, such as water resistance and durability, and they mimic real slate in appearance and texture to give that natural element.

Some significant benefits of synthetic slate vs. the real thing include a lighter weight than natural slate (reducing labor costs), ease of installation, lower material costs, greater range of colors, easier ability to repair or replace damaged shingles during the lifetime of the roof.

Metal Roofing

Metal roofing is becoming more and more common. There are a few different types of metal roofing, including metal panels and corrugated panels. They are very well suited for commercial or agricultural structures, as their composition to expand and contract in varying temperatures can be bad for a residential roof. Metal roofs are great for conserving energy, shedding snow and water, reflecting sunlight to keep cooling costs down, and are very lightweight for easy installation and maintenance.

Metal Panels

Metal panels are quite large, around 4 feet long, and are stamped to give the appearance of a slate or shingle roof. The metal can also be stone-coated steel which is steel that has an acrylic base that stone is embedded into. It’s ultra-durable and is a great option to hide any dents or defaults. Since its texture has an almost dented look already, it can hide flaws easily. However, other metal panels with a flat reflective surface will dent easily and will not conceal it quite like the stone-coated steel.

metal roofing

Metal Shingles

Metal shingles are a more common option than metal panels due to the ease of installation and aesthetically pleasing look. They generally come in slate or shingle-shaped options, but they are much lighter because typically, they aren’t stone-coated steel. At first glance, they look similar to a regular asphalt shingled roof, but with the strength and durability of metal—so you don’t have to sacrifice style for superior protection. The one downfall is their hefty price tag upfront, but the longevity will give you incredible ROI.

Clay Tiles

Common in the southern states, modern clay tile roofs are typically found in those warmer climates. They can withstand very high heat and are incredibly durable. They have a higher cost initially than other, more common types of roofing, and repair costs can be high. One other consideration is they are pretty heavy, and it’s essential to make sure your home can handle the extra weight of the roof before deciding to go with clay tiles. They are well suited for homes in the southwestern states, both functionally and aesthetically.

clay roof

Concrete Tiles

Concrete tiles are also great for those warmer climates. They are made of clay, but they have a metal core to increase their strength. Like traditional clay tile roofs, they are known for being very durable and low-maintenance, able to withstand even the harshest weather conditions that can arise with humidity and high temperatures. Although there is a little more flexibility in design than clay, concrete tiles are very heavy—and can be tough if your home wasn’t built to support the extra weight.

concrete tile roof

Green Roofs or Flat Roofs

Green roofs and flat roofs are incredibly beneficial for commercial building management. You’ll see them in big cities and at universities and commercial rental properties. They can be quite costly initially but last a very long time and can literally pay back portions of what was spent on installation by conserving so much energy. They are entire systems built up for water drainage, growing vegetation, and even creating habitats for local wildlife. They are popular in bigger cities because of the benefit of reducing both air and noise pollution.

Green roofs are just what they sound like, a roof with greenery and plant life that brings multiple benefits. A flat, tar roof will absorb a lot of heat and make it very hard to keep a building cool. Meanwhile, a roof with an ecosystem that absorbs water and, in turn, grows plants that shade the roof can help immensely with both heating and cooling costs. A simple green roof contains plant life that grows naturally and doesn’t need much tending. Apartment complexes or city brownstones may build out rooftop patios or gardens for their flat roof that are a bit more functional and usable, capitalizing on that otherwise unused space.

Flat roofs can be built in several ways. Built-up roofing is multiple layers of materials to help absorb and remove standing water. Membrane roofing, rubber roofing, TPO flat roofing, and even asphalt roofing that comes in rolls can all be installed on a flat roof, with varying weights, porosities, and functions depending on climate and the function of the building.

green roof

Solar Tiles

Solar tiles are entire roofs that look like your plain old shingled roof but are actually built up of solar panels/shingles. Solar panels will convert solar energy from the sun into electricity to run your home or business. It’s prevalent in southern states or western states where there is more sunlight in general year-round. Any place closer to the equator will be more optimal for utilizing solar energy and solar roofs.

It’s a significant investment, but over time (sometimes a very long time), you actually get a return on investment with energy savings. This is something unique to solar, and you won’t get quite the ROI on your roof investment, aside from upping resale value.

solar tiles

Other Roofing Materials Required for a Strong Roof

There is so much more that goes into your roof installation than just the shingles. And the entire system as a whole is what ensures you have a strong roof that lasts for decades to come.

Roof Decking

Your shingles are just one piece of your roof. And you can’t place those shingles on your roof without the roof decking. Roof decking is your support system. These wooden boards that make up the framing of your roof are known as decking. These boards form the base for your shingles and other elements.

It’s imperative that you have strong roof decking, so your roof doesn’t collapse under the weight of heavy roofing materials. Some materials are better suited for particular weather conditions, so if you have strong winds or hail in your area, it’s important that your roof decking can stand up to this type of weather.


Underlayment is the material that goes directly on top of your roof decking. It is a strong felt material that is your roof’s last line of defense before the decking. It helps protect against leaks and cracks and should always be replaced anytime your roofing materials are replaced.



Flashing is installed anywhere your shingles or roofing materials butt up to something like your chimney, valleys, skylight, window, wall, etc. These areas are especially vulnerable to water leaks and are essential to keeping water out of these cracks. Metal flashing is installed as a bridge between the shingles and the chimney/wall/valley. Where the two ends meet is where your roof can leak, so proper flashing is critical.

Drip Edge

Drip edge is made of the same material as your flashing and wraps around your roof’s perimeter. Anything that hangs over a wall or an eave must have a drip edge installed to keep water from getting behind the shingles and into your home.

Ice and Water Shield

An ice and water shield is an add-on item that goes under your shingles. It’s like extra protection for your roof decking and helps protect against leaks where the shingles meet things like gutters, fascia boards, etc. In climates where heavy snowfall is common, this is crucial to ensuring your roof keeps you protected and warm during those frigid winter months.

Roof Vents

Roof vents are another vital part of your roofing system. These are holes that are installed in the lower parts of your roof to let trapped heat escape, allowing your attic space to breathe and stay cool. It is not advisable to block or close these off because they are essential for letting warm airflow through your attic during the summer months.

roof vents

Pipe Boots

And lastly, pipe boots which help to avoid leaks. A pipe boot is a synthetic rubber boot that surrounds your roof penetrations. They must be changed anytime you replace your shingles. Note: It’s important to regularly inspect these for cracks or leaks as they are one of the most leading causes of attic and roof leaks.

Getting the Best Materials for Your Home

As you can see, a lot goes into giving you a strong roofing system. Between the amazing roofing material options and choosing the best quality roofing elements, you could be well on your way to a solid roof for years and years.

Once you have found the best materials for your home, you need to find a quality contractor to install them all correctly. Thankfully, First American Roofing knows roofing, and we would love to work with you! Give us a call today to get started with your free quote!

If you want to know even more about different types of roofing and roofing materials, click here. And to get started on your new roof installation, contact us today!