Raise the Roof – A Guide to Roofing Materials

Replacing your roof is (hopefully) a rare occasion, and a costly one – you’ll want to make sure it’s done right. If you’re new to the world of roofing, you’re likely overwhelmed by all of the choices of materials and colors.

Colors must be chosen to complement your individual home and tastes, but there are clear pros and cons to each type of roofing material. This comprehensive guide to these materials will help you make an informed and intelligent decision.


The most commonly used roofing material is shingles. Shingles are overlapping pieces of wood, asphalt, or other materials laid atop your roof.

Types of shingles

Asphalt, or composite, shingles – made of fiberglass and asphalt with a pebbly, gritty feel – are the most popular due to their inexpensiveness and attainability; wood shingles and shakes (split shingles with a rougher appearance) are popular as well but costlier and unavailable in some areas due to fire concerns (though most carry fire certification). Asbestos shingles used to be popular because of their long life and fireproof qualities but are rarely used nowadays due to health concerns.

Pros of shingles
  • Long life: most shingles have a life expectancy of 15-30 years, depending on composition and quality
  • Easy to replace single shingles in case of damage
  • Low cost compared to other roofing materials
  • Easy installation

Cons of shingles

  • Flat appearance (except for shakes)
  • May blow off in high winds
  • Easily scars when exposed to heat


Commonly found in southwestern parts of the country and classically paired with stucco or adobe finishes, clay or ceramic tiles are another popular roofing material.

Pros of tile
  • Visual appeal; wide variety of colors, finishes, shapes and styles
  • Excellent lifespan
  • Heat-, infestation-, rot- and fire-resistant
  • Low-maintenance
  • Deflects sun for cooler housing

Cons of tile

  • Very heavy; may require extra roof support
  • Prone to fading
  • Fragile; walking on or repairing tiles is likely to result in damage
  • Complicated installation
  • High-cost

Reinforced cement is used to replicate many different types of roofing materials: shingles, shakes, and even tile and slate in various shades, shapes, and sizes.

Pros of concrete
  • Resistant to rot, insects, and fire
  • Can mimic different types of shingles and other materials
  • Durable and low-maintenance
  • Provides insulation
  • Energy efficient and “green”

Cons of concrete

  • More expensive than many other options
  • Often lighter than the tile and slate that it resembles but still heavy
  • May crack in freezing temperatures

Roofs may be crafted of metal (copper, steel, aluminum) in seamed sheets or shingles.

Pros of metal
  • Durable even in extreme weather
  • Proven to last hundreds of years
  • Light; no (or little) extra support necessary
  • Insulates home; saves on heating and cooling
  • Appearance (especially copper, which develops a patina over time)

Cons of metal

  • Needs proper insulation to reduce noise
  • Expensive
  • Likely to rust over time, especially near saltwater

Slate is one of the most luxurious and of the highest quality of roofing materials. It’s actual pieces of natural stone in gray, blue and rust shades.

Pros of slate
  • Natural, old-world look
  • Most durable and long-lasting; impervious to the elements, fire, rot,  and infestation
  • Variety of laying patterns

Cons of slate

  • Heavy; requires extra structural support
  • Difficult to repair; breakable if walked on
  • High cost
  • Due to the fact that it is natural, it is difficult to replace individual pieces

A living roof is covered in plants. It’s best executed on a flat or gently sloped roof.

Pros of a living roof

  • Green (literally and figuratively!)
  • Provides insulation and cuts heating and cooling costs
  • Energy efficient
  • Unusual and beautiful

Cons of a living roof

  • Costly to maintain
  • Requires constant skilled upkeep and waterproofing to prevent home disasters

rubber/plastic (less $, low maintenance, can be “green.” can look fake)

Advances in manufacturing technology allow for roofs to be made of engineered rubber or plastic.

Pros of engineered roofing
  • Can be made to look like virtually any other roof material
  • May be “green” – rubber is often recycled car tires
  • Low maintenance

Cons of engineered roofing

  • Shorter lifespan
  • May look fake
Good luck choosing your new roof!

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2 Responses

  1. 6 Vinyl siding

    Projects like replacement of roofing system require permits, while repairs do not. The different services that you can avail of from the Chicago roofing contractors are. The roof not only acts as insulators during winters but also it acts as a wonderful cooling system during summer.

  2. I really like the look of slate roofs! I didn’t realize they were so durable! I feel like it’s always worth spending a little bit of extra money if it means you’ll be getting something of higher quality. Roofs are definitely not something you want to be cheap with, either. No one wants to have to deal with a leaky roof in the middle of a rainstorm! Thanks for sharing all of these pros and cons! The article definitely helped me out a lot!
    Lisa |

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