Why Are Roofs Made Of Shingles? (Solved!)4 min read

Shingle roofs are very common across the US and account for over 80% of all residential roofing. 

There are many types of shingle roofs ranging from wood to plastic, each with its advantages and disadvantages. 

Let’s discuss why roofs are made of shingles. 

Here’s why roofs are made of shingles: 

Shingles are the most common type of residential roofing and there are many different types of shingles. Shingles are used based on durability vs cost, the ability to be repaired easily, easy installation, and the ability to be laid on uneven surfaces. 

What are shingles? 

‘Shingles’ are individual rectangular units laid side by side and overlapping to form a roof.   

The most common size of a shingle is 12 inches by 5 inches although they can be as large as 16 inches by 12 inches. 

Shingles are manually laid starting from the bottom of the roof and finishing at the top. Each new row overlaps the one beneath creating a waterproof membrane. 

The most common material shingles are made out of is fiberglass-based asphalt. 

Difference between 3-tab shingles and architectural shingles

There are two main types of shingle roofing: 3-tab and architectural. 

It’s easy to tell which is which – architectural shingles give a more dimensional look to the roof whereas 3-tab shingles are flatter. 

The main difference is that architectural shingles have a thicker base and are around 50% heavier than 3-tab shingles. They are therefore more durable and of higher quality compared to 3-tab but are also more expensive. 

What are the advantages of using shingles? 

Shingles are the most popular method of roofing across the US. Around 80% of all residential housing within the US has an asphalt-based shingle roof. 

Here are the main advantages of using shingles over other types of roofing: 

One person can lay small shingles. This makes the installation process easier and cheaper compared to metal roofing, for example, that may come in much larger pieces. 

Shingles can be repaired easily. If a shingle breaks or is moved, roofers can easily replace individual shingles. If you compare this to a flat felt roof, for example, the entire roof may need to be re-laid if the roof is damaged. 

They can be laid on uneven surfaces. Some older homes will have an uneven surface and since shingles are small individual pieces, they can be molded to the surface they are laid on. 

They are durable. Asphalt shingles are cost-effective, durable, and suitable for all climates. The average cost of an asphalt shingle roof is between $5000 and $12,000, and it’ll last for 15 – 20 years.

Here’s a video showing how easy it is to lay shingle roofing:

Are all roofs made of shingles? 

Not all roofs are made of shingles. There are many other types of roofing. Here are the most common: 

  • Clay and concrete tile roofing. They look great and add curb appeal. They’ll last up to 50 years but are expensive and need a strong frame due to their weight.  
  • Slate roofing. Slate is durable and fire-resistant. It also looks nice, particularly with older properties. The downside is that slate is fragile and easily broken. It’s also expensive. 
  • Metal roofing. It’s low-maintenance and lightweight. It can also be designed to look like wood, slate, or shingles. It’ll last for 50 years too. 

What are the different types of shingles?  

There are many different types of shingles but asphalt is by far the most common. Here are the different types of shingles: 

  • Slate shingles. 
  • Wood shingles. 
  • Cement shingles. 
  • Flagstone shingles. 
  • Metal shingles. 
  • Plastic shingles. 
  • Composite shingles. 
  • Ceramic shingles (but more often referred to as ‘tiles’). 

Are shingles waterproof? 

It depends on the type of material used. 

Asphalt shingles are entirely waterproof. They don’t absorb any water and are impervious to it. 

Wooden shingles on the other hand are not entirely waterproof. Cedar shingles look nice but are not particularly durable nor waterproof. 

However, typically shingle roofing will also have roofing underlayment. The underlayment sits on top of the roof deck and under the roof. It provides a secondary layer of protection from the elements and is normally synthetic or felt.  

How long do shingle roofs last? 

Depending on the type of shingle, maintenance, and severity of the weather, shingles will last anywhere from 15 to 70 years. 

It’s particularly important to ensure that shingle roofs are regularly maintained. This will increase the lifetime of shingle roofing. 

Even if there are no obvious signs of damage, make sure a professional regularly checks the roof for loose flashings, ripped off shingles, damaged air vents, and any damage allowing water to leak underneath the shingles. 

Here are the different types of shingle roofing and how long they last on average: 

  • Asphalt shingles – 15 – 20 years
  • Composite shingles (fibreglass embedded) – 30 – 50 years. 
  • Aluminium shingles – 50 years. 
  • Stone-coated steel shingles – 70 years. 
  • Cedar shingles – 30 years
  • Fiberglass shingles – 30 – 50 years. 

What kind of shingles are best for the roof? 

With so many types of shingle roofing, it’s difficult to know which one is the best. 

Out of all the different types of shingle roofing, most people think that asphalt shingles are the best material. 

This is based on the quality of the material and the low cost. Whilst there are more durable materials such as stone-coated steel, for most homeowners other materials are either prohibitively expensive or not as durable. 

Since asphalt is also the most popular material, your home will fit in on pretty much any street with an asphalt roof. 

Metal shingles are also a popular choice. Metal shingles are more durable than asphalt in withstanding severe weather and will also last around 30 years longer. However, most homeowners still opt for asphalt because metal shingles are more expensive and harder to install. 

What are the disadvantages of using shingles? 

Even though shingle roofing is the most common, there are disadvantages: 

Mould and mildew can build up. Due to the way shingle roofs are made, mildew can spread. This is particularly prevalent in areas of the roof that are shaded. This can cause shingles to rot and cause further damage to the house.  

It’s therefore advised to have your roof regularly inspected by a professional. 

Shingles aren’t the most energy-efficient option. Compared with metal roofing, shingles (particularly asphalt) are not particularly effective in either hot or cold temperatures. 

In the Summer, the asphalt absorbs the sun’s heat and transfers it into the home. On cooler nights, it transfers heat away from your home. 

High winds can cause damage to shingles. Shingles can be uplifted or torn off during storms. Whilst this is also true of tiled roofs, metal roofs are unlikely to experience this. 

There are other more durable roofs. Whilst an asphalt shingle roof will last up to 20 years, other types of roofs can last three times as long. However, many homeowners still opt for shingles due to the cost. 

Final Thoughts

Whilst shingle roofs aren’t the best or most durable option, the practicalities and cost element outweigh the option of other more expensive styles of roof. 

No other roof type offers good performance, easy repairs, and easy installation at a low overall cost. 

Shingle roofs also offer great versatility in material and aesthetics and should suit most homeowners’ budgets and criteria. I therefore think shingle roofs will be used for many years to come.

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Hi, I'm Ed, and I run BuildFanatic! I enjoy providing the best possible information on a range of home improvement topics.

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