Shingles and Shakes: Your Guide to Roofing Materials

When you look at your roof, the first things you'll likely notice are its shingles. These overlapping rectangles not only provide your home with an aesthetically pleasing look, they also serve the practical purpose of protecting your roof against the weather and keeping your home warm and dry.

Without shingles, your roof will weaken and rot as the elements wear it away. Even a few missing shingles can lead to extensive damage and extremely high costs, as water damage can often necessitate the replacement of the entire roof.

With the right shingles, your roof will stay strong for a great number of years, often without much maintenance needed. However, how do you know which shingles are right for your home? Take a look at these shingle types to find out.

Asphalt Shingles

Asphalt shingles are among the most widely used roofing materials throughout North America. As the name implies, asphalt shingles consist primarily of asphalt, though the shingles can be organic- or fibreglass-based.

Organic asphalt shingles contain once-living materials such as waste paper, cellulose, and wood fibre. Asphalt saturates these materials to make them waterproof.

Fibreglass shingles have a glass fibre reinforcing mat, usually made with wet fibreglass bonded to urea-formaldehyde resin. As with organic shingles, asphalt covers the fibreglass base to make the shingle waterproof.

Advantages: Asphalt shingles are relatively inexpensive and are easy to install. They come in a variety of types, styles, shapes, colours, and sizes. Additionally, asphalt shingles can be recycled and re-used when replacing your roof.

Wood Shingles and Shakes

Wood shingles and shakes are a traditional roofing material, though they are becoming less common because they are more susceptible to fire than other shingle types.

Wood shakes are a basic wooden shingle made from split logs, while wood shingles use sawn logs. Both types are typically made from California redwood or Western Red Cedar in North America, though Scandinavia and European countries often use pine.

Advantages: Both shingles and shakes can last a long time if maintained, and they are organic and eco-friendly. They absorb less heat than asphalt shingles, so they are more energy efficient. In other words, wood shingles and shakes could save you money on heating and cooling.

Slate Shingles

Slate is a heavy, durable roofing material made of natural stone. It is the longest lasting roofing material available, and it is fire and weather resistant.

Slate can weigh anywhere from 8 to 15 pounds per square foot, so rooftops with slate need to be structurally sound to support the weight.

Advantages: Some experts estimate that slate shingles can last 150 years when constructed correctly. Other shingle types only last about 20 to 30 years. Additionally, slate shingles are environmentally friendly, and they are available in a wide range of colours, sizes, and thicknesses to suit almost any style of home.

Fibre Cement Shingles

Fibre cement shingles are a synthetic alternative to wood shingles. In the past, these shingles contained asbestos fibres; however, manufacturers are now replacing these shingles with cellulose fibres.

Fibre cement shingles work best in areas where the freeze-thaw cycles are minimal. They are insect and fire resistant.

Homeowners should be cautious with older fibre cement shingles made in the 1980s and 1990s. Many shingles during this time period were recalled due to swelling, cracking, and crumbling. But modern fibre cement shingles should not have this problem.

Advantages: Fibre cement shingles have a much longer lifespan than their wooden counterparts. Some fibre cement shingles may last up to 45 years before needing replacement. The material is easy to work with and install, and it does not require wet-cutting.

Metal Shingles

Steel shingles are a non-combustible roofing material, making them ideal for areas with high fire risk. Many steel shingles are stone-coated to make them more resistant to dirt and environmental aging.

Due to their versatility, metal shingles can mimic traditional asphalt and wood shingles while providing the strength and endurance of steel.

Advantages: Steel shingles are environmentally friendly and 100% recyclable. They deflect heat in the summer and retain heat in the winter, potentially lowering your energy bills. Also, they never crack, warp, rot, or burn.

Plastic Shingles

Plastic shingles consist of recycled, man-made polymers. Plastic shingles offer the same protection as slate shingles, but they are approximately 4 times lighter than slate. Their weight makes plastic shingles easy to install on almost any roof.

Like metal and steel shingles, plastic shingles are highly resistant to wear and require minimal maintenance. They can mimic traditional asphalt and wood shingles, and they can last twice as long as cedar shakes.

Advantages: Plastic shingles can last up to 50 years without the need for replacement. Many shingles come blended with UV-resistant compounds to ensure their colour stays true despite direct sun exposure.

Which Type Is Right for Your Roof?

As you can see, each of these shingle types has its own set of advantages, though a majority of homeowners opt for asphalt or wood shingles. If you're not sure which type is right for your home or your area, ask your local roofing contractor.