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How Long Do Roof Shingles Last?

A collage of roof shingles.

The phrase, “you get what you pay for,” applies to most building materials. This can be especially true when looking at the variety of shingles available for roofing, and the price range is equally diverse. As the cost increases, the longevity of a roof increases also. 

While every part of your building is essential, not much else matters if the roof isn’t solid. Many new homeowners may wonder about the age of their roof and should also consider how to balance the life of a new roof against how much to spend.

What Types of Roofing Materials Are Best?

This depends on a number of factors. You need to consider the weather in your area, your roof pitch, building closed, and the aesthetics you desire. First, remember that roofing materials are typically measured in squares, representing 100 square feet or a 10-foot by 10-foot area.

Most of the time, when we talk about roof shingles, we mean asphalt shingles, but there are many new roofing materials that now resemble traditional shingles. Not only are many of these materials cost-effective and eco-friendly, but they offer characteristics that increase your roof’s life. 

Asphalt Shingles

Closeup of asphalt shingles.

This is by far the most popular choice for roofing. Traditional asphalt shingles are made from a base of fiberglass that has an asphalt coating on it. As the roof is heated by the sun and temperature, the asphalt bonds with the base, creating a waterproof seal.

Some asphalt products substitute a more organic material, like cellulose, in place of fiberglass, which can increase the cost of the shingles, but provides a thicker coating of asphalt. Not surprisingly, this makes organic-based shingles heavier than their fiberglass counterpart. In addition to being lighter, fiberglass asphalt shingles will often have a better fire rating.

Around 80% of roofing projects use asphalt shingles because they are very affordable, ranging from about $70 to $150 per square, with warranties that range from 15 to 25 years. They also work in a lot of different climates but can develop mildew problems in extremely humid conditions. 

Architectural Asphalt Shingles

Roofs covered in architectural asphalt shingles.

While made in a similar manner and with similar materials as the standard asphalt shingle, architectural shingles are thicker and designed to resemble more custom roof materials like terra cotta tiles or slate. Their higher cost and longer warranties reflect these elements. A square will fall somewhere in the range of $250 to $400 a square, but the warranties may last for 30 years or more.

With architectural shingles that mimic other materials, the cost — though expensive — will be less expensive than those materials. For homes with high-end architectural designs, this variety of asphalt shingles complements the home’s style in combination with easier maintenance.

This type of asphalt shingle works best on steeper pitches, so this is not a good choice for flat or low-pitch rooflines. As is the case with all asphalt shingles, the color will not fade much over its lifetime. 

Wood Shingles

Spanish home with wood shingles.

Cedar, as a rot-resistant and insect-resistant wood, is the material most often used for wood shingles. For some homes that want to adhere to a particular aesthetic, wood shingles may seem like the only option. However, wood shingles can come with some drawbacks.

The material cost may run higher than asphalt shingles — costing from $250 to $600 a square — and maintenance on a wood shingle roof is significant. With routine (annual or more frequent) maintenance, a wood shingle roof can last up to 30 years. A smart idea is to build an annual cost for replacing any split or damaged tiles, which will help increase the life of your wood shingle roof.

The color of a wood shingle roof will change as it ages to a soft, weathered gray, which is often one of the reasons many homeowners prefer this option. They are a particularly good choice for steep roof pitches. 

If you really want the unique aesthetic of a wood shingle roof, check first with local building codes and your insurance company. Some locations prohibit the use of wood shingles, particularly if you are in an area that is threatened by wildfires.

While modern shingle roofs are often coated with fire-resistant chemicals, many insurance companies will charge a higher premium on homeowner policies for buildings with wood shingle roofs. 

Clay Tiles

Florida home with red clay tiled roofs.

Clay tiles are durable, low-maintenance, and come in a variety of different colors. For regions with a lot of hot days, clay tiles are a better alternative to asphalt tiles, which may not fair well with year-round high heat. Clay tiles are heavier than other roofing materials, so this should be considered during the building.

The cost is significantly higher as well, starting at around $600 a square. Clay roofing also requires the expert installation to ensure that breakage is kept to a minimum and the pattern and spacing of tiles are correctly done. The good news is that a lot of clay tile roofing comes with warranties that may range from 30 years to the lifetime of the home.

Metal Roofing

A worker installing metal roofing.

While not technically a shingle, metal sheet roofing is becoming increasingly popular. This material was originally used as roofing for barns and other utility buildings, but more recent designs use a metal-stamped pattern that resembles traditional shingles, which has spurred interest in metal as a roofing option for residential buildings. Standard aluminum or steel roofs come in larger sheets but average $115 a square.

As more custom patterns, coatings (like stone-coated steel), and materials (like copper sheeting) are used, the cost can increase up to $900 per square. Thinner metal roofs can carry a warranty that lasts up to 25 years. Heavier sheeting roofing materials can come with warranties from 25 years up to the lifetime of the home. 

Metal roofing can also offer the benefit of helping to eliminate snow build-up on a roof with its smooth surface. However, the other side of this is that dents from falling tree limbs, or damage from hail storms, can cause dings that are hard to fix. If metal roofing appeals to you, but your home has a lot of surrounding trees or frequent storms that could cause damage, consider investing in steel roofing, which will also provide you with a better warranty. 

Slate Shingle Roofs

Attic window covered in slate shingles.

There is a reason that so many historical buildings use slate roofing. Some slate roofs have been in place for over a century. Slate shingles are the heaviest option for roofing, and because of this, are not usually used to replace other types of roofing materials.

To do so would require major upgrades to the trusses, roof framing, and structure of a building. Since slate is a natural stone material — cut into uniform rectangles — it is considered a sustainable option.

It is very durable against the elements of nature and can be repurposed when replaced. It does require expert installation. The cost per square is the highest of all these options, ranging from $600 to $1,500 per square. 

While it can be easy to only consider the life of a shingle roof, there are many factors to consider. As you spend more money on your roofing choice, you will probably also see an increase in the length of your warranty. Additional factors to consider are the weather in your region and — if you are replacing an existing roof — the underlying roof structure.

Finally, research any building codes that might apply in your area, think about the roof’s appearance that you desire and choose the roof that best fits your budget and provides the best warranty. Top off your home in style!

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