Roofing Materials Choices

Most homes in the United States feature a pitched roof as opposed to a flat roof and many types of materials exist to cover them. The most-used type of roofing materials consist of composition and dimensional shingles, wood (cedar, usually), clay and concrete tiles, metal, and slate.

Composition and Dimensional Shingles

The most utilized roofing material, composition shingles are created from an organic or fiberglass base inundated with asphalt with a layer of minerals applied to the top side to guard against weathering.

Fiberglass-based shingles exhibit more flexibility and strength than organically based shingles. Dimensional shingles, akin to composition shingles, are thicker and used more often for custom-built homes.

Dimensional shingles last longer than composition shingles, often up to 40 years (composition roofs last from 20 to 30 years). Composition and dimensional shingles offer the best roof for the money, which is the major reason they are the most-purchased.

Wood (Cedar)

Cedar shakes give up-to-date- performance along with a traditional appeal, which makes them a popular selection for historic houses or for new houses where owners place a great deal of value on appearances. Besides being quite striking visually, this type of roofing is also considered “environmentally friendly.”

Cedar shake roofing lasts about 30 years when quality products are utilized, but be careful: Low-quality materials drop the lifespan to as low as five years. Cedar is fairly costly as a roofing material and even if your community doesn’t require it as an ordinance, you should only use shakes that have been treated with a fire retardant chemical.

Clay and Concrete Tile

Clay tiles have typically been utilized as roofing on houses with a distinct Spanish or Mediterranean flavor, but nowadays, you can get clay tiles in other patterns that beautifully accentuate traditionally designed homes. Although clay is very durable (lasting, at minimum, 40 to 50 years) under normal conditions, it can also shatter during hailstorms.

The biggest disadvantage to clay (besides its cost) is the need for the structural capacity to hold it because of its very heavy weight. One alternative to the cost and breakage of clay is concrete tiles, which come in an even larger assortment of styles and colors, some of them made to emulate clay, slate, even cedar shakes! Although tougher than clay, concrete tiles do weigh in as one of the heaviest materials with which to roof a house so structural support issues must be addressed in this case, too.


Metal roofing does away with one of the concerns of cement and/or clay. It is not nearly so heavy and can therefore be placed on almost any house.

Available in sheets or as shingles, metal roofing comes in a huge variety of colors and styles (yes, also emulating clay, slate, and even wood) and is offered in steel, aluminum, or copper. Metal roofs are very costly, however; but to offset this detractor, they last longer than almost any other type of roof.


Slate is another material used for roofing that features a gorgeous aesthetic appeal but is very heavy and rather delicate. Buying slate can be tricky, as well. The highest quality comes from Vermont, but there are companies in China that sell it. When purchasing, make sure that if the slate you are buying is coming from China, that it is guaranteed for quality.

Synthetic slate can be obtained, which is lighter in weight and not as fragile, but is not recommended for regions that experience lots of freezing and thawing. The biggest advantage (besides its inimitable beauty) found in slate is its imperviousness to fire.