What Are Roof Shingles? | Materials, Cost, & Types

By Dan Simms

What is a Roof Shingle?

A roof shingle is a unit of a roof covering that consists of overlapping elements that combine to make a roof. Typically, a shingle is flat and rectangular in shape, and it is laid in rows starting from the bottom edge of the roof and progressing up towards the peak of the roof. Shingles can be made out of many materials, such as asphalt, ceramic, slate, cedar, and even solar glass.

What Do Roof Shingles Do?

Roof shingles protect your home from the elements and extreme weather conditions. Roof shingles are overlapped strategically to channel water off the roof and keep it away from the underlayment and other building materials below them. Roof shingles also help to insulate your home, helping to maintain the desired indoor temperature. Your roof can also add to the curb appeal of your home.

Roof Shingles Pros and Cons

A shingle roof is a popular and affordable way to protect your house and increase curb appeal. There are a variety of shingle types that you can choose from, all of which range wildly in price. Shingle roofs are durable and last for at least a decade or longer, depending on the material, and some can last for far longer.

Some roof shingles, such as asphalt shingles, can be recycled. Roof shingles also tend to be easy to install and can be a DIY home improvement project, if done safely and properly by responsible homeowners.

The downside to shingle roofs is that some of the materials available — like asphalt shingle roofs — aren’t as durable as metal roofing or other styles, so they cost more over the long term because of repair and replacement costs when you need a new roof.

Certain materials can be heavy as well and can weigh down the roof. In some cases, this can cause structural issues with your home, although this typically only occurs if there are pre-existing problems.

Shingle roofing is also more vulnerable to heat damage than other styles, and strong winds can tear and uplift shingles more easily than some other materials.

5 Key Things to Know About Roof Shingles

Below are a few important things to understand about roof shingles before committing to this style of roof.

There Are Many Different Shingle Materials and Types to Choose from

Shingles can be made of a variety of materials, including asphalt, wood, slate, and glass solar panels. Within these types of materials, there are more options to choose from. For example, asphalt shingles come in three options — 3-tab shingles, dimensional shingles (also called architectural shingles or laminate shingles), and luxury shingles — and glass solar panels come in different shapes and efficiencies.

Asphalt Shingles are The Most Common Type

Asphalt shingles are the most popular choice for roofing materials and are often considered the best roofing option because of their low upfront cost and easy installation. Asphalt shingles are also popular because they are relatively durable, usually lasting around 20 years before needing to be replaced. Some asphalt shingles can last up to 50 years on average, although longer-lasting options are typically more expensive.

Shingles are Much Cheaper than Other Roofing Materials

Replacing a roof with shingles is an economical and practical choice because shingles are less expensive than other roofing materials. Other roofing styles, such as metal roofs, have a much higher installation cost, sometimes two to three times the cost. Shingles are a great investment for improving the appearance, energy efficiency, and value of your home, especially if you are budgeting your home improvements.

Shingles are Durable yet Lightweight

Shingles do relatively well in extreme climates and weather conditions and are durable to regular wear and tear. Certain materials, especially asphalt shingles, are lightweight and still provide excellent household protection and longevity.

Roof Shingles Require Maintenance to Maximize Longevity

In order to prolong your roof’s lifespan, make sure to schedule routine inspections. Regularly checking and maintaining a shingle roof will help you catch problems before they become severe, also leading to lower roof repair costs. You should also plan to repair your roof when you notice issues.

Keep an eye out for obvious damage, curling, cracking, an abundance of loose roof granules, or discolored shingles.

How Much Does Shingling a Roof Cost?

The cost of shingling a roof depends on the material you choose. Asphalt roof shingles are the cheapest option and are just $1 to $2 per square foot, on average. The next cheapest option is metal shingles, coming in at $1.80 to $2.50 per square foot, although this material can reach up to around $6 for higher-quality metal.

Wood shingles usually come in between $2 to $4.50 per square foot. There are more expensive options, such as slate shingles, which are  $10 to $20 per square foot for soft slate, or $20 to $30 per square foot for hard slate. You can also choose solar glass roof shingles, which typically fall between $25 and $50 per square foot.

Most Common Types of Roof Shingles

The most common roof shingles are asphalt shingles. These shingles are more popular than other materials because of their low cost, sleek appearance, relative durability, and longevity. They also come in a variety of colors and are fire resistant. There are other types of roofing shingles but they tend to be more expensive to install, such as wooden cedar shake shingles or slate shingles.

Compare Shingles to Other Roofs

Shingles are a great choice for homes with sloped roof systems; homes or buildings with flat roofs may be best suited for rubber roofing, so you’ll have to decide which is right for you and your home.

Another type of roof is rolled roofing which is popular in the roofing industry because of its easy installation, but it only lasts 5 to 10 years and is not as high quality as shingle roof options. Other examples of roofing include green roofs, which are roofs made of vegetation or native wildflowers, solar roofs constructed of solar panels, and tile roofing made of clay tiles.

How to Install Roof Shingles

In most cases, you should take care to hire a reputable roofer to ensure proper installation and longevity of your roof shingles, and to maintain your roof warranty. Hiring an inexperienced or subpar contractor can delay your home improvement timeline or even cause lasting damage to your home.

However, some roof shingles, especially asphalt shingles, can be installed as a DIY roof project. You can install roof shingles as long as you are sure to take proper safety measures, utilize safety gear, and follow the shingle manufacturer’s instructions. In most cases, shingle installation involves laying shingles starting at the edge of your roof and nailing down each shingle to the roof deck. You’ll then overlap upper shingles over lower ones up to the roof ridge. Make sure to follow the product directions for more detailed instructions.

Key Takeaways

Roof shingles are an important part of your home — they channel water off the roof, provide insulation, and can add to your home’s curb appeal. Shingles are a popular option for roofing because of their general durability, ease of installation, low cost, and longevity.

  • The most popular type of roof shingles is asphalt shingles, although other types of shingles include wood, metal, slate, and solar glass. The price range of shingles depends on the material of the shingles, and it can range from around $1 up to about $50 per square foot.. Although it is recommended to have roof shingles installed by a professional roofing contractor to ensure proper installation and avoid personal injury, roof shingles can be installed as a DIY project.

Frequently Asked Questions: Roof Shingles

What are shingles made of?

Shingles can be made of a variety of materials, the most popular of which is asphalt. Other types of shingles include wood shake shingles, like cedar, and metal shingles, including aluminum, copper, or steel. You can also opt for a slate roof made of slate tiles or a solar roof made of solar glass panels.

Are roof tiles and shingles the same?

Roof tiles and roof shingles are not the same thing. Roof tiles are made of different materials, including ceramic, clay, concrete, and terracotta. Although roof tiles have been in use for centuries, roof shingles have risen to popularity because of their lightweight materials, ease of installation, and low cost. Roof tiles tend to be more expensive than roof shingles, although they are more durable and long-lasting.

How many roof shingles are in a square foot?

The number of roof shingles per square foot depends on the type of shingles that you choose. Shingles are packaged in what is called a bundle, and depending on the shingle, a bundle can have between 15 to 29 shingles. One bundle usually covers 33 square feet. Therefore, between 1 and 2 shingles typically cover a square foot.

Where do roof shingles come from?

Roof shingles come from a variety of sources, depending on the material. Wood shingles, for example, are sawed from red cedar or pine trees. Asphalt shingles have a base of fiberglass or organic felt and are manufactured with asphalt.

House Method’s Roofing Methodology

Arranging for a home repair of this scale is going to be a fairly involved project. If you haven’t conducted renovations like this – either via a contractor or on your own – then it can be a bit overwhelming. At House Method, we pride ourselves on being able to take all of the guesswork out of the equation for you.

We’ve thoroughly evaluated each roofing type to make your selection process easier. Through exhaustive research into hundreds of different roofing providers throughout the United States and analyses of thousands of individual homeowner experiences, we’ve broken our roof rating system down into the following categories.

All roofs receive an aggregate rating between (0.0) and (1.0). This rating is comprised of six key evaluation criteria, which we’ve outlined below. The rating between (0.0) and (1.0) will correspond to a secondary rating out of five stars, which is displayed more visibly in our articles across this category.

  • Durability (.40): With roofs being constantly exposed to the elements, different materials’ relative durability is a key metric that must be considered. If you’re planning on conducting such an extensive upgrade to your home, then your roof’s expected lifespan should be among your primary concerns. We’ve weighed the relative effectiveness of all roofing materials, from asphalt shingles to corrugated metal roofing from different manufacturers in order to determine the most long-lasting options.
  • Cost (.25):The nationwide average cost for replacing a 1,500-square-foot roof falls between $6,500 and $16,000. Across the board, you should expect to pay between $4 and $11 per square foot of roofing material. This range will account for your location, material choice and availability, ease of access to and installation of your roof, and far more.
  • Contractor Availability (.13): Different roofing contractors in different locales will have varied service offerings. For example, not all roofers are equipped with the requisite skillset and knowledge to install metal roofing. Depending on the kind of roof you want to have installed, your contractor options may be somewhat limited.
  • Warranty Offerings (.12): Aside from workmanship warranties, many roofing manufacturers will offer warranties for the panels themselves. Structural failure should be covered by any manufacturing firm for at least 10 years after the installation has been completed, at the panel or shingle’s full value. We grade each roofing type by standard warranty offerings to ensure that you’re covered in this case.
  • Ease of Future Maintenance and Upgrades (.05): You should always have contingency plans after any home upgrade. Maintenance is inevitable, no matter the material you use. Whether you’re installing solar panels on a functional existing roof, or are simply replacing a defective panel or shingle, certain materials will be easier to work with than others. Typically, less durable materials will score higher in this category due to their better pliability and workability.
  • Customization Options (.05): Any exterior and visible home upgrade is going to have an aesthetic element, aside from functionality. A roof replacement should be an upgrade to the curb appeal of your home. Different types of roofing materials will have varying numbers of style and color options, which factor into our rating.

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