Types of Roofing

typical ashpalt shingle roof

Though it may not be the most glamorous part of the house to design for, if your current roof is nearing the end of its lifespan, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the replacement options. Most people still opt for the basic asphalt shingle approach, but there are a surprising number of other materials available, each with their own redeeming qualities.

Asphalt Shingles

close up of asphalt roof

Per square foot, asphalt shingles are the cheapest option for pitched roofs and represent the most common roofing material by far. They work with any architectural style except flat roofs and are generally dark colored. However, light-colored versions are increasing popular because they reflect heat rather than absorb it, helping to keep the house cool and reduce energy consumption.


Twenty-five years is a commonly touted lifespan for an asphalt shingle roof, but the actual lifespan can vary significantly above or below this number based on the product used, the quality of the installation, and how well it is maintained (i.e., keeping leaves from accumulating on it).


One downside, other than their ubiquity, is they are not considered environmentally friendly. They are a petroleum product reinforced with fiberglass and cannot be recycled. Additionally, there is no shortage of roofing crews out there that can install one for you, but unless you have prior roofing experience, DIY is not advisable with asphalt shingles.

Roll Roofing

flat roof

Roll roofing refers to waterproof membranes used on flat or low slope roofs where shingles are not appropriate. This type of roofing is generally cheaper than asphalt shingles, but it is not appropriate for pitched roofs, so it's really in a category by itself. Many colors and textures are available, with some that are designed with patterns to mimic the appearance of shingles.


There are various types of roll roofing, but they fall into two general categories. One is comprised by high performance materials suitable for roofing a home. The other is made up of low-cost materials that are better reserved for outbuildings.


The budget-quality plain black material available in many home improvement centers is popular for use on outbuildings where aesthetics are not that important and is a feasible material for a DIY roof. This material generally lasts only five to 10 years, but it is very inexpensive and easy to install. High quality roof membranes, on the other hand, should last for many decades and are generally patched as needed for years before the entire roof is replaced.

Metal Roofing

metal roofing

Metal roofs are a rapidly expanding segment of the roofing materials market. They can cost anywhere from two to three times the amount of an asphalt shingle roof, but they generally last at least twice as long and are considered one of the most environmentally friendly options.

Use With Multiple Architectural Styles

Like asphalt shingles, they can fit with almost any architectural style (perhaps with the exception of white stucco homes), and they are often seen in a range of color choices, making the skylines of neighborhoods much more lively than the traditional dark, drab colors of the past.

Metal roof panels are a great fit for rustic environments, which was once the only place they were used, but now this look has become popular in the city, as well. Depending on the style of metal, they can also be used to achieve a sort of post-industrial aesthetic.


An experienced contractor is needed to install these for your home, but fortunately roofers specializing in this type of material are increasingly common. However, for roofing a garden shed, chicken coop or other utilitarian structure, the old-fashioned corrugated metal roof panels are a convenient option for the do-it-yourselfer.

Specialty Roofs

In addition to the three common roofing materials listed above, there are numerous other materials used with particular architectural styles or to give a special effect of some sort.

Wooden Shingles

traditional wood shingle roof

Once common as roofing and siding materials, wood shingles have fallen by the wayside as they are cost-prohibitive compared to modern asphalt shingles. That being said, there is nothing like the warm aesthetic of natural wood and the character that comes from their unique, non-manufactured look. For cabins in the woods, historic craftsman bungalows and may other traditional architectural styles, wood shingles are the only way to do justice to the genre.


Most people would never dream of putting stone on their roof, but believe it or not, slate shingles have been traditionally used in many regions, especially in the Mediterranean basin. They are the perfect fit for an old stone home, but typical modern construction is not intended for the additional weight of a slate roof.


traditional roof tiles

Terra cotta tiles are ubiquitous in southern Europe and are used in the U.S. with several architectural styles, especially the whitewashed stucco mission style homes that are popular in the Southwest. These, too, require a special reinforced roof structure, but are the only way to get the authentic look of a Spanish villa.

A Hat for Your Home

There's a saying that a home is only as good as its roof. It's like a rain suit - without a good hat, the rest of the house is at risk. If your roof is even beginning to show signs of disrepair, think of it as an opportunity to protect your most valuable asset and possibly improve the look of your home in the process.

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Types of Roofing