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Asphalt Roofing Shingles

More To Consider Than You Might Think

Asphalt roofing shingles make up the lion's share of roofing materials used in residential roofing, and for good reason. They have a number of benefits for the homeowner, including relatively easy installation and low cost compared to other roofing types.

They're versatile too. Whereas wood shake roofs generally look the same you can get asphalt shingles in a range of colors and styles.

They can even be energy efficient, helping to keep your attic and the rest of your house cooler, provided you buy the right product that's rated as an ENERGY STAR roofing shingle.

There aren't too many drawbacks to asphalt shingles but if there's one that stands out, it's what to do with them once they're used up. It's one thing to consider if you're looking for "green" roofing choices.

And while you might think that all of these products look the same you might be surprised at what's available. Manufacturers are always working to develop the latest feature or innovation that'll set them apart, and there are a few that you'll want to know about before you choose your next asphalt shingle roof.

What You Need To Know

Asphalt shingles aren't complicated but it helps to know a few things about them so you can make informed decisions about whether it's the right roofing choice.

In it's simplest form an asphalt shingle consists of a mat or backing material made from either a cellulose material or fiberglass, the latter being the most prevalent. The backing material is what supports the next layer which is the asphalt mixture. Finally, this roofing sandwich is topped off with mineral granules which help protect the asphalt. Since asphalt degrades in sunlight there needs to be something there to protect it and the granules do that job.

Different Grades, Different Levels Of Performance

There are generally three grades of asphalt shingles that you can choose from. Roofing manufacturers and contractors typically refer to them as "good", "better" and "best" products.

The lower tier includes what's known as "3-tab" shingles. These are simple shingles with 3 tabs and have been the standard bearer of asphalt shingle styling for decades. They're usually very flat without much thickness and tend to have the shortest warranty duration.

3 tab asphalt shingleExample Of Simple 3-Tab Asphalt Shingles

The "better" and "best" category includes shingles often referred to as architectural shingles, also known as dimensional shingles. They're thicker than the 3-tab variety, with some of the premium/luxury products having a thickness of three 'standard' shingles. They're offered in more shapes and their thickness gives them and the roof more visual texture. They're also usually warranted for a longer period of time than economy 3-tab shingles.

architectural shingleExample Of A Luxury Architectural Asphalt Shingle
Photo Courtesy Of CertainTeed Corporation

When you shop for asphalt roofing you'll see this tiered system of lower-priced economy products, mid-range products and the high-end premium shingles. Cost, durability and warranty longevity will grow accordingly as you move up from economy to premium shingles.

Thicker Shingles Mean Heavier Shingles

Some of the luxury style shingles are 3-plies thick and mimic the look of wood shake or slate roofs. But with that extra thickness comes a fair amount of weight, sometimes twice the weight of 3-tab shingles. That has two ramifications: one for the installer and one for your roof structure.

There are situations where a new layer of shingles can be installed over an old layer. However if you choose to go with these very heavy shingles you may need to consult with a roofing expert or a structural engineer to make sure your home's roof structure can withstand the load. This is compounded in snowbelt regions where the weight of the snow has to be factored in along with the weight of the shingles.

Just realize that these premium shingles can be significantly heavier than economy shingles. Don't assume all products are the same in this regard.

Standards & Specifications

There are standards and specifications that have been established to help ensure that asphalt roofing products meet certain quality guidelines. These specifications, such as ASTM D3462 (for fiberglass-backed shingles) and ASTM D225 (for cellulose shingles) govern things like tear strength, wind resistance, fire resistance and other characteristics.

The National Roofing Contractors Association recommends using shingles that meet these specifications. Compliance with these specs is usually shown on the product packaging.

Reroofing Over Existing Shingles

If your home has asphalt shingles but they're in need of replacement there is the option of roofing over the existing set of shingles. However before you make this decision you should be aware of some restrictions that might affect you.

Building codes may prevent you from adding a new layer of shingles over an existing layer. This is true in the U.S. in areas that are exposed to moderate or severe hail risks according to the International Residential Building Code (Reference the International Residential Code for One and Two Family Dwellings-2009; Chapter 9, Section R907.3 'Re-covering versus Replacement'). Your best bet is to check your local building codes to determine if it's acceptable to use new shingles over an existing asphalt roof covering where you live.

Other considerations to think about include costs, roof longevity and the environmental impact.

The advantages to tearing off the old roof include the ability to see your roof decking. You or your contractor will be able to see whether there are any problem areas like rotted decking and other spots that might eventually need repair. You'll also have access for the application of protective membranes that prevent ice dams from causing problems with your new roof.

The disadvantages include the impact of having to dispose of the old shingles. It also takes more time to strip them off which can lead to more labor cost if you've hired out your roofing project.

Roof Product Warranties - Real Value Or Marketing Tactic?

One of the most prominent attributes you'll be presented with when you shop for an asphalt roof is the product's warranty. In many cases, particularly with thicker, more robust premium shingles, the manufacturer offers a limited lifetime warranty.

Don't confuse the warranty with how long your shingled roof will last. The two aren't necessarily one in the same.

This isn't to say that the manufacturers of roofing materials are deliberately trying to be deceptive. It's just that the warranty has become a pronounced feature of the manufacturers' marketing effort, which tends to blur the distinction between what a warranty really means and how it relates (or doesn't) to how long your roof will last.

To learn more about this, read this section of the roofing materials article. (When you're finished reading that article just click your browser's "back" button to get back to this article). It points out the details about what a roofing warranty really covers and what you should know so that you can move forward with clear expectations about your roofing choice.

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Pros, Cons & A Few Other Considerations

Asphalt roofing has a proven track record which is why it's one of the most widely used, if not one of the most popular types of roofing materials available. But like any product there are some down-sides and points to consider.

The Pros. . .

  • They Offer Good Value For The Investment
    One of the reasons asphalt shingles are so popular and widespread is that they offer good value for the money. There is a range of products available for any budget, small or large, and a corresponding range of performance levels and aesthetic choices. They're not a lifetime roof by any means but then again you're not paying for a lifetime roof.
  • Class A Fire Rating
    Fiberglass-backed shingles have a Class A fire rating (the highest available) which is advantageous particularly in fire-prone areas (areas susceptible to wildfires and brush fires).
  • Relatively Easy To Install
    This kind of roof is pretty easy to install when you consider other available roofing materials. That means you can install the roof yourself, provided you're handy, can follow the manufacturer's directions and take the proper safety precautions. It's your time but you end up saving what you'd pay to a contractor to do the same.

    Easy installation (along with asphalt roofing's prevalence) also brings with it a wider pool of available roofing contractors. Installation costs are generally lower because it's an easy roof to install, compared to other more complex or time-consuming roofing materials.

  • Potentially Longer Life Expectancy With "Better" Shingles
    The thicker varieties offered in the "better" and "best" shingles (sometimes referred to as the luxury or premium products) potentially have longer lives due to the fact that they're just a more robust piece of material. They'll cost more but if you want a nice looking roof and don't want to have to replace it for a long time, the better grades of shingles may offer advantages.
  • Asphalt Provides A 'Walkable' Surface
    These kinds of shingles provide a fairly resilient surface for any activity that has to occur on your roof like installing vents or cleaning gutters. In other words, it's more easily walked on then some other roof types like tile where a wrongly-placed step means a cracked tile.

    Now keep in mind that the granules that protect the asphalt can dislodge and come off from abrasion so you don't want to make walking on your roof a daily occurrence. But for those times when you do have to work on your roof, asphalt shingles are usually up to the task.

. . . and the Cons . . .

  • Asphalt Shingles Degrade Over Time
    The asphalt material in these shingles degrades over time with exposure to sunlight. Abrasion by foot traffic (walking on your roof to clean gutters for instance) or roof rakes to clean off snow removes the granules which helps protect the asphalt layer. Better, more robust shingles might last longer than cheaper, thinner varieties but in the end, they'll have to be replaced sooner or later.
  • Thinner Shingles Are More Prone To Hail Damage
    Cheaper shingles won't stand up to hail the way that thicker more robust shingles or other types of roofing might. Shingles with a class 4 impact rating do a good job against cracking whereas products not designed to this standard pose a greater risk of cracking from hail impact. Cracked shingles can ultimately lead to a leaking roof.

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Innovations & Features To Be Aware Of

If there's a prevalent misconception about asphalt shingles it would probably be that they all look the same, save for perhaps a variation in color here and there. But in reality, there's more to them than meets they eye, at least the non-discerning eye.

Research a few products and you'll find some features among the various brands that are worth noting and by understanding what they are you'll be able to make more informed decisions.

  • Premium Shingles That Mimic Other Types Of Roofing
    It's been noted before but among the various grades of shingles you can buy, one of the choices includes premium designer shingles. These products are aimed at providing a resemblance to other forms of high-definition roofing like wood and slate yet with the advantages inherent in asphalt products.

    architectural asphalt shingleCertainTeed Presidential Shake™
    Photo Courtesy Of CertainTeed Corporation

    Examples include CertainTeed's GrandManor™, Centennial Slate™ and Presidential Shake™ as well as GAF's Grand Canyon™ and Camelot® lines to name a few. They'll cost more than basic shingles and they're heavier but they can also provide a much more distinctive and textured look.

  • Algae-Resistant Shingles
    If you've ever seen an asphalt shingle roof with dark streaks you've probably witnessed algae deposits. In wet and humid climates algae forms on roofing shingles manifesting itself in those dark streaks. Some asphalt shingle products contain additives that help prevent this from happening. The granules on top of the shingle are coated with copper or zinc which leaches out over time to prevent algae growth. You can buy shingles with or without this protection depending on the particular product you choose.
  • Cool (..as in Energy Efficient) Roofing

    asphalt roofing

    Some asphalt shingles qualify as 'cool roofing' which helps keep your home cooler and ultimately more efficient than it would be otherwise.

    Cool shingles are generally lighter in color but it doesn't mean you have to have a white roof. There are energy efficient products in some light brown and tan colors. You can learn more about this type of roofing at the Energy Efficient Roofing page.

  • Impact Resistant Shingles
    The biggest threat to an asphalt shingle beyond long term exposure to the sun is impact, mainly from hailstones. Shingles are made with varying degrees of resistance to cracking from impact. Underwriters Laboratory (UL) standard UL 2218 governs the criteria for resistance to impact and shingles are rated on a scale from 1 to 4 with 4

    hail and roofing

    being the most impact-resistant.

    If you live in a hail-prone area buying shingles with a class 4 impact rating will provide additional protection against cracking and failure of the shingle that can lead to leaks in the roof. In fact you might even qualify for a home insurance discount by using these types of shingles.

    For example, the Texas Department of Insurance provides discounts for hail-resistant roofing products, with the highest premium credit offered for Class 4 roofing. This link provides information from State Farm Insurance about the different U.S. states where they offer this type of program. Check with your own insurance carrier to determine if they provide this type of premium credit.

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Can Asphalt Shingles Be Recycled?

Since asphalt shingles are one of the most prevalent types of roofing materials it should be no surprise that they're also a large contributor to landfills once their useful life is over.

The up-side of this story is that there are efforts afoot to recycle used shingles. The most predominant use is in asphalt hot-mix for roadways and road repair. However there are still barriers that hinder wide-scale adoption ranging from the contaminants with removed shingles (like nails, bits of wood, etc.) to municipal policies that restrict the type or condition of products that can be used for these purposes.

Regardless of these barriers there are still asphalt shingle recycling opportunities; however you just might be limited based on where you live and the availability of facilities that accept shingles.

asphalt shingles

If you're doing your own asphalt roofing job and want to recycle your old shingles you can investigate whether there are any shingle recycling facilities in your area or waste companies that accept shingles for recycling (see the information below to locate these kinds of facilities). If you don't have any luck finding a recycler, your limited to having the shingles hauled to the landfill.

If you're going to have a new asphalt roof installed by professionals you can shop for a roofing firm that offers shingle recycling. You won't find this with every roofer but there are companies that do recycle and advertise this fact. Check the websites of various roofers in your local area to see if any of them offer shingle recycling. Or, simply ask the question as you search for a roofing contractor.

You can donate unused (surplus) shingles to local charities that support building needs or the Habitat For Humanity Restore if there's one in your area. The Habitat Restores accept gently used and unused building materials to re-sell to the general public. The proceeds go toward Habitat's community building efforts.

Here are several resources for finding shingle recyclers as well as more information about apshalt roofing shingle recycling:

(Note - these links below will open up in a new browser window)

ShingleRecycling.org - This is an online resource for information about shingle recycling and includes a locator for asphalt shingle recycling facilities.

Construction Materials Recycling Association (CMRA) - The CMRA is an organization that promotes the recycling of construction materials. This site also has a search function to find recyclers by U.S. state and Canadian province. Keep in mind that this includes all construction materials and not necessarily or exclusively asphalt shingles. You can check out the various facilities to determine if they accept asphalt shingles.

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How To Choose Among The Different Brands

Asphalt shingles are made by a number of different manufacturers, some more well-known than others, so from a choice perspective it's a buyer's market.

For the most part all laminated composition shingles have the same type of construction and they're made from similar materials. The differences among the various brands lie with specific features that are incorporated into the design.

Some differentiating features include extra thickness and/or shaping to make the shingle look like a thicker wood shake. Others include algae protection or more color options and cool roofing technologies.

Here are the major players in the asphalt roofing game in alphabetical order:

CertainTeed
GAF
IKO
Malarkey Roofing Products
Owens Corning
PABCO Roofing Products
Sherriff-Goslin Co.
TAMKO

Choosing the right product starts with determining what expectations you have for your new roof and how long you plan to stay in the home.

If you have an existing home and it needs a new roof but you plan to sell it in the next couple of years you might make a different decision than if you're building a new home that you'll be staying in for some time.

Then it's a matter of blending your budget with your expectations on roof life. Obviously we all want our roofs to last forever but that won't happen so understand that for the most part, you get what you pay for. All things being equal a more robust shingle will typically cost more and most often outlast a basic economy shingle.

Once these steps are complete it's really a matter of browsing the products offered by the various manufacturers to see what's offered and find the colors and textures that appeal to you. The manufacturers' websites are a good place to view the various products.

Some manufacturers and roofing companies can/will provide the address of homes that use a particular roofing product so you can drive out to see how it looks on the home. If you're installing the roof yourself you can simply go out and buy the specific product you want from your local supplier.

If you're having your roof put on by a roofing company you can find out which products they supply from their sales material and/or website. If they don't supply a particular brand of shingles that you want ask them what they offer that's equivalent. There's enough "overlap" among the various brands whereby you should be able to find a comparable product.

One final note: don't choose the roofing company/contractor based on the brands they do or don't carry. If you find a company you're very comfortable with you're better off working with them to find a shingle brand that meets your needs, even if it's not the specific product you had your heart set on.

In many cases if you're having your roof installed by someone else they'll offer a range of asphalt roofing shingle brands that will be satisfactory to do the job.

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Find A Local Roofer Along With Free Roofing Estimates

If you'd like help finding qualified roofers in your local area who can provide you with a free price estimate for your roofing project use the contact form below. After you fill out and submit the form you'll be contacted at your convenience by local roofing sources. There's no obligation and it's an easy way to get the ball rolling on getting a new roof installed.

Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Cool Roofing - Roofing can actually be energy efficient -- if you choose the right materials. Learn how this kind of roof can save you money on your utility bills.

Imitation Slate Roofing - Real slate roofing is durable but it's also expensive. Find out what alternatives are out there that mimic the look of slate but give you some cost and labor benefits as well.



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