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What is the Longest Lasting Roofing Material?

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Installing a roof can be a big investment, in the tens of thousands of dollars. So, it makes sense that you want to be sure your investment will last. But, like many large purchases in life, you get what you pay for. You can’t expect the cheapest roof to last the longest, and if you want a really long-lasting roof, you should expect to pay. To help you better understand the costs and benefits of different roofing materials, TrustDALE has assembled this handy guide.

What is the Longest Lasting Roofing Material [infographic]

What are the most common roofing materials?

Roofing materials and their relative popularity change over time. There are classics like clay tile, slate, and wood that have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years. Then there are relative newcomers like asphalt, various metals, and synthetic materials.

Whichever roofing material you choose, you have to strike the right balance between cost, looks, and longevity. The right balance will be different for every homeowner, so we can’t necessarily choose a single “best” roofing material. What we can do is look objectively at cost and longevity to help you make an informed choice.

Here is our rundown of some common roofing materials:

1. Asphalt Shingle

Asphalt is the most common residential roofing material in the United States. But, the lifespan of asphalt shingle covers a very wide range. Some asphalt roofs need to be replaced after just 10 years. Others can last up to 50 years.

So what’s the difference?

The most significant factor in the longevity of an asphalt roof if the quality of the materials used. While asphalt roofing is a general category, there are many grades within that category. The most basic asphalt shingles, usually cheaper brands of three-tab roofing shingle, can require replacement in as little as 10 years. But if you purchase a high-end brand, you could get up to 50 years out of your asphalt shingle roof.

Another difference in asphalt roofs comes from the fact that there are really two categories of asphalt roofing material.

The first type, which is by far the most common residential roofing material in America, is called three-tab asphalt shingle. It is made of standardized strips of material, each with slits to create the appearance of three shingles. Three-tab shingle is typically flat and follows a regular pattern. It can come in a variety of colors and textures. But, any three-tab roof will have a completely  regular pattern of shingles with very little dimensional depth.

The other type of asphalt shingle is dimensional or architectural asphalt shingle. Architectural shingle is built up to have some depth, as opposed to the flat three-tab style. It is also manufactured to have shingles of varying size and shape. This creates a more natural look. The thicker material also means that architectural shingle roofs usually last significantly longer than three-tab roofs. This is the type of asphalt roof that can push into the 50-year range, though 50 years can be a stretch even for architectural shingle.

The other factors in the lifespan of asphalt shingles are weather and maintenance. In an environment that has extreme weather, whether it is heat, cold, hail, or wind, an asphalt roof will sustain more damage and need more regular repairs. Maintaining a shingle roof by keeping it clean and clear of debris and replacing shingles as required will also extend its lifespan.

The main advantage of asphalt shingle is its price. Three-tab asphalt shingle is the cheapest type of residential roofing. And if you treat it well, you can get a pretty good return on your investment.

2. Wood Shingles

Wood shingles have been around for a long time, but should not be confused with the more historic wood shake. Wood shake is split from a log, so it is thicker and less regularly shaped than wood shingle. Wood shingle, on the other hand, is sawed on both sides, making it thinner and more standardized.

Wood is an organic material, so it is susceptible to rot. The most important thing you can do to maintain your wood shingle roof is to keep it clean. Remove moss as soon as you notice it. Keep the roof clear of organic debris. Also, make sure that your attic is well ventilated to prevent heat and moisture buildup. Finally, replace cracked or broken shingles immediately.

A wood shingle roof is more than just a financial investment. To keep it healthy you will need to invest some time in maintaining it properly. When well-maintained, a wood shingle roof can last 25 years. The main advantage of a wood shingle roof is its appearance. Many homeowners favor the look of natural wood shingle over the more manufactured look of asphalt.

3. Standing Seam Metal

There is a wide array of metal roofing styles, but by far the most common for residential use is standing seam. You’ve probably seen it before. It is a metal roof with raised seams that extend from the ridge to the edge of the roof. Raising the seams up from the roof makes them less susceptible to water damage and leaking. The solid piece of material stretching from ridge to edge also gives water a chance to run down the roof without encountering any seams or fasteners that could potentially leak.

A standing seam metal roof can last 30 to 50 years and is resistant to many common types of roof damage. It won’t grow mold or moss, and there are no individual shingles to crack or curl. The most significant thing you can do the extend the life of your standing seam metal roof is to regularly inspect the seams for any looseness or problems with the seal. Also be on the lookout for dents that could be caused by hail or falling debris, especially after a storm. A metal roof can be coated and re-coated with sealant or special paints to extend its lifespan.

4. Wood Shake

Unlike wood shingles, wood shake is split directly from the log, not sawed. (There are some modern shakes that are sawed, but they still maintain the shape of the traditional split shakes.) Since wood shake is much thicker than wood shingle, it has the potential last longer.

A well-maintained wood shake roof can last 30 to 40 years. But the “well-maintained” part is crucial. Because it is an organic material, wood shake needs regular care to live out its full potential lifespan. The roof needs to be kept clean of debris and moss should be removed immediately. The biggest threat to a wood shake roof is rot. Like a wood shingle roof, proper ventilation in the attic will also extend the life of a wood shake roof.

Wood shake is one of the more expensive roofing materials. While it may not last as long as some comparably priced materials, its main benefit is its classic look. For historic homes, wood shake may be the most historically accurate and traditional roofing material. If you replace the wood shake on these homes with another material, you will almost certainly reduce the value of the property.

5. Clay Tile

Clay tile is not for everyone. Traditional terracotta tile, such as you might see on a Spanish mission, has been around for a very long time. It can last 100 years or more in the right conditions. In fact, if you visit the American Southwest, you can visit missions with terracotta roofs that are still functioning centuries after they were installed. And if you travel to Mediterranean areas around Italy and Greece, you may find terracotta roofs that have been around for even longer.

The biggest threat to a terracotta or clay tile roof is cracked tiles. Replacing individual tiles when they crack will extend the life of the roof almost indefinitely. Clay tile is also subject to efflorescence, the migration of salts to the surface of the tile. When this happens, you can use a dry towel to gently buff off the salt deposit. However, it may be best to hire professionals for any work that involves getting up on a tile roof, since any foot traffic runs the risk of cracking tiles.

6. Slate

Slate is a classic roofing material typical of the American Northeast. It has been used for centuries in Europe, and many slate roofs in Europe are still in fine condition hundreds of years after they were built. While it is not cheap to install, a slate roof can last your lifetime and more, easily exceeding 100 years.

Slate is a type of stone, so it is impervious to rot and most types of weathering. The most significant factor in maintaining a slate roof is just repairing any broken shingles before water can get underneath. When it comes to water control, flashing is also very important. Because slate is so tough, it can outlast several generations of flashing. It is common for slate roofs to have copper flashing. Copper is an expensive material for flashing, but it is historically accurate and has a classic look to go with the slate. When copper flashing has turned black, it is ready to be replaced.

When you install a slate roof, you are basically covering your home in a thick layer of stone. While this is an incredibly durable option, it is also very heavy. If your home was not built for a slate roof, you will likely have to add extra trusses to support the weight of the roof.

Installation matters a lot.

When it comes to getting the full lifespan out of your roof, installation can make a big difference. Any type of material can fall apart well before its expected replacement date if there were problems with the installation. So if you are ready for a new roof, don’t just go with any old roofer. Most homeowners don’t know much about roofing and rarely see their roofs up close. Unfortunately, this makes room for a lot of scammers, and TrustDALE has encountered plenty of them.

If you want to be sure you are getting a reliable roofer at a competitive price, check the list of TrustDALE certified roofers. You can find it here. All of our certified roofers have undergone Dale’s intensive 7-Point Investigative Review and agreed to Dale’s Make-it-Right Guarantee. So when it’s time for a new roof, stick with TrustDALE.com to be sure you only get the best.