Should I Choose a Metal, Shingle, or Tile Roof? Buying Guides

Should I Choose a Metal, Shingle, or Tile Roof?


Deciding on a roofing material can be tough. Should I choose a metal, shingle, or tile roof? is a question we hear quite often. Each has its place. Aside from the obvious issues of deciding on color, the vast variety of building materials sometimes makes picking the right solution difficult. Nearly everyone is familiar with composite shingles, but more and more homeowners are turning to metal (steel) roofs, tile, and even cedar to top off their structural design. Because of the many choices and factors involved in deciding on a roofing material, we decided to put together a brief overview of the most common choices available to consumers and outline some of the pros and cons of each.

Installing a new roof is no small task and, depending upon the amount of time you plan to stay in the home, additional up-front expenditures may actually result in long-term savings.

Composite Shingle Roofs

The composite shingle is the most common residential roofing material used in the United States. There are good reasons for that. Shingles are fairly fire-resistant, are inexpensive to purchase and install, and can be had in a variety of designs and colors. Composite shingles are most commonly referred to in terms of being either “3-tab” or “architectural”. 3-tab shingles are your most basic variety and are typically warranted for 20-25 years. They are actually more difficult to install than architectural shingles because they need to adhere to a strict pattern in order to look correct on the roof. We have seen many 3-tab shingle roofs that “drift” one way or the other and you can typically spot the amateur or DIY jobs.

Architectural shingles are much more flexible in that they provide an almost random pattern which gives the roof additional depth. Architectural shingles are also thicker and provide a larger surface that has a higher wind tolerance than the 3-tab shingles (each of which can come apart in 3 pieces under high winds). Architectural shingles come with a longer warranty, typically 30 years or more, and cost anywhere from 25% to 100% more than their 3-tab counterparts. Some architectural shingles come with a limited lifetime warranty and some deliver an incredibly high-end look that resembles cedar shake roofs.

Metal Roofing

Metal roofing used to simply mean a standing seam design that took the place of shingles or other roofing materials in modern homes or commercial buildings. Now, a metal roof can be aluminum, steel or copper and the designs are nearly endless. Steel, aluminum, or copper are now used for most metal roofing applications and there are pros and cons to each. For steel, a durable finish (typically zinc-based with a finish sealer coat) is applied by the manufacturer to protect it from corroding. This type of metal roof is typically used for commercial buildings, but has since infiltrated the home market as a 50-year durable roofing material that can be coated with acrylic to provide nearly any color. In general terms, steel comes in at the lowest cost, with aluminum costing a bit more and copper and more exotic metals being priced into the realm of premium roofing materials. Expect this rule of thumb to break down when you factor in metal products which mimic shake or slate roofs.

Steel is also the heaviest product of the bunch, followed by copper. Aluminum is significantly less weight and several aluminum roof profiles offer foam backing to deliver extra support where needed. While manufacturers successfully implement metallic coatings, finishes and aggregates to protect steel roofing materials from moisture, aluminum and copper simply do not rust, even over a long period of time. That’s not to say that they don’t turn color or form colored skins on exposed areas, but they will not develop structural damage as a result of corrosion. Because of this, Aluminum is the preferred metal for any coastal environment due to its corrosion resistance.

One of the downsides to metal roofing is the initial cost. When you factor everything in, you are paying as much for metal as you would for a premium composite shingle. Another negative is the potential for noise. While some like the sound of rain on a metal roof, if there isn’t an adequate sound-deadening layer, some may find it to be a distraction. Aluminum and copper roofs, which are much softer than steel, are also subject to denting in hail storms and metal roofs may be difficult to walk on depending upon how it was installed.

Tile Roofs

Tile roofing is typically made of clay tile, though it is possible to replicate this look with products manufactured from concrete, metal, and synthetic materials. The advantages of clay tile are numerous. For one, they look gorgeous and are designed to last nearly forever when properly installed. Tile is non-combustible, rot-proof, and can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. One of the best advantages of tile is that it can be repaired one tile at a time if needed, though matching the exact color can be tough for homeowners. Tile is impervious to sea salt and should have little to no maintenance requirements under normal usage (now if you’re going to attach it to the bottom of, say, a space shuttle you may have some issues).

Clay tiles are generally more expansive than concrete knockoff tiles, but they typically offer more durability and better color retention over the long-haul. Clay is not subject to discoloration from weathering while concrete is subject to fading over time. Clay has been around a long, long time and is built to last… just ask any archeologist. Concrete, on the other hand is a very durable product, but arguably not quite as long-lasting as clay tile. Estimates for concrete tiles would range from 30 to 50 years while clay is theoretically good for over a hundred years. If you’re like me, you’re thinking that this last bit doesn’t really matter all that much unless scientists figure out a way to make us live long enough to appreciate 100+ years of resiliency.

The last product to include under this category would be products that take pressure formed aluminum-zinc alloy coated steel and cover it with an acrylic bonded stone chip finish. The stone coating resists fading and UV penetration and the result is a simulated tile product that is lightweight and durable (more impact-resistant than concrete or tile – you can walk on it).

Answering the “Should I choose a metal, shingle, or tile roof?” Question

Comparing the three materials is almost impossible, simply because they are so different. While cost is certainly a differentiating factor, we find that there are custom products in each category that ensure you can almost always find a custom product or manufacturer whose pricing bucks the general trends. In this way there are shingle products that cost more than some metal products and metal products that cost more than tile products and so on.

There are certainly other roofing materials, including stone, slate and various types of wood, but covering them all would turn this helpful article into an encyclopedia of info. We’d rather just touch upon the more helpful aspects of the three most common roofing materials. Check your local building codes and choose your roofing material wisely. If you plan to stay in your home a long time, then the roof is certainly not a place you want to skimp. Roofing a house is something you as a homeowner will prefer to do once. If all goes well, hopefully the job will outlast your time in the home.

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