Asphalt Roof Shingles – The Pros and Cons
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.
Asphalt shingles 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
And while you might think that all asphalt roofing shingles 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 Should Know About Asphalt Shingles
Asphalt roofing 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 of asphalt roofing shingles 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
Example 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.
Example Of A Luxury Architectural Asphalt Shingle
Photo Courtesy Of CertainTeed Corporation
When you shop for asphalt shingles 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 styles of asphalt roofing 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 asphalt 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
Just realize that these premium shingles can be significantly heavier
than economy shingles. Don’t assume all asphalt roofing shingles are
the same in this regard.
There Are Standards & Specifications For Asphalt Roofing Shingles
There are standards and specifications that have been established to
help ensure that asphalt roofing shingles 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
The National Roofing Contractors Association recommends using asphalt
roofing shingles that meet these specifications. Compliance with these
specs is usually shown on the product packaging.
Reroofing Over Existing Asphalt 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 asphalt
roofing 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 asphalt shingles over an existing
asphalt roof covering where you live.
Other considerations to think about regarding putting an asphalt roof
over an existing roof involve costs, roof longevity and the
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
asphalt roofing shingles. It also takes more time to strip off the old
shingles which can lead to more labor cost if you’ve hired out your
Asphalt Roofing Warranties – Real Value Or Marketing Tactic?
When you shop or research asphalt roofing shingles one of the most
prominent attributes you’ll be presented with 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.
Pros, Cons & A Few Other Considerations
Asphalt roofing shingles have a proven track record which is why
they’re one of the most 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 asphalt roofing 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
Asphalt shingles are pretty easy to install when you consider other
roofing types that are available. That means that a homeowner can
install the roof themself (provided they’re handy and can follow
manufacturer directions), saving money on the labor cost that a
contractor would charge.
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
- 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
Asphalt roofing 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
Now keep in mind that the granules that protect the asphalt can
dislodge and come off from abrasion so you don’t want to have any
parties on your roof. 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 asphalt roofing shingles won’t stand up to hail the way that
thicker more robust asphalt shingles or other types of roofing might.
Shingles that have a class 4 impact rating do a good job against
cracking whereas asphalt shingles that aren’t designed to this standard
pose a greater risk of cracking from hail impact. Cracked shingles can
ultimately lead to a leaking roof.
Innovations & Features To Be Aware Of
If there’s a prevalent misconception about asphalt roofing 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
asphalt shingles that meets they eye, at least the non-discerning eye.
Research a few of the asphalt shingle 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
- Premium Shingles That Mimic Other Types Of Roofing
It’s been noted before but among the various grades of asphalt roofing
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 shingles.
CertainTeed 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 asphalt shingles and they’re
heavier but they can also provide a much more distinctive and textured
look than basic shingles.
- 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) Asphalt Roofing
Some asphalt roofing shingles qualify as ‘cool roofing’ which helps keep
your home cooler and ultimately more efficient than it would be
Cool asphalt shingles are generally lighter in color but it doesn’t
mean you have to have a white roof. There are energy efficient asphalt
shingles in some light brown and tan colors. You can learn more about
this type of roofing at the Energy Efficient Roofing page.
- Impact Resistant Asphalt 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 being the
If you live in a hail-prone area buying asphalt roofing 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. Check
with your own insurance carrier to determine if they provide this type
of premium credit.
Can Asphalt Shingles Be Recycled?
Since asphalt roofing 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 asphalt 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 asphalt shingles that can be used for
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.
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
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) asphalt roofing 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)
– 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 listing by U.S. state of
recyclers of various materials. 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.
How To Choose Among The Different Brands
Asphalt roofing 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:
|Malarkey Roofing Products|
|PABCO Roofing Products|
Choosing the right asphalt shingles starts with determining what
expectations you have for your new roof and how long you plan to stay in
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
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
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
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.