American homes enjoy a vast range of historical and architectural styles, with roofs to match. Roofing materials selected to cover and protect our largest investments must be priced right to cover large areas, durable enough to withstand sun, wind, and rain, and attractive enough to fit our tastes.
Traditional Roofing Materials
Four traditional roofing materials have graced American roofs for generations:
- Clay tiles
- Wood shakes
- Asphalt shingles
Earthy. The oldest roofing materials in America are still among the best: clay tiles. Whether fashioned in the beautiful half-cylinders of Spanish tile or the flat style that sheds water like armor plating, clay ranks high among traditional roofing materials that have endured centuries of wear and weather.
Stony. Slate roofs are fashioned from carefully split natural rock that cleaves easily into handy, though heavy, pieces. Cut into regular rectangles, slate can outlast the home beneath it.
Woodsy. Wood shakes are usually split from water-resistant wood such as redwood, cypress, or red cedar. They have a natural, warm appearance that provides a dramatic finish from New England coastal homes to rustic Montana log cabins.
Keep Tabs. Asphalt or asphalt-fiberglass shingles date from around 1901; they are the most popular choice in roofing materials in America. Three-tab, asphalt-fiberglass shingles are inexpensive to install, available in a dazzling array of colors and textures, and can last over 20 years.
Transitional Roofing Materials
Some roofing materials once relegated to outbuildings and commercial sites have found their way onto American residences with stunning success, while innovative new roofing materials are gaining popularity as well:
- Solar panels
- Recycled materials
- Low-slope roofing—EDPM, BUR, or Modified Bitumen
- Green roof (living roof)
Make Mine Metal. Metal roofing is not the tin roof of abandoned sheds, but a versatile, attractive material suitable for every home. Metal roofing can be shaped to mimic other materials as well, such as wood shakes, slate tiles, clay tiles, or pieced three-tab shingles. It is far more durable than asphalt shingles, weighs less than a clay tile roof, and is inherently fireproof.
Look Radiant. Solar panels that provide shelter can also provide steady electrical current or plentiful hot water for the home. Usually solar panels are applied over existing roofing materials. They can keep your home warm with hot-water baseboard heating elements, provide hot water for showers and cleaning, or can supplement your electrical demand so you are less dependent on “the grid”.
Repurposed. Recycled materials that can find a rebirth on a roof include old tires, reclaimed carpet, repurposed milk jugs, and even old vinyl records. These have been tried with varying degrees of success. If they resist or shed water, they can be used as roofing materials, with sufficient underlayment and a strong deck to support it.
Roll Out. Commercial buildings often appear to have flat roofs; they do not, but rather have “low slope” roofs that rely on waterproof membranes. These long-lasting, hard-wearing surfaces can translate into residential applications wherever a very gentle slope is needed. The methods of major companies include plastic layers such as ethylene propylene diene monomer (EDPM), rubberized single-ply membranes, built-up roofing (BUR), or modified bitumen (hot tar over rolled materials). Because they can be treated to reflect most of the sun’s energy, they can be energy efficient ways to keep your home cool.
Go Green. A green roof is a popular choice for environmentally conscious homeowners. The roofing materials include a waterproof layer onto which tiers of growth medium, filters, drainage and hydrating layers are added, with living plants growing atop it all. Green roofs can provide beautiful colors, edible food, wildlife habitat, and lower heating and cooling costs.