What should go on your roof?

There are a number of choices for what should go on top.  The selection ranges from common 3-tab asphalt shingles, all the way up to copper sheathing or slate tiles.  While the 3-tab might last 10–25 years, the latter two could, quite literally, last for centuries.

Premium Roofing Materials


Copper has this wonderful ability to self-heal from scratches and abrasions.  Over time it forms a beautiful turquoise-green patina (oxide, or copper “rust”) that protects the metal itself.  You see it on everything from modern buildings to ancient churches, political meeting places, and some of the finest old homes in existence.

It requires practically no maintenance, and one of the best benefits of all is that copper is harmless to humans, animals and pets, but deadly to bacteria, viruses, algae, and other microbes—they simply can’t live on its surface because it disrupts their cellular membranes.


Slate, on the other hand, is much easier to come by than mining and refining copper from the ground.  It forms over millennia as sedimentary layers build up, turning into resilient, strong rock.  It can be located in many geological areas, though premium textures and colors such as sea green, royal purple, and clear black might be confined to specific sites such as

Vermont, for example.

Not only is it fireproof for those who live in areas prone to forest fires, but it is, after all, rock making it almost impervious to hail.  If you have never seen it made, this short video shows how it requires artisans and craftspeople to create each shingle by hand.  Yes, they’re somewhat more expensive but, for a generational home that will be passed down from one family member to the next, it represents a huge saving over the decades and centuries to come.

Traditional Roofing Materials


Thank goodness we don’t use sod roofs anymore, but people still like cedar shakes and shingles; not only for their durability, of course, but for their aesthetic look.  The difference between a shake and a shingle is generally that a shingle is saw en whereas a shake is split with a hammer and froe, giving a grainy and natural texture.  Shakes are also wider at one end than the other.

Another interesting aspect about shakes is that their natural grain tends to steer rainwater straight down the roof so that it doesn’t migrate sideways to the spaces between them.  Conversely, being rougher and hand-hewn, they tend to have bigger gaps that can allow wind-driven rain beneath them.  That is why shakes are always three layers thick and cedar shingles are only two layers thick, with a course of felt paper between the layers.


By far the least expensive, clay has been with us since 10,000 B.C.E.  It is fireproof, rot proof, waterproof, doesn’t pass heat easily (since it is most often found in sunny climates), and was one of the easiest things for early humans to make.  It is usually chosen nowadays for its aesthetic value rather than its functionality.  More often than not, what appear to be clay tiles are actually synthetic or metal substitutes.  The real thing might resist hail fairly well, but just walking across it can shatter tiles easily, like walking on flower pots!

Conventional Roofing Materials

Asphalt shingles are widely accepted choice, but we have certainly grown beyond the basic coal-tar soaked fabric shingle invented back in the early part of the 20th century, an innovation generally credited to Henry M. Reynolds of Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1903.  He hand-cut roll-roofing into individual shingles and later, in 1914, the Flintkote Company added slate granules for durability.  The 3-tab soon followed because it made commercial production much easier.

Nowadays we have felt-based, asphalt-impregnated, UV-resistant granule-coated shingles, often reinforced with fiberglass or other structural materials.  As a result the durability has gone from just a few years to decades.  We didn’t stop there however, because once we had a good product available, we developed a taste for aesthetics.

Now we wanted blue, red, green, white, and yellow.  The 1970s evolved into a potpourri of colors.  Eventually we settled down and muted greens and pale browns came back into fashion.

Nowadays we have high quality shingles with 30–50 year lifespans, but designed in an “architectural style” to resemble wooden cedar shakes, slate, or even clay tiles.  People are getting more creative with their designs and adding a lot of curb-appeal to their homes, potentially adding thousands of dollars to their resale value—invariably much more than the cost of the roof.

Roofing – Modern Synthetics


While the natural look may be “all the rage” at the moment, people are still looking for a long-term, permanent solution for their roof.  Re purposed polyethylene or other forms of plastic can be UV-stabilized, made fire-resistant, colored, textured, and designed to resemble virtually anything you can imagine.  It’s environmentally responsible and a great way to keep this valuable plastic out of our landfills.


Metal roofing is naturally fireproof, so it is a frequent choice of people who live in fire-prone areas.  Like slate it is very resistant to hail damage, but it weighs only a fraction as much.  Typically, asphalt roofing shingles weigh between 160 pounds and 400 pounds per square (a 10 × 10 foot section).  Many jurisdictions, and most contractors, will not install more than three courses of asphalt shingles on a house.

Imagine your home had a nine-square area roof.  By the time you get to the third layer, even with lightweight 3-tab shingles (150 lbs./sq.) its weight (4,050 lbs.) is greater than that of the family car.  An architectural shingle (400 lbs./sq.) would weigh in at 10,800 pounds!  That is equivalent to a Southern Elephant Seal, an African Elephant, or just a little less than the heavily armored Presidential Limousine…none of which you would want on your roof.  Most architectural shingles are never found in more than a single layer.

Roofing Materials – The Takeaway

Whatever your needs, from residential to low-slope (flat top) commercial, we’ll be here for you, offering expert advice for fixing, replacing, or updating the most important roof in the world…yours!  Call today and pick our brains to discover great ideas and the best solutions for your needs!