Like all products, asphalt shingles have advantages and disadvantages for home improvement. However, unlike all other home remodeling projects, a new asphalt shingle roof provides the most bang for your buck in terms of returned value over the short term (read as in the next decade).
In this guide, we’ll explain what makes for a fully installed asphalt shingled roof, how it gets done, but perhaps most importantly how you can be squarely involved in the selection process forc all the materials.
Nearly a century and a half ago, asphalt roofing didn’t exist. So, in short order, this product went from being a new kid on the block to the number one way people in North America cover their homes!
Really, it’s more like 1901 as the first implementation of asphalt shingles and roughly 40 years later is when hundreds of millions of feet of the product were being produced.
Since the mid 1900’s, asphalt shingles have maintained popularity and received some changes like fiberglass mat and multiple layers or laminates with dimensional shingles to keep up with an ever-evolving roofing market.
How popular are asphalt shingles? It’s estimated that 75% to 80% of all homes in the U.S. are covered with some version of them.
The industry generates over $10 billion in revenue annually and yet contributes over 20 billion pounds of waste each year. Their ongoing mass production though does have the significant benefit of being able to obtain bundles of the product at a price that no other roofing material can match.
And because the skill set, along with the tools needed for installation are relatively low, the DIY route is more plausible with this product than most other types of roofing materials.
Still, unless you are a professional contractor, the knowledge of what product to select may seem too challenging to go the DIY path. Fortunately, retail outlets such as Home Depot and Lowe’s do everything they can to make the process as easy as possible. 😉 Our goal is to help you along that path.
The basics of a traditional asphalt shingle are cloth-like paper or fiberglass mat as a base material, with asphalt layer on top of the base as the primary waterproof material, followed a protective coat of stone/mineral granules made of hard rock. The granules are designed to meet the exact specs for a specific shingle. The granules can also be made solar-reflective to achieve Cool Roof properties required for select markets like California.
The cloth-like paper base was traditionally used back in the day with the “organic shingles”, but today, almost all asphalt shingles are made with a fiberglass mat as the base material, hence the name fiberglass shingles.
The three most popular types of shingles are 3-tab or strip shingles that were the primary option in the 20th century, architectural shingles also known as dimensional or laminated, and premium designer architectural shingles. In terms of selecting an asphalt roofing product, the type of shingle is likely the first consideration.
Nowadays, many architects and home inspectors consider laminated architectural shingles to be a superior product compared to the thinner and lighter 3-tab strip shingles, but that of course, depends on the specific use case and is really up to you to decide:
Take a look at this page on RoofingCalc to understand the differences between the two. Essentially one (3 tab) has a more uniform, and flat appearance, while the other (laminate) has greater variety and a 3D-like appearance.
A finished roof is not simply a layer of shingles. To understand what a proper installation entails, a complete roofing system must be considered to ensure a greater lifespan of the entire asphalt roof. A roofing system consists of any, and hopefully all, of the following:
Note: Roof deck, whether boards or plywood sheathing, is the assumed base layer. Unless building a brand-new home, it is likely this is the base layer or substrate for all roofs.
Ice and Water Barrier / underlayment material / roof flashing:
Underlayment, typically a 30 lbs. felt or synthetic is the first layer of protection of a roofing system. Underlayments are designed to prevent leaks if shingles are not working properly, and guard against moisture build up.
Roofs on homes in northern states will also have a so-called Ice-and-Water shield or water and moisture barrier installed at the eaves and in the valleys of the roof, directly adhering to the deck.
Flashing is placed at the roof joints or intersecting roof planes to direct water away from areas where it may otherwise get trapped and/or find its way inside the house. Metal flashing is typically used around sidewalls, end-walls, chimneys, and skylights on the roof.
Starter shingles – are layer applied to part of a roof, usually around eaves or lowest portion of a sloped roof, to ensure water flowing over shingles is falling away from the home rather than getting stuck along roof edges.
Asphalt shingle layer is the next, and obviously most prominent layer.
Then a ridge vent is installed, but only if there are already soffit vents in place. This is an optional step but is generally recommended to ensure better cooling of an attic space across the top length of the structure.
Finally, ridge shingles/caps are added to cap off the vent and maintain the aesthetic appearance of shingles along the ridge.
The overall costs for these items are relatively inexpensive. Compared to other types of roofing (stone, metal, wood) they cost far less, and normally don’t require special tools.
Hammer and nails (or fasteners) are the primary tools of the trade, but there are other items (i.e., cutting tools or shears, tape measure, level, colored strings to ensure proper lines, ladder, compressor, and nail guns) that you learn to use in the project. Both Home Depot and Lowe’s provide information for what’s involved in installing a roof.
Asphalt Shingle Material and Installation Costs
A professional contractor will have experience doing this type of work, and with experience, come levels of expertise. This saves time but does cost additional money for their labor.
As a very rough estimate, basic roofing materials, trim and supplies, minus labor and building permits, for a moderate-sized home are around $3,000-$4,000. Professional installation costs are usually twice this amount, which gives a total average price range of $9,000 to $12,000 for asphalt roofs ranging between 1,500 and 2,000 square feet or 15 to 20 squares.
Common residential roofing shingle products that offer good value for the money are GAF Timberline HDZ, CertainTeed Landmark and Landmark Pro (more premium option), and Owens Corning Duration shingles. Other popular roofing shingle manufacturers are IKO, Atlas, Tamko, and Malarkey (a premium brand on the west coast).
GAF and Owens Corning shingles are available for sale at big box home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot, while CertainTeed shingles are only available through building material distributors and suppliers that sell to contractors only. Most architectural shingles typically cost between $1.00 and $1.50 per square foot or $100 to $150 per square or typically three bundles of shingles. This doesn’t include the cost of other materials and supplies.
The three popular architectural shingle products mentioned above will handily outperform and outlast any basic 3-tab strip shingles, especially in more extreme environments where durability of roof covering matters. Yet, the difference in shingle price is not that significant between the 3-tab and architectural or laminate shingles.
If a part of the job is a tear off of the older layer(s) of shingles, this adds to the labor time, and hence overall cost. Assuming that the removal of the old roof is needed, and a professional, insured, and bonded contractor is involved, you can plan on spending another $2,000 to $4,000 for the removal and proper disposal of old shingles.
The factors that go into a quote for a roofing project are:
- the total surface area
- cost of shingles and accessories
- labor costs
Roof layout / Steepness or pitch – more skills are needed for working on roofs with intersecting slopes.
Pitch refers to how steep the slope is, which may vary over roof with multiple sloping panels. Generally, the steeper the roof, the more time, material, and skill is needed for a roof installation.
The last item, where you live, makes it very challenging to provide a one price fits all type of quote. It can vary greatly by region, but still an average price is known. Take a look at this page on RoofingCalc.com to get an idea of a total price for installing an asphalt shingle roof and other types of roofs by a professional contractor.
When it comes to buying roofing materials, a contractor will probably have access to better deals than a typical homeowner, because they’ll be buying products in bulk each year. But, if you plan on buying materials yourself, here are a few things to keep in mind:
While square footage is the common way to measure most surfaces for home improvement, roofing uses a measurement called a “square” which equals 100 square feet. The average residential roof is 1,700 sq. ft. or 17 squares, not including a detached garage.
Asphalt shingles are generally sold by the bundle, and typically 3 bundles will cover a square.
Generally, assume one or two full squares beyond what you determine is the number of squares on your roof.
Waste is likely for less experienced roofers, and even pros count on waste being part of any project. Whatever is left over is product that can be used if shingles become loose or need replacing at a later date.
Standard nailing is 4 fasteners per shingle, or as many as 6 if your home is in a high wind area.
Asphalt roofs last 15 to 30 years before a new layer of shingles or a complete tear-off and replacement is needed.
Benefits and Advantages of Roofing Shingles:
Low cost and ease of installation are near the top: This is likely reason #1 why this roofing material remains at the top of all materials.
Very versatile: Lots of colors and shapes, but we’ll speak more to this in the next section While other materials may be more durable, they tend to be more rigid.
Asphalt shingles work on pretty much any type of surface and need no special cutting tools to make them fit where they need to fit. With a stone roof, walking on it can lead to damage. Not the case with an asphalt shingle roof.
Steep slopes or shallow slopes (that have at least a 3:12 or 4:12 pitch, depending on the type of shingle), asphalt shingles work well on all of them.
Very low maintenance. Actually, close to none. Periodic checks for moss growth and other issues are recommended, but generally in the first 5 to 10 years this means no work needed to ensure full lifespan.
So, you or a pro goes up and checks, at most twice a year, to see if shingles need replacing or if flashing is showing any weak points.
Sometimes, in more humid climates, moss may build up on a roof, and a cleansing is needed for that (mixture of bleach and water usually works). You can also pay a little extra go with shingles that has an algae-resistant coating applied to it (typically good for 10-15 years), if you live in a climate with a lot of precipitation and your home surrounded by trees. But realistically, there is no annual task to do other than a check-up.
If asphalt roofs were leading to annual damage on even a small amount of homes, such data would be well known and seen as huge disadvantage of the product.
Instead, asphalt shingle is a low maintenance, inexpensive roofing material that tends to hold up very well to weather elements for a good 15 years, or for as long as 30 years with the right product in the right setting. Typically, 17 to 25 years is the time when most asphalt roofing replacement occurs.
Potential Disadvantages to Consider
Sometimes though, an asphalt roof won’t even make it past the ten years of service-life before needing a significant repair or even replacement. The reasons for this are:
Improper installation – this isn’t just knowing how to fasten the shingles into the roof but making sure an entire roof system is in place and is maintained or checked periodically for weak points.
Related to this last point is using cheaper shingles or cheaper accessories. A great deal on a lesser-known brand name of shingles may seem too good to pass up, but it’s a huge gamble to take, if it leads to any of the problems below. Established brands have a history of testing against such issues.
Hail damage is one of the worst weather events that can do immediate damage to a roof. Many models of today’s shingles note what size of hail the shingle can tolerate. If a hailstorm blows through with hailstones that are larger in size than what the shingle is rated for, then it would be helpful for long term maintenance to check the roof for possible need of repair/shingle replacement.
Rapid change in temperatures: Asphalt shingles can tolerate cool and warm weather, but places and environments where temperatures can go from hot to cold rapidly, can lead to cracking of shingles over time as the material doesn’t readily expand or contract with extremely rapid changes in temperatures, such as what you can have with a setting sun in a desert – i.e., places like Arizona, Nevada, Texas, New Mexico, and parts of California.
Related to the last point, wind is always a factor with asphalt shingles, but especially if it is bitter cold out and there is heavy wind.
Because this generally means there is ice or snow on the roof, it is not a good time to check on the roof, unless it is done by a pro or the situation is deemed an emergency (a significant leak in the roof or presence of damaging ice dams, which will lead to a leak and possibly cause damage to shingles and gutters) and a professional is the one checking it. More often than not, it can wait until spring thaw to check what, if any damage an extreme winter and ice dams (if you got them) had on your roof.
Note: a properly insulated attic space is another way to boost energy efficiency and help reduce the chance of ice dams forming on the roof in winter.
Sunlight damage – This takes a long time to play out, and is not the same factor as rapid temperature change or heat trapped between the deck and shingles, though the two (heat and damaging UV rays from sunlight) tend to go hand in hand.
One of the reasons why asphalt shingles have granules on the surface is specifically to protect from UV rays and how that will rapidly wear down an asphalt shingle.
The granules provide an extra layer that resists other types of damage, yet they are subject to the same forms of damage themselves.
Granules can blow loose, or wash off, or gradually wear away, but that takes years on most products today. At least 7 years and up to 25 years is not unheard of.
Once a roof is at the point of exposing bare asphalt, it’s time to start budgeting for a new roof, or new layer of asphalt shingles.
Attic ventilation issues can lead to damaged shingles. Asphalt shingles are great for trapping heat below them, but poor for ventilating to ensure cool air flow. Hence the need, or recommendation, for proper air flow and soffit and ridge vents combo. — These words of caution aren’t meant to scare you away from the DIY approach. Just caveats that relate to disadvantages of asphalt shingles.
Other Roofing Options to Keep in Mind for More Extreme Climates:
A metal roof like metal tiles or standing seam is going to be more energy efficient, durable, and longer lasting than an asphalt shingle roof.
Natural stone (slate) and tile roofs are a lot less susceptible to wind damage than asphalt shingle roofs. But both of those options come with a hefty price and have their own disadvantages.