Due to their ease of installation, durability, and relatively low price, asphalt shingles have become the most popular type of shingle in the United States. In fact, over 15 billion square feet of asphalt shingles are manufactured and installed annually. If you’re planning to re-roof your home, asphalt shingles might be a good option. Before making a decision, however, here is a basic introduction to their different benefits and varieties.

The benefits of asphalt shingles

  • Asphalt shingles are an extremely low-maintenance roofing material and can be easily repaired.
  • Compared to all other major roofing options (slate, wood, metal, and tile), asphalt is the most economical.
  • There is more diversity of style among asphalt shingles than any other roofing material.
  • Asphalt shingles are easy to recycle.
  • Nearly all asphalt shingles have a Class A fire-resistance rating.

Composition

Essentially, an asphalt shingle is a rectangular piece of material called a mat that is coated with layers of asphalt and embedded with ceramic granules. The mat gives the shingles their strength to resist breaking or tearing. In the past, asphalt shingles came in two varieties: organic and fiberglass. Due to high failure rates among organic shingles, however, they are now rarely used.

Fiberglass shingles use a fiberglass mat as their reinforcement, which was developed in order to replace older, asbestos-based mats. The mat is bonded with a formaldehyde resin and then coated with an asphalt mixture containing chemical fillers (the fillers help the asphalt adhere to the mat). Ceramic granules are then embedded in the shingle during the last step of its production.

Ceramic granules

Among the most important components of an asphalt shingle are the ceramic granules embedded in the shingle’s final asphalt coating. These granules provide the grainy look commonly associated with asphalt shingles, and they are available in a variety of colors and styles. More importantly, they also protect the shingles from UV ray exposure.

Some asphalt shingles also contain zinc- or copper-coated granules that help protect the shingles from algae growth, which will cause stains and steaks. This resistance will typically last for 10 to 12 years. If you live in a warm, humid climate, be sure to talk with your roofing contractor about algae-preventing shingle options.

Three-tab shingles

Due to their affordability, the most common type of shingle currently on roofs is the three-tab (or “strip”) shingle. Most new roofing projects, however, employ laminated shingles (see below), as their cost has been declining steadily over the years.

Laminated shingles

Laminated (also called architectural or dimensional) shingles are materially the same as regular asphalt shingles. The difference is that each laminated shingle is actually two or more asphalt shingles fused together. This gives them their layered, three-dimensional appearance. Often, laminated shingles are used to simulate the appearance of wood shakes or slate tiles. This is especially popular with homeowners who desire the look of wood or slate but don’t want to deal with the additional issues and costs associated with those materials.

Another advantage to laminated shingles is their durability. Since they are actually multiple shingles in one, they are much heavier than three-tab shingles, making them hardier against the cold and wind. Laminated shingles also hold longer manufacturer warranties; many brands carry a lifetime warranty.

Wind resistance

Shingle design, the type of sealant used, and shingle weight all contribute to a shingle’s wind resistance. Generally speaking, the heavier the shingle, the more resistant it will be. Laminated shingles are heavier than three-tab ones and have multiple layers that are fastened to the roof deck, making them very wind resistant. As the price of oil has risen, manufacturers have reduced the weight of most shingles but compensated by using a more aggressive sealant.

Lifespan

While the lifespan of any particular asphalt shingle will vary by type and brand, proper installation is key to the integrity and longevity of your roof. While asphalt shingles typically last longer in colder climates than they do in warmer ones, climates with dramatic fluctuations in temperatures are the worst because of the potential for cracks and water penetration.

Asphalt shingles are highly customizable, both in terms of appearance and function. Talk with your local Best Picks to determine if the most popular roofing material in the country will work for your home, too.

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