Roofing Material Options - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

HomeInOn: Is your roof looking its age? Is there moisture seeping into the attic or crawl space? It might be a sign that a new roof is in the cards. We’ll walk you through the top six roofing materials.

Roofing Materials

Roofing Material Options

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At some point in the life of every house, repairing or replacing the roof is a sure thing. The effects of sun, rain, wind, snow, ice, and in some parts of the country, moss or lichens, can take a real toll on the topper. Putting off the inevitable is a recipe for disaster.
While the vast majority of home-owners will hire a roofing contractor to do the job, an avid DIYer can install either of the two most popular roofing options – asphalt and cedar shingles. I’ve replaced a number of roofs over the years, and it can be a physically demanding, time-consuming job. If there are already two layers of roofing on the house, you can’t simply add a third – you first need to remove both layers. And before installing the new roof, you’ll need to replace any sheeting that is damaged and install a new felt or synthetic underlay to form a moisture barrier between the roofing material and the sheeting. In most areas of Canada you want to install an ice-and-water shield along the eave edges, valleys, and any low sloping areas. The drip edge and flashing around the chimney and any skylights will likely have to be replaced as well. You’ll be surprised at the amount of material that comes off the roof, so unless you own a large truck, consider renting a dumpster or hiring a removal service.


Before attempting any roofing job, make sure you have all the equipment and supplies you need, which include – personal safety equipment (including a fall prevention harness), ladders or scaffolding, tarps to cover plants and shrubs, shovel or pry bar to remove the old shingles, broom, extension power cord, air compressor, nailers and fasteners (or hammer and fasteners), caulking gun, chalk line, utility knife, and, of course the roofing material, underlay, drip edge, and flashing. Plus, you’ll need a strong back, patience, and ample time to complete the job. A healthy dose of good weather sure doesn’t hurt either.

Are you hiring?

If you decide to hire a contractor, do some research and get several quotes with references. In most jurisdictions roofers don’t have to be licensed or certified. A good place to begin your search is the Canadian Roofing Contractors Association ( or your provincial roofing association. Make sure you follow up with references. Get a written, detailed estimate, and check to ensure the contractor has insurance. Remember that problems with home renovations, and roofing contractors in particular, are among the top consumer complaints. Don’t automatically take the lowest bid – invariably the contractor will be tempted to cut corners in order to increase their profit margin.
Material and installation costs vary considerably for each type of roofing material – key factors are the quality of the roofing material (typically whether it’s ‘economy’ or ‘premium’), length of warranty, size and geometry (shape and pitch) of the roof, and experience of the installation crew. For example, metal roofing can range from a low of around $5.00 to a high of around $18.00 per square foot installed. You’ll want to consider the pro-rated cost of any roofing material over the expected life of the product, maintenance costs, and the value added to your home.


Nothing says practical like asphalt. It’s the most popular roofing material by far. Asphalt is light in weight, easy to install, available in a variety of colours and styles, and is economically priced. It’s available as organic shingles – with a cellulose substrate impregnated with asphalt, which makes for a thick solid core – and fibreglass shingles – made of glass fibres sandwiched between asphalt, making them lighter and thinner than organic shingles, and longer lasting. Both types have a protective ceramic granular covering of some kind that provides UV protection. Shingles come in two forms: three-tab shingles are the most common style, and are made in a single, flat, thin layer; laminated (or architectural) shingles are layered, and their thickness and depth somewhat mimic the look of slate or wood shakes. Shingles from the major manufacturers are very competitive in value and performance. Laminated shingles typically provide better durability and a longer service life than three-tab shingles, with a 20- to 30-year life expectancy.
Pros: Available in a variety of colors; carried by most lumberyards and home improvement stores; the least expensive roofing material to purchase and install; reasonably easy to repair; minimal maintenance required.
Cons: Can be damaged by heavy winds and hail; provide no insulating value and low solar reflectance.
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Wood offers a natural appearance and is more aesthetically pleasing than asphalt. Available as shakes, which are split from short sections of logs (typically by hand) and generally have a rough appearance, and shingles, which are cut by machine and are thinner than shakes, with a smoother finish. Either can be made from cedar, pine, redwood or white oak. Available in different grades, with the best being 100-percent edge grain and clear (knot-free), it requires careful installation to prevent uneven drying that can lead to cupping or splitting. Look for shingles that are treated with wood preservatives and fire retardants. Wood is more expensive to purchase and install than asphalt, but less than tile, and has a 30- to 50-year life expectancy, assuming consistent maintenance.
Pros: An environmentally friendly product that ages to a lovely gray patina; easy to install (but must be done carefully) and repair.
Cons: Requires more maintenance than other materials; susceptible to splitting, rotting and mold.

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Tiles provide an elegant-looking roof, often associated with a Mediterranean or Spanish style. They can be made from clay or concrete and are available in a variety of styles, sizes and colours. They’re highly durable and impervious to moisture and insects, providing a long service life. Clay has a higher product cost than concrete but a longer service life, and because they usually have a non-porous finish, they are virtually maintenance free. Clay tiles tend to be smaller and heavier. Technological advances continue to make concrete tiles stronger and lighter. Both require professional installation. Some brands are priced competitively with premium asphalt shingles. There is a 50- to 75-year life expectancy for concrete, up to 100 years for clay.
Pros: Very durable; long-lasting; maintenance free; non-combustible; offers some insulating benefit; provides good solar reflectance.
Cons: High cost; time consuming to install and repair; because of their weight may require additional framing.

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Metal gives a clean, modern appearance. It’s available as panels and shingles in steel, aluminum and copper, and also available in a variety of colours and profiles. It can mimic the look of wood, clay, slate and even solid copper roofing. For low-pitched roofs, standing-seam panels are available in a clip- on/nail-on system for pro-DIYer installation. The panels can expand and contract with changes in temperature and may require occasional adjustment of fasteners. It is very light in weight with good resistance to extreme weather conditions, and is impervious to moisture and insects. It sheds snow better than most other roofing materials but can be noisy in a rain or a hail storm, unless installed over a roof with attic space and insulation. Look for brands with good rust-resistant coatings. Thicker materials provide greater durability. It is competitive in price to tile but less than slate and generally requires professional installation. It has a 40- to 50-year life expectancy.
Pros: Very durable; long lasting; minimal maintenance; naturally fire resistant; provides high solar reflectance.
Cons: Large hailstones can dent some brands; slippery to walk on; difficult to repair.

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The queen of roofing material, slate provides a classic, elegant appearance. It’s available in shades of black, green, grey and red tones. Slate is a natural quarried stone, split into specific sizes and thicknesses. It’s the most expensive roofing material to purchase and install, but you can expect the roof to last 100+ years. At around 1000 pounds per square, some roofs cannot support slate. Alternative installation systems such as SlateTec and Nu-Lok use less slate for a much lighter roof, with all the benefits of a traditional slate roof. It requires professional installation.
Pros: Very durable; very long lasting; maintenance free; fire resistant; reasonably easy to repair.
Cons: Expensive to purchase and install; because of its weight, generally requires additional framing.

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Synthetic roofing materials are relatively new to the housing market, making it harder to judge their overall performance, durability and colour retention, irrespective of the testing done by manufacturers. Made from a variety of composites including rubber, plastic, polymers, fibreglass and asphalt, they provide the color, look and texture of natural materials such as slate and wood. Typically available in a variety of widths, these products are designed to be strong, fire resistant, UV fade resistant and easy to maintain. It’s priced higher than tile and comparable to metal. Has a 40- to 50-year life expectancy.
Pros: Very durable; long lasting; maintenance free; non-combustible.
Cons: Some of these products can absorb water, and the quality varies. Newer products aren’t as time-tested as traditional materials.



Wood Sidewall Shingles – Mastering the Basics (Feb/Mar 2013)

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