The Ultimate Guide to Asphalt Shingles Roofing: Costs, Pros and Cons

Asphalt shingles still dominate the US roofing industry, accounting for more than 70% of all residential, sloped roofs including new construction and replacements. That’s probably why you’re here – asphalt shingles are on the short list of materials you’re considering for your home, garage, or business.

GAF Timberline HD Birchwood Architectural Asphalt Roof on a House

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However, not all asphalt shingle roofing products are created equal. This guide will help you:

  • Understand the main types of asphalt shingles
  • Compare top product and brands from most popular manufacturers
  • Ultimately choose the best asphalt shingle type and style for your home

What Are Asphalt Shingles?

There are many reasons for the popularity of asphalt shingles, and we’ll cover them in the pros and cons section, but the main reasons are low cost and ease of installation – the combination of low cost and fairly decent durability and longevity.

Did you know? The longevity of any asphalt shingle product is determined by the shingle thickness and quality of construction. More on that below:

Composition of a modern asphalt shingle:

  • 1. Fiberglass mat: The core of today’s durable asphalt shingles is fiberglass mat. This material is chosen because it is lightweight, resists tearing and holds asphalt very well.
  • 2. Asphalt: The fiberglass mat is run through a saturator tank where the glass fibers are thoroughly coated with hot asphalt, a petroleum-based material used for its resistance to moisture. The weight and toughness of the asphalt is useful for wind and impact resistance.
  • 3. Mineral granules: The part of the asphalt shingle that will be exposed to the elements is coated with mineral granules that are available in a wide range of colors.

    Shingles can be given a single color to produce a solid-color shingle or a blend of colored granules for a more nuanced look.

    The ceramic-coated granules also reflect the UV rays of the sun – the single worst threat to shingles.

  • 4. Sealant strips: Continuous or intermittent lines of raw asphalt are applied to the top part of each shingle that will be covered by the next layer installed. The sealant strip bonds the shingles together once they heat up in sun and warmth.

Note: If you come across a discussion of organic shingles in your research, the information is likely quite old or encyclopedic. Organic shingles didn’t perform up to expectations, so most manufacturers stopped making them in 2008.

Did you know? The sunnier a climate is, the shorter the lifespan of the average shingle will be. One of the ways to extend the lifespan of an asphalt roof in a sunny climate such as Florida, Arizona, Texas, is to opt for a solar-reflective, light colored shingles designed to reflect solar radiant heat and UV radiation.

Install Roof Shingles

$7,500
Average price
Install Metal Roof

$15,000
Average price
Install Flat Roof

$9,000
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Asphalt Shingle Types

Your grandparents home was probably covered in three-tab asphalt shingles, since for decades that was the only choice. In the 1970s, manufacturers began producing thicker shingles that came to be called laminate, dimensional and architectural shingles. There’s more to the design than just appearance, so let’s start by exploring each type:

Three-tab AKA 3-tab shingles and strip shingles

3-tab Shingle Roof on a House – GAF Marquis WeatherMax Autumn Brown

Pros: 3-tab shingles are quite flat and light. They’re +/-30” wide and about 12” tall. The exposed portion of the shingle is notched to produce three tabs that appear separate and are designed to look like slate tiles.

3-tab GAF Shingle – Marquis Weathermax Autumn Brown

The advantages of three-tab shingles are their lower cost and flat profile which makes it difficult for the wind to get underneath the shingles or catch and lift up a shingle.

Cons: On a flip-side, if strong wind does get under three-tab shingles, their lightweight design makes them more susceptible to tearing.

Most 3-tab shingles are only rated for 60 to 80 mph wind uplift, making them unsuitable for high-wind and hurricane prone areas.

Another disadvantage is that 3-tab shingles don’t last as long. The oils in any asphalt shingle rise to the top with time and are washed away or dried out by the elements. This makes shingles weak and brittle. The more asphalt there is in the shingle, the longer this process takes. So longevity can be improved for thicker/heavier shingles.

Dimensional AKA Architectural Shingles

GAF Timberline HD Fox Hollow Gray House

Dimensional, architectural (newer term) and laminate (older term meaning “layered”) all refer to the same type of shingle. Dimensional shingles feature a thicker base layer of asphalt-saturated fiberglass. Fused to that solid layer is a tabbed layer, usually with more pronounced notches.

GAF Timberline HD Birchwood Architectural Shingles Pattern

The effect is a shingle with a thicker “3D” profile that gives dimensional shingles a slate tile or wood shingle or shake appearance that is more genuine. Dimensional shingles are 32”-34” wide and up to 14” tall.

Pros: Architectural/dimensional shingles cost more than 3-tab shingles, but the appearance is generally favored, especially on upscale homes. Architectural shingles will normally have a longer service lifespan than 3-tab shingles, thanks to their thickness and durability. They also have superior impact resistance thanks to the greater amount of material and wind uplift protection.

Most architectural shingles are rated for up to 110 mph to 130 (with enhanced installation) mph wind uplift, making them a suitable option for high wind and storm prone areas such parts of Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

Cons: A disadvantage is that on low-slope roofs, 3/12 and 4/12 pitch for example, the higher profile makes them more susceptible to wind uplift. This an instance where a metal roof could be a more durable option.

Premium or Luxury Shingles

In recent years, ultra-dimensional shingles have come into vogue. Some manufacturers call them premium shingles, though the term architectural shingles is often used too. These are super-thick and heavy shingles, up to 450 lbs per square (100 square feet). Most have higher profiles and distinct cuts to more closely mimic the appearance of genuine slate and cedar roofing.

Cons: The premium good looks of these shingles come with a higher price tag.

Special-purpose Asphalt Shingles

Standard asphalt shingles are suitable for most climates. However, you might want to consider one of the following if your climate necessitates it.

  • Impact-resistant shingles: Most of these are guaranteed to withstand hail up to 1.5 or 2 inches in diameter. The name of the shingle often indicates it is designed for impact. Examples are the CertainTeed Landmark IR (impact resistant), IKO Cambridge IR and the GAF Grand Sequoia ArmorShield II shingles.
  • Solar-resistant or cool shingles: Made in lighter colors and/or with granules that are more highly reflective, “cool” shingles reduce the surface temperature of the roof. This means that less heat penetrates inside your attic/home, so your air conditioning runs less. The GAF Timberline Cool Series, CertainTeed Landmark Solaris, Owens Corning Duration Premium Cool and a few others are certified by Energy Star.
  • Stain-resistant shingles: Algae and the staining it causes are problems in wet climates. Many manufacturers produce treated shingles designed to inhibit algae growth for up to 15 years. Examples are Atlas shingles with granules featuring a copper-killing Scotchgard coating and Owens Corning Supreme AR (algae resistant) shingles.
  • Wind-resistant shingles: Most dimensional shingles are rated for 110 MPH winds. The warranty on many can be increased to 130 MPH with enhanced installation techniques that include more nails and/or adhesive. Additionally, products like Owens Corning TruDefinition Storm, GAF Timberline HD and IKO shingles with ArmourZone are guaranteed to withstand higher wind speeds without specialized installation.

Most Popular Manufacturers / Brands of Shingles

GAF: This brand sells more shingles than any other manufacturer. GAF shingles are available in all types from affordable three-tab to high-end luxury shingles, plus those resistant to impact, wind, staining and UV damage.

Pros: Costs are competitive in each category, and most roofing contractors have good experience with them.

Cons: GAF warranties are notorious for the “fine print” that reduces homeowner claims, but when properly installed, GAF shingles perform well.

Popular lines are:

  • Timberline dimensional shingles in several lines including impact-resistant and solar-reflective shingles
  • Premium lines like Camelot and Grand Canyon with high-definition profiles

Owens Corning: While not as large as GAF, Owens Corning still makes a good selection of three-tab, mid-range dimensional shingles, and a few luxury shingles including Energy Star-rated lines and those with StreakGuard stain protection.

Popular lines are:

CertainTeed: This Saint Gobain brand is considered the premium shingle manufacturer today, though it also makes three-tab shingles that are quite affordable. Warranty protection is excellent.

Top CertainTeed shingle lines include:

  • Landmark shingles in several lines including those that fight wind, impact, staining and the sun.
  • SBS modified bitumen shingles Northgate that have greater flexibility than most shingles and are designed for cold-weather installation.
  • Luxury shingle lines like Grand Manor, Carriage House and Arcadia Shake

Tamko: This brand’s niche is dimensional shingles in midrange and luxury lines.

Warranties are average, though claims are slightly above average for the industry. Some roofers believe this is due to uneven production in some Tamko plants.

Ask your local roofing contractor about the quality of the Tamko products they have access to. They will likely either like them or hate them, with little ground in the middle.

Top lines are:

  • Heritage dimensional shingles with a lower-than-average profile but a good color selection in several lines including Vintage, Woodgate and Premium
  • Glass-seal Elite three-tab shingles

Pros and Cons of Asphalt Shingles

We’ve explored the pros and cons of each asphalt shingle type. Here are general advantages and disadvantages:

What’s good:

  • More affordable than most other roofing types
  • Proven to last 15-30 years, depending on climate, proper attic ventilation and how often regularly roof maintenance is done
  • A good value when their low cost, good durability and +/- 70% ROI/recoup value are factored
  • Available in the widest range of styles and colors of any roofing type plus specialty shingles for climate challenges your home faces
  • Easy to clean, when care is taken not to damage the shingles

What’s Bad:

  • Not as durable as cedar shakes (25-40 years), clay or concrete tiles (40-55 years), metal roofing (50+ years) or genuine slate (100+ years)
  • Backed by strict warranties that have a very narrow definition of manufacturer’s defects, are easily voided by improper installation and have prorated coverage beginning in five to ten years depending on the product
  • Susceptible to improper installation by inexperienced roofers with results that can lead to leaks and water damage

Asphalt Shingle Roofing System Components

GAF asphalt roofing system

There’s much more to a roof’s protection than just asphalt shingles. — They’re a part of an entire system designed to optimize roof performance and durability.

When discussing your roofing project with contractors, ask them about the entire package of products they use to protect homes.

  • Roofing paper (felt paper/tar paper): Most roofing paper is asphalt-saturated felt or a synthetic rubber-like material. It’s produced in rolls 36” to 48” wide, is laid horizontally on the roof decked and stapled, starting at the roof eave. The next layer is overlapped based on the slope of the roof—the greater the pitch, the less overlap is required. The purpose of the product is to protect the roof deck against moisture blown under the shingles (and as a last line of defense against leaks).
  • Drip edge: This is a strip of aluminum formed to fit over the eave edges. About 1.5” to 2” wide, the drip edge extends out from the eaves to direct water running off the roof into the gutters rather than allowing it to wet the fascia.
  • Starter shingles/strip: Typically 12”-14” wide, a row of starter shingles is installed horizontally at the eaves to provide an extra measure of protection where ice dams and windblown moisture pose a threat to the roof. The shingles are fiberglass mat saturated with asphalt. Starter strip might also be installed at the roof rake – the outer edge of a gable roof that runs from the eave to the peak.
  • Rolled water barrier: This asphalt-based or synthetic rolled roofing is applied in valleys for extra protection because of the large volume of water that passes through them.
  • Ridge vents: These are raised plastic vents about 12” wide and 48” long. Ridge vents are installed on peaks where there should be a slight gap in the roof deck that allows heat to escape the attic.
  • Shingles: The shingles are installed over the paper and starter strip, starting at the eaves and going up row-by-row in staggered manner. Each row overlaps the one beneath it by half or slightly more to produce multiple layers of protection.
  • Ridge cap shingles/hip shingles: These specialty shingles cover the ridge vents, unvented ridges and hips.

Comparison of Asphalt Shingles to Other Popular Materials

Here’s a summary of how asphalt shingles stack up to your other options. Asphalt shingles offer greater color and style variety than all the following.

  • Metal roofing: Shingles cost less but have higher lifetime cost. In other words, you’ll initially spend less for shingles than for metal, but will replace the shingles more over 50-100 years, so total cost might be higher. Shingles are easier and cheaper to repair if damage occurs.
  • Clay and concrete tile: Shingles cost less, are easier to install and more versatile. They don’t last as long, so the lifetime cost of asphalt shingles is comparable to clay and concrete tiles. Shingles can be DIY installed; tiles should be professionally installed because improper installation can cause major damage to your home.
  • Cedar shakes and shingles: Asphalt shingles cost less but don’t last as long, so might have a slightly higher lifetime cost. They’re easier to clean, repair and maintain than cedar shingles and shakes, and they are more resistant to fire and insects.

Asphalt Shingle Care and Maintenance

Here are the most common care and maintenance considerations:

  • General cleaning: The key to a good-looking roof is to keep it clear of debris and moss that holds water against the roof and cause staining.
  • Inspecting an asphalt roof: Inspect the roof twice per year and after major storms and straight-line wind events. Look for missing shingles, cupped shingles and shingles pitted or cracked by windblown debris or hail. Call your roofing contractor when you see roof damage.
  • Preventing damage from within: A properly vented attic prevents a buildup in the attic of heat and/or moisture that will destroy a roof and shingles prematurely. Your roofing contractor can advise you whether your attic is adequately ventilated and, if not, what should be done.
  • Preventing ice dams: A properly insulated attic (R-30 in the South to R-60 in the North) is the key to preventing ice dams. Dams occur when heat melts ice on the roof. It runs down to the overhanging eaves (unheated, of course) where it quickly freezes and causes a dam that forces the melted water back up under shingles where it can seep into the roof deck and cause leaks, rot and mold.
  • Preparing for winter: Bring attic insulation up to the recommended level. Inspect the roof and clear away debris. Clean out gutters where ice might otherwise accumulate and result in hanging icicles, gutter damage, water overflow and resulting leaks inside the house through the walls.

How Do I Know It’s Time to Replace the Current Asphalt Roof?

If your shingles look good, there are no visible signs of damage and the roof isn’t leaking, you probably don’t need to replace your roof. Warning signs of asphalt shingle failure (or impending failure) are:

  • Cupped or curled shingle edges
  • Cracks where shingles have become brittle
  • Recurring leaks
  • The appearance has become dull through loss of granules

Cupped shingles can also be a sign your attic isn’t properly ventilated and should be inspected. As for the last sign, if you don’t like the way your roof looks, that’s a great reason to replace the shingles.

Itemized Asphalt Shingle Costs

If you like to itemize costs, then this list will help. When you’re shopping for shingles, they’ll often be priced “per bundle.” The term can be misleading.

Roofing material costs are discussed “per square,” meaning the amount of material required to cover 100 square feet of roofing.

Three-tab shingles are usually three bundles per square.

Dimensional/architectural/luxury shingles are thicker and heavier, so are usually packaged in four or five bundles per square. Be sure to multiply the bundle price by the number of bundles per square.

Shingles

  • Three-tab shingles: $55-$95 per square
  • Standard dimensional shingles: $80-$125 per square
  • Luxury dimensional shingles: $120-$180 per square

Accessories

  • Roofing paper: $25-$33 per square (25-33 cents per square foot)
  • Starter strip/shingles: $0.35-$0.75 (35 to 75 cents) per linear foot
  • Drip edge: $0.40-$0.65 (40-65 cents) per linear foot
  • Ridge vent: $3.25-$5.00 per linear foot
  • Moisture barrier rolls $1.50-$2.75 per linear foot
  • Ridge/hip cap shingles: $2.85-$6.50 per linear foot
  • Roofing nails: $2.50-$4.50 per square

Asphalt Shingle Roof Installation Costs and Cost Factors

Expect asphalt shingle roof installation estimates in these ranges:

  • $40-$100 per square for tearing off and disposing of old roofing
  • $150-$200 per square for installation of new shingles and accessories

These factors affect where your estimates will be on the cost range:

  • The more levels the roof has, the higher the cost will be
  • High-end asphalt shingles are very heavy, so might increase the cost due to the difficulty in getting materials to the roof and working with them
  • Valleys raise cost estimates
  • Roof pitches over 6/12 cannot be walked on, so cost is higher, especially on multi-story homes
  • Installation in cold weather might raise cost
  • The greater distance the crew must travel to the site, the higher the cost estimate will be
  • Estimates might be busier during peak home remodeling times from spring into early fall

Sample Asphalt Roofing Installation Estimates

Here are a few samples we put together using our roofing calculator. The ranges reflect the cost factors just listed, from easy to hard projects.

Ranch, 1,500sq.ft., four corners 4/12 roof:

  • Three-tab shingles: $4,100-$9,300
  • Dimensional shingles: $5,700-$11,700
  • Premium shingles: $7,300-$13,800

2-story, 2,500sq. ft., 6+ corners, 8/12 roof:

  • Three-tab shingles: $7,800-$11,800
  • Dimensional shingles: $11,200-$23,700
  • Premium shingles: $16,700-$32,000

It’s easy to see that the cost factors can affect the total roofing estimate as much as the material you choose.

For more information on asphalt shingle roof cost estimates, see:

and

Roof Replacement ROI

The national average for the cost recouped when a home is sold in the first ten years after replacing asphalt shingles is about 70%. Tips for getting the best ROI include:

  • Use a grade of shingle consistent with neighborhood standards (worse or better will reduce ROI)
  • Avoid unusual colors
  • Choose roofing from one of the top brands – a brand potential buyers are likely to know rather than a small brand that might raise concerns
  • Choose a material with a transferable warranty (specify this requirement to your roofing contractor or read the fine print when shopping for shingles)

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