Roofing Materials to Protect You From the Elements

Roofing Materials to Protect You From the Elements
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It's pouring outside. Since the roof over your head is the best protection from the elements, I decided to look into what types of roofing materials are commonly used to do the job right.

There're all kinds of roof shapes from flat to saw-tooth, to barrel, to onion dome. There's such a thing as a "rainbow" roof and a gable roof with catslide. The main forces influencing the shape are the climate and the materials available for the roof structure and outer covering.

Factors to consider when shopping for various types of roofing materials:

(This list is based on the information from posts on The House Designers and Bob Vila)

Appearance: color, texture
Building code requirements
Installation requirements
Traditional use / Neighboring buildings
Price of new roofing materials
Cost of demolition and repair of the supporting structure (if you are remodeling)
Cost of installation (greatly depends on variations in rooflines: multiple chimneys, turrets, skylights)

The most popular types of roofing materials are:


Asphalt shingles are most popular because of cost and ease of installation; they are not very durable

Slate is one of the oldest roofing materials; it is very durable -- lasts for centuries. However, it's very expensive and heavy. The existing structure might be inadequate to carry the load of a new slate roof.

Wood shingles and shakes have been the main choice for centuries. They have low fire resistance (unless treated with a fire retardant) and a short lifespan. In some areas fire codes forbid its use. Life expectancy is approximately the same as asphalt shingles (25-year range), but they cost twice as much.

Plastic Polymer shingles resemble either wood shakes or slate.


Clay tiles (Spanish Colonial and Mission styles) are heavy, brittle and expensive, but they have the charm and last a long time.

Concrete tiles have similar properties as clay tiles (minus the charm), but are less expensive.


Asphalt roll roofing comes in large sheets generally fused in some way.


Corrugated galvanized steel is lightweight, lasts longer than asphalt and is more wind-resistant. It absorbs a third less heat than asphalt.

Copper is durable and easy to work with. It is corrosion resistant and can be curved, (making it a choice material for onion domes - JK). The article "The Glory of Copper" in Metal Roofing Magazine, December 2002/January 2003 states that "tests on European copper roofs from the 18th Century showed that, in theory, copper roofs can last one thousand years."

Lead is used on the vaulted roofs of Kimbell Art Museum by Louis Kahn for its natural finish with a dull sheen. It complements the walls of travertine and concrete in tone.

Although this post was inspired by rain, I wrote it with Nataliya in mind. I think she is Russian, like me. Hence the onion dome reference. She wrote to me after buying her "first own house!!" The house was built in 1928. It is located in a very small town near Lincoln, NE. I am her architect on demand.

I specialize in providing advice without strings. Please do not hesitate to contact me. Write to me about types of roofing materials you are considering. Actually, don't hesitate to ask about anything else if it has to do with your DIY home improvement projects.

Alla is an architect on demand advising DIY home improvement enthusiasts online.

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