How to Decide Which Roofing Material is Right for Your Home

For most of the continental U.S., a majority of homes are built with 6 types of roofing materials. All of them have different life expectancies and price points, all have their pros and cons, and all of them evoke different styles of design. Let’s get in to it, shall we?

My wife and I stumbled on this beauty in Burgundy during our trip to France last fall. This roof is made of glazed tiles and found on top of Hotel Dieu in Beaune, FR.

My wife and I stumbled on this beauty in Burgundy during our trip to France last fall. This roof is made of glazed tiles and found on top of Hotel Dieu in Beaune, FR.

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that on a normal basis, you don’t tend to look up and say, “Hmm, I wonder what my roof is made of? Is it a 20 year or 40 year grade? What kind of maintenance should I be conducting on it?” No, you absolutely don’t. You have just about anything else in the world to think about. Your overflowing email inbox. Your vacation coming up. The weird, but somehow funny Snapchat you just got from a friend.

The roofing on your home is like the water in your faucet. You only think about it when it’s not working. But when that happens, your world seems to change. It’s a time-consuming monster to figure out what kind of roofing should you be using, finding a reliable contractor to do the work, and then try to make sure the shingles match the paint color so you don’t have to hire a painting guy too. Oh adulthood. No need to worry, when that time does come to replace your roof (or to pick one out for your new home) we’ve created a cliff notes style guide to helping you understand the basics of roofing so you can make an informed decision.

Asphalt Shingles

Asphalt shingles are the most commonly used roofing material by far. It can be used for a variety of design styles, it’s a relatively easy installation and it’s the most economical. The drawback is it has the shortest life span of all these products, around 15-25 years. Also, it’s the least weather resistant product in comparison.  If you’re on a budget or having a unique roof isn’t a priority, this is a great option for you.

  • Cost: $2.75 - $7.50 per SF (materials and labor)
  • Maintenance: Moderate
  • Life Span: 15 - 25 years
  • Complementary Styles: Traditional, Colonial, Ranch, Tudor, Craftsman, Bungalow, Cottage

Metal Roofing

A unique design alternative to asphalt shingles, metal roofing creates a fresh look while boasting a few benefits. It complements a lot of design styles, especially for those seeking a coastal or modern look. If you’re a fan of green solutions, this is the right product for you. It is often a recycled/recyclable product and serves as a better insulator for your home which helps to lower energy bills. There are two kinds of metal roofing products, panels and shingles, so make sure you know which one you’re looking at. While it’s primarily made from aluminum and steel, certain specialty products are made from copper, zinc and titanium.

  • Cost: $8.00 - $13.00 per SF (materials and labor)
  • Maintenance: Moderate
  • Life Span: 25 - 50 years
  • Complementary Styles: Contemporary, Farmhouse, Coastal, Cottage, Bungalow, Cape Cod, Craftsman

Flat Roof

Looking to create a modern style and make those roof pitches disappear? A flat roof gives you a clean line finish and protects your home from the elements. Unique opportunities with a flat roof give you the option to create a roof top deck, green roof or just the ability to get your A/C unit out of sight. Due to their nature, a flat roof is more susceptible to leaking because water and snow isn’t dissipated as quickly as on a regularly pitched roof. Make sure you choose the right roofing system to protect your home and provide the longest life span as it does vary between products.

  • Cost: $3.00 - $10.00 per SF (materials and labor)
  • Maintenance: Moderate
  • Life Span: 7 – 20 years
  • Complementary Styles: Contemporary, Prairie, Modern, Italianate, Mediterranean, Mission, Southwestern, Spanish

Cedar Shingles and Shakes

For the homeowner who loves a good Cape Cod or the author in search of her writing cottage, cedar shingles certainly evoke a particular style. It’s almost ironic to think of using wood as a roofing material, but this time-tested product will last as long as you’re up for the required maintenance. It is a rather high maintenance material and it lasts about as long as asphalt shingles, but the differentiator is the look. It has color and texture that asphalt shingles can’t touch. There are two styles, shingles and shakes. Shingles, are machine manufactured and very predictable in size and shape. Shakes, on the contrary, are hand cut which accentuates a more rustic and unique look.

  • Cost: $4.00 - $9.00 per SF (materials and labor)
  • Maintenance: High
  • Life Span: 15 – 30 years
  • Complementary Styles: Cape Cod, Cottage, Bungalow, Colonial, Coastal, Craftsman, Tudor


In my opinion, this is the crème de la crème. If you love European architecture, slate roofs are essential to complementing the look. Since it is an actual stone product, each piece brings its own uniqueness to the composition. Similar to clay and concrete tiles, it’s a very expensive product and has intense labor requirements for installation. The life span is in the neighborhood of 50-100+ years, but will cost you a significant amount to meet the structural requirements in order to handle the load. The good part is that it’s a low maintenance product.

  • Cost: $10.00 - $20.00 per SF (materials and labor)
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Life Span: 50 – 100+ years
  • Complementary Styles: Chateau, Tudor, Second Empire, Colonial, Georgian, Federal

Clay and Concrete Tiles

As the upper echelon of roofing materials, clay and concrete tiles create a statement that will make your home stand out from the rest. Traditionally ideal for warm and tropical climates, there are a few products out there that can handle colder temperatures. As one of the most expensive products due to intense labor requirements for installation, your investment does go farther with concrete and clay tiles. If properly maintained, it’ll last for 50-100+ years. Due to the sheer weight of this product, your home will need to meet certain structural requirements to handle the load.

  • Cost: $12.00 - $25.00 per SF (materials and labor)
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Life Span: Concrete tiles, 40 – 50 years. Clay tiles, 40 – 100+ years
  • Complementary Styles: Italianate, Mediterranean, Mission, Southwestern, Spanish

Want to learn more? Be sure to check out our INSIGHTS page to find past articles that might be helpful too. Click here to go to INSIGHTS now.