Asphalt shingles are an economical roofing solution. But shop around, because not all shingles are the same.

Asphalt shingles are economical and versatile, which may be why they represent more than 80 percent of the roofing market. They’re relatively inexpensive to buy and install, are suited to roof pitches from 2-in-12 to vertical, and are available across a wide range of quality, cost, and style. Easy to cut, fit, and fasten, asphalt shingles are compatible with many different kinds of flashing and edging products, and don’t require specialized accessories for roof edges, wall terminations, chimney or vent flashings.


Choosing Shingles
There are two kinds of asphalt shingles on the market: Fiberglass shingles and organic-mat shingles. Both are made with asphalt, but fiberglass shingles use a fiberglass reinforcing mat, while the organic kind use a cellulose-fiber mat derived from wood. The organic mat of traditional shingles has to be saturated with soft asphalt, then coated with a harder asphalt for protection; the fiberglass shingles need only the hard asphalt coating. Fiberglass shingles are thinner, lighter, easier to lug around, and carry a better fire rating than organic shingles. Organic shingles used to have the edge over fiberglass on toughness and flexibility in cold weather, but that is no longer the case. “The technology in fiberglass has come very far,” says Paul Batt, Director of Product Marketing for CertainTeed. “It performs well in all climates and it is more dependable.” Where once fiberglass shingles predominated mainly the southern and central regions of the country, it is now widely used all over North America, including Canada, where organic mat used to be almost universal. “Fiberglass shingles make up about 95% of the asphalt shingle market,” adds Batt.


Buying Tips
When it comes to shingles, the drawbacks can often center on service life. While asphalt shingles come with warranties ranging from 20 to as long as limited lifetime, roofers and builders can be skeptical of those warranties. Some view warranties as more of a marketing device, and not a reliable predictor of lifespan. In the past decade, there have been many complaints of asphalt shingle failure long before warranties expired where homeowners have been dissatisfied with warranty payouts that didn’t cover all the costs of repair or replacement.

So rather than just compare warranties, it’s wise to demand shingles that meet industry manufacturing standards. Fiberglass asphalt shingles are covered by a standard called ASTM D-3462, which requires products to pass tear-strength and nail-withdrawal tests. Until recently, few shingles on the market actually passed the tests. But codes have been upgraded to permit only fiberglass shingles labeled as complying with this standard to be installed. Today some manufacturers even have the independent Underwriters Laboratory certify that they measure up. To check for compliance, look for the familiar UL logo on the label next to the ASTM D-3462 certification.
 Organic-mat shingles are covered by their own standard, ASTM D-225. In the past, organic shingles had much higher tear strength and nail-pull resistance than fiberglass shingles, but advances in the fiberglass technology have all but eliminated this distinction. Generally speaking, the heavier shingles that use more material will have the higher warranty. “A heavier weight shingle will have greater weather-ability and durability,” says Batt. “The better warranty is a reflection of that.”

Shingles that pass the standards cost more than low-grade shingles. However, installation is a big factor in total roof cost and, since it costs just as much to nail on poor shingles as first-rate ones, cheap shingles are rarely worth it.

The Importance of Installation
As with many products in the home, the effectiveness of the roof will depend largely on the quality of the installation. With over 20,000 roofing contractors in the US alone, homeowners will do well to remember that not all contractors are created equal. Everything from failure to match the correct fastener with the roofing product to installing in too-low temperatures can reduce the lifespan of a roof. Homeowners should be engaged in the process of selecting a contractor and determining that a selected contractor is taking all the appropriate steps to ensure proper installation of the roof. Some steps to take include:

• Find out if the contractor is a part of a Manufacturer’s Program. Are they qualified to install the product that you have selected?

• Find out how long the contractor has been in business in your area. Make sure the contractor is licensed and insured.

• Ask how the contractor will deal with ventilation and flashing areas.

• Learn about your roof and its particular needs and unique qualities.


Shingle Appearance
Asphalt shingles now come in all kinds of colors and profiles. The old 3-tab shingles are still around, but a wide range of “architectural” shingles, whose profiles suggest the random shadows and patterns of slate, wood shingles, or ceramic tile, are readily available. These specialty shingles often carry a longer warranty but, once again, beware: Check to see that the shingle actually has two full layers, not a half-width of lower lamination. Also, make sure the package is labeled as complying with ASTM D-3462 or ASTM D-225. Some architectural shingles—like CertainTeed’s “Presidential” line—are actually triple laminate, comprised of three layers. Made to imitate the look of cedar shake, the triple laminate shingle gives the roof an even greater three dimensional look, not to mention durability.


Architectural shingles have a random pattern and, as a result, can be easier to lay out than the standard 3-tab kind. With a traditional shingle, you have to line up the tabs properly, or the roof will have a haphazard, wavy appearance. The surface pattern of the architectural shingles, on the other hand, obscures the shape of the shingles themselves, and provides the desired appearance while saving effort on the layout. This savings in installation time may actually help offset the sticker price associated with specialty shingles

Reflecting Rays
Signaling an effort to keep up with the green movement, a few of the major manufacturers of asphalt shingles have introduced some form of reflective shingle onto the market. Designed to reduce cooling costs, these shingles contain granules that reflect infrared light. This reduces solar heat gain, which keeps both the roof—and the home’s interior—cooler on those bright, hot sunny days. Homeowners living in hot and sunny climates should consider a reflective asphalt shingle roofing solution to help curb cooling costs.

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