Will Your Next Asphalt Roof Last a Lifetime?
Asphalt shingles have come a long way since the advent of the simple three-tab. Now, durable laminated shingles dominate the market.
Synopsis: Historically, asphalt shingles have been appealing for their low cost, to the detriment of their aesthetic appeal. Today, writes senior editor Justin Fink, asphalt-shingle manufacturers are focused on making their products stronger, sturdier, and more attractive—and with a longer life span, to boot. Shingles now are made by bonding multiple layers of asphalt and fiberglass, which creates a thicker, better-performing product. Also, the materials used in today’s shingles are stronger, made to do a better job of withstanding nail pops and high winds. The longest-lasting shingles on the market are laminated shingles with a lifetime warranty and fall into two categories: dimensional shingles, which have a standard architectural shingle pattern) and “luxury” shingles, which do a better job of approximating the appearance of shakes or slate shingles. This article includes a sidebar on deciphering shingle warranties.
Historically, the appeal of asphalt shingles has been their low cost, both for material and installation. Early three tab shingles, however cheap and durable, were thin and featureless. They were essentially a two-dimensional imitation of roofing slate or wood shakes. Manufacturers soon upped the ante by introducing thicker laminated, or architectural, shingles in an effort to enhance shadow lines and mimic the variability of natural materials. An improvement, perhaps, but they still don’t fool anybody into thinking the shingles are anything other than asphalt.
Today the focus is on even thicker, more aesthetically convincing laminated shingles that offer much better performance and durability and that already account for 70% of asphalt-roofing sales. Now it’s easy to find asphalt shingles with expected life spans of 40 to 50 years, or even longer.
Layered for better performance
By bonding multiple layers of asphalt and fiberglass, manufacturers have created dimensional shingles that are thicker than three-tab shingles and offer better performance, thanks to the multiple layers of asphalt and lack of perforated tabs. Initially, the enhanced performance on these shingles was directly related to their thickness: thicker shingle, better shingle. This is still true, but there’s more. The materials themselves have gotten even better.
Improved backer mats do a better job resisting high winds and nail pops. More important, compared to older fabrics, today’s stronger mats carry more asphalt. More asphalt and better asphalt formulations have increased shingles’ waterproofing ability and enhanced their stability, so they don’t dry out and crack or become too soft and easily damaged. Manufacturers won’t reveal any details about their asphalt formulations, but in interviews, they all acknowledge that improved asphalt mixtures have allowed them to increase the length of their warranties.
Finally, tuning the composition of the asphalt sealing strips has also improved wind resistance. The best shingles on the market are usually warranted to resist 110-mph winds with standard nailing patterns, but often, they can pass laboratory testing up to 150 mph. Look for performance standards on bundles and product literature. Shingles designed to meet the highest ASTM wind resistance standards are labeled D3161 Class F, D6381 Class H, or D7158 Class H. But your best bet is the UL 2390 Class H certification, showing independent testing of shingles from random batches.
Thicker shingles look better and last longer
The longest-lasting products on the market are laminated shingles with lifetime warranties. These fall into two categories: dimensional shingles (the standard architectural shingle pattern) and what manufacturers call “luxury shingles.” Intended to do a better job of approximating the appearance of shakes or slate shingles, luxury shingles are much thicker and can have larger exposures than dimensional shingles.
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