Complete List of Roofing Types
Roof Online Staff
Last updated January 29, 2020
This page provides an overview and a brief introduction to all the various types of roofing used on buildings in the world today. By “types of roofing” we don’t just mean the primary roofing materials themselves, but also the different ways the materials can be put together to form the roof, the way they function to keep water out, and all the associated traditions, techniques, and performance attributes.
This is important to note because otherwise it can be difficult to be clear when talking about roofing types. On the internet you can find many lists of “roofing types” which are really lists of primary materials, but we don’t think that’s really accurate, because the same material can fall under more than one roofing category. “Low-slope roofing” includes more than a dozen different material types, and a specific material, let’s say copper, can fall under more than one category.
Copper can be used in low-slope roofing, steep-slope roofing, shingle roofing, and various types of metal panel roofing. Talking about “copper roofing” in general is also valid, because copper will always behave in certain ways no matter what type of roofing it’s used for. Saying “copper roofing”, though, will certainly invite the question, “What type of copper roofing?”.
We list all the types of roofing you’d be likely to hear a roofing industry professional refer to. We’ve tried to break it all down as far as we could. We hope you like our list!
This is the sort of roofing you find on a pitched roof. For this type of roofing to function properly, the roof slope must be greater than 3-in-12. Steep-slope roofing does not form a continuous waterproof membrane and it depends on gravity to rapidly shed water. The roofing material on a steep-slope roof typically takes the form of overlapping units which are individually fastened to the roof deck, or sheathing.
Shingles can be characterized as units of roofing material which are flat, relatively small, and designed to be installed in an overlapping pattern, most often in horizontal courses. While shingles can, strictly speaking, be made out of clay or concrete, shingles made from those materials are conventionally referred to as “tiles”. A 100 sq. ft. roof area will require around 90 individual asphalt shingles, and as many as 400 wood shingles.
First manufactured in the early 1900’s after someone had the bright idea to cut up asphalt roll roofing into shingle-sized pieces, asphalt shingles are now the most popular type of steep-slope roofing in North America by far. Attractive due to their light weight, good water-resistance, and most of all their low cost, these shingles are produced in a huge variety of colors, styles, and thicknesses. Today, most asphalt shingles are formed by coating a fiberglass mat with an asphalt-based mixture and embedding ceramic granules on one side to block UV rays. Asphalt shingles can perform anywhere from 10 to 50 years, depending on the thickness and quality of the material.
Fiber Cement Shingles
In use as a roofing material for about a century, fiber cement is made by using fibers to reinforce Portland cement. Originally, these fibers were asbestos, but fiber cement shingles today are manufactured with cellulose and synthetic fibers. These shingles are durable, fire-resistant, and relatively light-weight. They can be colored and formed to look like slate or wood shingles. They are lighter and more fragile than clay or concrete, but they can last up to 50 years. Because they last so long, old fiber cement shingles in place today may contain asbestos, so appropriate care should be taken when cutting or removing them.
Asbestos Fiber Cement Shingles
Cellulose Fiber Cement Shingles
Many metal shingles could be better described as small metal panels. Instead of being individually fastened to the roof deck and overlapping like shingles do, they have interlocking edges and are held in place with clips; the clips are fastened to the deck and usually secure two adjacent metal shingles. These sheet metal shingles tend to be the size of a 3-tab strip shingle, and are usually formed to mimic the texture of slate or wood shingles. They are light-weight, come in practically any color, and can last 50 years or more. Less common are metal shingles which function like real shingles: small flat pieces fastened individually through pre-drilled holes and installed in overlapping rows.
Stainless Steel Shingles
Prized for its stately appearance, slate is heavy, very long-lasting, and expensive. It’s often found on older, traditional government and university buildings, as it lends an air of permanence and seriousness to a structure (and some of those slate roofs may well be original, as thick, high-quality slate roofing can last for centuries). Slate is a natural stone material which comes from a quarry. It is often gray, but available in many colors, including red and green, depending on the quarry. Most houses designed with asphalt shingles in mind will not be able to support the weight of a good slate roof, so if you’re considering slate, you’ll need to look into this. Slate installation requires experience and precision; slate roofs should be installed by slate roofing specialists.
Called “composite shingles” by manufacturers, synthetic shingles are also known as “synthetic slate”, “artificial slate”, “synthetic shake”, etc. These products are basically plastic shingles, often made with a significant amount of recycled material. They are manufactured via injection molding, using the roofing material (slate, tile) that the finished composite product will resemble to form the molds. Material warranties of up to 50 years are common.
Related Pages: Synthetic Shingle Manufacturers
Many different wood species make good shingles, including white cypress and redwood, but cedar makes up the overwhelming majority of wood shingles manufactured today, and is usually what people think of when they think of wood shingles. Although certain jurisdictions ban or restrict wood shingles as a fire hazard, class A fire ratings for wood shingle roofs can be achieved with fire-resistant treated shingles and fire-resistant underlayments.
A roof tile is an individual roofing unit made out of fired clay or another material that resembles fired clay tile in appearance and strength (mainly concrete). Some metal panels are manufactured to look like clay tile and are called “metal tiles”, but they are much larger, thinner, and structurally weaker than clay tile. Roof tile is designed to be installed in overlapping horizontal courses like shingles. While tiles can be flat and installed essentially like shingles, they more commonly have curved profiles, and fit together so that the bottom, cupped section carries water off the roof, and the top, arched section covers the joint between two tiles and keeps water out. Roof tile was one of the very first manufactured roofing materials, known to be in use at least 4,500 years ago.
Spanish Tile (Barrel, S-Shaped)
Two-Piece (Barrel, Mission)
Essentially, a roofing panel is a large, rigid or semi-rigid roofing unit formed from some type of sheet material. Panels can be flat, corrugated, or shaped to resemble shingles or tiles. They can be installed with interlocking seams or joints, or they can overlap to shed water like big roof tiles. Many simple panels are intended for use on canopies, pavilions, and outbuildings like barns or sheds, where minor water intrusion is not considered much of an issue. High-quality metal panels for residential or commercial roofs consistently outlast and outperform cheaper roofing materials such as asphalt shingles.
Standing Seam Metal
Flat Seam Metal
Corrugated Asphalt Panels
Corrugated Fiber Cement Panels
Corrugated Fiberglass Panels
Corrugated Metal Panels
Corrugated PVC Panels
Insulated Roof Panels
Metal Tile Roofing Panels
Ribbed Metal Panels
Stone-Coated Steel Panels
Other Steep-Slope Roofing
Other types of roofing materials are used, but are not appropriate for most steep-sloped structures. These can be considered “niche” roofing materials, and are intended for use in special, atypical roofing applications.
Stone Shingles (Other than Slate)
Low-slope roofs are often called “flat roofs”, although it’s extremely rare for a roof to actually be completely flat. Good roof design will ensure that all roofs have at least some slope, so water can drain off of them. Water is corrosive and you don’t want it sitting on a roof for any longer than it has to. Any roof with a slope of 3-in-12 or less is considered a low-slope roof, and the roof covering on a low-slope roof is called a “membrane”. Because of the low slope, these roofs do not shed water very quickly, high winds may cause water to actually move up-slope, and water may sit on some parts of the roof for days. Because of these conditions, a proper low-slope roof membrane must form a continuous barrier against water entry.
One of the oldest waterproofing materials known, bitumen (which in the roofing industry today refers to both asphalt and coal tar pitch) formed the great bulk of all flat roofing installed in the 20th century. With their durable and redundant layers, bitumen roofs provide excellent protection against hail and foot traffic. Installation commonly requires special kettles for heating mop-applied bitumen (think of the roofing scene in the Shawshank Redemption), or propane torches for roll products, although these can also be applied using special cold adhesives or even fasteners in some cases.
Coal Tar Pitch BUR
Modified Bitumen Roofing
APP Mod Bit
SBS Mod Bit
Single-Ply Membrane Roofing
Now used in over two-thirds of new commercial low-slope roof installations, single-ply roofing is a relatively cheap alternative to traditional bitumen roofs. Single-ply roofing is installed in giant sheets, which are seamed together using adhesives, adhesive tape, or hot-air welders. The life expectancy, length of available warranties, and the price of these roofing materials go up as the thickness of the membrane increases. Membrane puncture is a common cause of leaks on these roofs, so care must be taken when walking or working on them.
CPE Membrane (Chlorinated Polyethylene)
CSPE or “Hypalon” Membrane (Chlorosulfonated Polyethylene)
EPDM Membrane (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer)
Other Low-Slope Roofing
There are other kinds of low-slope roof systems, although some of them don’t actually use different materials from the ones already mentioned. A “solar roof system” is usually a series of solar panels installed on top of a single-ply membrane, and a green roof is often a layer of vegetation installed over a concrete roof deck that has been covered with bituminous waterproofing. Structural metal panels and spray polyurethane foam are entirely different systems, however.