Roof Building Materials

Roof Building Materials
Roof Building Materials (Image: Lidiya)

Not too many of us have given much thought to the roof this week--maybe not even for months. But sooner or later, the roof will become an issue in our lives. It's always good to know what's up there, even if you have no intention of ever being up there. At least if you know what your roof is made of or other material options that you have, you will be able to make good decisions when the time comes to replace it or match it with the roof of a future addition.

Types of Roofing Materials

You will almost always have a choice of the materials you use for your roof. If you're planning on living in your home for a long time, quality should be at the top of your list for choosing your materials. The roof starts out with decking. Decking material can be plywood or a pressed particle board. The next material you'll see on a roof is roof paper. If you live in a colder climate where there is a lot of ice and snow, there is a membrane that should be put down next. These may be made of a plastic material or asphalt. Next, you need drip edge flashing. Drip edge is made of metal and nailed to the edges of the roof. Felt paper or roofing paper is the next layer on the roof. Most builders and roofers use a 30-lb. felt paper, although it comes in different grades. Metal flashing is used for the dips and the valleys of the roof. Shingles make up the final layer of the roof. Shingles come in a variety of types and materials. This is the part of the roof that you will see and will be the first line of defense against the weather. This is the most important decision of all of the roofing materials.

Roofing Shingles and Tiles

There are so many types and textures of roof shingles that this will be a difficult decision for most. If you are just matching an addition, you would use whatever is already on your roof. But for the new roof, knowing your options and which materials are best in what situation can help make that decision. The most common shingle is the asphalt shingle. It comes in a variety of colors and thicknesses. Some are warranted to last for 10 years; others will last 20 to 30 years. Asphalt shingles are affordable and used everywhere, but they don't hold up well to hurricane winds. They also need regular maintenance when used in a very wet, cold climate.

Metal roofing is becoming much more popular. It's relatively inexpensive, easy and quick to install, and resists fire and bugs. Metal roofing also holds up better in hurricanes in the South and sheds snow and ice better in the North. It lasts a very long time and can be painted.

Clay tiles are nice to look at. These also resist fire and bugs, and they don't rot. You can find clay tiles on very old buildings, so you know it lasts a long time. But clay tile is very heavy, and the roof structure must be made differently to carry this type of roof. And it's very expensive to purchase and install.

Another practically indestructible roof material is slate. It will last longer than you will and is an excellent material for snowy and icy areas. However, it is also very heavy and even more expensive than clay tiles.

Cedar shingles have been used for a long time. Cedar is resistant to bugs and rot but not fire. Many municipalities are requiring fireproof materials these days, so you wouldn't be able to use cedar shingles there. They are more expensive than asphalt shingles but not as expensive as tile.

Function of the Materials

The function of all roofing materials is to keep the weather out of your home. The main function of the decking is to have something to nail the shingles or tiles to. Plywood has always been the better-quality material for roof decking, but it's more expensive. Particle board is wood shavings that are pressed together to form a sheet of wood. While it is still wood, it is more susceptible to moisture damage. The membrane and felt paper are to keep the decking dry so it doesn't rot and allow water to leak in. The drip edge's main function is to keep water from going back into the decking. Flashing keeps water and ice from sitting in the valleys and causing rot. And the shingles or tiles are there to keep everything from coming through and entering your home. All of the materials work together to form a roofing system. If any of the materials are left out, the system will break down and you will have leaks and water damage to your home.


Roofers measure a roof in squares. A square in roof language is 10 feet by 10 feet. This is important to know if you are going to try to price shingles or tiles yourself. You will need to buy extra shingles, too, for hip shingles, which must be cut on an angle. Ridge venting may be necessary if you live in a warmer climate; that will have to be taken into consideration, too. If doing the job yourself, make sure you know all of the details of your roof so that you get a correct estimate on materials. However, if you overestimate and buy too many shingles, most stores will take back the unopened packs and refund your money.


You should think of your roof as an investment, especially if you plan on living in the home for a long time. It may seem like a lot of money at the time, but when you don't have to fix or replace your roof the entire time you live in your home, it's well worth it. If you are planning on selling your home soon, maybe you won't use the most expensive materials, but you should still make sure the roof is installed correctly. Most mortgage companies and government-backed loans require roof inspections. If you did not have it done correctly or just did a patch job, it will be noticed and you'll have to make more repairs or replace the roof. It's always wise to have the roof inspected before you put the house on the market--and leave room in your price if the inspector feels it will need to be replaced.

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