Choose durable roofing materials
A beautiful home is also a green home, and where better to show off your eco-sensibilities than your roof? Rather than choosing asphalt shingles that’ll probably need replacing in 15 years, go for longer-lasting, durable roofing materials like slate, aluminum, steel, clay, and even asphalt if it’s the 30-year variety. Next to recycled-content and solar shingles, these options are the greenest way to go. Not only do they typically add to your home's energy efficiency, but their longevity also results in less landfill waste and fewer natural resources needed to manufacture replacement roofs.
How to choose long-lasting shingles
In addition to these durable roofing materials, some recycled-content options are long-lasting, particularly composite, recycled plastic, and recycled rubber shingles. All of the options below work well on sloped roofs, although some of them are also suitable for low-slope or flat surfaces.
Steel: They’re generally made of coated steel, but these shingles sometimes come aluminized (aluminum is applied in a protective layer).
- Pros: Most steel products today contain some percentage of recycled content, so look for options with a high recycled-to-new ratio. They typically are cooler than many other shingle types because they reflect the sun. Their textured finish makes noise a non-problem. Can be installed on low-sloped roofs and are a good candidate for recycling.
- Cons: Can rust if scratched aluminized coating is chipped or scratched off. Cost: $80-350 per square foot.
- Lifespan: 100 years.
Aluminum: Comes with a natural metal appearance or pressed into different shapes like slate, shake (split-log), or tile. Choose the anodized finish, which is more eco-friendly than other finishing options.
- Pros: Very lightweight, these shingles won’t require you to reinforce your roof. They usually come with a very high recycled content so look for 100 percent recycled if possible. They’re generally cooler than composite roofs because, like steel, they reflect the sun. Suitable for low-sloped roofs and easily recycled.
- Cons: Ensure they’re finished with a high-quality baked-on resin certified by the National Sanitation Foundation so that you can safely collect rainwater from your roof. Cost: $250-300 per square foot.
- Lifespan: 50-100 years.
Clay tile: Clay (alternately referred to as terra cotta or ceramic tile roofing) is extruded into various shapes to create shingles, then kiln-dried.
- Pros: Long-lasting and loved by architectural enthusiasts, clay tiles are probably the best in terms of rainwater quality. They're weather-resistant and won’t fade or discolor, and can be reused or recycled upon removal.
- Cons: Kiln-drying is an energy-intensive process. Additionally, clay tiles can be relatively fragile if stepped on. They’re also quite heavy, so they’ll require roof reinforcement and will accumulate significant transport emissions in their journey to your home. If you have the choice, opt either for salvaged or locally-produced clay. Not suitable for colder climates and difficult to mount solar panels to. Cost: $300-1,200 per square foot.
- Lifespan: 75-100 years.
Slate: A fine-grained rock cut into tile shapes.
- Pros: Another good option in terms of water quality, slate is natural and very durable. It’s also not process-intensive, meaning there are few, if any, chemical infusions. Long warranties are not uncommon.
- Cons: Like clay, slate is very heavy and therefore transport emissions and costs are high. Heaviness may also require work to reinforce your roof, and this material can be relatively difficult to install. Cost: $900-1,200 per square foot.
- Lifespan: 100-200 years.
30-year asphalt: Made with a layer of mineral granules (often glass, for reinforcement) over an asphalt-soaked fiber (for water-proofing).
- Pros: Comes in a variety of colors and is relatively inexpensive. Look for manufacturers offering at least 25 percent recycled content. Longer-lasting options are preferable to the average 17-year asphalt, and old roofing can be recycled where facilities exist.
- Cons: Can contain treatments like copper and zinc which are environmentally harmful. They’re soaked in asphalt, which is essentially oil and therefore non-renewable. Temperature swings can shorten their life. Darkly-colored options can cause unwanted heat gain. Cost: $40-150 per square foot.
- Lifespan: 30 years.
Avoid these less-green options
Certain products and finishes may seem green, but when examined more closely are actually eco-no-no's. Watch out for these two in particular:
Copper: They may give you a truly green roof someday, but copper shingles are produced using a ton of energy and so not a very eco-friendly option. A copper coating can also be applied to asphalt shingles as a moss inhibitor. The metal in copper shingles and finishes can leach into creeks, lakes, and your rainwater over time, causing both human and animal health problems.
Zinc-coated steel: Zinc is sometimes applied to steel to prevent rusting, and can also be mixed into asphalt shingles to prevent moss growth. But like copper, zinc can slowly get carried into fresh water where it’s toxic to wildlife and humans alike. Aluminum coatings for steel are superior to zinc and don’t come with the serious eco-hazards.
- Upfront isn’t everything: When considering new roofing, remember that initial roofing costs aren’t the only thing you’ll pay for. Though 15-year asphalt may seem like a steal, if you factor in energy inefficiencies and multiple replacements (meaning more disposal waste and greater need for raw materials), it’s not as cheap as it seems. A higher-priced, but longer lasting, efficient roofing system is kinder to your pocketbook and the planet over the long haul.
- Check first, then replace: Be sure that your roof needs replacing before doling out the cash for an entirely new system. Sometimes an inexpensive repair will fix the leak or seal energy-wasting joints.
- The whole nine yards: Consider the whole roofing system when thinking about an environmentally friendly home remodel.
- Special alert!: If your old roof was installed between 1940 and 1975, there is a strong chance that it contains asbestos. To avoid possible health problems associated with this material, it is recommended that you work with a licensed professional to remove asbestos roofing. Call 1-800-USA-ROOF to find one near you.
- Color matters: Keep color in mind when choosing your roofing material, especially if you live in a hot zone. Since dark roofing surfaces absorb more heat (sometimes raising roof temperature by 100°F), they transfer more heat into the building than lighter colored roofs. Smooth, bright white roofing often used in cool roof construction is the lowest temp option for building construction, raising roof temperature by only 15°F compared to 72°F to 90°F for common asphalt shingles.
- Insurance woes: Are you replacing your roof because of hail or wind damage? If you choose to go through your insurance company, you may face some challenges. Insurance companies often default to asphalt for roof replacements. If you want something more eco-friendly, you’ll most likely have to ask, and chances are you’ll have to pay the difference if your green roof choice is more costly than your insurer's preferred choice.
Find it! Durable roofing materials
With a rugged, wood shake appearance, these metal shingles are both durable and beautiful. The’re made using 98 percent post-consumer recycled metals and come in a variety of colors. They’re also backed by a limited lifetime warranty.
This maintenance-free roofing is durable (you can walk on it, and it’s hail resistant), is made from 95 percent recycled material (including post-industrial plastics, fiber, and crumb rubber from tires), and comes with a 50-year warranty. Its cedar roof appearance comes in a variety of different profiles and is mold, mildew, and insect resistant, too.
These Spanish-styled "tile" shingles (available in steel and aluminum) have earned the ENERGY STAR rating because of their cool roof attributes. They’re lightweight, as well as fire, pest, and rot resistant.
A classically-colored roofing material, this option can be used to created a mono-colored roof, or in combination with other slates options for a multicolored appearance. Random sizes make this product especially unique. Can last more than 100 years.
Guaranteed not to leak or chip due to hail damage, these ultra-durable aluminum shingles are also fire and pest resistant. Suitable for climates with frequent freeze-thaw cycles, these shingles come with a 50-year limited warranty.
Specializing in recycled vintage clay tiles, which can be matched to your existing clay tile for roof repairs. The company also does new roof installs with shingles in a variety of shapes and colors.
Choosing long-lasting shingles helps you go green because…
- They’ll reduce the need for multiple roof replacements over time, resulting in less waste sent to landfills.
- Fewer roof replacements mean fewer raw materials are used.
Asphalt shingles have comprised 80 to 85 percent of the roofing market since they were first developed in the 1800s, but asphalt has a shorter lifespan than any other roofing material, averaging 15 to 20 years. As a result, huge amounts of asphalt roofing are sent to landfills every year. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that over 136 million tons of building-related trash from construction and demolition projects are sent to landfills annually, amounting to 2.8 pounds per person per day. Of this material, between 1 percent and 10 percent are asphalt roofing materials.
- National Roofing Contractors Association
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Remodeler’s Field Guide
- Heat Island Group - Cool Roofs
- Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - Cool Roofing Materials Database: How to use the Cool Roofing Materials Database
- Builder News - Roofing
- GlobeReal Estate - Mike Holmes: For protection overhead, metal is the way to go
- The Green Guide - What Should I Put On My Roof?: Materials
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Construction & Demolition (C$D) Materials: Basic Information