Roofing buying guide

Last updated: March 2015

Getting started

You may be able to put off some home repairs for a while, but cracked, curled, or missing roof shingles require immediate attention. If neglected, they can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in water damage. Past tests showed that performance could vary widely between and even within types and brands.

On a sunny day, use binoculars to spot cracked, curled, or missing shingles, which are signs that the roof is near its end of life. Also check flashing around chimneys, skylights, and roof valleys, and the rubber boots around vents for cracks.

Estimating costs

Suppliers sell roofing by the square, or 100-square-foot area. To estimate how much roofing you'll need, multiply the overall length and width of each roof section in feet to measure its area and add 10 percent to allow for waste. Then divide by 100 to determine how many squares you'll need. Figure on about 30 squares for a typical 2,300-square-foot house, plus roughly $3,500 to $10,000 for labor. Keep an extra bundle of shingles for minor repairs, particularly after a heavy storm.

Think twice about layering

Where two layers of roofing are already in place, building codes typically require stripping the roofing down to the sheathing. Most roofs are strong enough to hold two layers. But installing some of the heavier laminated shingles over even a single layer may overstress some rafters and other structural parts. Another reason we recommend complete removal is so you don't miss any rot, water damage, or insect infestation underneath. Figure on an extra $100 or more per 100 square feet to strip off and dispose of the old shingles.

If the roof is new or the old shingles are being removed, you'll need new underlay (roofing felt) to create a moisture barrier between the roofing and the wood sheathing and rafters underneath. The sheathing may also have to be replaced if it's damaged.

Check the details

Roofing warranties tend to include full reimbursement for materials and installation, but only for a limited time. That usually doesn't cover winds above 85 mph or faulty installation, so get a labor warranty from the installer. Save all receipts, invoices, and a bundle of shingles for repairs. And be sure roofing has the highest fire rating, Class A.

Weighty options

Some of the best roofing could be too heavy for some homes. For instance, some laminated shingles weigh 100 to 200 pounds more per square than others that performed almost as well when we last tested them. That could overstress rafters and other structural parts if you shingle over an existing layer.


When considering what type of roofing to install, weigh aesthetics against cost. You could spend an extra $30,000 for real slate or wood shakes--or you could get a similar look for much less.


The most popular by far, asphalt shingles are made of fiberglass sandwiched between asphalt and ceramic granules. Relatively light and easy to install, they are a good choice if you're looking for style at a budget price. They may last 30 years or more but can be vulnerable to high winds. Asphalt roofing comes in two types. Laminated shingles, also known as "architectural" or "dimensional" shingles, are layered, and their thickness and depth make them look more like slate or wood shakes. Three-tab asphalt shingles, though similarly priced, are made in a single layer. They're flatter and thinner than laminated shingles and didn't perform in past tests. What's more, falling prices for laminated shingles are helping them grab more and more of the market.

Fake slate roofing shingles

This composite material looks like the real thing, even close up. And it weighs only about as much as asphalt, so there's no need to beef up the roof structure. Some fake slate may crack under impact or may fade. And all of it is still relatively costly, though not nearly as expensive to buy and install as slate.


Metal roofing comes in steel, aluminum, copper, and alloy strips, and in various shapes and textures. Copper is especially expensive. Over time, its surface acquires a greenish patina that some people find attractive. Advantages of metal include easy installation and ultra-light weight, about half that of asphalt. And of course metal roofing doesn't burn. But it can be noisy in a rainstorm. Although the steel strips we tested dented easily, their textured surface hid minor damage quite well. Such roofing effectively reflects the sun's rays, so it keeps your home cooler in summer--a benefit in hot climates. Make sure you hire a contractor who is familiar with the material.


Here are the two most important roofing features to check for.

Fire rating

Look for roofing with the highest fire rating, Class A.


A full warranty covers full replacement of defective materials, while a materials warranty offers prorated coverage. Most warranties include full reimbursement for materials and installation for a limited time--up to 10 years for our asphalt shingles and 50 years for fake slate and steel roofing we've seen. Generally, none of the warranties cover damage from winds above 85 mph. Nor do they cover faulty installation, so ask for a separate labor warranty from the installer. Save all receipts and invoices.

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