Man testing roofing shingles in a specialized machine.
Our accelerated weathering tester gets fed shingles in an exercise that’s as tough on roofing as Mother Nature is.

For the first time in more than a decade, CR’s labs have returned to the work of rigorously testing asphalt roofing products. We focused on asphalt because it’s the most commonly used residential roofing material.

Within asphalt, there’s a lot to consider. Start by looking at shingle types, including three-tab, architectural, and multilayered (all of which you’ll find in our ratings, available to subscribers). In our recent strength tests on products from six manufacturers, we found that the most costly type—multilayered architectural shingles, typically with three to four layers that overlap—generally performs better overall than other styles.

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But our testing also revealed lower-cost options with fewer layers that still perform admirably. “For most homes, a top-performing three-tab, which has only one layer, or architectural laminated shingles will work just fine,” says Misha Kollontai, who leads CR’s tests of roofing products.

What’s more, you can find savings among similarly rated multilayered architectural laminated shingles. For instance, Iko Crowne Slate costs $180 per 100 square feet—a standard roofing quantity—compared with CertainTeed Presidential Shake at $325. That’s an 81 percent price difference for similar performance.

Inspect the Shingle Warranty

Once you start looking at shingles, you might be impressed by how many manufacturers offer lifetime protection. But in roofing parlance, a lifetime really isn’t a lifetime. It’s more like 10 years. That’s the period during which most manufacturers will pay the roof’s original owner in full to replace defective shingles under the baseline warranty. After that—and for the rest of the period you own your home—it’ll reimburse only for your shingles’ depreciated value.

To extend the full-replacement period, you have to either upgrade to a different shingle or buy more of the manufacturer’s components. Another way to upgrade: Use a contractor who’s certified or otherwise credentialed by the company.

For instance, most Owens Corning shingles come with a “lifetime” warranty that covers full shingle replacement for only the first 10 years. Going with the company’s Preferred or Platinum contractors, though, can extend the 10-year full-pay period to 50 years.

You may think of roofing warranties as an extension of coverage, “but they’re also limiting the manufacturer’s liability,” says Mark Graham, vice president of technical services at the National Roofing Contractors Association, a trade organization based in Rosemont, Ill.

A roofing warranty won’t pay if the shingle maker finds problems in your home’s ventilation. And manufacturers usually won’t cover damage from certain acts of God, such as very high winds and hail; for that, you’ll have to put in a homeowners insurance claim or pay out of pocket.

Given the gotchas, a warranty probably shouldn’t be your main focus in choosing a new roof. Rather, our testers recommend that you place your faith in a strong shingle and a reliable contractor. The right combination can help your home weather most storms without draining your wallet.

Choose a Contractor

With any roofer, get local references and check for local and state licenses, proof of bonding, Better Business Bureau rating, and active certificates of insurance—for liability and workers’ compensation. Your homeowners insurance company may also have a network of contractors.

If you have already decided on a shingle style, check the maker’s website for contractor recommendations. The company’s credentialed contractors, in theory, have more training in installing the product. In reality, a lot of that training focuses on sales, Graham says. “Nonetheless,” he says, “you know that person is going to be a little bit more experienced.”

Look, too, for a contractor who has been around at least five years and has a good local reputation, Graham says.

Get Multiple Estimates

Ask about the quantity of shingles needed, labor charges, a description of the work to be done, approximate work dates, needed building permits, warranty details, and a payment schedule. The roofer typically orders the shingles and gives you the manufacturer documents; store those papers safely for future reference.

To activate a warranty upgrade, you may have to use a maker’s suite of shingles and other roofing components, such as flashing and underlayment. But there’s another reason to bundle these products together, says Jerod Raisch, president of Metro Construction, a roofer based in Denver. “They’ve been tested together,” he says. “That consistency can give you better performance.”

Compare Installers’ Warranties

Some installers offer workmanship warranties separate and apart from a shingle manufacturer’s. Be sure to ask for one in writing. Among the dozens of contractor websites from across the country that we reviewed, only a few showed explicit warranties. The promises we found covered between one and 50 years, though experts told us most roof problems happen in the first couple of years.

“If you don’t find a leak in the first two years, it’s probably not going to happen,” says Melissa Eiseman, president of Eiseman Construction in New Britain, Pa., which offers a five-year workmanship warranty.

(Lowe’s offers a two-year workmanship warranty for roofs that its partner contractors install; Home Depot is exiting the business but still honoring existing contracts.)

Take These Last Key Steps

Contact your insurer once the work is done; some reduce premiums for new roofs. Register your warranty with the manufacturer if the contract requires it; even with its caveats, the document can have use down the road. And note whether it can be assumed by the second homeowner—a common feature that can be an attractive home-selling tool later on. Check the warranty for transfer requirements, which include strict deadlines.

Anatomy of a Roof

Before giving you an estimate, a contractor should assess all components in and around your roof, including the drip edge and gutters that steer water runoff. In a complete roof repair or redo, you’ll typically need to replace the underlayment. That component, usually treated paper or synthetic sheets, serves as a weather barrier atop the decking, the flat surface—typically plywood—that lies on rafters. In a cold climate, a roofer may suggest applying an ice-dam protection membrane in some areas to prevent ice dams that can cause water seepage. Adding or updating the ridge vent and vented soffits can improve attic airflow and prevent harmful moisture buildup. Replacing or fixing flashing, the material around the chimney and where roofing planes meet, can prevent leaks; ask about alternatives to copper, which is durable and pretty, but costly.

Illustration by Chris Philpot

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the January 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.