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What are Roofing Shingles?

S. Mithra
S. Mithra

Roofing shingles are flat or curved tiles that interlock and overlap in a way that channels water off a pitched roof. They are made from materials that vary in cost, weight, durability, color, and architectural style. When roofing a house with tiles, a builder needs to consider his budget, climate, the roof's pitch, and how he would like the end result to compliment the home's design.

The use of shingles is reserved for roofs with sloping sides that are steep enough to shed water into a gutter system by gravity alone. There are other roofing materials, such as metal flashing or sheets of PVC, that would be appropriate for flat or shallow roofs. Most problems with a new roof, like leaking, can be traced to improper installation, not flawed materials. Homeowners should make sure that they hire professional roofers to help them choose the appropriate tile. They should also monitor the installation of special rafters, flashing, and the shingles themselves. Problems often arise around fireplace chimneys or other vents.

Asphalt roofing shingles.
Asphalt roofing shingles.

Many materials are well suited to serve as weatherproof, durable, beautiful shingles. Ceramic or clay tiles come in an elongated S-shape to top Spanish-style adobe houses. Slate comes in a variety of colors, from blue to green to gray to tan, and lasts as long as 100 years. Ceramic and slate tiles can be extravagantly priced, however, and require an extra-strong roof since they are very heavy. Lighter alternatives, such as asphalt, can mimic both the color and the fire-retardant rating of those choices.

Ceramic roofing shingles.
Ceramic roofing shingles.

The standard asphalt shingles, also known as composite or fiberglass, are made by infusing a paper or fiberglass base with asphalt. One side is then sprayed with even more granules of a mineral of the desired color. A dependable choice, they are affordable and last 15 to 20 years. A more creative alternative is wood shake or copper squares. Wood can be a good choice for a log cabin, as long as it is not in an area at risk for wildfires. Metal tiles made out of steel, aluminum, or copper make a strong design statement, as they shine in the sunlight. These options are more expensive, but could complement a designer home.

Discussion Comments


Once on a vacation I had lived in a house which had a very beautiful slanting roof. It was made of concrete but they had colored it like clay. And it gave the house a completely different look. When I bought a home, I asked our roofing contractor in Toronto to do something similar. And I must say, they did a brilliant job. I feel so proud seeing my roof.


Thanks for all of your help. Can I just do my own roofing? Where do I go to buy shingles?


I am a huge fan of older homes, and in the town that I used to live in there was a whole bunch of them that needed to be fixed up. I'd spend hours just riding around and looking at them!

There was one in particular that always drew my attention. It had a beautiful slate roof (at least, I think it was slate) and there were designs of pink and blue flowers at even intervals across the whole roof.

It was gorgeous! It held a sort of antique charm that made me think of times of plenty.

I wonder if these kinds of roofs are still able to be done; and if so, what damage it would do to my wallet! After all, I know that these are not regular, cheap roofing shingles.


This is an incredibly helpful post!

My parents have lived in a home for nearly 20 years with a perpetually leaky kitchen. That’s it - just the kitchen.

They have hired roofers to re-shingle, and we have even crawled on top of that hot roof more than once ourselves to try and fix the problem.

But, by reading this one article, I now know what the whole problem is. The roof is a flat roof – the kitchen was built on years after the original home, and was not pitched like the rest.

Had we known that was the problem, we could have remedied this aggravating issue years ago!

Now we can buy the right roofing materials and shingles.

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    • Asphalt roofing shingles.
      By: Michael Shake
      Asphalt roofing shingles.
    • Ceramic roofing shingles.
      By: PiLensPhoto
      Ceramic roofing shingles.
    • A roofer installing shingles on a house.
      By: Glen Jones
      A roofer installing shingles on a house.