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Today’s heavy-duty architectural shingles are more durable than the three-tab shingles of the past. Shingles covered with special reflective granules reduce surface temperatures, potentially cutting cooling costs. In decades past, copper, slate and metal roofs often lasted longer than their asphalt shingle counterparts. Today, the gap has closed, with manufacturers of asphalt shingles backing up their products with 50-year and even lifetime warranties.
Zinc (tin) and copper roofs are traditional options that often protect historic structures. Both metals are highly malleable, resilient and somewhat self-healing. Although they can cost 3-5 times more than shingle roofs, zinc and copper roofs can last centuries. Zinc roofing is far more well-known in Europe than in the United States. In Paris, for example, more than 80 percent of roofs are zinc.
Cedar shake roofs are popular because of their aesthetics. In particular, split cedar shakes are highly textured and three-dimensional. Unlike most kinds of residential roofs, they also insulate and dampen sound.
Proponents of slate roofs cite their beauty and extreme longevity. Slate does not absorb water, and it is non-combustible. Negatives include the fact that slate is too heavy for some structures, and installation is tricky. Composite slate roofs may cost several times more than their asphalt shingle counterparts, and natural slate roofs can cost significantly more than that.