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Metal Panels vs. Shingle Roofing: What You Need to Know

Those of us researching the best roofing solution for a home improvement project often find themselves bewildered by the options. Shingles and metal panels have long been a popular choice of roof material for many structures due to their simple, effective design. Both materials protect the building from water, so what is the difference?

Today we will discuss the physical differences between shingles and metal panels, as well as where each is commonly used and for what purpose.

What Are Shingles?

The term shingles refers to flat materials that are overlapped with each other on a pitched roof to repel water and snow. A shingle can take many forms, but is most commonly used in its fiberglass/asphalt version as a roof for residential homes.

Shingles can be made of other materials, including natural wood, recycled plastics, and even metal. Shingles are small and can be easily installed by one person, which makes them ideal for both large and small projects. Although in modern construction pneumatic tools are usually used, they are not required to install a shingle.

Shingles can be installed using simple hand tools, which is one reason they have been in use for centuries in one form or another

What Are Metal Roofing Panels?

Metal roofing panels are used as a style of roof designed to be very durable and installed quickly. Most of us have seen a version of this material on barns, country style homes, and other basic structures.

These panels overlap each other in all four directions, preventing rainwater from penetrating to the roof decking. In modern construction, manufacturers have redesigned this concept to include various profiles, colors, and even materials. Metal roofing panels are usually fairly large, allowing them to cover large areas of a roof very quickly. Metal panels can be described as very large shingles, as they perform the same benefit in much the same way. 

Are Shingles Better Than Metal Roofing Panels?

Both designs do a great job, just in different ways. Both shingles and metal panels have been around for many years, yet we tend to use one more than the other, depending on the application. We don’t often see metal roofs on our homes, and we rarely see shingles on a barn.

Why is this? For the most part, the reason lies with the use of the material. Shingles are generally considered more attractive, yet metal panels are considered more durable. Metal panels can be installed very quickly, while shingles usually take longer to install, so which is better? The answer to this question is typically found in both the function and use of the material itself. 

For example, either material will work well on most structures, but shingles are considered more applicable on most residential home designs. This is often more of an aesthetic choice than a structural one, because shingles are available in an array of styles, materials, and colors. Shingles are not complicated to install, making them a popular do-it-yourself project. 

Metal panels on the other hand, tend to be used when durability is more important than appearance, or when the design of the structure requires it. On livestock barns, for example, metal roofing panels are often used as both roofing and siding, due to its ability to withstand impacts. More modern residential versions come in a number of colors and shapes, making them suitable for an upscale home design like a barndominium.

What Are the Advantages Of Shingles?

Shingles are simple to install and can be used on essentially any roof system with a pitch of 3/12 or greater. They are simple to install and do a great job of shedding water. This style of roof is durable, cost-effective, and easy to repair. Usually sold in squares (100 square feet), shingles are great for either large or small projects. A few benefits of shingles include:

  • Cost-effective
  • Easy to Install
  • DIY Friendly
  • Very Versatile
  • Available In a Number of Styles and Colors

Shingles can be quite dense, especially dimensional and architectural versions. These shingles offer a longer warranty than typical three-tab shingles because they incorporate more material. This in effect doubles the thickness of the shingle, providing more durability.

These designs also tend to prevent unintentional patterns, which helps disguise undulations on a roof deck. The coarse texture also helps mask small defects, such as inconsistent courses. In some versions, the warranty can be 40 years or longer. 

What Are the Disadvantages Of Shingles?

Shingles do have a few weaknesses, which can include:

  • Not Suitable for Low Pitch or Flat Roofs
  • Less Resistance to Impacts Than Other Roof Materials
  • Less Wind Resistance 

Shingles are not completely watertight, so standing water will often penetrate the seal. This is why shingles only work on roofs with a pitch. Shingles are not suitable for very shallow roofs, nor flat roofs for this reason. Shingles are generally not as durable as some other forms of roofing, such as tile, slate, and metal panels, due to their softer, more pliable texture. Although this feature is a benefit to sealing, it is a disadvantage in strong winds. Shingles will crease if they are folded, creating a weak spot in the shingle. Therefore, shingles must remain perfectly flat after installation or they may fail.  

What Are the Advantages Of Metal Roofing Panels?

Metal roofing panels have been used for decades. These panels are ideal for:

  • Durability
  • Quick Installation
  • Easy Repair

The most common form of metal roofing panel, called 5V, includes five small ribs that are pressed into the metal during manufacturing. These ribs provide a barrier to strong winds and add rigidity to the panel. Most metal roofing panels will cover about 16-20 square feet per panel, making them very fast to install. In modern construction, some manufacturers have even taken the time tested design of metal roofing panels and replaced the metal with recycled plastic and other materials. In part, this was done to reduce the main complaint associated with metal roofing panels, which is rust.

What Are the Disadvantages Of Metal Panels?

Metal panels are perfect for some projects, however there are disadvantages. These include:

  • Additional Maintenance
  • Can Be Awkward to Install
  • Crooked Installation Can Cause Leaks

As we know, most metal rusts when exposed to moisture and oxygen due to its iron content. As such, metal roofing panels must be coated to repel water. This can come in the form of paint, galvanized steel, or metal that does not contain iron, such as stainless steel.

Metal roofing panels are also awkward to work with when compared to shingles. Since these panels are large, they can be difficult to install in windy conditions, especially when working alone. Special attention should also be given to keep the panels as straight as possible.

These panels depend on a tight overlapping of the panels to effectively shed water. Therefore, installation of these panels is more deliberate, and the fasteners must be designed for use with metal. 

Metal panels also require some form of roof pitch, just as shingles do. Generally, these panels will work on any roof with a pitch of 3/12 or greater. In practice, this means the roof must rise vertically at least 3” for every 12” of horizontal length.

Otherwise, slow moving rainwater can curl under the joints in the panels, allowing water to contact the roof decking. Flashing is also generally required around obstacles such as chimneys and vent pipes, as the metal panels are not pliable and must remain rigid. Metal panels can be trimmed, but the joint must be sealed using a suitable sealant such as roof tar or exterior grade petroleum-based roof sealer.

When Should I Use Shingles?

Shingles can be used for the vast majority of roofing projects. Because they self seal, no additional sealing or waterproofing is typically required. However, because shingles cannot be molded or shaped around obstacles, flashing is typically required as well. Shingles work great for gable, hip and valley, shed, and most other roof shapes.

This is because shingles are bendable, making them ideal for essentially any flat surface with a pitch. 

Shingles can also be used as a form of underlayment. This makes them ideal for roof areas prone to damage, such as valleys. In a hip and valley roof design, water is intentionally channeled to the valleys, meaning these areas receive much more wear and tear than a flat area on the same roof.

Shingles can be used to line these areas like flashing, and additional shingles can then be added for durability. As such, shingles can be laid atop each other one time, so in most cases, a shingle roof will often not require the removal of the old roof to install a new one.

When Should I Use Metal Panels?

Metal panels are ideal in applications where the roof must be durable, quick to install, and easy to repair. Metal panels can be easily removed and replaced if they become damaged or in disrepair because they are often installed with grommeted screws. Where a shingle would likely tear during removal (especially if the roof is warm), metal panels are not generally temperature sensitive.

They will not significantly expand or contract with heat, so fewer fasteners are generally required. Since the perforations caused by fasteners are often the main source of leaks, the fewer fasteners the better.

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