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A Guide To Composite Roofing

Composite roofing describes synthetic products made from various materials to create a long-lasting, stable roof. Many of these products are made from recyclable materials that may otherwise spend an eternity in a landfill.

These materials include (but are not limited to) fiberglass, asphalt, paper, recycled plastics, and even hemp fibers.


These materials can be molded to imitate essentially any common roof design including asphalt shingles, wooden shingles, and clay tiles. Today we will discuss how composite roofing differs from standard materials and provide some insight into using them.

What Is the Difference Between Regular Roofing and Composite Roofing?

Most of us are familiar with fiberglass/asphalt shingles, natural slate, and clay tiles as a roofing material because the vast majority of homes have used them for decades. These roofs became popular for their durability, availability, and appearance, making them versatile, affordable, and effective.

For example, fiberglass/asphalt shingles can be used on virtually any structure with a pitch of 3/12 or greater. Since most homes check this box, these shingles are the most widely used in modern construction.

Available in a large number of styles and colors, fiberglass/asphalt roofs can complement essentially any structure and many carry a 30-year warranty. As the name implies, these shingles are generally made from a mixture of fiberglass fibers, asphalt, and other materials. Fiberglass/asphalt shingles are also relatively simple to install using standard tools.

Natural slate and wooden shingles are also common but to a lesser degree. This is often due to the initial expense and regular maintenance these types of roofs require. Historically, natural slate and wood shingles tend to appear on luxury homes with stonework and complex roof designs, but they can also be used on most structures built today. 

Composite roofing products attempt to retain the advantages of these common roof materials, while reducing or eliminating the disadvantages. For example, composite roofing is generally lighter than its normal counterpart, designed for stability and appearance, and is often longer-lasting.

For the most part, composite roofing improves upon traditional materials by decreasing UV damage, reducing mold and mildew, and increasing manufacturing consistency. Because composite roofing is synthetic, it can be manufactured in various styles and colors, making it comparable to fiberglass/asphalt roofing.

Clay tiles and natural slate can also be accurately replicated in color, style, installation, and texture. This makes composite roofing not only versatile but in most cases, indistinguishable from the real thing.

What Are Some Advantages Of Composite Roofing?

  • Fire Resistant

Many composite roofing materials include components that are less combustible than standard shingles. Common roofing materials, such as natural wood and asphalt offer very little resistance to flame. Most composite roofing uses a combination of materials specifically formulated to reduce this risk.

  • Some Versions Are Sustainable

Because composite roofing is constantly evolving, many manufacturers are leaning towards using more sustainable materials. These materials can include recycled paper products as well as recycled plastics.

In contrast, traditional roofing shingles are generally not environmentally friendly and must be kept separate from other materials in a landfill. By using more sustainable materials, composite roofing manufacturers can create a stable, well-designed product while impacting the environment on a smaller scale.

  • Most Composite Materials Are Lighter

Natural materials like slate are very heavy. Even dimensional and architectural asphalt shingles may require additional bracing to support their weight. Composite roofing, due to its chemical makeup, is considerably lighter than its real counterpart. This not only reduces the additional bracing often required to support natural materials but also makes transporting them to the roof much easier.

  • Does Not Degrade Like Natural Materials

Composite roofing often contains a mixture of materials that are much more stable than natural stone or wood when exposed to the elements. While both natural slate and wood shingles (such as cedar and poplar) can degrade over time, composite materials often will not by comparison.

Ultraviolet light and constant temperature changes can cause natural materials to crack, twist and split. Because composite roofing has no natural grain pattern, this effect is often greatly reduced, making the roof last longer in most applications.

  • Mold and Mildew Resistance

Because composite roofing is synthetic, by and large, it will not absorb moisture like natural materials. This is very important, especially when directly comparing composite roofing to the real thing.

By resisting moisture, these materials not only have fewer mold and mildew issues, but also reduce other problems associated with moisture, like cracking, twisting, and splitting. This typically makes composite roofing less expensive to own over time, as regular maintenance is greatly reduced.

What Are the Disadvantages Of Composite Roofing?

Composite roofing really has a few drawbacks, but perhaps the most important downside is cost. Composite roofing materials can cost up to 50% more than comparable fiberglass/asphalt shingles. This is mostly due to the economy of scale enjoyed by most roofing manufacturers. Composite roofing will likely cost less in the future because it can employ recycled materials. At present, however, composite roofing does not have the market share that traditional roofing materials have. This often makes manufacturing them more expensive.

Another common complaint from composite roofing owners is heat damage. Natural materials and even fiberglass/asphalt shingles tend to allow heat to pass through. This negates some of the damaging effects caused by inclement weather and UV damage. 

Some versions of composite roofing tend to require more ventilation to remain durable than normal materials because they are often not as porous. This effect varies from design to design, but generally synthetic slate and wood versions will need more ventilation to maximize their effectiveness. 

When Should I Use Composite Roofing?

Composite roofing can really be used anywhere common materials can be used. However, as mentioned previously these synthetic products are usually more expensive, so most homeowners that choose composite roofing often plan to stay in the home for a while. Composite roofing tends to last longer than common materials, and as such, many manufacturers offer longer warranties. This makes them very attractive for homeowners seeking low maintenance, long-lasting option. In contrast, most homeowners needing a roof, but planning to sell soon will opt for a standard fiberglass/asphalt version.

Can I Use Composite Roofing In Place Of Shingles?

Yes. Composite roofing is specifically designed to replace existing materials such as natural slate, cedar shingles, and fiberglass/asphalt shingles.

Composite roofing is often marketed as a direct replacement for these traditional roofs, without many of the associated hassles. For example, composite roofing is often preferable where roofs are particularly difficult to access. Because the material generally lasts longer, repairs and replacement tends to be reduced compared to regular shingles. 

Older homes with slate or natural wood shingles often benefit from replacing them with composite materials. As natural materials approach the end of their useful life, repairs usually become more common. When the time comes for replacing this type of roof, some homeowners prefer to avoid the constant maintenance and switch to composite roofing. In many cases, the roof will look no different, but may last 50% longer.

Can I Install Composite Roofing Myself?

Do-it-yourselfers can likely install composite roofing with a little research and training. Most versions of composite roofing install the same, or very similar to their common counterpart. DIYers with roofing experience will find composite roofing no more difficult to install than standard shingles.

However, this can vary widely depending on the style and makeup of the materials. Some standard roofing materials require much more skill and experiences to install, such as slate or cedar shingles. The composite version of these materials will often install in the same manner, so unless the homeowner has experience working with the real thing, they will find installing composite roofing no easier.

Is Composite Roofing Better Than Regular Roofing Materials?

Generally speaking, given the choice most professional roofing installers would agree that composite roofing is better than standard materials. This is often because composite roofing only exists as an improvement upon the original. Obviously, there would be no reason to use composite roofing if the material was inferior, especially since it typically costs more.

Because composite roofing is more stable and will generally offer a longer warranty, many slate and wooden shingle roofs are replaced with some form of composite materials. Even fiberglass/asphalt shingles are commonly replaced with composite roofing because the labor costs are similar to both, yet the composite materials will often last 50% longer. This usually applies regardless of the shingle being replaced.

For example, most new homes using a fiberglass/asphalt roof use a dimensional shingle, which is much thicker than a traditional three-tab shingle. Where three-tab shingles may include a 25-year warranty against defects, a comparable composite product may include a 30, 40, or even 50-year warranty.

Composite Roofing Is the Future

Because composite roofing is technologically advanced compared to traditional roofing materials, many consider it the future of the industry. Composite roofs tend to be more environmentally friendly, last longer, and offer better warranties than traditional materials. However, the most important factor popularizing composite roofing is likely adaptability. Composite roofing will continue to evolve and improve with technology, almost guaranteeing it will be around for a very long time.

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