Roof shingles represent an important chapter in the evolution of roofing materials. Up until the middle of the 19th century, wood and slate shingles or clay tiles were commonly used for roofing in Australia and elsewhere. Roofs were also laid by covering the surface with fabric or heavy paper, which was then coated with tar and sprinkled with sand for long-term protection.

The process was further simplified with the introduction of paper pre-coated with tar and sand. The roof shingle, as we know it today, owes its origin to the inventiveness of Henry Reynolds, a roofing contractor from Grand Rapids, Michigan who cut up the tar-coated paper into rectangular pieces in 1903 to create asphalt shingles.

Asphalt shingles continue to be a popular roofing choice in the building industry. Having evolved considerably since their introduction in the market at the turn of the 20th century, asphalt shingles today feature a fibreglass mat as the base layer coated with asphalt and ceramic granules. These roof shingles score high on wind and impact resistance, waterproofing, fire performance, style, appeal and affordability.

However, there are several different types of roof shingles with material being the primary differentiator; while wood shingles, slate shingles and clay shingles go back a few centuries, many have been developed throughout the 20th century using materials such as concrete, composites, fibreglass, fibre cement, rubber, bitumen, terracotta, metal, asbestos and even plastic.



Recent innovations include solar shingles, which are actually thin film photovoltaic cells made to look like traditional roof shingles. Cool roof shingles are Energy Star rated shingles that use highly reflective granules to reflect heat from the roof and reduce heat transfer into the building. Composite roof shingles offer a more practical alternative to traditional roof shingles made from natural materials in terms of fire performance, maintenance, durability and cost.

Rubber roof shingles represent a sustainable alternative to popular roofing materials. Made from recycled rubber, these (often grey or black) roof shingles are lightweight, durable and low maintenance, and can resist damage from hailstones. Rubber shingles that simulate asphalt, slate and wood shingles are also available.

The choice of material has an impact on the energy efficiency of the home, exterior aesthetic as well as longevity. Different materials have varying heat transfer characteristics, affecting interior temperatures. Even the choice of colour can affect the roof’s performance – a lighter colour, for instance, would reflect heat away in summer.

Roof shingles are installed in an overlapping style in rows or courses, beginning from the bottom edge of the roof, with individual shingles laid progressively upwards – each shingle’s seam overlapped by another further up until the top where a ridge cap is used to complete the installation. And shingles aren't limited to roofs – wall shingles are also a popular choice in home design.

Accoridng to Bunnings, roof shingles need periodic maintenance mainly because trapped debris along the joints can absorb water, damage the roof and cause leaks. Discolouration, loose shingles, warped or curling shingles, and sagging are some of the indications of roof damage. Similar to any other roof, one should also check the flashings and gutters for damage as well as cracks in caulking and sealants.

The 3-tab strip shingle is one of the most commonly used asphalt shingles (also called bitumen shingles) in North America, mainly due to its reputation as a low cost roofing option. The dimensional laminated shingle (also known as architectural shingle) is a premium decorative range, offering better appeal, higher wind resistance, UV deflection and durability. Being multi-layered, architectural shingles are thicker and better able to stand up to environmental damage. Asphalt shingles come in solid colours or blends and include black, grey, tan, green, blue, charcoal and rust.

Asphalt shingles are economical to install but will require maintenance after a few years, mainly from damage caused by weather exposure. Curling, granular erosion, mould and algae are some of the problems associated with asphalt roof shingles. During repairs, asphalt shingles can be installed over existing shingles, simplifying the process.

Made primarily from natural slate deposits, slate roof shingles are attractive, durable and environment-friendly. One of the oldest roofing materials in the world with its history going back to the 1800s, slate shingles are preferred for their natural stone appearance. Being a natural material, slate shingles increase the home’s energy efficiency by maintaining a constant temperature. Slate roofs are also fireproof, waterproof, tough and long-lasting – there are old buildings that still retain the original slate shingles on their roof. Slate roof shingles can also be recycled. Though the colour options are mostly limited to greys, the shades may vary based on the slate deposit. Red slate is a rare material and is often used as an accent colour. Options also include black, green, and purple. Synthetic slate shingles are available at a more affordable cost and in a wider palette.

Slate shingles are expensive. Being a heavy material, they are difficult to install and also require the home’s structure to be reinforced to support the weight.

One of the oldest roofing materials in the world, wood roof shingles come in two variations: wood shingles and wood shakes. While wood shingles are sawn to precise shapes and have a smooth profile, wood shakes are split by hand or machine along the grain and have a more textured, rustic look. Both shingle types develop a grey patina over time. Wood roof shingles are mostly made from red cedar because of easy availability and greater resistance to rot. Hardwoods such as redwood, white cedar and cypress are also used to make these shingles. Wood shingles are commonly used as siding for exterior walls. They have greater visual appeal thanks to their natural appearance, deliver better insulation than asphalt shingles, and are easier to repair and replace.

More expensive than asphalt shingles, cedar shingles are usually installed at high-end residential properties. Wood shingle roofs need regular maintenance to minimise problems arising from weather exposure. Apart from suffering moss damage, wood shingles can also rot, warp or split over time and may need replacement. Wood shingles are not fire-resistant.

Wood shingles have a lifespan of 20-30 years while cedar shakes can last 30-50 years, subject to proper maintenance.

From flat panels and corrugated sheets, metal roofs have indeed come a long way with metal shingles offering building designers a high performing and visually appealing roofing option to conventional roof shingles. Metal roof shingles are fireproof, durable and long-lasting, can resist high winds and hail, are lightweight for easy installation, and come in a broad range of colours, shapes and textures. The shingles interlock for added strength. Metal shingles can simulate the look of asphalt shingles, terracotta shingles, slate shingles and wood shingles among others, making them suitable for any architectural style. Recommended for flat or steep rooflines, metal shingles are typically made from steel, stainless steel, Colorbond steel, aluminium, copper and zinc alloys. Copper shingles are ideal for heritage buildings, can be used for roof accents or trims, and will also last hundreds of years. Aluminium shingles are another choice for more modern structures, although they tend to be more expensive than other types of metal roof shingles and do not last as long. 

While metal roof shingles can withstand impacts, they will still need maintenance to prevent rust, patch holes, fix loose nails or repair curled up seams. Metal shingles are also more expensive than asphalt shingles and the installation will require the services of a specialist roofer.

Also known as terracotta tiles, clay shingles are a popular cool-roof option for buildings in warmer climates as they absorb less heat than asphalt shingles. The environment-friendly clay roof shingles are extremely durable, fireproof, recyclable, impervious to rotting, and resistant to harsh weather conditions. The most commonly available clay roof shingles have natural earthy tones such as red and brownish-orange, but these tiles are also available in a broad range of attractive colours and textures, including options that mimic slate, asphalt and wood shingles. Clay shingles are suited to both classic and contemporary architectural styles with multiple options such as flat tiles, scalloped tiles, Spanish tiles and French tiles.

Clay shingles are heavier than asphalt shingles and will require a stronger roof structure to carry the additional weight. Though more expensive than asphalt shingles or wood shakes, clay shingles are practically maintenance-free, saving the homeowner considerable costs over the building’s lifetime.

Concrete roof shingles are high-strength, high performance roofing materials that can resist fire, hurricane winds, heavy impacts and marine environments. Concrete shingles have high visual appeal and can be customised to simulate wood, asphalt, slate or clay shingles, making them ideal for various architectural styles. Available in a wide range of profiles, patterns and textures, these interlocking tiles offer a versatile choice of long-lasting colours to blend with any exterior palette. Concrete shingles are also more affordable than clay shingles.

Concrete tiles are heavy, and therefore, require a strong roof structure for installation as well as for removal where the require significant labour input.

According to roof tile companies like Monier, who have a range of roof shingles prices, concrete roof shingles can last for 50-100 years.

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Some other roof tile options include fiber cement shingles, plastic shingles (meaning faux slate, wood or asphalt shingles) and composition shingles. It is also important to consider the type of flashing that will be used in conjunction with the roof tiles.

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