Today in the roofing industry, we aren’t working with the same (now outdated) materials and techniques we had 100 or even 50 years ago. If you’re in the market for a new roof, you’re bound to find a wide variety of options — classic asphalt, cedar shake, slate, metal, and a range of non-traditional types.

Then, there’s synthetic roofing. While it isn’t the most common choice, synthetic materials are far from experimental. Synthetic roofing is making waves in the industry for good reason — in addition to their high performance, they are also made from recycled materials.

That said, you may not be familiar with synthetic materials, since asphalt still dominates the market as the most popular choice for homeowners. But consider that you may only replace your roof a few times over the course of your life. With that in mind, the prospect of a new roof offers a unique opportunity to upgrade.

When choosing a roofing style, it’s important to consider your options from multiple angles:

  • How will these materials perform in different climates?
  • How long do they last on average?
  • What will they look like when installed on your home?
  • How much will they cost?

While you probably have more questions than this, choosing a roofing style is mainly about value. To help you choose the style that provides the most value for your home, let’s look at some of the key differences between traditional asphalt shingles and synthetic roofing materials.

How are they made?

Asphalt: the original shingle

The original asphalt shingles were first created in the early 1900s in Grand Rapids, Michigan by Henry Reynolds of the H.M. Reynolds company. In the early years, asphalt shingles were nothing more than rolled asphalt covered in slate granules (weather resistant minerals).

Today, the base material of asphalt shingles is mostly asphalt-coated fiberglass. That material is then embedded with weather-resistant granules (usually limestone) and backed with adhesive for easier installation.

Synthetic: years of innovation

While synthetic materials may seem like a new invention, some sources date them all the way back to the mid-1800s. The original synthetic slate materials were made of concrete and asbestos. Because of its toxicity and intense weight, this combination was eventually phased out. Another iteration used cellulose fibers, but they weren’t very durable.

Today, the most synthetic roofing materials are polymer composite shingles. They’re most often made from recycled plastics and rubber. However, some may contain varying amounts of paper, fiberglass, and asphalt.

Asphalt vs. synthetic: maintenance, durability, and longevity

The only thing worse than paying for a high-dollar roofing project is paying for it again because it doesn’t hold up. Both asphalt and synthetic materials are relatively easy to install or repair if needed. But part of making a wise roofing investment is choosing a material that’s strong enough to withstand the elements. Let’s look at how each of these materials hold up against different forces over time.

Average life expectancy

The average life expectancy of an asphalt roof is anywhere between 12-20 years. Depending on how long you plan to live in your home, this may be acceptable. However, synthetic roofs tend to last anywhere from 30-50 years on average. If you’re not planning on going anywhere, this may be the better choice for you.

If installed correctly, both materials are relatively low maintenance. But you may have to replace an asphalt roof much sooner than a synthetic roof. That said, synthetic materials can offer you better long-term protection. But if you are planning on moving to a new home within a few years, a new asphalt roof can still add tangible value to your home.

Wind damage

Wind resistance with asphalt shingles depends on what type you choose. Generally, asphalt shingles can withstand 50-100 mph winds. However, some are specifically rated for windy environments like Chicagoland and the Midwest.

While some people believe that asphalt shingles are sensitive to high winds, this isn’t always true. According to a study from Texas Tech University and Haag Engineering, the most important factors in preventing wind damage with asphalt shingles are:

  • Strength of the sealant
  • Physical properties of the shingle (fastener pull-out and stiffness)
  • Quality of installation

That’s why it’s important to choose a roofing contractor with a good track record of high-quality installation and workmanship when comparing estimates.

Most of the time, synthetic materials are specifically engineered to hold up against strong winds and harsh weather. Some can even withstand winds up to 190 mph. This means they don’t tear or crack as often during storms or windy days.

With either material, you can find wind-resistant options rated between Class F (100 mph) and Class H (150 mph). While you may pay more for a better wind rating, it may be worth the investment depending on the weather in your region.

Heat and UV damage

Because your roof is almost always exposed to the sun, it’s important to know how it will hold up to continuous heat and UV rays over time.

Asphalt is sensitive to heat

Because of their chemical makeup, asphalt shingles tend to be more sensitive to heat and UV rays than other types of shingles. As the asphalt absorbs heat from the sun, your shingles may gradually warp over time. While granules embedded into the base material provide some protection from UV rays, there is a reason many desert homes opt for clay tile roofing instead (which doesn’t warp like asphalt).

That said, this may not matter much if you live in an environment that doesn’t have long periods of intense sun exposure. What’s more, you may be able to find asphalt shingles with Class A, B, or C fire ratings — meaning they are able to withstand more heat than the average asphalt shingles.

Synthetic materials do well in the sun

Many types of synthetic roofing materials have Class A fire ratings. They are also made with a specific coating that protects from UV rays. This helps prevent warping and erosion from heat or moisture.

Because synthetic materials don’t rely on granules for protection, it is less likely that a strong impact will leave your roof vulnerable to UV rays. The synthetic coating is often harder to break through than a layer of embedded minerals.

Impact damage

While some asphalt shingles may crack or split easier than other materials, the strength also depends on the type of shingle you use. A thicker shingle with extra tabs or layers offers more protection from impact damage. That said, losing granules is still a concern for asphalt shingles.

If your roof survives a severe hail storm, an initial inspection may suggest minor damage. However, roof hail damage can knock granules loose from your shingles and leave vulnerable gaps. Any gap or hole in the granule layer will expose your shingles (and potentially the other layers of your roof) to harsh weather. Over time, rain, heat, and UV rays will wear a hole into the exposed spot on your roof, causing major leaks and water damage.

On the other hand, synthetic roofing materials are engineered to handle high impacts. This means you typically won’t have to worry about impact damage with a synthetic roof unless a tree falls on your house.

Asphalt vs. synthetic: environmental effects

With concerns over climate change rising all around the world, home improvement projects are now seen as planet improvement projects as well. While you may not have to remove these materials for many years, the long-term environmental impact of your roof is definitely something to consider.

Synthetic shingles are already made of recycled materials, meaning the manufacturing process is much cleaner. It also makes it easy for most general recycling facilities to handle them.

On the other hand, asphalt isn’t always the most environmentally friendly material. Because it is technically a form of petroleum, asphalt shingles can be very hard to recycle. They aren’t completely hazardous as some might believe. The problem is that many people are simply throwing them away. In the United States alone, people throw away 11 million tons of asphalt shingles every year. Once these reach the landfill, they won’t completely break down for another 300 years.

However, taking it to a landfill isn’t the only option — you can also recycle them. Asphalt shingle recycling is a process that grinds up the used material and allows it to be repurposed in new paving projects or to patch holes in existing asphalt. There are multiple asphalt recycling facilities all around the United States — there’s even one in Chicagoland!

Asphalt vs. synthetic: curb appeal

Aesthetics are important when selling a home. But even if you plan on living in it for years to come, you want to have something nice to look at. Both asphalt and synthetic materials have their advantages in this area.

Asphalt: the classic look

If you choose asphalt shingles for your new roof, you’re not the only one. Asphalt is by far the most popular roofing material in the United States. In fact, four in five homes today have asphalt shingle roofing.

There is a good reason for this: asphalt shingles look good and they hold up just fine. But even if you choose this classic option, you aren’t limited to a single style. Here are a few different types you may be able to choose from with asphalt shingles:

  • 3-tab shingles – Probably the most common form, 3-tab shingles come in large rectangular strips that separate into tabs (usually two or three) on the bottom half. The top half is a solid piece with an adhesive backing. When layered, they look like separate pieces. With the right installation, 3-tab shingles can create varying shadows that accent your roof shape.
  • Laminated shingles – Also called “architectural” shingles, laminated shingles most often resemble trapezoids when installed. They also include extra layers of tabs that not only add protection but also give your roof enhanced visual depth.
  • Other forms – There are many other types of asphalt shingles you may find on the market, including those that don’t use tabs or strips. Some are installed in large rectangular or hexagonal pieces.

Synthetic: upscale and innovative

Synthetic materials come in a variety of colors and designs, which gives you the option to choose what looks best on your home. While prices may vary between different styles, many synthetic roofing materials are made to mimic slate or wood shake. In either case, this type of roofing is designed to have the visual appeal of more expensive, luxurious materials without the extra weight or cost.

Asphalt vs. synthetic: price

For many homeowners, price is the deciding factor for choosing a roofing style. That’s certainly understandable — paying too much for a roof may keep you from a positive return on investment. However, paying extra for a more durable and luxurious roof will likely add more value to your home. Let’s look at the cost comparison between synthetic and asphalt.

Asphalt: least expensive, good for the short term

On average, asphalt shingles cost anywhere from $5.50 to $12.50 per square foot. This is one of the main reasons people choose asphalt over synthetic roofing materials. They are durable enough to last up to 20 years, and they don’t cost too much upfront.

However, while you may pay less up front for asphalt shingles, you may have to replace them again in as little as 12 years. Consider your timeframe when you’re choosing asphalt shingles for your roof.

Synthetic: most expensive, built for the long term

Synthetic roofing materials may cost anywhere from $15.50 to $20.50 per square foot. In more extreme cases, you may find the same project is twice as expensive with synthetic shingles as it would be with asphalt.

While they do tend to be more durable and last much longer than asphalt shingles, many people opt out of synthetic roofing because of the cost. That said, no good roofing project is going to be cheap. If the upfront cost is the only thing standing in the way of choosing the best option for your home, financing your roof can help you solve that — it may even save you money in the long run.

Asphalt vs. synthetic: final thoughts

In order to choose the right material for your new roof, you’ll want to weigh the options and pick the one you are most willing to pay for.

Most of our customers at Baltic Roofing choose asphalt shingles because of the lower price, classic look, and moderate durability. But just because synthetic roofing is more expensive doesn’t mean it isn’t a great option. The enhanced performance against virtually every kind of harsh weather combined with the sleek aesthetic of wood or slate can make for an incredibly high-quality roof.

In any case, it isn’t the materials that are most important — it’s the workmanship. Even the best materials will fall apart if they aren’t properly installed. That’s why it’s so important to choose a roofer that offers the most value for your money. High quality work and great customer service may be more expensive, but the price is worth it for the value of a new roof you can count on.

At Baltic Roofing, we seek to create that value in every project we finish. Every new roof we install undergoes a strict quality control process and is backed by our No Leak Guarantee. We’ve been serving Chicagoland since 2004, and our work speaks for itself.

Contact Baltic Roofing to see what a new roof could look like on your home.

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