Time and again house hunters pull up to a prospective new home, stop short, and sigh:

“Oh, man, this one needs a new roof.”

It’s discouraging. Who wants to buy a house and immediately begin shopping for roofing? Too often, those homes had a new shingle roof installed less than 20 years ago. There are, however, many durable roof shingles that last far more than two decades

Why do so many people buy roof shingles that age so quickly? The answer is: budget, and expedience. Folks willing to spend $20,000 on a new kitchen will try to shave $1,000 off the price of a new roof. Roofing contractors oblige them by quoting a bottom-of-the-line product, rather than a more durable shingle. Working together, consumers and contractors can make a decision they’ll both be proud of for 30 years or more.

Let’s look at what’s available for long-lasting residential roofing:

Asphalt Shingles: Top-quality asphalt shingles combine a fiberglass mat, modified asphalt, and tiny weather-resistant granules in various colors. They laminate multiple layers to add durability and texture for visual appeal. Weighing as much as 400 pounds per 100 square feet, the best shingles have received Class A Fire Ratings and even achieved a Class IV hail rating (the highest possible). Lifespan: 30 to 50 years (by warranty).

Wood Shingles: Colonial settlers used hand-split wood shakes on their roofs. Today, saw-milled cedar shingles remain a popular choice in some regions. Cedar contains natural oils that inhibit plant growth and repel moisture. With some maintenance, wood shingles can last for decades. Western Wood Preservers Ltd., for example, warrants its red cedar shingles and shakes for 50 years.

Slate Shingles: Natural stone shingles are beautiful and have been a favorite for sloped commercial roofing on churches and historic buildings. Neither fire nor hail nor wind will disturb a strong slate roof. Occasionally, ice or weather damage can dislodge one or two tiles. Slate has been used for at least 500 years. In the Northeast it’s not uncommon to see nineteenth-century homes proudly displaying original slate roofs.

Clay or cement tiles: Most of us recognize classic Spanish red-clay tile roofs. Today’s roof tiles are available in a wide range of colors and shapes, including some that mimic other materials. Tile roofs have been prevalent in Asia and Europe for centuries; some remain intact to the present. Only blunt-force can inflict real damage. Potential longevity: exceeds 200 years.

Metal systems: Once the domain of commercial roofing, steel and aluminum roofs are gaining ground in residential designs. Newer “shingle-style” metal products now offer texture and shadowing similar to traditional roof shingles. Metal roofs are fireproof, bug-proof, and can withstand hail and hurricane conditions. Modern aluminum shingles are light-weight and could last for centuries.

Is it fair to compare asphalt-based shingles to more expensive roofing materials? Not really. Fiberglass-based asphalt shingles dominate the US home roofing market. Why? Because the familiar shingle in all its permutations remains available and affordable. Installation is fairly simple and rarely requires specialized tools. Other roof materials can’t compete.

Roof Shingle Warranty History

Thirty years ago, homeowners could only choose from 20- and 25-year warrantied and “premium” asphalt shingles. Advances in the use of fiberglass and related materials, and the popularity of laminated architectural shingles have greatly increased the longevity of the common shingle. Now, 40- and 50-year warranties are common. The top-quality shingles may outlive their warranty periods.

What, then, is the longest lasting shingle for your roof? It’s the best one that you can afford to purchase and install. For most of us, that will be a 40-year, three-dimensional, fiberglass-asphalt shingle from a local manufacturer. For those with far deeper pockets, a case can be made for any of the other high-end roofing products.