“Paint every roof in America white: Save the planet.”

At a recent climate conference on global warming, US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu discussed this proposal from California researchers. Part Two was to paint all the roads in the country white, too. I’d imagine it was a short discussion, accompanied by laughter. Here in America, we thrive on freedom of choice. Sure, some of us like white roofs. Some like black, too. The rest of us prefer a color in between.

Aesthetically Appealing Shingles

A few decades back, US manufacturers figured out how to design shingles for aesthetics, not just for the monochrome crowd. Today’s architects, designers and homeowners can choose from a stunning array of styles and hues for residential roofing. Before we discuss the design and color options available in contemporary asphalt-fiberglass shingles, let’s consider four classic old-world roofing materials.

Wood: The roof of choice in Colonial America, western red cedar shakes and shingles can be tinted in a range of hues. Combinations: about 30.

Slate: The dignified mainstay of churches, government buildings, and stately mansions, slate is natural stone in nature’s tones. Colors: about 10.

Clay and cement tile: Dating back to ancient China and modernized by the cement industry today, tiles are available in a half-dozen profiles and about a dozen earth tones. Combinations: about 70.

Metal shingles: Not just for commercial roofing, steel and aluminum shingles are offered in at least 6 classic styles. Color lines include natural, metallic, standard and premium choices for a total of about 30 shades. Combinations: 180.

Popularity Of Asphalt Shingles

The post-war building boom in the US demanded millions of square feet of roofing shingles at prices working Americans could afford. Asphalt shingles answered the call. Today, only about 20% of residential roofs use classic materials; the rest are protected by asphalt and fiberglass-asphalt shingles. This enormous market has made room for hundreds of shingle choices. We looked at two of the five major shingle manufacturers with plants in the US: CertainTeed and GAF-ELK.

Each offers four major shingle lines:

  1. Traditional tabs: The familiar 3-tab shingle in a single layer of various weights.
  2. Designer/Architectural: Mainstream consumer favorite composed of laminated asphalt and fiberglass, offering shaded color blends.
  3. Premium/Lifetime: Heavy laminated glass and composite shingles with unique profiles and subtle hues to imitate classic roofing materials like shakes and tiles.
  4. Luxury/Slate: Extremely heavy multi-layered composite shingles that could pass for real slate, shakes or tiles using proprietary colorizing systems.

CertainTeed offers more individual product lines within the major groups. Here’s how the choices break down:

Traditional: 3 groups offering 6 to 16 colors each. Combinations: 37.

Designer: 3 groups of 9 or 13 colors. Combinations: 31.

Premium Designer: 7 sections ranging from 4 to 12 shades each. Combinations: 62.

Luxury: 9 designs with 3 to 10 blended hues per line. Combinations: 53.

Doing the math, that’s just one major shingle manufacturer (of no less than 5), offering almost 200 design and color options for residential roofing. Obviously, asphalt-formula shingles provide consumers with a far greater selection of shingles for aesthetics than classic materials do. Metal roofing products are gaining, but lack the universal acceptance and distribution system of asphalt shingles.

Premium Designer Shingles

For the discriminating homeowner, the widest array of color and style choices come from premium designer shingles. These are thick, heavy and able to withstand some of the worst weather conditions. High-end shingles still cost less than the classic roofing materials they often imitate, and will complement nearly any architectural style. They offer the ultimate freedom of choice for American roofs, in hi-def color.