Understanding Shingle Quality and Grades

When it comes to replacing your roof, it's important to understand the different options available and the potential consequences of choosing lower-quality materials. A new roof is a significant investment, and while it may be tempting to choose the cheapest option, it's important to consider the long-term effects on the durability and lifespan of your roof.

Entry-level or 3-tab shingle

So it is vital to have a basic knowledge of the different shingle options available to save money both now and in the future, by getting the roof you need rather than just the cheapest option.

The first and most important point to remember is that not all roofs are built the same, not all shingles are made the same, and one cannot compare roofing contractor quotes and scopes of work without looking into all the differences first.

Just because you can get an inexpensive quote that complies with building code minimum standards and roofing material manufacturers' written guidelines doesn't mean it is the best one for your home.

Cheap materials and minimum installation methods may work well in milder climates but not in the Lower Mainland. We live in a region with climate extremes. So a cheap new roof is unlikely to last as long as expected and will likely start to leak much earlier than expected.

Short history of asphalt shingles

Asphalt shingles have been with us for over a century, first invented in 1903 in North America. Asphalt shingles have a base layer of fabric or paper coated with bitumen asphalt. Then slate and or ceramic granules are spread across the exposed side. Talc or sand is put on the back ( in some cases, more granules) to keep the shingles from sticking together. These granules protect the shingles from ultraviolet light, thus preventing quick and premature degradation, cracking, and aging. The granules form an important element of the architectural look and style of many asphalt shingles.

Back in the day, the base fabric in the shingle used to be constructed out of ground-up fabrics such as old army uniforms. These were "Duroid" shingles, a name-brand from Domtar. In the early 1960s, a felt paper base replaced these and became the go-to reinforcement for shingles until the early 1990s.

Medium grade or architectural

In the late 1980s fibreglass matt started to replace paper as the shingle base in Western Canada. These new shingles improved paper-based shingles as they laid flatter and did not wrinkle or distort as much.

Amount of asphalt determines the longevity & quality of a shingle

It is important to know that the life of a shingle is directly related to the amount of asphalt in the shingle and its weight. It is the amount of asphalt that gives the shingle and your roof its waterproofness and longevity.

Three grades of shingles

Today, there are three basic categories of asphalt fibreglass laminated shingles -- entry-level or 3-tab traditional, medium grade or architectural, and designer or premium grade -- and one other unique category.

As you move from one grade to the next, the amount of asphalt increases as well as the life expectancy of the shingle.

Roofers calculate the quality of a particular shingle using a measurement called a "square." A "square" is the weight of shingles needed to roof a 10' by 10' area or 100 square feet.

Entry-level or traditional

Entry-level shingles today weigh roughly 204 to 225 lbs. per square, depending on brand and manufacturer. Only a few years ago, these shingles were 240 to 250 lbs per square. However, manufacturers reduced their quality by 20% either to reduce manufacturing costs or for some other reason.

As Absolute Roof Solutions has been installing asphalt fibreglass shingles in the Lower Mainland for almost 25 years, we have a pretty good idea of how long shingles ought to last.

Premium grade or designer

In the past, we expected an entry-level shingle roof to last 25 years. But now with the lower weight, we expect a shorter roof life expectancy of only 17 to 21 years.

It only makes sense that if you reduce the asphalt by 20%, you will get a less durable shingle. It's lighter, so it's easier to be blown off the roof.   The lack of weight also makes it harder for the shingles to adhere to their "self-sealing" strips of extra wind-seal asphalt. So in a challenging climate like the Lower Mainland, you will not get as much service life.

The lifespan also depends on proper roof ventilation and regular roof maintenance. You can't have trees hanging over it or the roof covered with moss and algae. Otherwise, the lifespan will be much shorter.

Medium-grade or architectural

As we move up, the medium-grade shingles weigh in at 240 to 250 lbs per square. These mid-range shingles not only have more asphalt but tend to have a better formulation and features. They are made better as a premium offering.

Why are these preferred here in the Lower Mainland?

Well, it's a 20% heavier shingle on average than the entry-level. So it's that much more wind resistant. And it's not just 20% more wind resistant, it's more like 50% more wind resistant because the heavier the shingle, the more it adheres to the self-sealing asphalt tabs the factory puts on. This means that this heavier weight shingle is more bonded to the base shingle making it harder to lift in the wind.

So, all in all, you have a more storm-resistant roof on your home when you install such a shingle.

And we have storms here in the Lower Mainland.

This is why we at Absolute Roof Solutions recommend medium-grade shingles or greater to most of our clients. We expect a medium-grade shingle roof, properly maintained and ventilated, to last for 25 to 28 years. This is the service life that many of our clients are looking for as their goal.

The additional cost for a mid-range shingle, depending on the size of the roof, is only a few thousand more dollars usually than the cheaper, less long-lived entry-level shingle.

There is no other investment necessary as everything else remains the same on the job. It's the same work and disposal costs to take off the old roof no matter what you're putting back on. It's the same cost for all the underlayment, all the vents, all the plumbing stacks and metal flashing, and the ridge capping. These are all fixed costs.

So going with a medium-grade shingle is a very worthwhile investment, getting 10 to 12 more years of life from your roof for a relatively small additional investment.

Premium or Designer

Premium shingles for street appeal

When we start talking about the 3-ply, heavy-weight premium grade shingles we are moving into much longer longevity and commensurate higher cost. These shingles weigh in at 450 lbs. per square.

These premium shingles are often used to replace cedar and tile roofs which have become extremely expensive. Because of their style and layering, they provide that street appeal and executive look. We expect them to last 38 to 60 years.

This luxury category of shingles comes with a slightly larger roof investment cost structure. Still, it can be well worth the additional investment to keep up the real estate value of the home by improving or maintaining the architectural style of the roof.

Typically, the mid-weight and the premium heavy-weight shingles include a granule formulation that includes a higher percentage of copper in the shingle granules. These formulations will better resist blue-green algae growth and roof staining.

Warranty does not guarantee shingle life

Now the major confusion for a homeowner in deciding about which category of shingle to go with is that all shingles today have a "limited lifetime" warranty.

Such a warranty often leads a homeowner to wrongly conclude that a cheap shingle will last as long as a higher quality shingle for the lifetime of the house and if it doesn't, a warranty will kick in.

This is often what a homeowner may think when presented with a quote for a new roof. Why not save money and go with the less expensive shingles if they have the same warranty as a higher-cost shingle?  So there isn't any difference, right?

Wrong. This is not what "limited lifetime" means. The warranty has nothing to do with how long the shingles will last. Nothing. The amount of asphalt determines a shingle's life. The warranty is simply a quality pledge that the shingles have been made to a certain standard of manufacture. If the shingle fails and it is found the shingle was substandard in manufacture, then the warranty may kick in on a pro-rated basis. Remember, the warranty is a quality pledge, not a longevity pledge.

This is the trap that a homeowner can fall into and needs to avoid.

Medium grade installation

Impact resistant shingles

There is one other type of shingle to mention.

Shingle manufacturers are now producing a line of shingles called Glass or Impact Resistant that contain a polymer modifier additive to the asphalt. This is the same ingredient that is used for torch-on flat roofing membranes - styrene butadiene styrene (SBS) or styrene ethylene butadiene styrene (SEBS).

This additive makes the asphalt more rubber-like and allows the shingle granules to adhere strongly to the shingle, preventing granule loss from impacts such as hail. It is the granules that give the shingles their ultraviolet light protection as well as protection from drying out. It is granule loss that causes shingles to age prematurely.

SBS or SEBS shingles also don't just adhere to each other, they weld together once on the roof due to the nature of the additive. Winds can blow, but they stay right there, bonded together. This makes them the most wind-resistant type of shingle. This welding makes it difficult to repair a roof because the shingles are so strongly bonded together.

This shingle was initially manufactured because it was more flexible in cold weather, allowing roofers to install a roof in colder temperatures. It was discovered by accident that this type of shingle rebuffs impacts such as hail extremely well. In regions such as Calgary, roofs with SBS-modified shingles showed no apparent damage after a severe hail storm whereas roofs with other types of shingles required immediate replacement.

For the Lower Mainland, if we have a house sitting underneath some big trees, with lots of branches dropping down onto the roof, it's one of the first shingles we look at for a client. It's more durable when you may have an impact. Also, if the client is seeking long-term durability or wants the shingles installed mid-winter, or they are higher up with more snow loads or sliding snow and ice, we often consider these SBS-modified shingles to be an ideal choice for clients to consider.

Your decision on which to use

Which category of shingle is chosen is the investment decision for the homeowner to make. Having the facts is necessary so that an optimum shingle selection can be made.

Our roofing representatives can help with advice, pricing and options.

If you have questions about your shingles or roof, just fill out our online form or give our office a call at (604) 263-0334 to get a quote.