Asphalt shingle is the most common type of roofing in America. Over its 100 year history it has seen a number of evolutions, making asphalt shingle more safe, durable, and visually appealing. There are various types of asphalt shingles, though the most common are three tab shingles and architectural shingles. Asphalt shingles are typically cheaper than other roofing materials, which accounts for much of their popularity. However, asphalt shingles also tend not to last as long as other roofing materials. This is especially true of the three tab variety.

Things to Consider Before Installing an Asphalt Shingle Roof [infographic]

What is Asphalt Shingle

Asphalt shingle can refer to a number of types of shingles. Over their 100 year history they have been made of a wide variety of materials and have seen a number of improvements. However, the basic concept of an asphalt shingle remains the same. An asphalt shingle starts with a base material, originally organic felt and now almost exclusively fiberglass. That material is saturated in asphalt to make it waterproof, then coated with more asphalt. The exposed part of the shingle is then impregnated with crushed minerals, stone, or other materials to provide strength, color, and UV protection. The underside of asphalt shingles is typically coated with self adhesive material that bonds to the shingles below it when heated by the sun.

Why Are Asphalt Shingles So Common

Asphalt shingles were first used in 1901. Within the next decade, asphalt shingles had come into regular use in various parts of the United States. In the 1920s, the U.S. National Board of Fire Underwriters undertook a campaign to discourage the use of wood shingles, as they posed an acute fire risk. This led to a boom in the use of asphalt shingles. By 1939 factories in the U.S. were producing 11 million asphalt shingles a year.

Asphalt shingles are relatively cheap to produce and easy to install. They are lightweight and easy to handle. In the middle of the twentieth century homebuilding boomed, with appearance of the American suburb and many new subdivisions. Single sheet asphalt shingles were the predominant type of roofing used in these new homes, leading to their ubiquity across much of America.

For most of the 20th century, single sheet asphalt shingles were used almost exclusively, with the three tab variety being the most common. Recently, many homeowners are opting for a newer type of asphalt shingle, the dimensional or architectural asphalt shingle. These shingles are thicker, last longer, and have a more natural look than the older style of three tab asphalt shingles. However, those benefits comes with a cost increase. Architectural shingles can be significantly more expensive than the old three tab style.

For this reason, many builders of economy priced homes or homes that will be used for rentals still use the three tab asphalt shingles. With lower sale prices or expected rental income, a builder cannot expect to recoup the cost of the more expensive architectural shingles. On the other hand, many homeowners and builders of higher end homes are opting for architectural shingles. Their finer look and increased longevity make them a good investment.

Three Tab Asphalt Shingles

Three tab shingles are a type of strip shingle. They are made of a single layer of asphalt saturated fiberglass. The asphalt saturated fiberglass is covered with crushed minerals, rock, or other material to provide color and UV protection. The most most common type of strip shingle comes in a 12 inch by 36 inch strip. The exposed part of the strip is divided into three tabs for visual effect. That is why it is called three tab shingle.

Over the years, three tab and other types of strip shingles have seen numerous improvements. The base material for asphalt shingles of all types was originally organic felt. This felt could be made from any number of materials, ranging from cotton, to wool, to wood pulp. Sometimes asbestos was added to provide strength and as a fire retardent. Beginning in the 1960s, fiberglass slowly began to replace organic felt. By the early 1980s fiberglass was more common than organic felt. Today organic felt is very rarely used.

The addition of self sealing adhesive to the underside of asphalt shingles began in the 1950s. The adhesive added extra reinforcement against wind damage compared to shingles attached with nails alone. Today, all asphalt shingles use self sealing adhesive that is activated by the heat of the sun. When the asphalt shingles are installed they are held in place only by the nails that the roofers used to install them. But after a few days of sun the self adhesive material is activated. Each row of shingles then sticks to the one below it.

Advantages of Asphalt Shingles

Modern three tab asphalt shingles have a number of advantages. The greatest and main advantage is price. For new homes being built as rentals or as economy priced homes, there is not doubt that three tab asphalt shingles provide the best return on investment. The other major purchaser of three tab asphalt shingles is homeowners who are replacing similar roofs that were installed when their homes were built.

Architectural Asphalt Shingles

Architectural asphalt shingles are also called dimensional shingles. This is because they are made of more than one layer of asphalt. This giving them a three dimensional appearance, whereas traditional three tab shingle is flat. The shingles are also not made all the exact same size, providing a more organic look when installed across a whole roof. However, the extra thickness makes them heavier. The extra material needed to make the thicker shingles as well as their weight increases materials and installations costs.

Three Tab versus Architectural Asphalt Shingles

A side by side comparison reveals a number of differences between three tab and architectural asphalt shingles. These differences should be considered before making a decision to purchase an asphalt shingle roof.

  • Cost – There is a definite difference in cost. Three tab asphalt shingles are significantly cheaper to produce and install than architectural shingle. This makes them ideal for new builds that will be used as rentals or economy priced properties. On the other hand, the higher cost of architectural shingles, both for the product and the installation, may be considered a good investment. This is especially true for people who own their own homes or who are building luxury homes.
  • Durability – Because they are thinner, three tab shingles have a shorter lifespan than architectural shingles. You can expect to replace three tab shingles in as little at 12 to 18 years. Architectural shingles can last 25 years. In both cases, the manufacturer warranties will be for a longer period, reflecting the maximum lifespan. But the warranty will be prorated, since asphalt shingle roofs rarely make it to their full life expectancy.
  • Appearance – Three tab shingles have a uniform, flat appearance. This is the roof that you probably think of when you think of a standard suburban home. Homes in Atlanta built more than 10 years ago probably have this type of roof. Architectural shingles are made to mimic the look of more traditional materials, like wood shake and slate. They come in a variety of sizes and are thick. This creates a varied shadow pattern that is more organic and natural looking than three tab shingles.

Where to Turn for Asphalt Shingle Installation

Whichever type of asphalt shingle you decide to install, it’s important to have it installed properly. Eagle Watch Roofers are your Atlanta roofing experts. We have been installing roofs for nearly 20 years. You can visit our testimonials page for a look at what our satisfied customers are saying. When you are ready, contact us and we will gladly provide you a no-obligation free estimate.