Have you ever wondered why asphalt shingles are the go-to product for most houses in the United States?

If you travel internationally, you may have noticed that other countries don’t share our affection for asphalt. A few subscribers to my newsletter live in Europe, and they have told me that asphalt shingles are considered cheap and are frowned upon. Europeans believe their roofing materials must be extremely durable, and that asphalt shingles fall short of that standard.

The main issue driving the popularity of asphalt shingles in the U.S. is cost. A beautiful slate roof might last 200 years, but how many of us can afford one? Asphalt, on the other hand, is a less expensive material, and it can be installed quickly, which holds labor costs to a minimum.

But what if you simply don’t want asphalt shingles? What are your options?

I got rid of my asphalt shingles when my roof began to fail after nine years — despite its 30-year guarantee. I was so angry that I solicited feedback from readers of this column and my newsletter, and I quickly discovered this phenomenon was fairly widespread. This led to a book I wrote, “Roofing Ripoff,” which looks into the shingle industry and the problem of failing roofs.

I replaced my asphalt shingles with a synthetic slate made from virgin polymer plastic. I estimate my roof will last 100 years or more. Another option is metal roofing, a category where I’m seeing significant growth. A neighbor of mine recently installed a new metal roof that looks very nice. Each shingle is made from painted aluminum. A metal roof could last for hundreds of years, as aluminum is very resistant to corrosion.


No matter what roofing material you choose, I encourage you to take some time to read the installation instructions for that product. Many manufacturers have good how-to-install videos that you can watch.

Understanding how your roof was installed will help you make sure your new roof doesn’t leak. Based on my 40-plus years of installing roofs and talking to homeowners, I’d estimate that 95% of all roof leaks happen at or near roof flashings. A flashing is a transitional roofing material that connects a roof to something that’s not the roof.

Once you understand how roof flashing should be installed, you increase the odds of your No. 1 goal: having a leak-proof roof. You can learn more about flashings at GO.askthebuilder.com/flashings.

Tim Carter has worked as a home improvement professional for more than 30 years. To submit a question or to learn more, visit AsktheBuilder.com.