Energy-Efficient Roofing: A Homeowners Guide (2023)
By Faith Wakefield /
In this guide on the differences between metal and asphalt roofs, you’ll learn:
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When it comes time to replace your roof, you might be caught deciding between the more traditional asphalt shingle roof and a metal roof, especially if you’ve heard of some of the advantages of each. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer as to which is better, as each has its pros and cons.
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide for yourself which roofing material best suits you, your home and your budget. In the guide below, we’ll be discussing the major differences between metal and shingle roofs to help you decide which option is right for you.
For most homeowners, an asphalt shingle roof is what comes to mind when they picture a roof. It’s the more traditional option in most parts of the country, and it’s the most common roofing material available.
However, metal roofs have some serious upsides that many property owners don’t realize when deciding on which material is right for them. Industry expert and roofing installer, Todd Miller3, recommends metal shingles to many homeowners because roof systems that incorporate a “thermal break, such as metal shingles is usually a very energy efficient option.”
In the sections below, we’ll compare metal and shingle roofs and discuss their primary differences. This comparison, followed by a comprehensive but concise list of pros and cons for each material, should help you decide which is best when you’re installing a new roof on your home.
Most homeowners first want to know which roof material is more affordable: asphalt or metal. The answer is actually a bit more complicated than you might think.
If you’re comparing the two types of roofing based just on the up-front cost alone, then asphalt is far and away the cheaper option. The average cost per square foot for an asphalt roof ranges from $1.75 up to around $3.25 for the material and between $4 and $5 per square foot for labor.
For a typical 1,500-square-foot home, you can expect the cost of an asphalt roof to be around $9,000.
A metal roof is significantly more expensive, primarily because:
Material for metal roofs can vary in price based on what kind of metal you choose — steel and aluminum are the most common, but you could also get tin, copper and other options.
The typical cost is around $3.50 per square foot for the material alone, although this could reach over $6 per square foot for something like copper or zinc. Installation is more specialized and expensive, averaging around $8 per square foot.
A metal roof for a standard 1,500-square-foot home can be expected to cost around $17,250. As you can see, a metal roof will be around twice as expensive as an equivalently sized asphalt shingle roof.
Keep in mind that these estimated installation costs don’t include the removal of your existing roof. Taking off an old roof before roof installation could cost several thousands of dollars in addition to the prices above.
While metal roofs are far more costly than shingle varieties up front, you should also consider the long-term cost of your roof. As we’ll explain below, metal roofs can last for up to around 70 years, which is nearly four times the maximum expected lifespan of an asphalt roof.
Although the cost of a metal roof is higher, you could save quite a lot of money not having to replace it as often as you would a shingle roof. Shingles cost more over time because they need more frequent replacements.
Additionally, it might be worth it to consider how each roofing product affects your gutter system. Metal roofs won’t shed granules into your gutters or downspouts, which means fewer clogs and less money spent on gutter guards or gutter cleaning services over time.
Here’s a quick sample comparison of the cost of a metal roof vs. shingles:
Metal roofing systems are, far and away, more durable than asphalt shingle roofs in most cases.
The average lifespan of an asphalt roof is 12 to 20 years, while the typical lifecycle of a metal roof can be between 40 and 70 years. If you choose a metal like copper, your roof could last up to 100 years or more.
Metal is much more durable than asphalt and will almost certainly last at least twice as long.
However, metal can be dented by hail, falling tree limbs, or other debris, which is an important downside to consider if you live in an area with extreme weather. Metal will stand up to high winds and is more leak-proof, but it can dent.
Both metal and asphalt roofs come in multiple design options, so both materials will let you customize your home’s appearance.
If you want a metal roof, you can choose from several metals that each look and perform slightly differently. These include:
Steel and aluminum are the most common options for metal roofs and are some of the most affordable materials.
In addition to different types of metal, you can also choose from a variety of colors and patterns, the most common of which include standing seam metal roofs, corrugated metal, metal shingle and metal slate roofs.
Asphalt roofs also come in many colors and styles, and there are three types of shingles you can choose from. These include three-tab shingles, dimensional shingles (also called architectural shingles), and luxury shingles (most of which are made using a durable and fire-resistant fiberglass base).
It’s up to you to decide which option you prefer in terms of curb appeal, but the variety of options for both means you can customize each to your preference.
As an environmentally focused site, we put a lot of weight on how eco-friendly roofing materials are, and metal roofs are your best option if you’re concerned about your impact on the environment.
The metal used for roofing is 100% recyclable (so it won’t sit in a landfill after it’s removed) and is sometimes made of recycled material. Asphalt roofs are petroleum-based and can only be recycled into specific products, like asphalt pavement.1,2
Additionally, if you plan to install solar panels in the future, a metal roof is a better option. Roofing sometimes needs to be replaced prior to solar panel installation to minimize future roof replacement costs, and a metal roof is less likely to require replacement down the road when you’re ready to install solar panels.
Finally, metal roofs tend to be better insulators than asphalt roofs, primarily because they reflect rather than absorb a lot of the sunlight that hits them. They can also insulate well in the winter, so they’re all around a better option for energy efficiency and energy savings.
In fact, many homeowners find that their energy bills go down after installing a metal roof and that their living spaces are more comfortable overall. According to Marty Ford, shingles expert and president of Bullet Proof Roof Systems4, advocates for metal roofs because it “reflect[s] heat away from your home, keeping it cooler in the summer. This helps lower your energy bills.”
Both metal roofs and asphalt shingle roofs are quite low-maintenance, so this generally isn’t a deciding factor for most homeowners. Metal is more durable than shingles, so it will likely need less roof maintenance, although all roofs will require some.
Over time, you might need to address the following:
In terms of keeping your home protected from the elements, a metal roof will perform better than shingles.
Metal roofing panels can resist winds up to around 150 mph, while most shingles can stand up to 110-mph winds. If you live in an area that is prone to hurricanes, tropical storms or tornadoes, a metal roof will likely be a better option.
Metal is also less prone to leaking than shingles, especially as the roof ages, so heavy precipitation is best combated with a metal roof.
There are two downsides to having a metal roof in an area with extreme weather. First, as mentioned above, the metal can be dented by hail storms or flying debris.
Second, rain or hail falling on a metal roof will produce much more noise than it would falling on a shingle roof, so it will sometimes make your interior living space louder.
In general, metal roofs will add more value to your home than asphalt roofs, primarily because metal roofing can last about four times as long as a shingle roof.
If buyers understand that they have 40 to 70 years before they need to lay out money for a new roof, they might be willing to pay a bit more for your property, especially if your metal roof is still under warranty.
However, some buyers don’t like the appearance of a metal roof, so it can actually lead some people to be less interested in your home. Overall, though, metal roofing is a better option for maximizing resale value.
Below, we’ve outlined a comprehensive list of pros and cons for metal roofs so you have all the information you need at a glance.
Metal Roof Pros:
Metal Roof Cons:
For comparison, we’ll include all of the pros and cons you can expect from a shingle roof below.
Shingle Roof Pros:
Shingle Roof Cons:
The EcoWatch team spoke with Todd Miller, a roofing and HVAC expert that has been in the first for over 35 years. Here’s what he had to say about eco-friendly roofing materials.
A home’s roof provides a lot of things for a home. It provides protection from all types of severe weather, whether that be rainstorms, heat, windstorms, firestorms or snow and ice.
A home’s roof can also provide beauty. On a lot of homes, the roof is 50% or sometimes even significantly more of the home’s visible exterior, so the roof is a really nice open palette to add beauty and looks to a home.
I think that homeowners are increasingly starting to think about how their roof impacts their home’s energy efficiency. They’re looking at that not only from an operational cost standpoint but from doing the right thing for the environment as well.
And another thing is that oftentimes, a roof is really great real estate to put solar on up on a home. It usually doesn’t have as much obstruction and shadowing to it, and it’s often well-angled for the sun. So, roofs are increasingly thought of as being a great place to locate solar panels or a solar array.
My advice really is to start out by setting your criteria– what it is you want to accomplish with your next roof. Once you set those criteria, you can use that to help you go out and use the internet or other resources to find a product that meets those needs.
My general advice is a little different than most roofing contractors are going to tell you. My advice is to find a product that first your needs and is right for you and your home. Then contact the manufacturer of that product to find someone in your area who has been trained or is in some way qualified to install that product.
Otherwise, if you go the normal route of just choosing a roofing contractor, you’re probably going to end up with a product that they want you to have, not necessarily the product you want to have on your house.
And frankly, the product that they want you to have probably is going to be the product that they’re the most familiar with, or in a lot of cases, the product they feel they can be most profitable on.
Because the roof is such a significant portion of a home’s exterior, homeowners are obviously going to care about life expectancy.
Chances are, if they are reroofing their house, they know how long that roof lasted. They may want to do better than that, and we certainly hope that they’re going to be interested in the carbon footprint of the roofing material that they are choosing.
Energy efficiency is another big thing. As you know, energy efficiency impacts the cost to operate the home. But, of course, it’s also an environmental choice.
I think that based on the climate they live in, homeowners are going to think about any severe weather considerations. Homeowners in Florida are going to be thinking a lot about wind resistance, homeowners in California are probably going to be thinking a lot about fire resistance, and homeowners in Texas and Oklahoma are probably going to be thinking a lot about resilience and hail.
Another thing we’re seeing a lot is homeowners looking at the total product lifecycle. Folks are saying, Okay, what’s going to happen to this roof when it wears out? Is it recyclable? Some roofing materials are and some are not.
Another thing homeowners are asking is, I’ve got a roof up there right now, does that have to go into a landfill? Or would there be potential to install a new roof over my existing roof?
There are some asphalt shingles out there that have recycled content, but about 15% is the highest I have ever seen.
Then there are polymer plastic roofing materials. Some of their manufacturers say they have some recycled content, but I’ve never seen any actual figures on that.
Steel roofing typically has at least 35% recycled content, and some steel mills are as high s 85% recycled content.
Aluminum, which is a highly recycled metal almost always has around 95% recycled content when it’s used as roofing.
Copper, which is a fairly high-end roofing material typically has around 35% recycled content.
About 12 million tons of asphalt shingles go into landfills every year. Scientists estimate that asphalt shingles take about 300 to 400 years in a landfill before they will fully decompose.
And at the same time, asphalt shingles have a lot of oil content. So they are releasing that oil into the landfill as well.
However, Building codes in most areas of the country allow up to two layers of roofing. So if someone does just have one layer of roofing on their home right now, they can go over that with another layer, which could be asphalt shingles.
But a lot of times they will also choose a lower-weight roofing material, such as steel or aluminum to go over those existing shingles.
Below, we’ll answer some of the most commonly asked questions we see about metal roofs and how they compare to shingle roofs.
The answer to this question is really based on your budget, the climate in your area and your personal preference. Metal roofs are more durable, and while they cost about twice as much as a shingle roof to install, they also last at least twice as long — and sometimes four times as long — which makes them worth the investment.
Additionally, metal roofs will stand up to more extreme weather conditions, although they can be dented by hail or fallen tree limbs.
Both roofing options come in a variety of colors and styles for customization, and both are relatively low maintenance. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if the high cost of installing a metal roof is worth it for you.
If you’re concerned with up-front costs only, then a shingle roof will always be a better option. On average, shingle roofs cost about half of what a metal roof will, and sometimes even less, depending on what type of metal is used.
However, long-term costs are another story. Metal roofs might be twice as expensive, but they can last for up to around 70 years or more, while the average life expectancy of a shingle roof is a maximum of 20 years and sometimes even less. So you may never end up replacing a metal roof while you may replace a shingle roof several times.
There are three primary disadvantages of installing a metal roof, the most significant of which is the high up-front cost. Both the materials and the labor are more costly for metal roofs, which leads to a price tag of about $18,000 on average — around double the $9,000 average for a shingle roof.
The second downside is that metal roofing can dent, while shingle roofs can’t. If you live in an area where hail is prevalent or falling tree limbs are an issue during hurricanes and other severe weather events, then removing dents could leave you with more maintenance to do than you’d have with a shingle roof.
Finally, metal roofs are louder than shingle roofs when it rains or hails. You’ll notice more interior noise with a metal roof during precipitation, which can be a deterrent for some homeowners.
Not usually. In fact, metal roofs are less prone to leaking than shingles are, provided they are installed correctly.
Installing metal roofs is a more specialized skill than installing asphalt shingles, so fewer roofing contractors can tackle the project, and you need to find a true expert among those that do. If a metal roof is installed improperly, then it can be more prone to leaking than an asphalt roof.