The 7 Best Roofing Materials for Longevity

Roofers Shingling a House
Roofers Shingling a House. Getty / Bart Coenders

Often it really is a race between tortoise and hare: not who can go fastest but who can last the longest. And for many homeowners nervously contemplating four and five-figure re-roofings, longevity looks pretty good.

You can rate roofing materials from many different angles--aesthetics, lowest cost, resale value, DIY-ability--but if longevity is your priority, you should look to these types.  

7. Asphalt Roll Roof

  • Lifespan:  5 to 10 years.
  • Why:  Asphalt roll roofing is a piker: it is better suited as a weekend DIY roofing project for your wood shed. Do not consider using it for your home.
  • Make It Last Longer:  There is little you can do to prolong asphalt roll's lifespan.  Make sure that it is clear of debris.  

6. Composite Shingle Roof

  • Lifespan:  15 to 50 years.
  • Why:  Are you surprised that the most popular form of roofing material ranks so low on the list of expected lifespans?  Try not to be shocked.  While they might poop out in as little as 15 years, composite shingles are cheap to purchase and install.  Longevity predictions for composite/asphalt shingles vary wildly because ​the quality of this popular material varies wildly.  Premium composite shingles from manufacturers like Owens Corning, GAF, or Certainteed come with accordingly high-end warranties pushing a half century.  But that does not mean that your roof will last 50 years.
  • Make It Last Longer:  Watch out for cheap composite shingles that start to shed grains even in the first year.  Never power wash your composite shingle roof.  Eliminate moss as soon as it begins to grow.

5. Wood Shingle Roof

  • Lifespan:  25 years.
  • Why:  Wood is an organic material.  As such it is prone to weathering and decay. Note that these are wood shingles, not shakes (see below).  Since shingles are sawn from the log, they are thin and flat.
  • Make It Last Longer:  Replace split and cracked shingles immediately.  Control moss growth.

4. Standing Seam Metal Roof

  • Lifespan:  30 to 50 years.
  • Why:  Pre-formed standing seam metal roofing is mainstream now. After all, what can be stronger than metal overhead?  But metal roofs are not for the average roofing company; make sure you contract with a company that specializes in metal roofing.
  • Make It Last Longer:  Regularly walk your standing seam metal roof to check for fastener and sealant failures.  Check for distressed, bent, or migrating panels.  

3. Wood Shake Shingle Roof

  • Lifespan:  35-40 years.
  • Why:  Wood shakes are much thicker than wood shingles (see above).  Shakes are split or sawn from the log.  In either case, these thicker shakes can stand up to weather and UV rays better than thin wood shingles.
  • Make It Last Longer:  Thick wood shakes can last well over a quarter century, but you do need to baby them along with proper maintenance. There is no "set it and forget it" option for any kind of wood shingle.  Remove debris as soon as it falls on the roof.  Eliminate moss.  Replace split shakes right away.  Replace curled, cupped, or split shakes immediately.

2. Clay (Spanish) Tile Roof

  • Lifespan:  100 years.
  • Why:  Spanish tile roofs from the old California missions are still in service. Travel across Spain and South America and you will find even older Spanish tile roofs in reasonably good shape.
  • Make It Last Longer:  Tile roofing's Achilles heel is not decay (like wood shake or shingles) or the slow sloughing off of grains (like composite).  Rather, cracking of these terra cotta tiles is what usually dooms them.  Avoid walking on your tile roof as much as possible.  When efflorescence develops, buff off with a clean, dry towel.  Coat with a clear alkyd primer.  Replace cracked and broken tiles.

1. Slate Roof

  • Lifespan:  100+ years.
  • Why:  Slate is so durable it makes all other roofing materials look like rice paper.  Slate roofs from Shakespeare's time are still holding tight.  Slate is real stone, laid down thick on the roof. But adequate truss strength is required to hold up this heavy load.
  • Make It Last Longer:  Immediately replace broken slate tiles.  Make sure that all flashings are correctly installed and in good working order.  When your copper flashing has turned black, it is time to replace it.