Roof shingles

Roof shingles 
Roof shingles can be made of many different materials - including wood and asphalt, among others.
Image by Malcolmj, used under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

What are roof shingles?

Like tiles, roof shingles are manufactured as individual units. These are attached to the topmost layer of the roof in an overlapping pattern, which helps to keep rain and moisture out of the building.

Tiles, which are normally made from terracotta or concrete, are thick, hard and can be brittle. They may also be cast into curved shapes to assist water drainage. Shingles are different to tiles in that they are usually flat, and they're much thinner. Shingles may be made from materials such as wood, slate, fibre cement sheeting (asbestos) or a fibreglass/asphalt composite.


Why install roof shingles?

Asphalt shingles are amongst the cheapest types of roofing material available. They are also easy to install, which helps to make them very popular in other parts of the world. Asphalt shingles have the advantage of being fire proof, as well as resistant to rain, hail and wind. The metal elements that hold them in place may corrode relatively quickly however, requiring more regular maintenance than some other roofing materials.


Asbestos shingles last longer, and as such may still be found on older roofs. Asbestos is no longer in production though, due to its association with lung diseases, including cancer.

Wood and slate shingles are less common. While wood shingles are durable, weatherproof, insulating and very attractive, they are expensive to purchase. Their vulnerability to termites and fire means that they're a less popular choice in Australia.

Slate shingles, while being somewhat brittle, are also very durable - a slate roof can last up to 150 years. Their ability to withstand freezing temperatures makes them ideal for alpine regions. Because they're quite heavy though, they must only be installed on buildings which specifically account for the load of both the shingles and any snow that might accumulate.


Where are roof shingles found?

Due to their low price and ease of installation, asphalt shingles are America’s most popular roofing material - although you may even have trouble finding them in Australia.

Whilst wood shingle roofs in Scandinavia and Central and Eastern Europe are less popular than they once were, they may still be found on heritage buildings or those wanting to emulate an heritage or cottage look. Wood shingles are rare in Australia.

Slate shingles are most commonly found in alpine areas because they barely absorb any water and do not crack or decay in freezing temperatures.


  • Asphalt shingles are cheap and easy to install
  • Can be coated to reduce moss and lichen growth
  • Wide variety of colours available
  • Slate and wooden shingles are very attractive
  • Some shingles can shrink and rot with exposure to sun and rain
  • Paper based asphalt and wood shingles are a fire risk
  • Wooden shingles are vulnerable to termite attack
  • Asphalt has been linked to 'sick building syndrome'
  • Slate shingles can be expensive