What Are Roof Shingles?

When you got started thinking about building a house from scratch or replacing your current roof, you knew you’d have to learn more about roofs. Shingles alone give you a lot to study. They can be made in many styles and out of various materials. 

What are roof shingles? They are a roof covering made from many smaller pieces that overlap each other. This allows water to run down off a slanted roof, keeping rain away from the underlying roof structure.


Shingles are usually rectangular. They are laid lengthwise across the roof, fitted against each other, with each new row of shingles partially overlapping the row directly below it. Although it’s less common, you can also find square shingles. 

Shingles are also fairly flat. Unlike tiles or wood shakes, shingles are usually designed to be thin. This reduces their weight on your roof, as well as their weight during transport and installation, making them convenient to put on.


With their water-repelling design and overlapping installation, shingles are able to channel water from rain and snow down a roof toward gutters and spouts. Some roofs also have valleys where different roof surfaces meet, and shingles are carefully shaped to protect those valleys (or metal channels are placed there). 

Many shingles are also designed to withstand limited impacts from hail and falling twigs. Asphalt shingles, for example, are covered with a layer of gravel that partly disperses impacts, and their asphalt acts almost like rubber to absorb the force. 

Shingles also work to resist wind. They are often bonded together with adhesive to keep them from lifting up in the wind. 

Types of Roof Shingles

There are many types of shingles out there, and a variety of materials are capable of channeling water off of a roof. Some materials include: 

  • Asphalt: Shingles are often coated in petroleum-based asphalt, which is naturally resistant to water.
  • Slate: This is a type of stone mined and cut into rectangular shingles. It is often grayish in color, although other earth tones are available.
  • Flagstone: Flagstone is made from various types of rock, like shale, limestone, sandstone, granite, basalt, and marble. 
  • Plastic: Made from a plastic composite, these are very lightweight, protecting the structure of the roof. They can be made to imitate other materials.
  • Metal: Metal shingles can be constructed from a variety of metals, such as aluminum and steel, shaped in many different patterns and painted in a range of colors.
  • Wood: Popular in some parts of the world, because wood is widely available in many areas, wood shingles are still popular to achieve a rustic or woodland look. 
  • Fiber cement: This is a manufactured material that is a mixture of wood cellulose or pulp mixed with cement or similar binding agents.

You have probably noticed that the majority of roofs in the US are covered in asphalt shingles, which also contain fiberglass. The asphalt contains petroleum, which has natural oils that repel water, making it slide off. But asphalt also softens in the sun and eventually thins, which means asphalt shingles are often replaced every 15–20 years.

What type of roof shingles are best? Because there are so many kinds and styles, you’ll have to decide for yourself. You can explore more about each type of shingle material in our blog post, What Are Roof Shingles Made Of?


When many homeowners in the early 1900s started using asphalt roof shingles, they could have any color they wanted—as long as they wanted black or green! But today, new painting systems have been invented that can truly give you almost any color you want, such as green, blue, red, and many earth tones. 

Other types of shingles can also be painted. Metal shingles, for example, can now be colored with improved paint that can hold the color you want on your shingles for many years.

Textures can also be added to paint. This can make an asphalt shingle look like clay tiles, wood, slate, or another substance. You can achieve the aesthetic effect you want without making your roof heavier, as with tile or slate, or more flammable, as with wood. 


Before owning or building a home, you might not have thought about the weight of a roof. Each individual shingle weighs very little, so weight doesn’t seem like a major concern. However, once shingles cover a whole roof, their combined weight can be significant, putting stress on the structure of the roof. 

Slate and clay shingles put a particular strain on roofs, but a roof can be designed especially to hold those materials. Asphalt shingles, though, are used on most homes in the US because of their low weight and other conveniences.

Price and Ease of Installation

Standardized shingles are easy to manufacture, decreasing their cost. They are also easy to install, because roofers know what to expect and can get experience in a particular material. This is another reason that asphalt shingles are popular—part of their low cost includes less labor. Plus, you might only replace them every 20–30 years.
Are you getting ready to replace your roof shingles? What are roof shingles if not an important and interesting investment in the safety of your home and family? We have many years of experience helping protect homes like yours. If you’re in Northwest Indiana, contact DMG Exteriors for expert installation and repair on your exterior home projects.

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