A Comprehensive Guide To Residential Roofing Systems

A comprehensive guide to all the most important aspects of what a residential roofing system is and the main factors you should consider when choosing one for your home.

Most of us have lived with a roof over our heads our entire lives, but the majority of people know very little about how they actually work. As a homeowner, when it comes time to replace your roof, you are bombarded with information, and oftentimes sticker shock, creating confusion around what is the best option for your home and how to proceed. To make the situation more manageable, we compiled all the most important aspects of what a residential roofing system is and the main factors you should consider when choosing a roof system for your home. Familiarizing yourself with this information will make you more confident in your decisions and create a more positive roofing experience overall.

Understanding How Your Residential Roofing System Works

The best way to ensure you understand the bids you receive from roofing contractors, (and to verify they know what they are doing) is by understanding how your roof system works. Your roof system is much more than the roof covering alone, and being aware of each component will allow you to ask more questions and have a clearer conversation about what the scope of work entails, whether or not it is truly necessary and what alternative options are available if any. To provide you with a basic understanding, take a look at our overview of the major components of a residential roofing system.

Roof structure

A wooden structure composed of trusses, beams, and rafters that form the frame of your roof. The
roof structure is essentially the foundation of your roof, upon which all the other components are installed, and often creates the space that is used for your attic. 


A layer of plywood or oriented strand boards that are fixed to the structural elements of your roof to evenly distribute weight and strengthen your roof. Many sheathings are also treated with fire retardant and/or weatherproofing to provide additional protection from leaks.


An additional layer of protection against rain, snow, and heat, underlayment is a water-resistant/waterproof material such as asphalt-saturated felt, rubberized asphalt, or synthetic underlayment that is installed directly atop your sheathing. 

Roof covering/materials

The uppermost layer of your roof, your roof covering is your roof’s primary protection against the elements. Roof coverings come in a variety of materials such as asphalt shingles, wood shake, metal paneling, etc. (See Different Types of Material below to learn more) 


A thin piece of sheet metal installed at joints and penetrations such as chimneys, vents, and skylights to prevent leaks by deflecting water towards the ground. 


The components of your roof such as ridges, valleys, drip edges, and gutters that divert water and debris off your roof to prevent water from backing up or accumulating around your foundation. 


A system of intake and exhaust vents that provide continuous airflow in order to prevent a build-up of excessive heat or moisture. Proper ventilation helps prevent issues such as mold, mildew, wood rot, ice dams, and can even reduce your energy bills by allowing hot air to escape in the summer.  

New Builds vs Replacement of an Existing Roof System

While there is plenty of flexibility in regards to roofing systems when designing a new home, replacing an existing roof system can have its limitations. Roofing structures are designed to carry a specific amount of weight, and because roof coverings vary in weight, not all materials will be suitable for your home.

Using materials that exceed the designed weight can cause structural issues that could eventually lead to collapse. The weight-bearing capacity of your roof structure is also something to consider when faced with the option to re-roof (layering new shingles over an existing layer of shingles) due to the considerable increase in overall weight caused by the additional layer of shingles. Before deciding on a roof system or repair method, make sure to verify whether or not it’s compatible with your existing system.

Different Types of Materials 

Asphalt Shingles

The most common type of material used on residences in the United States due to its durability and affordability, asphalt shingles are lightweight, heat resistant, available in a range of colors, with an average lifespan of 20-30 years.

Tile (Clay, Ceramic, and Slate)

A roofing option that has withstood the test of time – tile roofs have been around for thousands of years, and routinely last over 100 years. Highly resistant to damage from hail, wind, fire, rot, and insect damage, tile roofs are incredibly efficient but come with a higher price tag and are much heavier than other materials.

Synthetic Slate Shingles

Replicating authentic slate tile, synthetic slate is made from a combination of plastic and rubber. While much more affordable and easier to install than authentic slate, synthetic slate is relatively new to the market, (less than 20 years), so its longevity has yet to be fully tested.


With a lifespan of 50 to 100 years metal is one of the most durable materials you can buy for your roof. Available in sheet panels, shingles, shakes, and a variety of colors, metal roofs are lightweight, eco-friendly, and energy-efficient.

Wood shake & shingles 

Manufactured from western red cedar, cypress, pine, and redwood trees wood shingles and shake come in a variety of appearances, can last 5 to 10 years longer than asphalt shingles, and are environmentally friendly. However, they are often prohibited in areas prone to wildfires.

Solar Roofs 

Available in panels and more recently tiles, solar roofs convert sunlight into electricity. Extremely durable, the 25 to 30-year lifespan is related to electricity production rather than deterioration, with energy production often extending well beyond 30 years but at a progressively reduced capacity.

Important Factors to Consider

Accessibility of materials and labor 

If you live in or around a densely populated area, access to contractors, manufacturers, and distributors provides you with plenty of options. However, keep in mind that not all contractors have access to or the ability to install all materials, so if your contractor choices are limited, (such as in rural areas) this can impact your selection.   

Durability and longevity

When choosing a roof system it’s important to consider local weather conditions. Each material has specific strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll want to choose a material that is rated high enough to withstand the most severe conditions you commonly encounter. Doing so will help ensure you get the maximum lifespan out of your roof.


One item often overlooked when factoring the total cost of a roof is maintenance. Materials such as cedar require regular cleanings to prevent and remove moss, mold, algae and mildew. Or tile, while it can last over 100 years with minimal maintenance, the underlayment does not, and replacing the underlayment can be very expensive as it requires removing and replacing the tiles.


Most roof coverings come in a variety of colors and textures each of which has a major impact on the appearance of your home. When making your decision, consider how it will blend with the exterior of your home and your community as a whole, as curbside appeal is an influencing factor if you decide to sell your home


Some materials such as concrete or slate are extremely heavy in comparison to other options and can require you to reinforce the frame of your roof in order to support the extra weight.

Roof pitch/slope

The pitch of your roof determines how effective your roof is at redirecting water, the amount of material required, as well as the difficulty of and cost of installation and maintenance. Additionally, some materials are specifically designed for either low-pitch or high-pitch roofs, so knowing the pitch of your roof is essential before making a decision.

Local regulations

Due to inherent vulnerabilities (such as wood) as well as the sake of uniformity, specific materials and colors can be prohibited in certain locations, so be sure to check your local codes, regulations and HOA.


The overall cost of your roof isn’t just the number you see upfront. Some things to consider when factoring the total cost are longevity, repairs, energy efficiency, warranty extensions and terms, depreciation, and insurance. 


Depending on the manufacturer and material, your roof will often be covered by a manufacturer’s warranty. However, make sure to carefully review the terms, as most warranties only cover defects, specific conditions, are pro-rated, and include language that can make claims hard to prove. Also, keep in mind that the manufacturer’s warranty is separate from the installation warranty.

Understanding the Most Common Causes of Roof Damage and the Effect of Local Conditions

Considering local weather conditions is one of the biggest factors when choosing a roof system. By understanding the vulnerabilities of certain materials and how weather impacts them, you can choose a system that is best suited for your home. Doing so will help you get the most use out of your roof and prevent the need for early replacement or costly repairs.


Heat causes materials to expand, and naturally as it cools it contracts. This process along with UV rays causes deterioration such as warping, cracking, and bleaching for materials such as asphalt shingles. 

Rain & condensation

In areas of heavy rainfall or condensation, while leaks are a major cause for concern, mold, mildew, moss, and algae growth can require additional maintenance for materials such as wood. 


While most materials are designed to withstand high winds, hurricanes or extreme conditions can still cause your roof to lose a few shingles. In hurricane-prone areas, heavier materials or systems with fewer penetrations, such as sheet metal, tend to be more effective. 

Snow and ice  

The dangers of accumulating ice and snow include excessive weight (which can lead to structural damage), ice dams, as well as freezing and thawing. Because of this, options that can withstand additional weight and better retain heat to help melt ice and snow such as metal, cement or in some locations solar work well in cold climates.

Guarantee the Best Possible Outcome

As you can see, having a general understanding of your roof system, material options, and outside factors, can give you the confidence to adequately choose the roofing contractor for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, check the contractor’s license and insurance, communicate throughout the process, and carefully review associated documents. With this, you should be in a strong position to receive the best possible outcome for your roofing needs!


Have additional questions about roof systems or your roof? Give us a call, follow our blog, or schedule a free inspection! You can also follow us on social media for tips and to learn more about our team! We look forward to hearing from you and protecting your home! 


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