What Homeowners Need to Know about Architectural Shingles

Published: Sep. 19, 2018
Architectural roofing shingles

Architectural shingles, also known as dimensional or laminate shingles, consist of a heavy fiberglass mat base laminated to multiple layers of water resistant asphalt. Ceramic-coated mineral granules are ingrained in the top layer of the shingle. Additionally, the mat base on an architectural shingle is made much heavier than a traditional asphalt shingle. Unlike 3-tab shingles, architectural shingles come in various sizes and contain multiple layers of asphalt creating a staggered, three-dimensional roofing pattern when installed.

History of Architectural Shingles

In the 1970s, architectural shingles emerged as a sturdier, high quality option for asphalt roofing. Today, architectural shingles are widely popular among homeowners, and asphalt shingles make up 80% of the roofing market. Some prominent roofing companies who have joined the architectural shingles industry include Atlas, CertainTeed, Decra, Elk, Iko, Malarkey, Owens Corning, and Tamko.

There are several alternatives to architectural shingles that either resemble architectural shingles or are made of similar materials.

  • 3-Tab: Similar to architectural shingles, 3-tab shingles are made with asphalt. However, they differ from architectural shingles in multiple ways. 3-tab shingles received their name from their identical cutout patterns that come in three tabs. They contain only one layer of asphalt which makes them much lighter and, therefore, less durable than architectural shingles. Because of this, their lifespan is usually 12-15 years, they’re cheaper, and they have shorter warranties. Unlike architectural shingles, 3-tab shingles come in one size and shape, giving them a consistent, flat look. They lay side by side.
  • Cedar Shakes: Cedar shakes are wooden roofing pallets with a split in one or both sides of the shake. Most cedar shakes are handmade, but machine-made shakes are becoming more popular. Cedar shakes come in various sizes and can mimic the staggered, three-dimensional look of architectural shingles because of their overlapping placement. Additionally, cedar shake roofing can last up to 50 years, and water typically doesn’t penetrate the wood until 15-20 years of use.
  • Composite Polymer Shingles: Composite polymer roofing products can come in multiple sizes and shapes and are designed to have a staggered, multilayer look similar to cedar shingles or architectural shingles. Many are made of recycled materials and have less of an environmental impact than asphalt or cedar roofing because they can be recycled again at the end of their lifespan.

Advantages of Dimensional Shingles

  • Durability: Since multiple layers of asphalt are laminated to a heavy fiberglass mat base, architectural shingles are very durable in comparison to traditional asphalt shingles. Their multiple layers make them heavier, yet they don’t require any extra material underneath to support them. The ceramic-coated mineral granules provide inclement weather protection, and the multiple asphalt layers enable the shingles to withstand wind gusts of up to 120 mph. Typically, traditional asphalt shingles or 3-tab shingles can only withstand gusts of up to 60-80 mph.
  • A Preferred Option by Contractors: Unlike 3-tab shingles, architectural shingles don’t require a tab slot under them, and they also don’t require any additional support because of their weight and sturdiness. Additionally, the staggered, multi-dimensional design disguises any slight layout mistakes, whereas 3-tab shingles have to be placed side-by-side with a high degree of precision.
  • Appearance: The multilayer look of architectural shingles resembles shake or slate roofing without the higher cost. Furthermore, since these shingles are more durable than traditional asphalt shingles, homeowners can expect less unsightly peeling or cracking
  • Cost: Architectural shingles offer a middle-of-the-road option in terms of cost. They are less expensive than most shake or slate roofing products, but they are more expensive than traditional asphalt shingles or 3-tab shingles. However, though more expensive than some roofing options, architectural shingles offer lasting durability. Some manufacturers of architectural shingles offer 30-50 year warranties, while standard asphalt shingles typically have 20-30 year warranties.

Disadvantages of Laminate Shingles

  • Cost: 3-tab shingles are cheaper and lighter than architectural shingles.
  • Environmental Footprint: Since asphalt shingles are petroleum based, their production can require more energy usage and emit more greenhouse gases than alternatives such as cedar shakes. Additionally, asphalt shingles can’t be recycled at the end of their lifespan, so they end up in landfills.
  • Temperature Fluctuations: Extreme temperature fluctuations can cause asphalt shingles to expand and contract which can lead to cracking. They perform better in colder climates as extreme heat can also cause them to crack or lose their color.

Fire, Wind and Hail Shingle Ratings

Architectural shingles are fiberglass reinforced asphalt shingles. Since fiberglass is derived from inorganic, non-combustible materials, the mat base of an architectural shingle is fire resistant. Therefore, architectural shingles have a Class A fire resistance rating and can provide safe coverage for your home.

Since architectural shingles also have multiple laminated layers, they can withstand wind gusts of up to 110-120 mph. Lighter weight 3-tab asphalt shingles can peel back if wind gusts are over 80 mph.

Additionally, Impact Resistant (IR) architectural shingles are designed to withstand Class 4 impacts. (Most commonly, impact resistance is important if you live in an area that regularly has serious hail storms). In a study by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, Class 1 impacts were tested on a regular roof and an IR roof. The tests revealed a 75 percent passing score in areas on the IR architectural shingle roof that were hit, versus a 55 percent passing score for the impact zones on a standard architectural shingle roof. This study revealed varying levels of hail resistance between IR architectural shingle roofs and standard architectural shingle roofs.

Solar Reflectance

Many manufacturers of asphalt shingles offer lighter roofing colors that reflect the infrared radiation from the sun off the surface of the roof. This prevents extra heat absorption and can reduce your energy bills. Most of these solar reflective asphalt shingles have pigmented mineral granules and reflective surface coatings that impact the level of IR reflection.


Roofers commonly refer to 100 square foot of roofing as a “square”. Shingles are sold in bundles, and it typically takes 3 bundles of shingles to cover a square.

Architectural shingles are less expensive than slate and shake shingles, but they’re more expensive than 3-tab shingles. Depending on options, in September 2018 a bundle of architectural shingles runs anywhere from about $25 to $45. Asphalt 3-tab shingles range from around $20 - $33 a bundle. So, given that it takes 3 bundles to cover a square, architectural shingles range from $.75 - $1.35 per square foot. 3-tab shingles run anywhere from $.60 - $.99 per square foot. However, many variables can impact the price of architectural shingles including color, warranty, roof size, and oil prices.

Furthermore, the cost of simply buying architectural shingles is much less than the cost of having architectural shingles installed. First, there are many other materials, such as plywood (if parts of your existing roof deck needs to be replaced), various types of underlayment, drip edge, nails, flashing and ridge vents. Second, contractors will need to own or rent tools, ladders, a dumpster to remove debris. Third, installation fees vary greatly depending on where you live and how much the contractors in your area charge. To receive a more accurate estimate, you’ll need to get bids from contractors in your area.