Metal Roofs vs. Asphalt Shingles: What Are The Differences?

Metal and asphalt shingles are two of the most popular residential roof materials. Consider their differences so you can make an informed choice.

In the U.S., asphalt shingles and metal roofing are the two most popular roofing systems. When I worked as a roofer, primarily with asphalt, one of the most common questions homeowners asked was, which one is better? The answer depends on your priorities.

Metal Roof vs. Shingles: Cost

Asphalt shingles are undeniably affordable and easy to install. Metal roofs are more expensive and require specialized knowledge to install.

While it depends on the specific roofing product and where you live, the average cost of an asphalt-shingle roof is around $7,000 to $10,000, whereas the average cost of a metal roof is at least several thousand dollars more — around $12,000 to $20,000. But keep in mind that metal roofing will last nearly three times longer and requires less repair.

Winner: Asphalt shingles in the short term. But if you’re playing the long game, it’s metal all the way.

Metal Roof vs. Shingles: Appearance

A roof plays a crucial part in the overall appearance of a home. It can be the definitive factor that adds to or crushes your curb appeal.

Asphalt shingles have come a long way in looks and can be manufactured to resemble wood shakes, tiles and even slate-style roofs. They often lend depth, too. “You can have a variety of lighter and darker granules within each shingle, giving it a 3D or multicolored look,” Overson Roofing contractor Mike Smyth says.

Traditional metal roofing has a distinct look that comes in various solid colors. They, too, can be manufactured to look like other roofing materials — including asphalt shingles.

Winner: It’s up to you! Appearance is subjective, and both roof systems offer an aesthetically pleasing look. Consider the other roofs in your neighborhood in mind when deciding. You might not want to be the only home with a roof that stands out.

Metal Roof vs. Shingles: Durability

Roof fixes and replacements are some of the most expensive homeowner repairs. The more durable the roof, the better your chances of warding these off. In areas with extreme weather especially, the roof type you choose is crucial.

Constant thermal cycling weathers asphalt shingles, reducing their lifespan. Because asphalt is absorptive, water can enter, freeze and dry, causing its structure to break down.

Metal roofs, however, are non-absorptive. Plus, they’re engineered and installed with fastening clips or slotted screw holes that allow for thermal movement of the metal with temperature changes without breaking down over time, according to Classic Metal Roofing Systems President Todd E. Miller. That means that in any climate, metal roofs have an average lifespan of 50 to 70 years, versus 20 to 25 years for asphalt shingles.

Winner: Metal roofing.

Asphalt Shingles Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

Metal Roof vs. Shingles: Maintenance

Roof maintenance doesn’t top anyone’s list of fun things to do, yet it must be done to ensure a roof’s longevity.

With asphalt shingles, most maintenance involves penetrations through the roof where adhesives, metal flashing and sealants are used. Those sealants deteriorate over time and therefore need to be replaced. And rubber pipe boots — the flashings for plumbing pipes that come through the roof — are also prone to break down and need attention or replacement.

On a properly installed metal roof, penetrations are flashed with matching metal. “If a sealant is used, it’s as the first line of defense, but the true water tightness comes from the flashing design and the way it channels water off of the roof,” Miller says.

On a metal roof, rubber pipe boots are often covered with metal to match the roof, not only for aesthetics, but to protect the soft rubber from the sun’s damaging rays. That lengthens its life considerably.

Winner: Metal roofing. While maintenance costs for an asphalt shingle roof aren’t outrageous, a metal roof simply requires less.

Metal Roof vs. Shingles: Additional Features

Fire and Hailstorm Resistance

While asphalt shingles can withstand fire, metal roofs offer the best resistance. And though it’s commonly believed hail can easily dent a metal roof, that’s a myth. Metal roofs are more efficient at handling common hail impacts than asphalt shingles.

Winner: Metal roofing.

Eco-friendliness

Both can be recycled. Metal roofs often are, especially if made of aluminum, which has a high scrap value. However, the process for separating and recycling asphalt shingles is much more costly and isn’t yet a common practice. Unfortunately, 11 million tons of asphalt shingles hit landfills every year.

Unlike asphalt shingles, metal roofs are often made of some recycled material. Plus, there’s the durability issue. “Metal roofs last much longer than asphalt shingles, so you’re not filling landfills with as much wasted material,” says Matt Daigle, founder of Rise, a platform that helps homeowners renovate and build sustainable homes.

Also worth noting: Some asphalt shingles are an environmental hazard due to the fumes they release when recycled.

Winner: Metal roofing.

Energy Efficiency

People mistakenly believe that metal roofs are hot. It’s actually the opposite. Because metal is highly reflective, it will absorb less heat, helping to keep the roof cooler than most other roof types. This can reduce your mechanical cooling use by 10 to 25 percent, Daigle says.

Winner: Metal roofing.

Mark Soto
Mark Soto works for a family-owned company, RoofingMKE, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has comprehensive knowledge of roof installation, repair and replacement and gutter installation. Mark comes from a family of DIYers and has worked with landscapers, plumbers, painters, and damage restoration specialists.