6 roofing materials for Australian homes - pros and cons - Building AU
6 roofing materials for Australian homes - pros and cons

6 roofing materials for Australian homes - pros and cons

There are many types of roofs on the market today and if you’re building a new house or thinking about replacing one, you’ll want to make the best decision possible. It’s a big financial investment and one you don’t want to be let down by as the feature that will protect your home for many years to come.

Words by Yohei Guy

There are a number of factors involved in choosing the right roofing material for your home. These include climatic conditions, architectural style, personal taste and of course, cost. In Australia, there are six commonly used roofing materials - asphalt shingles, clay or concrete tiles, copper, corrugated/long-run steel, membrane and slate shingles.

That’s not to say they are your only options, for example, you might be looking for a green roof or something much more technologically advanced such as solar tiles, but for the majority of homes being built in Australia, these are the choices.

So let's check out each option and see what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Industry Cladding & Roofing - VM Zinc

1. Asphalt shingles

Asphalt roofing is relatively new to the Australian market but has been much more prolific in overseas markets like the US for over 100 years. There are two types of asphalt shingles that are commonly available - organic and fibreglass. Organic shingles have a base layer made from waste paper, cellulose or wood fibres that are infused with asphalt with another top layer of asphalt applied. Fibreglass shingles have a base layer of fibreglass that is bonded together with a urea-formaldehyde resin.

Asphalt shingles come in a variety of colours and patterns making them a visually appealing choice. The fibreglass option also has high fire resistance which is often an important consideration for Australian conditions. Both are robust and durable products that require little ongoing maintenance. There are also specialised options for those that live in high wind areas.

On the downside, while they are a durable option, asphalt tiles do deteriorate over the long-term and can require replacing sooner than other roofing options, though the technology is getting better every year. Also, some organic tiles made prior to the 1980s may contain asbestos so it’s best to check this if you’re planning to buy an older house. As the tiles age, they will shed their granule coating, which could lead to water ingress issues.

2. Clay or concrete tiles

The first known clay roofing tile can be traced to ancient China thousands of years ago, making it the oldest man-made roofing material in human history. With such longevity, it’s not surprising that clay tiles (and later concrete tiles) have gained such universal acceptance. Manufacturing improvements over time have resulted in lighter weight, more durable composite materials also being introduced.

There’s no denying the kerb appeal of a house with a tile roof especially one in the style of a Spanish Mission or Mediterranean-style home - one of the most iconic roof styles of all time. Clay tiles are also very durable, as well as being fire and insect resistant. Aesthetically, they come in a variety of colours and finishes and can also be recycled giving them fantastic sustainability credentials.

On the downside, tiles are a heavier roofing option and so require extra structural support, which may add to a project’s construction costs. They can also break if walked on so any roof repairs need to be done with caution which can also be more time-consuming, costly and technically challenging.

Industry Cladding & Roofing - Aurubis

3. Copper roofing

Copper Roofing is considered the Rolls Royce of metal roofing types having been used for hundreds of years as one of the most durable and enduring metals there is. Few materials offer the unique aesthetic appeal of copper with its natural sheen often acting as a design statement for architects and designers.

Unlike some steel roof options, copper will never rust or corrode making it an ideal roof material for coastal locations. It doesn’t even require any special coatings or finishes to achieve this. Copper is highly recyclable, as a matter of fact, most copper roofing material contains at least 75 per cent recycled content.

On the downside, copper is a very soft metal, which means it can be easily dented by hail or stray objects. Copper is also susceptible to fluctuations in temperature and has a tendency to expand and contract, which, if not properly installed, can lead to potential water ingress issues.

Industry Metals - Euramax

4. Corrugated Iron/Tin roof

While the term corrugated iron is a bit of a misnomer these days (having been made from steel for more than a century) it is an Australian icon that has been used on house and shed roofs right across our great land. Its durability is renowned and advances in technology have seen the introduction of many different styles and finishes.

Steel Roofing is easy to install and offers a high performance-to-weight ratio. It suits just about every architectural style and is widely found in both older and modern homes. On top of this, it is also recyclable at the end of its lifecycle and can easily stand up to our changeable and challenging climate.

On the downside, steel roofing will dent when hit hard enough which can mar its appearance. Damage can also lead to leaks around seamed areas. Similarly, if not installed properly, you can also encounter problems around water ingress and in high wind situations, your roof could lift off entirely.

Industry Metals - Colorbond Steel

5. Membrane roofing

Membrane roofing products traditionally sat in the domain of commercial buildings but have, more recently, gained a following in the residential market, ideally suited for low-pitched or flat roofs. There are five major types of membrane roofing - thermoset, thermoplastic, modified bitumen, glass-reinforced plastic and liquid.

Each type of membrane roofing comes with its own subtle traits and qualities but as a general rule, they all offer good performance-to-weight ratios, are easy to install by specialised contractors and are aesthetically pleasing.

On the downside, some thermoset and thermoplastic products with poor installation and maintenance have been known to pool water or suffer from water ingress. Similarly, these products have been known to suffer punctures so care needs to be taken when inspecting the roof or carrying out repairs to other roof structures.

6. Slate shingles

If you want to make a bold statement with your roof, very few choices will outshine slate. Estate agents will tell you that having a slate shingle roof on your home will increase its resale value. The organic, tonal variations in slate make it an extremely attractive choice and it can be used with a variety of roof designs and architectural styles.

For durability, you will not find a better material than slate. That’s why it’s referred to as the ‘lifetime roof’ with centuries-old buildings across Europe, especially those done in the Mansard roof style, still sporting their original shingle roof. Slate shingles require little to no ongoing maintenance and can be reused or recycled numerous times.

On the downside, slate shingles are the heaviest of the roofing options and demand solid structural support. Slate tile shingles should also only be installed by a specialist slate roofing contractor, so make sure you get the right person for the job. Slate shingles can break if walked on so some care is required during maintenance and when carrying out repairs to other roofing structures.

Industry Cladding & Roofing - Coated Steel

Some great roof options to consider

As we’ve shown, Australian builders and homeowners are lucky to have so many high-quality roof materials and options to choose from. While each has its own strengths and weaknesses, the negatives are almost always avoidable with competent installation and regular maintenance. Be sure to speak with your trusted roofing specialist to ensure you pick the type of roof that works best for you.

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