Gone are the days of slapping a corrugated iron roof on the top of the building and calling it done! Whether you’re designing a new house, or renovating the family home, choosing the right roofing material for your build is one of the most important decisions to make. But with so many roofing materials available on the market these days, it can be tough to know where to start.
This guide to the types of roofing materials available in Australia is a great starting point that will help you understand the pros and cons of different types of roofing materials, and the roofing designs they’re best suited for.
What to consider when thinking about types of roofing materials
Alongside the frame, the roof is one of the most important structural components of a building. But it’s also a key design feature that can help to set your home apart from the neighbours. When thinking about the right types of roofing materials for your build, it’s important to consider a range of factors, including:
- The material’s durability. How many years can you expect to get out of the roof before it needs to be replaced?
- Cost. Does the material fit within your overall budget, and does the expected lifespan justify the price?
- Maintenance. Is it easy to maintain? Can sections of the roof be replaced if they’re damaged by hail or high winds?
- Visual appeal. If looks are important to you, does the material fit the aesthetic you’re going for?
- Energy efficiency. Your roof plays an important role in regulating the temperature inside your house, with each type of material absorbing different amounts of heat.
- The climate in your region. Do you live in an area that regularly experiences high winds or heavy snow fall during winter? Is it hot in summer? This will influence both the material you choose, and the colour of the material that’s appropriate for your house.
Types of roofing materials – metal options
Whether you’re looking for a classic Aussie corrugated iron roof, or a sleek modernist standing seam roof, metal is one of the most popular types of roofing materials. Metal roofs are strong, durable and generally affordable, making them a great option to withstand the harsh Australian climate. Here are some of the most common metal roofing materials.
Steel (AKA Corrugated Iron)
Popular Australia-wide, on residential homes and sheds alike, corrugated iron is a classic building material for a reason. It’s quick to install, highly durable, and is recyclable at the end of its life. But, contrary to popular belief, corrugated iron is actually steel—an alloy composed of iron and carbon. Because steel is prone to rusting, three specific types of steel are used for roofing. These are:
- Galvanised steel, which is steel with a zinc coating to prevent corrosion.
- Stainless steel, which includes chromium to prevent rusting and corrosion.
- Coated steels, such as COLORBOND® Steel and ZINCALUME® Steel, which consist of a steel core and corrosion-resistant coating.
Steel roofing has a range of advantages:
- It’s incredibly strong, making it durable and dent resistant. You can expect a steel roof to last up to 50 years, and to withstand the elements better than shingles or tiles.
- It’s available in a wide range of colours.
However, it’s important to remember that steel roofing can rust over time, which makes it less suitable for coastal environments. It’s also much harder than most other types of roofing materials, so won’t dampen noise as effectively as softer materials like copper or zinc.
Commonly associated with classical European architecture, copper is one of the world’s oldest roofing materials. It’s renowned for its ability to change colour over time, as the pink-orange metal will gradually develop a blue-green patina from being exposed to the elements. Unlike steel, copper doesn’t rust, which makes it suitable for coastal environments. It’s also relatively environmentally friendly, typically containing up to 75 per cent recycled material.
Copper is however softer than steel, which makes it more prone to being dented by hail. It’s also more prone to expanding and contracting with temperature fluctuations, meaning it has to be installed properly to prevent it from wearing over time.
Like copper, zinc is a premium roofing material, often used on contemporary builds as standing seam metal sheeting. Zinc is durable, second only to copper in terms of its lifespan, and rust resistant, thanks to the elegant grey patina it develops over time. Zinc is also an environmentally friendly option, as it is typically made from 100 per cent recycled material, and has a low melting point which means it takes less energy to produce.
The only downside to zinc, is its cost. As a high-spec roofing material, a zinc roof will set you back more per square metre than standard corrugated roofing. But the cost can be well worth it, particularly if you’re looking to create an elegant skillion roof.
Types of roofing materials – shingles and tiles
Popular in Europe and the United States, shingles and tiles have been used to build roofs for centuries. While they come in and out of fashion in Australia, they’re a worthy alternative to a standard metal roof. Here are some of the most common shingle and tile roofing materials.
Asphalt shingles are popular throughout America, where they’re used to construct roofs capable of withstanding harsh conditions (think: freezing winters, and boiling summers). While they’re made of asphalt, they’re designed to mimic the look of wooden or stone tiles, at a fraction of the price. Thanks to their numerous advantages, asphalt shingles are becoming increasingly common in Australia. Specifically, asphalt shingles are:
- Quick and easy to install, which helps to keep costs low.
- Lightweight, and easy to replace.
- Capable of withstanding high winds, and rust-resistant.
However, they do come with a few downsides, compared with premium roofing materials. Specifically, asphalt shingles:
- Are less durable than most metal roofs, with a lifespan closer to 30 years.
- Can be damaged more easily than metal roofs. In particular, when exposed to large temperature fluctuations, lightweight asphalt tiles can be prone to cracking. Cheaper versions can also be vulnerable to wind uplift.
Like copper and zinc, slate shingles are a premium roofing material that offers a timeless aesthetic. With a lifespan well in excess of 100 years, they also offer timeless durability!
Slate shingles are made from naturally occurring slate rock, meaning they have beautiful natural variations in their texture. They’re also one of the most hardwearing roofing options, requiring little to no maintenance, and standing up well to hail. Despite being one of the oldest roofing materials, slate shingles work well on contemporary buildings and can be used on a range of roofing designs.
One downside to be mindful of however, is that slate shingles are significantly heavier than other tiles or shingles. This means they require specific structural supports, which should be factored into the initial roof design. They can also crack if walked on, so care needs to be taken during roof maintenance.
Synonymous with the Mediterranean and Asia, clay tiles are one of the oldest roofing materials available. They’re still found today throughout much of Spain and Italy, where they add a warmth to the old buildings. Contrary to popular belief, clay tiles are now available in a wide range of colours, from dark grey, through to brown, as well as the traditional terracotta. They’re also available in a variety of shapes, from the more old-fashioned curved tiles, to sleek modern tiles. Lightweight and affordable, they’re a great option for modern pitched roofs, and restorations alike.
However, clay tiles do have a few downsides:
- Unlike metal roofs, clay tiles require more frequent cleaning as they are prone to collecting moss, mould and dirt over time, which can leave stains if not properly treated. We typically recommend cleaning roof tiles once every two years with a pressure washer.
- Clay tiles are also quite fragile. While they’re rated to withstand hail damage, they can crack when walked on, so you need to take care when cleaning the roof.
- They’re pricier than both asphalt and concrete tiles.
- Like slate, clay tiles tend to be on the heavy side, meaning they need specific structural supports.
Concrete tiles are one of the most affordable roofing materials available. They’re also one of the most visually versatile roofing materials around, as they can be cast and coloured to mimic a broad range of styles, from traditional wood shingles to terracotta tiles. Like clay tiles, they’re impact resistant and capable of withstanding high winds.
However, they do have some drawbacks. Like most tiles, concrete tiles are a heavier roofing material than metal. The colour can also fade over time, particularly if it’s applied on the surface, rather than within the concrete itself. Similarly, concrete also tends to absorb more water than clay tiles, which can result in a temporary white chalky substance appearing on the surface as a result of a process called efflorescence.
- Central Bay Roofing, 2017, The Pros and Cons of Asphalt Shingle Roofing
- Strongguard, 2022, Types Of Metal Roofs & How To Choose Them | Pros & Cons
- Roof Hippie, 2023, 16 Pros & Cons | Concrete Tile Roof