Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to Asphalt Roof Shingles
  2. What Are Asphalt Shingles?
    1. What Are Asphalt Shingles Made Of
    2. The History of Asphalt Shingles
    3. The Popularity of Asphalt Shingles in America
  3. Types of Asphalt Roof Shingles
    1. 3-Tab
    2. Architectural Shingles
    3. Luxury Asphalt Shingles
  4. Key Components of Your Asphalt Shingle Roof System
    1. Asphalt Shingles
    2. Underlayment
    3. Ventilation System
    4. Ice and Water Barriers
    5. Starter Strips
    6. Hip and Ridge Shingles
  5. Process of Installing Asphalt Roof Shingles
    1. Prepare the Roof
    2. Remove Old Materials
    3. Prepare the Deck
    4. Install Drip Edge and Water/Ice Membrane
    5. Install Underlayment and Starter Strips
    6. Install Roof Shingles
    7. Install Hip and Ridge Shingles
    8. Cleanup
  6. Common Repairs for Asphalt Roof Shingles
    1. Roof Leaks
    2. Hail Damage
    3. Storm Damage
    4. Damaged Flashing
    5. Damaged Shingles
    6. Water Damage
  7. FAQs
  8. Resources

Introduction to Asphalt Roof Shingles

Asphalt roof shingles are the most common roofing material in the United States. They have been for more than 100 years because homeowners see their many attractive characteristics: affordable, durable, look great, personalized options, etc. 

If you have an asphalt shingle roof or looking to make the switch, this guide is for you. We cover everything you need to know about asphalt roof shingles and so much more!

In this complete guide for asphalt roof shingles, you’ll learn:

  • What asphalt shingles are made from, their origination and invention, and why they’re so popular in the U.S.
  • The types of asphalt roof shingles available to you and roofing contractors
  • The most important components or parts of an asphalt shingle roof
  • How asphalt shingles are installed with a detailed process
  • Common types of repairs you may experience with an asphalt shingle roof

What Are Asphalt Shingles?

Asphalt shingles are a popular roofing material used in the United States. They have a deep history dating back more than 100 years and have become the number one roofing material in the country. Asphalt shingles are not just made of asphalt as you may think. Instead, they are comprised of a handful of materials that work together to protect your roof from moisture, wind, ultraviolet light, and more.

What Are Asphalt Shingles Made Of?

Asphalt shingles are made of a fiberglass or organic mat coated in waterproof asphalt and topped with crushed ceramic granules. Fiberglass mats are the most common as they are durable and lightweight. Organic mats are made from cellulose fibers originating from wood or paper. These mats are no longer used but did offer the same durability as fiberglass.

The layer of asphalt on each side of the mat helps your asphalt roof shingles repel water and moisture. This waterproof barrier is essential for the protection of your home. As for granules, a ceramic coating is applied to crushed stone and minerals. They protect your home from the heat and reflect ultraviolet light. Granules are also what give your roof color as they can come in a number of different shades.

The History of Asphalt Shingles

History of Asphalt Roof Shingles Infographic

In the 1800s, wooden shake roofs were the most common roofing material. Asphalt shingles were used during this time, but they aren’t anything like we use today. In the beginning, asphalt shingles weren’t shingles at all. They were large rolls of felt with coal tar applied to the surface. Granules were not used at this time. Installing these large rolls required multiple people and a lot of coordination. Eventually, in the late 1800s, granules were implemented. However, they used sand, slate, mica, or oyster shells. In addition to this change, they replaced the felt paper with cotton rags.

It wouldn’t be until the early 1910s that we saw the beginnings of modern asphalt shingles take shape. A roofer, Henry Reynolds, decided to cut the large rolls and install them in smaller shingle-like pieces. Businesses and large manufacturers didn’t move to this method until 1915. Even then, the popularity of asphalt shingles was extremely low. Wooden shakes were still dominant in the United States.

Over time, the perception of wooden shakes changed drastically. They became a serious fire hazard, so homeowners began to look at alternative options. Asphalt shingles were finally beginning to grow in popularity, and manufacturers continued to iterate on their designs. In the 60s and 70s, we finally saw fiberglass used in asphalt shingles. It wasn’t perfect, but later improvements got to where we are today.

The Popularity of Asphalt Shingles in America

Asphalt shingles have become the popular roofing material in America because of four primary reasons: their long history, affordability, durability, and personalization options.

Asphalt shingles have been around for a long time. In fact, more than 100 years. As we continued to improve their design, homeowners fell in love with the accessibility to this growing roofing material. The advancements in asphalt roof shingles also lead to highly durable and affordable roofing materials.

Asphalt shingles are one of the most affordable roofing materials out there, more so than tile or metal roofing. At the same time, it’s highly durable, capable of lasting up to 20 years. The durability you receive for the price you pay is hard to pass up for many homeowners.

It also helps that asphalt shingles come in a variety of colors, shades, and designs. Your shingles don’t have to be black or brown. They can feature shades of red or purple. Square or rectangular is not your only shape option either. Choose from circles or hexagons. The personalization of asphalt shingles has really soared in recent years, giving them a greater appeal to homeowners.

Types of Asphalt Shingles

When choosing an asphalt shingle roof, you’ll have a variety of colors, shades, and designs to choose from—all of them falling into one of the following types of asphalt shingles: 

  • 3-Tab
  • Architectural shingles
  • Luxury asphalt shingles

3-Tab Asphalt Shingles

These shingles are the most basic option, recognized by their three rectangular tabs. They are common on older homes as they are the oldest type of asphalt shingle. Modern homes are almost never built with 3-tab shingles. They do have the lowest cost, but they don’t last long and are unable to stand up against the elements. We do not recommend using 3-tab asphalt shingles for your home.

3-Tab Asphalt Roof Shingles

Architectural Shingles

Also known as dimensional shingles, these shingles were developed in the 1970s. They are the default asphalt shingles modern homes use and the most common. Architectural shingles offer the durability and affordability most homeowners want. They’re able to withstand strong winds, unlike 3-tab shingles.

Architectural shingles come in a vast range of colors, shapes, and designs. This shingle can mimic other types of roofs like wood shakes or slate. You can get the beauty of other materials without spending the price since these asphalt shingles are still very affordable. 

Dimensional Asphalt Roof Shingles

Luxury Asphalt Shingles

With a focus on visuals, luxury asphalt shingles are thicker than other options. These shingles are designed to look like other materials, such as slate, tile, or wood. Architectural shingles have similar designs, but they cannot match the mimicry of luxury asphalt shingles. If you want the aesthetic of another material without the lofty price tag, luxury shingles may be the right choice for you. 

Luxury Asphalt Roof Shingles

Key Components of Your Asphalt Shingle Roof

Identifying the parts of your asphalt shingle roof can help you spot potential problems. You can better understand how to care for your roof and know when to contact a roofing contractor. In some cases, you may even be able to handle any repairs yourself. Your roofing system has many parts, but we are going to highlight the components most vital to your asphalt shingle roof.

The key components we’ll discuss are as follows:

  • Asphalt shingles
  • Underlayment
  • Ventilation system
  • Ice and water barriers
  • Starter strips or shingles
  • Hip and ridge shingles

Asphalt Shingles

The primary component of your asphalt shingle roof is the asphalt shingles. The purpose of your shingles is to repel rain, wind, and sunlight. They achieve this goal through their composition of fiberglass, waterproof asphalt, and ceramic granules. All of these components work together to protect your home and keep the elements at bay.


Your asphalt shingles are not directly installed onto the decking. Instead, a secondary layer is installed first, known as underlayment. It acts as a waterproof barrier in the event your asphalt shingles fail. This component is not visible once your shingles are installed, but it’s an essential component. Underlayment comes in three types: asphalt-saturated felt, rubberized asphalt, and non-bitumen synthetic. Asphalt-saturated felt is the most common option and likely what your roofing contractor will use.

Ventilation System

All roofing systems have a ventilation system, but they are crucial no matter the material. The ventilation system prevents your attic from reaching high temperatures and humidity. Cool air rises through the soffits and into the attic. The hot air then escapes through vents on top of the roof. They usually take the shape of ridge vents, which are the highest point of your roof and are covered with specialized shingles. In general, the ventilation system is designed to keep your home at your desired temperature and lower energy costs.

Ice and Water Barriers

An asphalt shingle roof’s ice and water barriers are installed to prevent damage from ice dams and wind-driven rain. This underlayment is essential in preventing water from damaging your roof. It also assists in the installation of your roof as the top surface offers excellent traction for roofers.

Starter Strips

Starter strips are installed to cover the joints of the finishing shingles, helping with water-shedding. These strips are located underneath shingles, but they sit at the top of the lowest point in the roofing system. Starter strips are also used on the rakes and eaves, where they provide wind resistance. The rake is the top edge of the roof, while the eaves are the portion of the roof that hangs over the side of the house. These areas are susceptible to water damage, so starter strips are essential in protecting them.

Hip and Ridge Shingles

Finally, hip and ridge shingles are the last types of shingles installed on your roof. These shingles are not like typical shingles, as they are shaped to fit the highest points of your roof. Standard shingles can’t be installed in these areas because they don’t offer the same level of protection. Instead, hip and ridge shingles are shaped correctly to prevent water penetration.

The Process of Installing Asphalt Roof Shingles

The process of installing an asphalt roof shingle can be done in a day, but certain factors may prolong the project, such as weather, the size of the roof, and any discovery of underlying problems. A roofing contractor can give you an accurate timeline for your project, but it’s always good to know the steps of the process yourself. You shouldn’t be diving into a roof replacement or installation blindly.

When it comes to installing an asphalt shingle roof, you can expect the process to look similar to the following:

The Process of Installing Asphalt Roof Shingles Infographic

1. Prepare the Roof

Your roofing contractor will start by prepping the roof and the area around your home. Some contractors use large dumpster bins, while others use tarps or drop cloths to catch old materials. They’ll also gather all the necessary materials to remove old materials and install the new roof.

2. Prepare Old Materials

Using a shovel or roofing fork, your roofers will remove any old materials. They begin from the highest point of the roof and work their way down. While working downward, they remove any nails sticking out with a hammer. After the shingles are removed, the flashing is next. Although, flashing is not always replaced with a new roof. The final step is to sweep the last bit of debris off the decking.

3. Prepare the Deck

Once the deck is cleared, your roofers will inspect it for any water damage or deterioration. If there is any kind of damage, they’ll replace it with new decking. Decking repairs will cause your roofing project to last longer than a day. As the foundation for your roof, it is important your decking is in good condition, making this process essential for a long-lasting asphalt shingle roof.

4. Install Drip Edge and Water/Ice Membrane

Starting at the bottom, your roofers install drip edges and ice dam protection. The drip edge is nailed into the edge of your roof to prevent water from damaging the fascia board. Over the top of it, the water and ice membrane is installed approximately 24 inches up the roof. The valleys and of your roof will also see a similar membrane installed.

5. Install Underlayment and Starter Strips

The underlayment is rolled out over the water and ice membrane by about 4 inches. If you live in a region that doesn’t require a water and ice membrane, the underlayment will start at the eaves instead. Starter strips are also installed at the eaves and rakes for water-shedding and wind resistance, respectively.

6. Install Roof Shingles

After the starter strips and underlayment are down, the roof shingles follow. The roofers will start from the bottom near the starter strips and work their way up. Roofers use either hand nailing or a nail gun. There is no “best” tool for the job, although some argue otherwise. Above all, the greatest importance is the experience and skill of your roofers.

7. Install Hip and Ridge Shingles

At this point, your roof will look almost complete. The last finishing touch is installing the hip and ridge shingles. These shingles overlap one another as they are installed, assisting in the shedding of water as it rains or snows. On the last shingle, since the nails will be exposed, asphalt roof cement is applied for an additional layer of protection.

8. Cleanup

Finally, the last step for any good roofing contractor is to clean up the work area. This involves removing and disposing of any old materials and scanning the property for lost nails or debris. Upon completion of the roof, your contractor will meet with you to discuss the results.

Common Repairs for Asphalt Roof Shingles

Roof repairs are natural with aging. It’s a major part of asphalt shingle maintenance. Without repairs, your roof degrades faster, and the rest of your home suffers in the form of water damage, higher energy consumption, and mold. It’s vital you contact a roofing contractor for repairs when you notice a problem. Waiting can lead to higher repair costs and problems.

Asphalt roof shingles can experience a vast range of problems, each requiring its own types of repairs. The most common roof repairs you’ll need for an asphalt shingle roof include:

  • Roof leaks
  • Hail damage
  • Storm damage
  • Damaged flashing
  • Damaged shingles
  • Water damage

Roof Leaks

Water is the biggest threat to your roof and your home. While there are many roofing components to repel water, leaks are bound to occur.

Many different problems can cause roof leaks, such as:

  • Cracked flashing
  • Broken shingles
  • Improperly sealed valleys
  • Cracked vent boot
  • Ice damn buildup
  • Improper roof installation
  • Clogged gutters
  • Damaged chimney
  • Age

As you can see, there are many causes of roof leaks. An experienced roofing contractor can perform a thorough inspection to find the source of the leak. Don’t wait to have your roof leak repaired, as it will have adverse effects on the rest of your home and roof system.

Hail Damage

Hail Damage on Asphalt Shingle Roof

Hail damage can be extremely easy to spot or impossible to find. It really takes an experienced roofing contractor to locate the damage and perform the necessary repairs. The problems hail damage causes are loss of granules on shingles. If left untreated, the areas with missing granules will absorb heat rather than reflect it, causing a higher cooling bill. The holes and cracks potentially left behind by hail are problematic for the material underneath. Water can penetrate these areas leading to roof deterioration and leaks.

As we said, identifying hail damage can be difficult. However, there are signs to look for:

  • Dents in metal flashing, vent covers, gutters, downspouts
  • Granules found in gutters
  • Loss of color to reveal the loss of granules
  • Cracks, dents, or holes in shingles
  • Roof leak or moisture in the attic

If your roof has any issues from above, speak to a roofing contractor about repairs as soon as possible.

Storm Damage

Severe storms can do a number on your asphalt roof shingles. Most shingles can only withstand wind speeds up to 120 miles per hour. This means they are prone to curl or rip off entirely. In addition to this type of storm damage, debris and falling limbs can also take a toll on your roof. All of these issues deserve immediate attention once the storm has passed. The damage caused by these events leads to water damage in the materials underneath.

Damaged Flashing

Flashing is used at the most vulnerable parts of your roof: the seams. You can find flashing at the base of your chimney, vents, valleys, and other areas. Flashing is typically made of metal and deteriorates with age. It’s usually replaced during roof replacements, but not always. Damaged or missing flashing puts your roof and home at severe risk of water damage. At any point you notice a roof leak or water in the attic, contact a roofing contractor for repairs. They’ll be able to find the damaged flashing and replace it.

Damaged Shingles

Asphalt roof shingles can experience a variety of damages ranging from hail to blistering to curling. All of these issues require repairs as it allows moisture to penetrate the roof.

The most common asphalt shingle damage includes:

  • Cracks
  • Dents or holes
  • Curled
  • Blistering
  • Shrinking
  • Missing granules
  • Missing shingles
  • Moss or mold growth

Water Damage

The cause of water damage to your asphalt shingle roof could originate from another problem such as a damaged shingle, damaged flashing, hail damage, or something else. Regardless, it’s vital you look for signs of water damage in your attic and from the ground. Mold or mildew inside your attic means there is moisture. This could come from poor ventilation or water damage from the roof. Moss or mold growing on top of your shingles means your shingles are holding moisture. A sign like this is never good, so you should contact a roofing contractor right away for a solution.

Asphalt Roof Shingle FAQs

How long does an asphalt shingle roof last?

On average, asphalt shingle roofs last between 15 to 20 years. Some types of shingles are able to last up to 40 years, but it drastically varies depending on where you live and the maintenance you perform.

    How much are asphalt shingle roofs?

    According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of an asphalt shingle roof is between $5,684 to $11,922. Of course, the cost of your roof will vary depending on where you live, the types of shingles, the size of your home, the contractor, and more. We recommend you always reach out to multiple roofing contractors in your area for a free estimate or quote. It will give you a better understanding of how much your asphalt shingle roof will cost.

      How long does it take to install an asphalt shingle roof?

      It will take anywhere from one to three days to install your asphalt shingle roof. It greatly depends on the size of your roof, the weather, and the contractor. Speak to your roofing contractor about a timeline.

        How do you clean an asphalt shingle roof?

        We recommend using sodium hydroxide (lye) solution. You can purchase a solution from the store or mix your own. Some homeowners choose to use a bleach solution. Avoid using bleach because it isn’t as strong at removing stains and moss. It’s also harsher on plants in your landscaping.

        Once you have your solution, you’ll want to apply it with a garden hose or sprayer, starting from the bottom of your food and working your way up. Never use a power washer to clean your roof. The high pressure will damage the shingles by removing granules.

        If you don’t have experience being on a roof or cleaning roofs, you should hire a roofing contractor or roof cleaning company to do the job. That way, you won’t be putting yourself at risk of injury or worse.

        Can asphalt roof shingles be painted?

        Yes, you can paint your asphalt shingles using acrylic paint. However, our contractors recommend against it as it requires more maintenance, could cause damage, and doesn’t substitute for a roof repair or replacement.

          Are asphalt shingles the same as composition shingles?

          Yes. In fact, asphalt shingles are a type of composition shingle. Composition shingles are simply shingles made up of more than one material. Since asphalt shingles are made from fiberglass, asphalt, and ceramic, they are considered composition shingles.


          To learn more about asphalt roof shingles, check out the resources we listed below. Be sure to contact your local roofing contractors for any additional information or questions you may have.