How long will a new roof last?

I recently visited a Silver Lake roofing client, who wanted to know how long a new roof will last. His sister had a new roof installed in her Los Feliz home and was wondering why she had to replace her roof and now it seemed he needed a new roof too.

I thought that it would be of interest here to offer an understanding to this question. A shingle roof generally lasts twenty to fifty years. This covers a number of types of material including composition shingle, asphalt shingle, dimensional shingle, 3-tab shingle and more.

Shingles come in four major varieties: 20, 30, 40 and 50-year. These are, as you can see, categorized by their life-expectancy.  The industry, in all its inimical genius, recently changed the way they label shingles.  It used to be simple, that was 20, 30, 40 and 50-year, based on the warranty.

Now, they say everything from a 30-year and up will last “a lifetime” when in fact that is just legal doublespeak.  It’s a limited lifetime warranty that is not transferrable and they are banking on the fact that almost no one stays in a home more than 30 years.  Once you move, the warranty is null and void to the new owner.  Nothing in the 30-year shingles has changed so they will not last a lifetime, you can take that to the bank.  They will last 30 years at best.

30-Year Shingle on a New Roof in Los Feliz
30-Year Shingle on a New Roof in Los Feliz

The 20-year shingles are the old school shingles you saw on your Grandma’s house back in the 50s.  They are called 3-tab shingles because they have 3 tabs for each shingle.

30, 40 and 50-year shingles are all called dimensional shingles, meaning they are two sheets of composition asphalt, laminated together.  The sheet on top has cut-outs so that the surface is uneven, producing the so-called “dimensional” effect.  They look the same but get thicker as the year rating increases.

There are a myriad other types of dimensional shingles, most notable among them the popular Presidential Shake line by CertainTeed.  These are referred to as luxury, designer, premium – the list goes on but generally they are made pretty thick and are comparable to at least a 50-year.

In some cases, the luxury type of shingle can be even thicker but note that in my experience, no matter how thick the shingle is, it will look like hell after 30 years because the mineral surface is more-or-less, the same for each product.  It may not leak after 45 years, but that mineral surface is going to be pretty rough.

For people in high-wind areas, (not Los Feliz or Silver Lake) I generally only recommended the 40 to 50-year shingles (meaning, the standard dimensional shingles, but the thicker variants). But the modern 30-year shingles are much more wind resistant than they were just 10 years ago – we’re talking wind gusts at 100+ MPH.  If you are under that, historically, for your area then a 30-year should be fine, provided they are installed correctly.

Everyone, high-wind or now, should insist that roofers use high performance starter shingles at all eves – these have a double glue strip for added wind protection.  Some manufacturers will give ultra-high wind ratings (130 MPH) with their ordinary 30-year shingles if you simply use their wind rated starter, and their proprietary ridge caps which cost scarcely more per job than regular stuff.

There are a few things that can extend, or reduce the life expectancy of your new roof. These include steepness, orientation to the sun, the color of the shingle, good ventilation, and so on, but shingles will, generally, last exactly how long they are rated for.  The trick is knowing the real rating so if you’re buying a “standard dimensional shingle” – you are buying a 30-year shingle.

Ask your roofing estimator to tell you in simple terms what the three categories are called for any given manufacturer.  Usually they will have a distinctive, but slightly different name for each lineup.  CertainTeed, for example calls their dimensional 30, 40 and 50-year shingles, Landmark, Landmark Pro, and Landmark Premium , respectively.  But they used to have different names and in fact have changed these names three times in the last eight years or so, which is not only confusing to the consumer, it’s confusing to us contractors as well but there’s little we can do about that.

You can see that a new roof tends to last longer, if you are able and willing to invest in a longer-lasting roof. My customer in Los Feliz actually decided to get a 50-year shingle. He loves his home, and hopes to live his lifetime there. His sister in Silver Lake dreams of a home in the desert for her later years, so she opted for a 20-year shingle on her new roof.