Asphalt shingles continue to be the most commonly used type of roofing shingle material for residential use, though alternatives, especially metal roofing, are becoming more popular every year.
The 3 tab vs architectural shingle debate is a common one for homeowners. The goal of this RenoCompare post is to help you make an informed decision about which is best for your home, your budget, curb appeal and potential resale value/ROI.
A good place to start is a basic description of these roofing options.
WHAT ARE 3 TAB SHINGLES?
Three tab, or 3 tab shingles are also called strip shingles. The key difference is that the shingles are a single layer vs multiple layers used in architectural shingles.
A tough, tear-resistant fiberglass mesh is soaked and encapsulated in asphalt. Ceramic granules are embedded on the top of the shingle to give it color and to reflect sunlight to help keep the roof cool and improve shingle longevity. An adhesive strip is applied to the bottom of the shingle to stick to the shingles it overlaps.
The lower half of the shingle has two cuts to produce three tabs designed to look like slate pieces or wood shingles, though the resemblance to either is not strong.
Because the shingles are a single layer of material and much lighter, the standard wind warranty is 60MPH. Some three tab wind warranties can be upgraded to 80MPH if extra nails and roofing glue are added to each shingle. Doing so will also increase installation cost by up to $1.00 per square foot.
WHAT ARE ARCHITECTURAL SHINGLES?
They are called many things – dimensional shingles are most common, but you’ll see other terms including laminated (layered) shingles, composite shingles and designer shingles. Brands tend to use various terms, and it can be confusing. The main difference is that 3 tab shingles are a single layer. Architectural shingles have multiple layers, regardless of what they are called.
Architectural shingles are similar in construction to 3 tab shingles, but there are at least two layers of material instead of one. Each layer has a fiberglass mesh core that is encapsulated in asphalt. The base layer is solid – no cuts. The top layer or layers are cut. A variety of cuts are used to produce the look of wood shingles or shakes and slate.
While you won’t visually confuse asphalt shingles with either wood or slate, the layered construction does produce a thicker profile that creates shadowing on the roof similar to those materials.
The layered shingles are heavier and produce better resistance to wind and heavy rain. Manufacturer warranties are longer, up to “lifetime,” which is usually 50 years. And the standard wind warranty is 110MPH.
The wind warranty on most architectural shingles can be upgraded to 130MPH with enhanced installation. A few shingles have an upgraded wind warranty of 150MPH, and the new GAF Timberline HDZ shingles are the first to come with an ”infinite” or unlimited wind warranty when stringent installation requirements are met.
The installing techniques are the same for 3 tab and architectural shingles.
The top part of the shingle has a nailing zone with thicker fiberglass mesh for improved strength. Standard installation requires 3 nails. Upgraded wind warranties generally require 4 nails and may also demand adding a bead of roofing glue to the section of the shingle that overlaps those beneath it.
To get the best warranty coverage, you will have to tear off all old roofing down to the roof deck and install at least 3 components of the brand’s total roofing system. These components include underlayment, starter shingles at the eaves, moisture barrier in valleys, ridge vents and hip/ridge cap shingles.
Three tab shingle prices are narrower, from about $0.90 to $1.25 per square foot.
Architectural shingle price starts at about $1.00 per square foot and can be as pricey as $2.00 per square foot for premium shingles from CertainTeed, Malarkey or Atlas.
Budgeting tip: Don’t estimate your asphalt shingle roofing cost by the cost of the shingles alone. At minimum, if you are putting on a second layer of 3 tab shingles, you will also need shingles for the ridge and hip. Your options are to use standard shingles, and many DIYers and contractors do, or to buy shingles made specifically for that application, which cost about 50% more.
And if you do a complete tear off, you’ll need all materials described above for a complete roof system. The total cost of those materials plus nails and glue is typically $1.15 to $1.50 per square foot.
Pricing note: Roofing shingles and other roofing materials are often listed by the price per square. A roofing square is 100 square feet of coverage, a 10’ x 10’ “square.”
What about the installation cost? The cost per square foot that roofers charge for installation is anywhere from $2.00 to $4.00, or $200 to $400 per square. That’s what you can save by DIY.
Installation cost factors are the steepness of the roof, whether it is a second story or higher and if enhanced installation is required to boost the warranty coverage. Time of year plays a role too. If you want your home reroofed in the spring or summer, expect to pay top dollar. You might get a small price break if the roof can be installed in a roofer’s off season. Just be sure that the air temperature will be high enough for the adhesive strips to soften and stick to the underlying shingles, which is essential for the performance of an asphalt shingle roof.
Forget the warranty length – up to 30 years for 3 tab shingles and 30 to 50 years or “lifetime” for architectural shingles. The manufacturer’s warranty protects you against the shingles falling apart – which rarely happens.
The “dirty little secret” in the asphalt shingle market is that manufacturers rarely approve warranty claims. Generally, they blame faulty installation or poor attic ventilation for whatever problem arises – cupped or cracked shingles, shingles not adhering well and flapping in the wind as a result, nails driven through the shingles and not holding them to the roof, etc.
And those problems aren’t their problem. Rightly so. That’s why it is crucial that you get written estimates from multiple local roofers, and then check their reviews online to see what other homeowners have to say about the quality of their work.
Speaking of ventilation – A good roofing contractor will want to look inside your attic before installing shingles. The purpose is to make sure that the attic is properly vented at the eaves/soffits and ridge/hips. Maybe gable vents too. Without good ventilation, heat and moisture will build up beneath the roof deck and reduce the durability of asphalt shingles – even quality shingles properly installed.
There is more information on this important topic in our Ridge Vent vs Box Vent post.
Even when properly installed, asphalt shingles will lose granules over the years, and they’ll begin to look weathered and aged. Edges might turn up as the asphalt dries out. For both appearance and performance, you will probably want to replace your shingles before the warranty coverage expires.
The maintenance regimen is the same for strip shingles and dimensional shingles.
Remove leaves and other debris where it accumulates on the roof, since it will hold moisture and eventually stain or otherwise damage the shingles.
Don’t allow moss to build up on the roof – which only happens in humid climates on a roof that is heavily shaded. It can be power-washed away as needed. Just be sure the water jet is always focused toward the eaves, so that water isn’t forced up under the shingles.
Inspect the roof annually and after major storms to check for general condition and damage. One difference is that 3 tab shingles age faster and tend to go “downhill” faster once they begin to wear out. So, inspect them at least twice per year for general wear and tear and after every high-wind event.
What about algae? Drive around neighborhoods in your area. Do you see dark, usually vertical, stains on roofs? That’s an indication that algae and the staining it causes is an issue where you live. Choose a shingle with an algae resistance, usually in the form of copper added to the granules. It leaches from the granules and kills algae.
It’s thumbs-down for asphalt shingles.
They are petroleum-based and not biodegradable, and almost all asphalt shingles of any type end up in landfills.
Sure, asphalt shingles can be recycled. But we have contacted recycling facilities, which are few and far between – and most are overwhelmed with shingles. When the volume gets too high to handle, they stop taking shingles, regardless of what your roofing contractor tells you. And any excess is trucked to the landfill.
Architectural shingles are a better value, and most homeowners prefer their appearance. The affordable options don’t cost a lot more. And all dimensional shingles offer better protection against the elements and a longer lifespan.
What’s used in your neighborhood? If architectural shingles or wood shakes are used where you live, don’t even think about 3 tab shingles.
On the other hand, if three tab shingles are still the norm in your area, you won’t get a good return on investment from high-end architectural shingles like CertainTeed Grand Manor or Atlas StormMaster shingles.
Does our HOA care? If your home is in a homeowner’s association, check its bylaws. The most picky require architectural shingles or better grades of roofing. Three tab shingles aren’t allowed.