The Basics: Composite Roof Shingles

Composite Shingles - Slate

EcoStar's Midnight Majestic Composition Slate Roofing

Coming up with alternatives for traditional shingle materials has proved a steep and slippery slope for a surprising number of manufacturers. Class-action lawsuits have showered down as so-called “lifetime” roofing products with names like Hardishake, Maxishake, and Permatek have prematurely failed.

Related: Composite Roof Shingles: The Great Pretenders

“The impetus for the development of many of these products was the ban on the use of asbestos fibers,” says Rick Damato, a 38-year industry veteran and editorial director of Roofing Contractor magazine. “Manufacturers substituted other fibers and they just didn’t perform as well.”

Composite Shingles - Shake

EcoStar's Cedar Brown Seneca Composition Shake Roofing

Several companies have successfully developed composite formulations, most notably EcoStar. Unlike its competitors’ products, EcoStar’s slates and shakes boast a 20-year track record. They’re green, too—in fact, if you build with EcoStar roofing materials, it’s possible to score four extra LEED points.

Virtually indistinguishable from real slate and wood, EcoStar’s composites have earned approval for use in historic preservation projects. And their “Class A” fire rating and “Class 4″ impact-resistance position the company at the top of its class for both measures.

CertainTeed's Symphony Composite Slate Roofing.

CertainTeed's Symphony Composite Slate Roofing

Another manufacturer, CertainTeed, offers a luxury line of composites under the brand name Symphony. Made of polypropylene and calcium carbonate, CertainTeed’s well-regarded product is a ‘dead ringer’ for slate. Arguably, the lightweight and fade-resistant Symphony shingles improve upon the genuine article. Aside from being cheaper to buy and less costly to install, they are backed by a 50-year warranty and boast Energy Star certification.

Composite Shingles - Synthetic Wood Shake

DaVinci Roofscapes' Bellaforte Tuscana Polymer Composite Shake Roof Tiles

A third company, DaVinci Roofscapes, LLC, offers perhaps the most comprehensive line of composite shake and slate-type products. Polymer-based, with top impact and fire ratings and a strong warranty, Davinci shingles come in multiple widths and colors, enabling homeowners to create blends with realistic textures and shade variations.

Related: Should You Repair or Replace Your Roof?

So what’s the downside to composite shingles? Cost. Any shake or slate-like roofs will run about $400 per square, at least four times as much as asphalt shingles. Moreover, in some regions you may find it difficult to locate a certified installer. “Although composite roofs are not as difficult to install as slate and cedar, the contractor will have to know what he’s doing for them to come out right,” says Damato.

For more on roofing, consider:

Bob Vila Radio: Roofing Options
Installing Manmade Slate Shingles (VIDEO)
How To: Choose a New Roof for Your House