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Rolled Roofing vs. Shingles: Pros, Cons & Verdict

Rolled Roofing vs Shingles

Thankfully, roofs don’t need replacing often. However, it’s easy to get confused by all the available options when it’s time to replace the roof. Two commonly used materials are rolled roofing—also called MSR—and shingles.

Below we will look at both of these materials and compare them. After answering a few questions about them, there is a table to show you the ideal applications for both.

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Overview of Rolled Roofing:

MSR is an easy and affordable option for a new or replacement roof. In some cases, it’s the only option.

You can purchase MSR in almost any building supply store. It’s usually sold in 33-foot rolls that are 36-inches wide. If you compare it to asphalt shingles, you’ll notice that MSR is almost always thinner than the shingles. This makes it easier to work with but sacrifices durability.

The average expected lifespan for most MSR is around 8 years, which is a major contributing factor to where you want to use it.

How Rolled Roofing Works

First, the roof is prepared by either cleaning the old shingles of loose debris and dirt or laying down a special underlay. Then the MSR is rolled on. As it’s rolled out, the installer uses a torch to heat the bottom of it so that it adheres to the prepared roof.

Best Application for Rolled Roofing

Because MSR is the only material suitable for flat or low-slope roofs, that’s the ideal application. However, it can be a great, low-cost roofing solution for a shed, barn, or other outdoor structure where the roof being sealed is not critical.

  • Inexpensive to purchase and install
  • Quick to install
  • Only material suited for a flat or low-slope roof
  • It’s possible to use MSR over pre-existing shingles
  • Not very durable and relatively short life
  • Colors are mostly limited to black and white as the common colors
  • Not an attractive finish
  • Doesn’t add any resale to your home—in some cases, it hurts the resale value

Consult a Roofing expert

Find a roofing specialist in your area, and get free, no-commitment estimates for your project.

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Overview of Shingles:

man working on roof shingles
Image Credit: TFoxFoto, Shutterstock

Shingles are one of the most common roofing materials in North America. They are versatile, easy to maintain, and have a ton of color options available. If you’re not restricted by budget or having a flat roof, most contractors will tell you that a shingle is a much better option compared to MSR.

Most shingles feature asphalt as their main ingredient. They are then finished with colored sand on top to increase their durability. Because they contain asphalt, they get soft in the sun and bond with each other. So, they do seal better over time to a certain degree.

How Shingles Work

It’s possible to put new shingles over old ones, but that’s not usually advised. So, once the old shingles are ripped off, an ice guard is placed around the roof’s perimeter. This ice guard usually comes in an adhesive roll.

Once everything is ready, a line is snapped for reference, and each shingle is laid out and nailed at the top, starting from the roof’s lower edge. As the roofer works up to the peak, each row of shingles is offset for 100% coverage.

Best Application for Shingles

Nearly any roof is a candidate for shingles. Their only real limitation is if the roof is flat because they don’t seal the same way as MSR. Another downside to shingles is the windy climate. However, it’s not overly challenging to change a couple of shingles if they get damaged.

  • Durable
  • 20–25 year expected lifespan
  • Extensive color choices
  • Nice finished appearance
  • Good warranty on most shingles
  • Susceptible to wind damage
  • Won’t seal on a flat or low-slope roof
  • Can get expensive depending on the shingle

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Other Roof Materials Worth Considering

If neither MSR nor shingles are what you envision for your roof, several other options are available. You could do a nice tin roof which sounds incredible on a rainy afternoon. Or, there are terracotta tiles that add an interesting flair to your roof.

DIY vs. Hiring a Professional Roofing Company

Replacing a roof doesn’t require a lot of special skills. However, it is inherently dangerous because of the heights and sometimes requires specialty tools depending on the roof material.

If you’re reasonably experienced with big DIY projects, you could probably redo your roof in a weekend. But if you’d rather pay someone to take care of it, most roofing contractors can do an average-sized home in a day with a small crew.

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Rolled roof or shingles, which will last longer?

A shingle roof will last longer than an MSR roof in almost every scenario. But shingles are susceptible to wind damage, unlike MSR which is flat and sealed with nowhere for the wind to get in. So, if there are windstorms or hurricanes, you may find yourself replacing at least part of a shingle roof.

Can I use shingles on a flat roof?

Technically you could, yes. However, they will quickly leak. A shingle doesn’t seal the same way that MSR does. So, this is the one application where MSR is really your only choice. MSR is very common in commercial applications due to the number of flat roofs on commercial buildings.

Which roof material is the most durable?

Hands down, asphalt shingles are the most durable of these two. That’s demonstrated by the massive life expectancy difference between them. Most shingles include warranty coverage for 20 to 25 years.

Ideal Applications for Rolled Roofing and Shingles

When to Use Rolled Roofing When to Use Shingles
Flat or low-slope roof Gable roof
Shed Hip and valley roof
Barn Doghouse
Outdoor activity shelter Shed

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After reading this, it’s pretty clear that a shingle roof is the best option in most situations. But if you’re looking for the absolute cheapest roof, rolled roofing may be better. In the case of a flat or low-slope roof, rolled roofing is one of your only options.

Featured Image Credit: (L) Denis Torkhov, Shutterstock | (R) brizmaker, Shutterstock


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