Taking the mystery out of choosing a composition shingle color.

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 by Ernie Smith

Composition shingles, in all their assorted colors, are as American as apple pie. They dominate the residential roofing market – roughly 85% - from sea to shining sea. If you’re in the market for a brand new roof, there’s a good chance you’ll be putting on (and taking off) composition shingles. Composition shingles are ‘composed’ of asphalt and fiberglass.  

On average, most people replace a roof just once in their lifetime. So choosing a composition shingle color might seem daunting at first. But there’s a method to the madness. And often experienced sales reps will have a roof color in mind before they’ve finished pulling into your driveway.

The first thing to know about choosing a composition shingle color is that color doesn’t affect price, regardless of the brand. (Warranties determine price – from 20 year “3-tabs” to 30 year and more “laminates.”) This bit of knowledge alone will help to ensure your sanity when you’re awash in brochures and sundry shingle samples. (Note: always try to view actual physical samples and not just printed brochures.) And nowadays, in areas where it’s hot and humid, even stain-resistance is becoming more standard.

The second thing to know about choosing a shingle color is that you may not have to choose a color at all. If you live in a neighborhood with deed restrictions you simply keep up with the Jones’. And the roof color on your house now is probably just what you need. Homeowner associations dictate shingle color and warranty, and laminates are the major players in these covenanted communities. It’s all on the books, so tell your roofer to get you squared away.

In the beginning ‘composition’ shingles were concocted of asphalt and paper, and white was a dominant color. They carried a 20 year warranty and were mostly flat and inconspicuous. But a growing suburban middle-class began downsizing pricey wood roofs when manufacturers offered a more attractive and economical two-ply alternative. Fiberglass was added to lighten the heavy asphalt and boost fire-resistance, and the laminate composition shingle was born. (Laminates were frequently dubbed “Timberline,” a generic term for a popular brand.)

Popular new laminates and fancy roof lines put the focus on colors. The logic of laminates - also called Dimensional or Architectural – was to simulate cedar shingles (thus the color “weathered wood”). But the thicker and weightier laminates meant better warranties and better sales, and a cache of new colors to showcase homes that were often up to 40% roof! But not just any colors.

When it comes to colors, the top-selling laminates have something in common. The colors are all ‘earth-tones.’ Earth-tones give unity and consistency to neighborhoods across the U.S. Think charcoals, dark grays, browns, etc. There’s about five or six earth-tones. (White, or Pewter, doesn’t count, but is widely available if the neighbors don’t mind; and did we mention sectarian red and blue?)

Earth-tones compliment or enhance a home’s brick or siding, and keep the neighborhood calm, aesthetically speaking. Lighter earth-tones seem cheerier and convey openness, while darker earth-tones are more conservative.

All the major brands make basically all the same colors. (Give or take a few hues and shadows in a valiant attempt to differentiate themselves.) Even the names sound the same - as in weathered gray, weathered wood, weathered blend. So feel free to express yourself with the earth-tone of your choice, but insist on a top seller to minimize confusion and avoid surprises.

So what will it be, Barkwood or Cedar Blend? Hickory or Sablewood? Something light, or something dark? Take a look around the neighborhood and try to blend in.

Finally, here’s three fool-proof ways to choose a composition shingle color when your eyes are glazed over. First, consider weathered wood, king of composition shingle colors. Favored by builders for its inherent neutrality, weathered wood is almost always a sure thing. (Talk about neighborhood amicability!) Secondly, select a house in the neighborhood with a color you like, and tell your roofer to match it. (Keep in mind that shingle colors will vary depending upon the time of day and the amount of sunlight.) And finally, trust an experienced builder, remodeler, or even real estate agent.

The future looks bright, even white, for composition shingle colors. Everything old is new again, and white is all the rage with the cool roof crowd. So white may be coming soon to a neighborhood near you. But thanks to technology, i.e. the new Energy Star composition shingles, earth-tones probably won’t be going anywhere soon. And for most architects, builders, and homeowners, that’s probably a pretty cool thing.

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