Is an asphalt shingle roof or concrete tile better, energy wise?

Asked by ryan dyck
Moorpark, CA

conflicting ideas between roofers


Dear Ryan,

That is an interesting question that might have a different response depending on your location.

Let’s begin by reviewing how heat is transferred through roofing. Heat travels on light rays (radiant), in a vapor or liquid (convective) and through solid objects (conduction).

  • When we say a roof is energy efficient we are speaking of its ability to reduce all three.
  • In cold weather states conductive heat movement is not a function of roof coverings.

All climate zones are concerned with radiant and convective heat transfer with regards to the roof structure.

In a predominantly cooling climate we should select a roof that reduces the impact of all three types of heat transfer since the sun radiates heat to the roof coverings which heat the roof structure conductively causing the attic to heat up. The heated air pressurizes the attic and may force the heated air into the habitable structure through convection.

So when we think of a roof covering as energy efficient we are almost always talking about how effective it is at reducing transfer of radiant heat into the attic via conduction or convection.

Asphalt shingles

Asphalt shingles are somewhat effective if you purchase a solar reflective roofing shingle. A percentage of radiant heat is bounced back into the atmosphere.

Unfortunately there is still enough heat that warms the roof and surrounding structure making the attic hot during sunny periods.

Since the asphalt shingles are in direct contact with felt underlayment and the felt is installed directly over the roof sheathing the entire structure is within a few degrees of the asphalt shingle temperature. Once the sheathing is heated up through conduction it warms up the attic which in turn warms up the living spaces through conduction and convection.

Concrete shingles

Concrete shingles are much more effective at reducing all three types of heat transfer.

  • Concrete tiles can be reflective in color which reduces heat gain.
  • Since they are elevated they actually allow the heat gain to be vented so the roof structure has significantly less heat gain.
  • The heated air under the shingles is vented through the ridge cap helping to keep the roof structure cool.

So strictly from an energy perspective concrete tiles are more energy efficient than asphalt shingles. 



Other factors to consider

There are other mitigating factors in choosing between asphalt shingles and concrete tiles.

  • Concrete is fire proof, wind proof, brittle to walk on and more expensive up front.
  • Asphalt shingles are cheaper initially, safe to walk on (weather permitting), wind resistant and easily repairable.

You can install a radiant barrier under the roof structure (not on the floor of the attic) that will improve the energy efficiency of the roof assembly using asphalt shingles.

  • A properly install radiant barrier can reduce radiant heat gain and vent conducted heat through the roof venting system.
  • Remember in order that a radiant barrier be effective the reflective surface must be exposed to an air gap.

Selecting a contractor

Whichever way you go select a qualified contractor, verify their references, licensing and insurance coverage.

  • If you go with a cement roof make sure that they have done a lot of cement tile roofs.
  • Talk to previous customers to see how their experience with the contractor went.

Don’t disqualify a contractor that has had a complaint if they handled the complaint and the client was satisfied. Anyone that has been in business for any length of time will have had complaints, many unjustified.


The General

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