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What Is a Composition Roof?

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What’s the Difference Between Asphalt and Composition Shingles?

composition shingle

It’s pretty much the same thing! A composition shingle is made of a “composite” of materials that include a base mat, asphalt on both sides, and granules on top. We tend to say “composition shingle” because it’s the technically correct term in the roofing industry, but if you ask us about asphalt roofing options we’ll know exactly what you mean.

What is a Composition Roof?

When it’s time for a new roof, deciding on what material to use can feel overwhelming. We have come a long way from the original organic asphalt shingles pioneered in 1901, and since the fiberglass composition shingle came on the scene in the 1970s, homeowners have had dozens of choices in styles, colors, and durability. 


Organic composition shingles became America’s roofing material of choice in the 1920s, as they were more inexpensive and easy to install than other options like wood shakes or slate. They had an organic base mat of felt, paper, or wood pulp, which was then coated in asphalt and topped with a layer of ceramic granules. Today, they have all but disappeared on new roofs, as fiberglass is more durable and more fire-resistant.

Fiberglass composition shingles, as the name suggests, have a fiberglass base which is reinforced with synthetic resin, coated with asphalt, and topped with granules. The resin and asphalt make the shingle waterproof and hold the granules in place, while the granules protect the shingle from UV damage, add color, and can help resist algae and fungus growth depending on what additives are added by the manufacturers.   

But within the world of fiberglass composition shingles, you still have plenty of options!

3-tab shingles come in a strip with notches cut out of it, so that it appears to have three “tabs” per strip. This is the standard composition shingle, and you may even hear people say “asphalt shingle” when they mean the basic 3-tab shingle, as opposed to higher-end dimensional shingles.

3-tab shingles are the least expensive composition option, so they’re also the lightest and least durable. They typically last for 10 to 20 years before needing to be replaced. On average, installation costs $350 to $450 per “square” (a square being 100 square feet of roof), but keep in mind that this doesn’t include tear-off or repairing any structural problems that are discovered. 

Dimensional shingles (also called laminate or architectural shingles) are slowly but surely overtaking 3-tab shingles in popularity, as they are both more durable and more attractive. They are at least double the thickness of a 3-tab shingle, and are made of irregular layers to create random shadow lines. Today, you can find dimensional composition shingles that mimic the look of slate, wood, and even tile, giving your home a more attractive appearance. 


Dimensional shingles come in a wide range of prices and quality, typically lasting 20 to 30 years before deteriorating and needing replacement. However, with the intense heat and hail of Texas weather, any shingle that lasts 30 years is doing a great job! The most high-end types of architectural shingle can even come with a 50-year or Lifetime warranty, but it’s important to understand that these warranties are pro-rated, as the manufacturers know they won’t actually last 50 years.

Installing dimensional shingles will cost, on average, $450 to $700 per square, not including the costs of tear-off or any needed repairs. 

Styles of Composition Roofing

Now that we’ve answered the “What is a composition roof?” question, your next step is to pick the profile and color that are perfect for your home. Before beginning to consider different color options, first check with your homeowner’s association if there are any bylaws regarding exterior home colors. You don’t want to fall in love with a roof color to find out your homeowners association won’t allow it.


There are a few guiding principles for using a blended shingle. If you have a plain siding, a roof with a more pronounced blending color will make your home more interesting to look at. However, if your home has a multicolored siding, such as a stone or brick with varied colors, using color blended shingles will clash.

Mood boards from GAF showing how different shingle styles and colors can match different home designs.

The number of stories in your house will also impact color choice. A dark shingle can help balance the height of a multi-level home, while dark shingles on a single-story home can make the house seem “all roof,” especially if the roof is tall and steeply pitched.

Living in Texas, lighter shingles can help lower AC bills since light colors reflect the sun’s heat. The color of the shingles can affect attic temperatures by up to 40 degrees. However, on the flip side, the sun can make light neutral colors appear washed out and some people suggest using bolder colors when in a sunny climate.  

Interior designer and color expert Maria Killiam has a general guideline to follow: “When choosing an asphalt roof, choose a darker color than the body of your house. There’s something grounded and solid about the look that I think really works. Unless of course your house is a very dark color or there’s more roof than siding, then a lighter roof is necessary.”

Pros and Cons of Composition Roofing

There are plenty of reasons why composition roofs are so popular for homes in the U.S., and the most important one is price! Asphalt shingles are a very affordable option, although the downside is that the less you pay up-front, the sooner you’ll have to replace the entire roof. 


  • The most affordable roofing option 
  • A wide range of styles, colors and textures to choose from 
  • You can get the look of slate, wood shakes or clay at a cheaper cost 
  • Able to replace individual shingles, making repairs easier and cheaper  
  • Lighter material than slate or clay tile (although heavier than wood or metal roofing) 


  • Deteriorate over time, especially in extreme weather conditions like heat or heavy storms, and will require replacement every 20 years or so 
  • Should be regularly maintained to preserve the life of your roof 
  • Not particularly eco-friendly: asphalt shingles are made from petroleum, and as much as 20 billion pounds of torn-off shingles go into U.S. landfills each year 
  • Vulnerable to high winds and wildfires 

(Not convinced that a composition shingle roof is right for you? Take a look at some of our metal roofing options.)


With so many new and elegant composition roof choices to choose from, there’s almost certainly one that’s right for your home’s style and your budget. When you’re ready to talk about your options, please give Designer Roofing a call! We’d love to help you get the perfect composition roof for you.