Asphalt Roof Longevity – How Long Will Your Asphalt Roof Really Last?

Most asphalt roofs last 17 to 25 years. Yours will last 12 to 35 years based on initial quality, whether the roof is properly installed, the level of attic ventilation and your climate. These factors answer the question – How long do asphalt shingles last?

Does the Warranty Tell You How Long Asphalt Shingles Last?

Nope.

Manufacturers, salespeople and contractors make big promises, but will your roof really last as long as they claim?  Depending on the shingle, manufacturer's warranties can be 25 to 50 years, and there are even Lifetime warranties. What do these warranties really mean?

The "open secret" in the asphalt roofing industry is that warranties are just about meaningless other than an indicator of shingle quality. Most warranty claims aren't covered – and if the manufacturer does pay out, most settlements are for less than 25 cents on the dollar. More on shingle warranties later – it's "must" reading.

Learn All About Asphalt Roofing Longevity in 7 Minutes.

This article will give you all of the information you need to understand and increase the actual lifespan of your asphalt shingle roof including:

  • Asphalt shingle grades and what they tell you about how long an asphalt shingle roof lasts
  • Asphalt shingle warranties and what you can expect if your roof has issues
  • What factors can shorten the lifespan of an asphalt roof
  • What you can do to extend the lifespan of an asphalt roof

Asphalt Shingle Overview

There are 3 grades of asphalt shingles, the higher the grade, the thicker, more durable, and more expensive the shingle.

This much is true for leading brands like GAF, Owens Corning, CertainTeed, Malarkey and Atlas: Higher grade shingles will also last longer and carry longer warranties.

Asphalt shingles are made with a core of fiberglass soaked in asphalt. Three-tab shingles, also called 3-tab and strip shingles, feature an uncut upper half and a lower half with two vertical cuts that separate it into three tabs.

On architectural shingles, also called dimensional and laminate shingles, this core or base layer isn't cut. Instead, a top layer with much the same construction is added. The top layer is cut to give the look of individual shakes or pieces of slate.

Ground ceramic and mineral granules are then applied to the top of the shingle. The asphalt makes the shingle waterproof, and the granules protect the shingle from UV light and increase fire resistance. The granules also give the shingle its color.

Shingle Types and Grades

There are 3 general shingle tiers, and all the major manufacturers follow this approach. You might say there are basic, better and best asphalt shingles.

Three-Tab (Basic)

Three-tab shingles are the most economical option. As noted, the lower part is cut so that each tab appears as a single piece. Good-quality three-tab shingles are rated for and have wind warranties for winds between 60 (most brands) and 70 (a few, like Malarkey Dura-Seal shingles)  miles per hour and most carry warranties of 20 to 25 years.

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Architectural or Dimensional (Better/Best)

Architectural or dimensional shingles are thicker and therefore graded higher than three-tab shingles. Their lower portion is laminated with an additional layer of asphalt giving them a contoured or dimensional appearance. Most architectural shingles are rated for 110 to 130 mph winds and are backed by warranties of at least 30 years. Some have a 50-year warranty. All top manufacturers have at least a few shingle lines that are covered with a Lifetime warranty.

Premium or Luxury (Better/Best)

Premium or luxury asphalt shingles consist of multiple laminated layers giving them a very distinct appearance with shadowing on the roof that better mimics natural slate and cedar shakes. Wind warranties/ratings are typically 110mph with standard installation – and 130mph with enhanced installation including extra nails and, in some cases, a bead of construction glue. GAF is the first manufacturer to make shingles backed with an "unlimited" wind warranty – see the GAF Timberline AH and HDZ lines.

Modified Asphalt Roofing

Some architectural shingles and so-called "premium" shingles are manufactured with modified bitumen or polymers that increase the flexibility and resistance to impact. Look for shingles with a designation of IR or simply called "impact resistant" shingles. Examples are Malarkey Legacy, CertainTeed Presidential IR and GAF Glenwood IR shingles.

Asphalt Shingle Warranties

Many asphalt shingle manufacturers provide a limited lifetime warranty for as long as you own the home. Understanding the "limited" part is important. These warranties are limited to only covering replacement costs of defective shingles,  whether the defects are in the materials themselves or due to the manufacturing process. A few warranties will cover the cost to install the replacement shingles in the first 5-10 years, but not the cost to tear off and dispose of the bad shingles.

For the first few years, depending on the brand,  the manufacturer will cover the full cost of the defective shingles. After the initial few years, the amount of coverage will be prorated, decreasing annually. If the failure occurs during the prorated period, you will only receive a portion of the cost of the replacement shingles.

Manufacturers all have their own warranties so it's a good idea to review the warranty before you make a purchase.

Why Roofing Warranty Claims are Rejected – And What You Can Do

Roofing manufacturers often reject claims because these warranties do not cover shingle failures due to improper installation, poor attic ventilation, pre-existing conditions such as rotted roof decking, lack of roof maintenance, shingle damage from storms or normal aging of the shingles.

Your best bet to get a warranty claim approved is to have a qualified, licensed roofing contractor install the shingles. Don't DIY and don't allow an installer to "cut corners." Find a highly rated roofer, and be willing to pay a little more for quality work. Use the Free Quotes option on our site to get free, written estimates with no obligation from pre-screened, proven asphalt roofing contractors in your area.

Extended Manufacturers Warranties are a Waste of Money

Many manufacturers are aware of the connection between installation quality and roof performance. To provide homeowners with peace of mind, leading shingle brands offer optional extended warranties as long as the roof has been installed by one of their certified roofing contractors who have been trained to install the roof according to the manufacturer's requirements.

Extended warranties are available for an additional cost and cover contractor workmanship and extended coverage of the materials, but only if the defects are the fault of the manufacturer. Extended warranties may require you to have a complete roof system installed including decking, underlayment, ice and water barriers.

Plus, the roofer will check for proper attic ventilation and require improvements if there isn't adequate ventilation. Why? Because a poorly vented attic can be hot and damp. Both excess heat and high humidity beneath asphalt roofing will cause shingle damage – damage that isn't covered by the warranty.

We do not recommend extended warranties. Homeowners rarely benefit from them.

Contractor Warranties

Whether or not you purchase an extended warranty, be sure to get a workmanship warranty from your roofing installation contractor. A contractor warranty should cover any roof failure due to poor workmanship and improper installation. Roofing contractors provide various lengths of warranties but the standard is 1 to 2 years. That should be enough time to discover poor workmanship as an improperly installed roof is quickly evident.

A reputable contractor should not hesitate to warranty their work.

Average Lifespan of an Asphalt Roof

Due to various reasons, detailed later, most asphalt shingle roofs last about 65% to 85% of the length of their warranty. For instance, a three tab shingle roof with a 20 year warranty may only last 15 years and a roof with an architectural shingle carrying a 40 year warranty may only last 25 to 35 years. Even if they are not leaking, age and weather factors can cause the shingles to look bad due to cupping, curling, cracking, coming loose or losing their granules.

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Factors That Shorten Asphalt Roof Lifespan

If you want your shingles to last as long as possible, avoid these issues that aren’t related to weather. Or move somewhere with a milder climate : )

Improper Installation

This is Enemy #1. A badly installed roofing shingles will fail from something small like a few loose nails or shingles to serious leaks or even total roof failure.

For example, one of our editors had several squares of roofing fall off the house because the installer had set the pressure on the nail gun too high, and it drove the nail heads through the shingles, which slid off the roof in large sections a few days after "installation."

However, most mistakes aren't discovered as quickly – and the damage doesn't appear for several years. Often, the roofing contractor's warranty has expired, and the roofing manufacturer claims it isn't the fault of defective shingles. You're in the no-man's-land of rejected warranty claims at that point.

Poor Ventilation

If the space beneath your roof (the attic, on most homes) isn't properly ventilated, moisture and heat will build up and damage the roofing, as noted above.

Poor Maintenance

Small issues left unattended will soon become major problems including leaks and total roofing failure. Cracks in the shingles, missing or broken shingles,  popped nails, blocked gutters, loose flashing, leaves piled up on the roof and storm damage are just some of the minor issues that if left unrepaired, will shorten the lifespan of your roof.

The Weather

Significant storm damage to a roof is most often covered by your homeowner's insurance policy, but there are other weather conditions that can also take a toll on your roof.  

Constant exposure to sun and UV rays can cause asphalt shingles to become brittle and crack. Extreme heat can cause roofing materials to blister or expand and contract damaging them,  wind can lift shingles just enough to loosen them, heavy snow can damage gutters or cause ice dams to form under the shingles, and hail can create dents in the shingles or knock granules off the shingle.

Overhanging Branches

Even small branches that constantly scrape your roof will eventually erode shingles. In a storm, large branches can fall on the roof, denting, or even puncturing it. Overhanging branches can allow critters onto your roof. Raccoons, looking for a place to nest, will use their hands to tear shingles or vents off the roof.

Homeowners insurance may resist covering tree damage to your roof if you are found to be negligent in keeping tree branches trimmed.

Plant Growth

Plant material growing on your roof or in your gutters will retain moisture leading to deterioration and roof rot. Plants can also grow under shingles, raising them and allowing water to seep under shingles. Plant material also blocks the flow of water from your roof allowing it to pool.  Plant growth in your gutters blocks water drainage from the roof and can cause water to back up under the shingles.

Maximize Your Roof's Lifespan

Get the most from asphalt shingles with:

Proper Installation

Hiring a reputable roofing contractor that is licensed, bonded, and insured with excellent references and credentials is crucial to getting the longest lifespan and preventing the need to file a warranty claim – which will then be denied, in most cases.

Ventilation

This is a huge issue for your entire home, not just the roof. Too much heat will cause higher AC bills in addition to wrecking the roof.

And too much moisture causes mold and mildew – not good for the indoor air quality (IAQ) of any home.

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Discuss proper ventilation with your contractor prior to material installation.

Insulate your Attic to Recommended Levels

This will prevent ice dams in freezing weather. When heat escapes your roof, it will melt snow sitting on it. The water will run down to the eaves, which aren't getting heat, and it will freeze, forming a dam. As water continues to melt and run down the roof, it will back up under shingles, seep into and through the roof deck, and cause water damage to all it touches.

Quality Materials

Purchase the highest quality materials your budget will allow. Choose a top brand with a good reputation. The better the quality, the longer the shingles will last, and the better they will look.

Underlayment

The underlayment is a water resistant or waterproof membrane that must be applied to the roof deck before the shingles are installed.  The underlayment provides an additional layer of protection against rain, snow, and ice. A waterproof underlayment is especially important in areas with high rain or snow fall.

Annual Inspection and Maintenance

An annual inspection of your roof is a big factor in extending the life of your roof.  Any minor damage or issues will be discovered including loose shingles, popping nails, and cracks in the flashing, and can be repaired before the problems become serious.

Annual maintenance should include gutter cleaning, removing debris, cleaning off moss or algae, and trimming overhanging branches.

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