Asphalt Shingles come in two standard design options: Architectural (Dimensional) Shingles, and 3-Tab Shingles. 3-Tab are essentially flat simple shingles with a uniform shape and size. They use less material than Architectural Shingles, and are therefore lighter and lower cost for both the material and the installation. They are also thinner, and do not last as long or offer Manufacturer's Warranties as long as good Architectural Asphalt. 3-Tab are still the most commonly installed in lower-value homes, such as those used as rental properties. However, they are declining in popularity in favor of Architectural. Dimensional, or Architectural Shingles are thicker and stronger, and they offer more aesthetic appeal with their "dimensional" look with more shadow and varied shapes and sizes. While more expensive to install, they come with longer Manufacturer's Warranties, sometimes up to 50 Years. Though, it is worth noting that most Asphalt Shingles are still likely to be replaced after no longer than 24–30 years, and a long warranty such as this is often prorated. While no Asphalt Shingle is likely to last for 50 years, Dimensional Shingles will stand up better to the elements, and offer you less potential for leaking (and the high costs of the damage that can come with roof leaks), typically for a longer period of time. While 3-tab shingles typically need to be replaced after 15–18 years, Dimensional typically last 24–30 years.
Asphalt shingles have varying qualities which help them survive wind, hail, or fire damage and discoloration.
The American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) has developed specifications for roof shingles: ASTM D 225-86 (Asphalt Shingles (Organic Felt) Surfaced with Mineral Granules) and ASTM D3462-87 (Asphalt Shingles Made from Glass Felt and Surfaced with Mineral Granules), ASTM D3161, Standard Test Method for Wind-Resistance of
Many shapes and textures of asphalt shingles are available: 3 tab, jet, "signature cut", t-lock, tie lock, etc. Architectural (laminated) shingles are a multi-layer, laminated shingle which gives more varied, contoured visual effect to a roof surface and add more resistance for water. These shingles are designed to avoid repetitive patterns in the shingle appearance. Special shingles are needed for the eaves starter course and ridge caps. Laminated shingles are heavier and more durable than traditional 3-tab shingle designs.
Solar reflecting shingles help reduce air conditioning costs in hot climates by being a better reflective surface.
Wind damage: Asphalt shingles come in varying resistance to wind damage. Shingles with the highest fastener pull through resistance, bond strength of the self seal adhesive, properly nailed will resist wind damage the best. Extra precautions can be taken in high wind areas to fasten a durable underlayment and/or seal the plywood seams in the event the shingles are blown off. UL 997 Wind Resistance of Prepared Roof Covering Materials class 1 is best Wind Resistance roof standard and ASTM D 3161 class F is best for bond strength.
Hail damage: Hail storms can damage asphalt shingles. For impact resistance UL 2218 Class 4 is best. This increases survivability from hail storms but the shingles become more susceptible to hail damage with age.
Fire resistance: Forest fires and other exterior fires risk roofs catching on fire. Fiberglass shingles have a better, class A, flame spread rating based on UL 790, and ASTM E 108 testing. Organic shingles have a class C rating.
Algae resistance Algae is not believed to damage asphalt shingles but it may be objectionable aesthetically. Different treatment methods are used to prevent discoloration from algae growth on the roof. Moss feeds on algae and any other debris on the roof. Some manufactures offer a 5- to 10-year warranty against algae growth on their algae resistant shingles.
Durability Shingle durability is ranked by warranted life, ranging from 20 years to lifetime warranties are available. However a stated warranty is not a guarantee of durability. A shingle manufacturer's warrantie may pro-rate repair costs, cover materials only, have different warranty periods for different types of damage, and transfer to another owner.
Shingles tend to last longer where the weather stays consistent, either consistently warm, or consistently cool. Thermal shock can damage shingles, when the ambient temperature changes dramatically within a very short period of time. "Experiments...have noted that the greatest cause of asphalt shingle aging is thermal loading."
Over time the asphalt becomes oxidized and becomes brittle. Roof orientation and ventilation can extend the service life of a roof by reducing temperatures. Shingles should not be applied when temperatures are below 10 °C (50 °F), as each shingle must seal to the layer below it to form a monolithic structure. The underlying exposed asphalt must be softened by sunlight and heat. A few shingle types utilize release tape which must be removed just prior to installation.
The protective nature of asphalt shingles primarily comes from the long-chain hydrocarbons impregnating the paper. Over time in the hot sun, the hydrocarbons soften and when rain falls the hydrocarbons are gradually washed out of the shingles and down onto the ground. Along eaves and complex rooflines more water is channeled so in these areas the loss occurs more quickly. Eventually the loss of the heavy oils causes the fibers to shrink, exposing the nail heads under the shingle flaps. The shrinkage also breaks up the surface coating of sand adhered to the surface of the paper, and eventually causes the paper to begin to tear itself apart. Once the nail heads are exposed, water running down the roof can seep into the building around the nail shank, resulting in rotting of roof building materials and causing moisture damage to ceilings and paint inside.